On our trip to Dubai in February we really wanted to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Here’s how to get there from Dubai, what to wear and what to expect.
Why visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the biggest mosques in the world, with a capacity of 40,000. It’s located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi city centre, and is impossible to miss – as you get closer you start to see the dazzling white domes (82 of them) and four minarets on the horizon, and as you reach the entrance it’s impossible not to be amazed by the mosque’s scale and beauty.
Do I need to be a Muslim to visit?
No. The mosque is very welcoming to visitors of all faiths, as long as you respect the simple “Mosque Manners” rules, which include dressing conservatively, not taking photos of people praying and not sleeping.
How to get to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque from Dubai
There are three options (before the hyperloop opens, that is!) if you don’t have your own wheels.
By taxi – 1 hour 30 minutes
The quickest and most expensive option. We ended up taking a taxi as we were limited on time. From our hotel in Downtown Dubai to the mosque cost around AED 350. The taxi back to Ibn Battuta Mall cost under AED 300 (we’d planned to get the bus to return to Dubai but it was pouring with rain). Despite the long journey, we didn’t have any trouble finding a taxi driver willing to make the trip. It’s worth noting that although Dubai taxi drivers are meant to take credit cards, ours didn’t. He was happy to stop at a service station on the way so I could get cash out though.
By bus – 2 hours+
There are regular buses from Al Ghubaiba bus station in the Bur Dubai area to Abu Dhabi. These are non-stop to Abu Dhabi bus station, take 2 hours and cost AED 25. From the Abu Dhabi bus station, you’ll need to get a local bus or a taxi to the mosque. This is definitely the cheapest option but takes a lot longer than the other two.
By organised excursion – full day
Big Bus Dubai and other tour companies run excursions to Abu Dhabi which include the mosque. These would be a long day but are probably worth it if you don’t fancy the public bus and want to see other attractions in Abu Dhabi like Ferrari World.
What should I wear to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque?
The mosque provides clear guidance on their website. Women should be covered from the neck, to the wrist and to the ankle, and have their hair covered. Men should have their shoulders and knees covered. I wore a maxi skirt and a high-necked t-shirt with a denim jacket on top and a scarf covering my hair and was waved through by the mosque staff at the entrance.
If your clothing doesn’t meet the requirements you can borrow an abaya to wear over the top. You’ll need to take your shoes off when you go inside the main mosque building so make sure you wear your best socks.
What to expect
When you reach the mosque the first building you’ll go into holds airport-style security and a check that you’re dressed appropriately. Once through (and dressed in your abaya, if they want you to wear one), you’ll be inside the complex. There’s no entry fee, visiting the mosque and taking the guided tour are completely free.
You’ll pass immaculate gardens and water features before you step inside the arcade which surrounds the mosque’s huge central courtyard, where 30,000 people can pray.
If you want to take a guided tour (and you should!), follow the signs to the meeting point. There are regular tours, although when we were there the latest one was at 11am before a long wait for one at 5pm, so check the mosque’s website before you set off. If you’re in a small group you don’t need to book to join a guided tour. While you’re waiting for the tour you’re free to wander around, take photographs or visit the café and gift shop.
The tour guide will give you a headset and then will take you around the mosque on a 45 minute guided tour. Our guide was a local Emirati man who was very interesting and funny as he told us about the features of the mosque, including the record-breaking carpet, Islam and life in the UAE. At the end there was the opportunity to ask questions.
What will surprise you about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?
The most astonishing thing about the mosque is its beauty. The marble is stunning and the inlaid mother of pearl on every column and all across the floor in floral and botanical designs is amazingly beautiful.
I was surprised by the warmth and humour of our guide, and by the feeling of joy in the mosque itself – the beautiful twinkling chandeliers, the soft carpet and the calligraphy. For some reason, I thought that it’d be a solemn, silent place but it really doesn’t feel that way.
Coming from the UK where almost all our cathedrals are hundreds of years old, it was a huge surprise to me that it was only opened in 2007, and every time I forgot and felt like I was in an old building, there was a little touch to remind me; escalators to get to the toilets and washing facilities; the biggest sliding door I’ve ever seen to get into the main prayer hall; fibre optic lights in the walls; an electronic display showing prayer times across the world.
I was also really surprised that photography was allowed in most places in the mosque. Unless you do a Rhianna or otherwise don’t follow the rules, you’ll be able to take as many photos as you want.
Is it worth visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from Dubai?
Absolutely. It’s quite a long way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and a bit expensive in a taxi but it’s definitely worth making the journey, especially if you take the guided tour. Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was one of the highlights of my trip to the UAE.
Have you visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?