Kuwait City, though small, packs a mighty cultural punch. Whether you want to delve into the region’s maritime history or check out cutting-edge art in one of many modern cultural spaces, the city’s museum scene has something for everyone.
The best museums change the perceptions of those who visit – stimulating new thoughts and conversations in those who step inside. In so doing, they strengthen cultural roots and create new possibilities in the communities they serve. For that reason, one of the best ways to get to know a country is by exploring its museums. Kuwait City is no exception; its wonderful variety of galleries and institutions hold a mirror up to the country’s fascinating history and modern outlook. The city has seen a spate of new spaces pop up over recent years, namely the newly christened Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem Cultural Centre.
Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Space Museum, Art Museum
Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem Cultural Centre (ASCC) in Maidan Hawally is one of the world’s largest cultural complexes, incorporating over 1,100 exhibits and comprising six museums, including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Space Museum, the Arabic Islamic Science Museum, the Fine Arts Centre and the external spaces known as the Public Realm. The Arab Islamic Science Museum is especially interesting in that it takes visitors on an enlightening journey into 700 years of fascinating developments within the sciences and arts. With exhibits featuring astronomy, geography, geometry, medicine, physics, mineralogy, engineering and architecture, the museum highlights crucial discoveries made in the Islamic world, which were then transmitted to Europe where they were adopted and assimilated. There are also a number of cafés and gift shops on the site.
The Historical, Vintage and Classical Cars Museum in Shuwaikh brilliantly showcases Kuwait’s automotive heritage, preserving an extensive collection of vintage vehicles that includes one of the rarest cars in the world – a 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud Convertible. The museum also has an ample library of automotive-related literature, runs specialist workshops for vintage car owners and provides a unique and unforgettable driving experience for younger visitors, aged from six to 16 years old.
The Maritime Museum celebrates Kuwait’s maritime heritage, shining a light on its contribution to the country’s development and history. At its entrance, three magnificent dhows (wooden boats) greet visitors before they enter an extensive display of evocative photographs, intricate model ships, fascinating maps and various age-old tools and objects. Dating from the late 19th century to early 20th century, the artefacts were once used on board sea-going vessels for pearling, fishing or sailing. The pearl-diving section of the museum is among the most interesting and features a wonderful collection of equipment used by early divers, including heavy lead weights, turtleshell nose pegs, leather finger protectors and wool suits worn to guard against jellyfish stings.
Set in the Qadsiya area of Kuwait, the Mirror House is truly one of a kind. Italian artist Lidia al-Qattan has spent the past 60 years single-handedly transforming her Kuwaiti home into a mirrored masterpiece. Using 70 tonnes worth of mirrored mosaics, she has covered her entire home with themed murals. This eccentric project has quite literally become the artist’s life obsession; each wall is adorned with designs close to Al-Qattan’s heart, while the rooms inside are arranged thematically. In 2006, the artist opened her home to the public, meaning visitors can now have personal tours of the house by Al-Qattan herself. Note that Al-Qattan accepts a minimum of five individuals to make a reservation. Visitors are also asked to wear shoes that won’t damage the house.
The Museum of Modern Art is located in the Madrasa Al Sharqiya, a boys’ school founded in Sharq in 1938. The museum celebrates the region’s artists by hosting exhibits representing various schools of fine and applied arts from countries across the Middle East, as well as other nations such as France. The old scholastic setting lends itself to more condensed, intimate public exhibitions – but these smaller shows still insightfully reflect the complex, unfolding patterns of modern and contemporary art in the Middle East.
Located just a stone’s throw from the National Assembly, the Amricani Cultural Centre showcases Kuwait’s rich and extensive Islamic art history. Housed in the former American Mission Compound, Amricani is the home of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, a world-class cultural organisation that boasts an awe-inspiring collection of Islamic art. The collection was founded by Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and his wife, Sheikha Hussah. Housing over 20,000 rare local artefacts, including some rare Mesopotamian bronzes, the Amricani is the perfect place to soak up Kuwait’s history.
Forty years ago, art enthusiast and Kuwait’s first minister of antiquities, Tareq Rajab, opened the doors to his own private collection. Located in the sleepy suburb of Jabriya, this ethnographic museum houses an impressive collection of Islamic art with a particular emphasis on craftsmanship. Here, you can find over 10,000 precious artefacts, including exquisite examples of jewellery, costumes, ceramics and musical instruments. Notably, the museum has become renowned for its calligraphy exhibit, which features rare examples of ancient calligraphy dating from the seventh century onwards. This small and deeply personal museum is a deep dive into Kuwait’s rich history and culture.
For an entirely different museum experience, look no further than the Dickson House. The heritage building is one of Kuwait’s most historically important landmarks. The former home of the first British political agent, Colonel Harold Dickson, and his wife, Violet, the house has become a symbol of friendship between the UK and Kuwait. Built by a pearl merchant, the house was used by the British in the late 19th century and early 20th century as a residential headquarters. It’s now dedicated to showcasing flags, currency, historical documents and personal items from the couple who once resided here.
Overlooking the clear waters of the Arabian Gulf, this handsome Kuwaiti heritage building is home to a collection that explores the country’s long history of textile art. Founded by anthropologist Sheikha Altaf al-Sabah, the charming house explores Bedouin crafts, with a mission to resurrect the fast-disappearing practice while also nurturing new artistic talents. Be sure to visit the gift shop, where you can buy traditional weavings. All proceeds from the shop go to local artisans.
Featuring an impressive collection of artefacts dating as far back as the Bronze Age, this museum is a true celebration of Kuwait’s history. The museum aims to preserve the socioeconomic and cultural heritage of Kuwait by exhibiting life-size models recreating life in the country before the discovery of oil. It also houses the National Planetarium, where you can experience 3D interactive storytelling.