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Digging into local history is one of the best ways to get a real feel for the UAE’s rich culture and history. While the bigger museums might give you an all-encompassing overview of the country’s chronicles, visiting lesser-known museums will provide you with a fascinating insight into the stories that have helped to form the region’s identity.
Al Tayyibah Heritage Museum
It doesn’t get much more ‘off the beaten track’ than a visit to Al Tayyibah. Tucked away in the Hajar Mountains, it’s a surprisingly large village criss-crossed with water channels, palm groves and serene greenery. While it’s most famous for its hiking and cycling trails, this secluded settlement is also home to the Al Tayyibah Heritage Museum. Founded by Ahmed Ali bin Daoud Al-Abdoulie, it’s an extraordinarily eclectic treasure-trove of local history, exhibiting everything from scroll-holders that are over 200 years old to TVs that were phased out in the 1970s.
To take a journey into the UAE’s military past, put a visit to Fujairah Fort at the top of your list. Considered to be the oldest castle in the country, it was built in the 16th century and constructed from local rocks, gravel, and mortar. Once the home to the ruling family, it ultimately served as an important defensive post against invasion. Today, it’s been restored to its former grandeur, with a square tower, some magnificent halls, and two round towers to explore. Entry is free of charge and you’ll also gain access to the nearby Heritage Village, which allows visitors to get an idea of how life was in this part of the region over 400 years ago. Be sure to pack your camera or smartphone for some outstanding picture opportunities.
If city life seems a bit too slick and you fancy a trip back in time, Hatta Castle is the perfect destination in which to dive into the UAE’s past. Set in the fertile foothills of the Hajar Mountains, the castle overlooks Oman and offers a fantastic peek at what life was like before the region’s oil reserves became a global currency. Explore reconstructed villages, learn about traditional crafts and customs, and even see how farmers made the most of the dry soil. For some truly magnificent photo opportunities, visit at sunset and watch the shadows creep over the mountains.
Dubai Municipality Museum
Once you’ve seen a few of the lesser-known museums, it’s well worth putting your new-found knowledge into context. To see how the jigsaw pieces fit together, take the family out for a trip to the Dubai Municipality Museum. Founded in 1957, you’ll get an overall view of the country’s history and culture. Housed in the oldest existing building in Dubai, you’ll be able to see local curios and antiquities rubbing shoulders with relics from Asian and African countries that traded with the UAE centuries ago.
Coffee Museum Sharjah
Coffee is part of the framework of the Emirati culture. Traditionally, guests are welcomed through the door with a cup of something dark and aromatic, sometimes accompanied by dates. The UAE’s love affair with the coffee bean is documented in the Coffee Museum in Sharjah. Instead of wandering around exhibitions, visitors are invited to take part in workshops designed to give them a greater understanding of the cultural importance of this beloved beverage. From ancient brewing methods to modern modifications, it’s a must for anyone who likes a cup of coffee in the morning – or at any other time of the day!
Sharjah Art Museum
Opening its doors to the world in 1997, Sharjah Art Museum is a cultural gem offering a unique glimpse into the world of Arabic art. It houses one of the most comprehensive and eclectic collections of both historical and modern art, showcasing more than 500 exhibits and incredible special events. It’s one of those museums that could easily inspire you to pick up a paintbrush or some clay and try creating your own masterpiece.
Etihad Museum Home to one of the most important collections of heritage items in the whole of the UAE, the Etihad Museum in Jumeirah is an absolute gem. In its exhibitions you’ll find everything from old passports to films, photographs and items that document the lives of the ruling families and the recent history of the UAE. The building is as dramatic as the story it holds inside, making this one of the most fascinating museums in the region. A must-see if you want to really understand the modern history of the Emirates.