Sheikh Zayed Festival celebrates traditional Emirati way of life with some mod cons

Cultural showcase, which runs until March, welcomes several new attractions including a camping village

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It's that time of year again when the tranquil neighbourhood of Al Wathba transforms into a cultural haven as it hosts Sheikh Zayed Festival.

Running for three and a half months, it is one of the country's largest cultural festivals named in honour of UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

As such, the teeming Heritage Village showcases Emirati traditions (think henna, blacksmithing and Al Alaya dance performances), educates visitors about Sheikh Zayed's legacy and offers a chance to sample the UAE’s arts, crafts and food.

Weekly fireworks displays are also on the cards, taking place every Saturday at 10pm, as are drone shows and the Emirates Foundation sound and laser performance with 3D holograms.

New features

This year, Sheikh Zayed Festival will introduce a camping village from December 27, which will focus on both authenticity and entertainment. Open to all age groups, the village will not only allow campers to enjoy the great outdoors, but also feature huge screens that will showcase a range of live sports matches.

Also new this year is the Chinese Market, an Asian-inspired street full of authentic decor, products and food. This is in addition to the various national pavilions erected at the festival every year.

Foodies can also sign up for the new Flying Cup experience, which is part ride, part restaurant and allows diners to eat several metres above ground.

Animal attractions

Animal lovers (and their children) should make a beeline for Wildlife Secrets, a petting zoo that goes beyond the usual bunny-goat-parrot experiences; it also includes monkeys, lions and Komodo dragons.

Photo opportunities with the Arabian oryx, plus other rare species of deer and birds are also available at the Wildlife Secrets Sanctuary.

The festival also regularly hosts Arabian horse shows in collaboration with the Emirates Arabian Horse Association.

Returning favourites

The festival will host several live performances daily outside each pavilion. Elsewhere, the Emirati Productive Families pavilion will demonstrate the traditional handicrafts created by Emirati women to support their households.

Those with children will be spoilt for choice, as the festival offers Fun Fair City, with rides, games and attractions for all age groups; Children's City with 30 types of workshops, plus face painting, VR games and talent competitions for ages up to 14; and even a Crazy Car arena fitted out with safe cars suitable for small children.

Adrenalin-seekers can visit the House of Horror inspired by Haunted Mansion, Disney's film released this year starring Jared Leto and Tiffany Haddish.

Sheikh Zayed Festival runs daily from 4pm to midnight until March 9. Tickets are priced at Dh10 and available at

Updated: November 28, 2023, 10:37 AM