Sheikh Zayed Festival shines a light on Emirati traditions

Tickets for the family-friendly festival in Al Wathba are priced at Dh5

AL WATHBA, ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - December 03, 2018: Horsemen participate in the Union March during the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival. 
( Hamad Al Kaabi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )?
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Sheikh Zayed Festival is an event like no other in the UAE.

Spread over four and a half months, one of the UAE’s largest cultural festivals is expected to attract more than two million visitors between now and March 18, when it closes.

Named in honour of UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the festival celebrates the country’s history and cultural heritage, showcases the rich diversity of its traditions and educates visitors about the legacy of the nation’s founder and the UAE’s arts, crafts, customs and food.

Al Wathba, a 50-minute drive from the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, is normally a tranquil area but is transformed for a few months every year to host the annual cultural jamboree and celebrate the UAE's achievements and highlight its diverse community.

The current edition of the festival will be full of surprises and new activities
Abdullah Al Muhairi, Sheikh Zayed Festival committee

The festival takes place in a venue that resembles a fort and the family-friendly programme features international cultural pavilions and eclectic music performances.

Organisers said this year's event ― held under the theme Hayakum, which means welcome ― is bigger than anything staged here before, with new and different features for visitors to enjoy.

It captures what the Zayed festival is about ― welcoming visitors from all around the world and offering them a memorable experience.

“The current edition of the festival will be full of surprises and new activities, featuring thousands of cultural and recreational shows suitable for the whole family, ranging from the Union Parade, National Day celebrations, New Year celebration, Global Civilisation Parade, Al Wathba Custom Show and more," said Abdullah Al Muhairi, a member of the Sheikh Zayed Festival organising committee.

The Emirates Civilisation Pavilions will give visitors a glimpse of the customs and traditions of the people of the UAE and the inspirational role Sheikh Zayed in building and establishing a nation.

There are more than 25 country pavilions, among them Iran, India, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Oman, as well as some African nations.

Organisers said they encouraged the pavilions to bring their top-selling products and what most families who travel to their countries take back home with them ― soap, nuts, sweets or fabrics ― and to sell them at a lower-than-market price.

"Visitors to the festival will be able to walk through various pavilions and explore different cultures and folklores through dance and music that will be showcased in festival theatres," Mr Al Muhairi said.

"At the forefront of these performances are the Emirati traditional dances such as Al Yola and Al Razfa, which will provide an unforgettable experience for all visitors.”

Spread over 130,000 square metres, this year's event includes a haunted mansion, a flower glow garden with more than 400,000 flowers imported from Holland, a selfie street that hopes to break the Guinness World record for the number of pictures taken, a dessert museum, a childrens' amusement section with a 50-metre high Ferris wheel, go-karting, a crazy car district and a heritage village.

The event also features equestrian and camel riding activities and shows at 15 theatres.

The Emirates Fountain light waterfall show, which features water spurting from about 600 nozzles, is sure to be popular with visitors.

The festival will give visitors opportunities to win valuable prizes through the many heritage competitions, which include the Sheikh Zayed Falconry competition, the Dhow Sailing Race, the Zayed Grand Prize Camel Race, the Traditional Cooking Competition and the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan Racing Festival.

Variety of food outlets

There are more than 60 food outlets at the festival.

The busy food-truck area serves everything from traditional Emirati food to tea and coffee and has signs displaying the word iIgrab, which translates to come closer ― a sign of the UAE's hospitality.

The festival coincides with the Fifa World Cup in Qatar and football fans can watch the matches on large LED screens.

It opened on Friday with drone shows and fireworks displays to mark the opening night.

Similar celebrations will take place to celebrate National Day. The renowned drone show this year will tell the story of the event and highlight its various activities in a spectacular aerial show.

The weekly fireworks are every Saturday at 10pm. The festival runs every day from 4pm until 12am, including weekends. Entry tickets are Dh5.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 6:02 PM