22,142 square meters. 40,000 worshippers. 82 marble domes. 1,096 exterior white marble columns. The largest handwoven carpet and chandelier in the world. 12 years and $545 million to build. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque certainly lives up to its name!
Featured as TripAdvisor’s third favorite landmark in the world in 2018 (the first was Cambodia’s Angkor Wat), Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is unsurprisingly the city’s top tourist attraction and one of the world’s most elaborate mosque complexes. With its white marble gleaming on the horizon the mosque is also one of the most instantly recognizable sights the United Arab Emirates has to offer – something that shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting with Abu Dhabi or it’s nearby neighbor, Dubai.
Following our recent visit to the city, I thought I’d highlight our top five tips that’ll help you maximize your visit to the mosque. Enjoy!
5 Practical Tips to Maximize your Visit to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Make Sure you Dress Appropriately
I have a nasty habit of unintentionally missing the dress code when visiting places of worship. In the past this has, for example, required me to undergo a rapid wardrobe change in to an ill-fitting spare pair of my wife’s jeans when visiting a religious site in Greece (let’s just say I don’t have quite the same figure as she does and the rest of the day was spent doing a walk of shame as random passers by took photos and laughed).
Anyhow, stories aside, my blabbering is for good reason. There is a dress code to enter Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and it’s strictly enforced. I therefore strongly recommend that you read the dress code on the mosque’s website and prepare in advance. If you don’t arrive dressed appropriately then there’s a good chance that you’ll be refused entry.
When we visited they did offer Abaya to women who were not dressed appropriately at no cost (obviously you need to return them when you leave). However, I can’t find any mention of that on the current website. So if you plan to rely on the availability of an Abaya you may wish to call ahead to make sure they still offer them. You’ll also need an ID if you wish to borrow one and they didn’t accept passports when we last visited. Driver’s licenses or State IDs were accepted.
My final piece of advice on dressing appropriately is to make sure you take a pair of sunglasses with you. The reflective white marble is BRIGHT. Without sunglasses you will undoubtedly spend the entire day squinting and end up with a cracking headache (as my wife did).
Consider Timing for the Best Photography
If you’re a keen photographer, then I have two suggestions that’ll ensure you avoid having the same regrets that I came away with.
Firstly, pack a wide-angle lens (a 10-24mm should do it). Unfortunately, I had to economize due to limited bag space and left my wide-angle at home. The result was that I came away having missed some of the amazing angles and shots that Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has to offer.
Secondly, consider visiting more than once and at different times of the day. In the heat and bright light of the middle of the day the ultra-reflective marble surfaces aren’t ideal (although no less stunning). Alternatively, golden hour and sunset provide the usual benefits: redder hues and a more muted, softer light. Stay after golden hour to capture blue hour, following which the mosque transforms again as the building’s exterior lighting is turned on; providing a whole different perspective of the mosque.
Other than that, I’d say that Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is just one of those rare places where it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo!
Take the Tour
I’m typically one of those tourists that likes to meander their own way around the sights. This is partly because I like to take my time with photography. But it’s also because I don’t particularly like being herded around in big groups by someone waving an umbrella in the air. Yes, I’m a tour snob and yes, I don’t care.
However, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the few places where I highly recommend the guided tour.
First off, it’s free! In a country as notoriously expensive as the United Arab Emirates you should take advantage of literally anything that’s offered to you free of charge (well, within reason, obviously).
Secondly, and most importantly, it’s an informative tour led by great guides that lasts just about the right length of time and doesn’t finish in a gift shop (I always find that free tours seem to end up in a gift shop). The tour provided a great insight into the construction and architecture of the mosque as well as some background to Islamic culture and civilization.
Tour times can be found on the mosque website and operate on a ‘walk-in’ basis i.e. no booking is required.
If you’re adamant that don’t want a guided tour then you could also consider the audio guide, which I believe is also still free. Just remember to take your ID as you’ll need to leave it with them as a deposit (again, passports probably won’t be accepted).
Do your Research on Opening Hours
Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the mosque’s opening hours to avoid disappointment! From Saturday to Thursday the mosque is open from 9am until 10pm. On Fridays it’s open from 4.30pm to 10pm (it’s only open for worship on Friday mornings). Separate opening hours become operational during the month of Ramadan and on Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.
Getting There and Away
Considering its popularity with tourists, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque isn’t all that accessible by public transport. The nearest bus stop is a 10-minute walk away. That may not sound like much, but when the desert sun is beating down on you in the middle of the day 10 minutes can be the difference between life and death (yes, slight exaggeration but you get my point).
Your best bet is therefore grabbing a taxi. They’re metered which also negates the frustrating ‘negotiating’ required to secure a fair rate. There’s a taxi rank outside of the mosque; and if you’re looking for a taxi at any point during your stay then they’re also easily spotted and flagged down on the street (they are silver with yellow roof signs).
A final option is to grab the Big Bus Tour green line which stops right outside the mosque. As I mentioned in my Abu Dhabi Destination Guide I think the tour is pretty exorbitantly priced. However, it visits pretty much everywhere you’d want to visit in the city, means you can get around with minimal fuss, and provides air-conditioned comfort when the going gets rough.
If you’re staying in Dubai then a day-trip is entirely feasible (it’s about a 1.5 hour drive each way). You can either join one of the plentiful tour operator options, grab the public bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi or take a taxi (which isn’t as expensive you’d think and most taxi drivers appear willing to do the long journey).
I hope you found this article useful and if you have any additional tips, hints or inspiration following your own visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque then make sure that you post them in the comments section below.