Image by Allan Baxter Getty Images
Rising from its own purpose-built island, and set in an extensive landscape of lawns and ornamental trees off the Corniche, this is a fabulous museum. It's shaped like a postmodern fortress with minimal windows (to reduce energy use) and a ‘virtual’ moat, and the views across the water are splendid. With the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, collected from three continents, the museum is so rich in treasure that it rewards short, intense visits.
The museum was designed by IM Pei (architect of the Louvre pyramid), and you know that something special awaits from the minute you lay eyes on the grand palm-lined entrance. Inside, the building is a masterpiece of light and space, drawing your eyes up to the dome, a clever modern take on the dome so prevalent in Islamic architecture.
The collection is spread over three floors. The 1st and 2nd floors house the permanent collection, which ranges across exquisite textiles, ceramics, enamel work and glass, all showcased conceptually: a single motif, for example, is illustrated in neighbouring display cases in the weave of a carpet or a ceramic floor tile, or adapted in a piece of gold jewellery, allowing visitors to gain a sense of the homogeneity of Islamic art.
Pace yourself by visiting the cafe downstairs or punctuate your visit with a browse in the extensive museum shop (also on the ground floor) to avoid sensory overload. A good option can be the free 40-minute guided tours (in English and Arabic) of the permanent collection on Thursday at 2pm and Saturday at 4pm, and of the temporary or special exhibitions on Wednesday at 2pm.
Avoid strappy tops and shorts or you may be refused admission.