More or less at the very centre of Abu Dhabi sits Qasr al Hosn (“The Palace Fort”), the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. The fort started life around 1761 as a single round watchtower built to defend the only freshwater well in Abu Dhabi, and was subsequently expanded in 1793, becoming the residence of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family. In 1939, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan, the elder brother of Sheikh Zayed, began to significantly enlarge the complex using income raised from the first oil-prospecting concessions granted to foreign companies.

The fort continued to serve as the ruler’s palace and seat of government until Sheikh Zayed came to power in 1966, at which point the ruling family decamped and the fort was given over to purely administrative uses. It was eventually renovated, acquiring a bright new covering of white-painted concrete – hence its popular name of the “White Fort”. The large and rather plain whitewashed structure you see today is of no particular architectural distinction, although the rambling battlemented walls, dotted with a few watchtowers, are modestly pretty. The fort was under renovation at the time of writing and is due to reopen as a major new museum of Abu Dhabi’s historical and cultural heritage – although no one seems to have any idea of when this might happen.

Rising to the northwest of Qasr al Hosn is the huge The Landmark skyscraper with its distinctive curved summit. This was the tallest building (312m) in the city when finished in 2012, but has now already been eclipsed by both the Burj Mohammed bin Rashid and ADNOC HQ.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Dubai features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

6 things every family must do in Dubai

6 things every family must do in Dubai

Dubai is the most spectacular playground on Earth. The desire to make everything bigger and brighter and better has created a city of superlatives – and for w…

15 Jun 2017 • Keith Drew insert_drive_file Article
Burj Khalifa: is the world’s tallest building worth the hype?

Burj Khalifa: is the world’s tallest building worth the hype?

One of Dubai’s main attractions and currently the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa draws in hundreds of people daily to marvel at the views from i…

31 Jan 2017 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

Away from the skyscrapers: how to find the “other” Dubai

It’s big, brash and lays claim to so many world records it might even have the world record for the number of world records. But beyond the superlatives, skys…

22 Nov 2016 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook