Thousands of people turned out in Abu Dhabi on Thursday as a spectacular fireworks display capped off an incredible day of celebrations for the UAE's Golden Jubilee.
Crowds cheered as the dazzling drone and pyrotechnics show lit up the sky as the UAE turned 50.
Groups gathered on the Corniche and across the capital in advance of the setpiece moment.
“It was great, very special,” said Liguri Jego, from France who was with his wife and child at the Corniche.
“Every time we thought it was over, there was more. It really was beautiful to watch.”
Trit Kiriratnikom, from Thailand, agreed. "It was amazing and spectacular," he said. "It’s very peaceful and safe and my son really enjoys living here. I have no doubt the country is still capable of a lot, we’re looking forward to it.”
The festivities started early in the day. At Sheikha Fatima Park, which officially opened to the public on National Day, Dr Nisma Mohammad brought her four children to take part in celebrations and watch the fireworks
"We’ve lived in the UAE for 6 years so these celebrations mean a lot to us," she said.
Inside the park, families rested on green bean bags and shared food, while a performer played soothing tunes on a guitar. By sunset a carnival atmosphere had developed with the good weather adding to the happy vibes.
“There’s been a vast change over the years," said Maria Lyka, from the Philippines, who has lived in the UAE for the past 10 years. She said she encourages her two boys, aged 7 and 8, to take part in National Day celebrations.
"Every National Day, we make it a point that we have to buy something symbolic. Just a small gesture to say thank you to the UAE," she said.
"This year we bought them t-shirts and caps with the UAE 50 logo."
Just down the road, Abu Dhabi’s Corniche was thronged with families with not a single car space left. People adhered to Covid-19 restrictions but, for the first time since the pandemic began, it felt normal life had returned. Many had set up picnics on the side of the road, drinking coffee, munching on snacks and watching decorated car parades pass by.
“Every year we come to Corniche, except for last year because of Covid restrictions," said Angelie Filosoto, 41, from the Philippines.
"I lived here for 12 years. The UAE is my second home and I'm excited to be part of it.”
Saif Al Ali, 20, an Emirati, said he was very proud. "There’s still a lot more we’re going to do. The future has only just begun," said Mr Al Ali.
Pomp and pageantry were not reserved for just the Corniche, however.
One of the oldest structures in Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn, was transformed to honour the UAE turning fifty.
Music, arts, crafts and even classic automobiles were on display at the Al Hosn festival representing the UAE’s journey from the last 50 years.
As traditional songs were sung throughout the evening, the sound of stamping of passports could be heard throughout the venue. The passports, similar to the idea of the Expo 2020 passports, allowed visitors to commemorate visiting areas of the festival.
“I love meeting new people,” said Alyazia, a volunteer for the festival helping to pass out and stamp the passports. “I’m really enjoying the celebrations and I’m doing it to give back to my community.”
She reflected on how the celebrations taking place amid one of the oldest buildings in the UAE helped to reinforce the the nation’s path.
“We kind of forget our traditions and our culture as we get older,” she added. “So this helps take us back 50 years ago, it really helps remind me.”
The festivities also stretched to Al Wathba, where the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival marked the UAE’s 50th anniversary.
A special "Year of 50" area showcased rare photos and video of the UAE and the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed. Fireworks, music, food and crafts were also in abundance at the annual festival as the UAE celebrated its Golden Jubilee.