It is Abu Dhabi's star attraction, attracting millions each year, yet despite the footfall, there's a wonderful air of calm that surrounds the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The UAE's largest and most ornate place of worship doesn't disappoint and with tourists traveling from around the globe to bask in the opulence, it's no surprise a staggering 4 million visitors came to experience it in the first half of 2019 alone.
Taxis from Abu Dhabi city center are the quickest and most convenient way to get to the mosque as it's just a 20-minute ride, and the fares are reasonable.
Those staying in Dubai should definitely make the road trip as it's around 90 minutes from Dubai Mall and a real sight to behold, whether you're religious or not.
Combine the mosque with another Abu Dhabi-based attraction to make the most of your trip to the capital. And those who prefer not to flag down a local Dubai taxi (although most would be grateful for the Abu Dhabi fare) can ask their hotel concierge to arrange a private taxi to travel in air-conditioned luxury complete with iPhone charging ports.
The mosque is free to visit and opens daily between 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (last entry at 9.30 p.m.), except on Friday mornings (Islam's holy day), when it opens between 4.30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The free complimentary one-hour guided tours are definitely worth signing up for, as they're a great insight into the incredible wonder, religion, and culture.
The best time is catching the sunset tour, which starts at 5 p.m., the thing that makes the most of the romantic lighting. Visitors can also expect a completely different ambiance with the mosque's spectacular illumination after dark.
Modest dress is a must for all visitors as it's a Muslim site. Women should cover their legs, arms, and heads, and men are required to wear long trousers, however, the mosque does provide free traditional abayas (robes) prior to entry, which takes the hassle out of trying to find a mosque-appropriate outfit. Everyone must remove their shoes before entering so bring a pair of socks if you prefer not to walk around barefoot. You'll need a pair of sunglasses when marveling at the outside as the sun reflects on the marble surface of the courtyard.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque takes its name from the UAE's first president and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who conceived the idea.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands out as one of the world’s largest mosques, and the only one that captures unique interactions between Islam and world cultures. Sheikh Zayed's vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations and celebrate cultural diversity by creating a haven that is truly diverse and inspirational in its foundation. The mosque’s architects were British; Italian and Emirati, and design inspiration was borrowed parts of the architectural heritage of Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt among other Islamic countries, revealing a glistening architectural marvel with an astonishing capacity of 40,000 worshippers and visitors.
The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan took the architectural direction of the project with his wish for it to be his final resting place. After his death in 2004, his body was buried in the mosque's courtyard. The spectacular monument was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdel. Inspired by Persian, Mughal, and Moorish architecture, it was a truly international collaboration of more than 3,000 artisans from 38 global construction companies.
Arguably the real opulence is in the tiny details, such as precious stones like amethyst and jasper embedded into the columns and the intricate floral patterns in mother-of-pearl radiating across the walls.
The open-door policy invites tourists and celebrants from all around the world who can witness the spectacular onion-top domes, the reflective pools that engulf the courtyard, and the iconic prayer hall, which not only overflows with blissful sunlight but also houses the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade. Be sure to spot the calligraphy encircling the hollows of the domes, etched with verses from the Quran, and painted with gold leaves in An-Naskh lettering.
The mosque has had its fair share of celebrity visitors and is especially loved by the supermodels -- step forward Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Shanina Shaik, Chanel Iman, and Halima Aden -- who all donned traditional wear to marvel at the breathtaking place of worship.
Britain's Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall kicked off their three-day tour to the UAE with a visit in 2016 while celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, and British songstress Dua Lipa all made sure Abu Dhabi's VIP landmark was on their Middle East itineraries.