Mother of the Nation returns with Upside Down Museum and international food pop-ups

The event, taking place at the Abu Dhabi Corniche, runs until December 31

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“Habibi, come to Abu Dhabi” reads one of the light box signs at this year's Mother of the Nation Festival taking place on the Abu Dhabi Corniche. The event kicked off on Friday.

It's a playful riff on the viral catchphrase that invites people to Dubai, but retrofitted to encapsulate the festival's allure in the capital. Last year, organisers said the event drew about 200,000 people, and the footfall is expected to be much higher this time around.

That is partly because, for the first time in its seven-year history, the family-friendly outdoor festival is running for 24 days, culminating in a New Year's Eve programme on December 31. Last year's event was only meant to run for 10 days but, after a brief break, returned for an extended week.

What is Mother of the Nation festival?

Mother of the Nation, or MOTN, is an annual carnival-like community event that launched in 2016. It draws inspiration from famous theme parks and offers a line-up of things to do including art installations and live performances, as well as food and drink options from local and international vendors.

The festival extends over a 1.5km stretch along the Corniche, and the attractions are conceptually divided into four zones: Thrill, Amuse, Indulge and Entertain.

This is also one of the major differences from last year's MOTN, which had six zones and felt slightly crammed. This year, the festival ground is larger and better designed.

What is happening at the festival?

Each of the zones have distinct offerings. Thrill houses traditional amusement park attractions such as child-friendly roller coasters, a haunted house experience and a family escape room.

There is an arcade room with bowling lanes, a virtual reality experience by Canadian game maker Omega Protocol and a makeshift outdoor cinema that hosts daily screenings of animated movies.

The Thrill zone is also home to a pop-up by Roll DXB, the disco-themed indoor skating rink from Dubai.

Attractions aside, MOTN is known for bringing international food vendors to the capital. The Thrill zone houses three food concepts from the UK – Crosstown that serves sourdough doughnuts, Mother Flipper that dishes out smash burgers, and Bay Boy Pizza Society.

Crosstown has 28 shops across the UK, and MOTN marks its first attempt at an international outpost, albeit in the form of a temporary pop-up.

“This is the first time we have not been in the UK and the first time I have been to Abu Dhabi,” says Blaze Huggins, who manages two Crosstown branches in London and flew to the UAE to help out with the pop-up.

Similar to other brands that come to UAE festivals and eventually decide to expand in the Emirates, Huggins thinks the Abu Dhabi event is a good platform to explore franchising opportunities.

Manuel Leal-Andrades, founder of Mother Flipper, too was present to oversee the pop-up operations, and was visibly excited as people queued for the UK-famous smash burgers.

Next to Thrill zone is Amuse, which takes guests into a more fantastical immersion with attractions such as Spacetoon Land, a massive play area divided into two themes: Barbie and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Among the highlights of the zone is the Upside Down Museum filled with Instagram-worthy optical illusions and art-themed sections.

For those into sports, there's a basketball court at the Amuse zone, while little ones can enjoy arts and crafts stations. Further is the Indulge zone, which has a Barbie-esque retail concept call The Botik. There is a swimming pool at the front, but instead of water, it's filled with foam blocks and inflatable flamingo-shaped floaters.

More British food brands are at the Amuse zone, including Covent Garden dessert shop Milk Train and London's famous fried chicken shack Coq Fighter.

The last zone, Entertainment, is where the main stage is. This is the venue for upcoming MOTN concerts, which include performances from Black Eyed Peas, Nancy Ajram, Cairokee and a Taylor Swift tribute band.

On New Year's Eve, Tamer Hosny and Saif Nabeel will take to the stage to conclude the season.

Tickets for Mother of the Nation

Ticket prices start at Dh30, which provides all-day access to the free zones and attractions.

Guests can opt for other packages, which include access to specific attractions. For example, the MOTN Day Pass at Dh150 grants full access to all the rides on site. Concerts have separate ticketing, with prices starting at Dh45.

More information is available at

Updated: December 11, 2023, 5:36 AM