Considered to be the key site for worship in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center is one of Abu Dhabi’s key attractions. Non-Muslims are welcome at this architectural wonder, making it a must-see for any avid traveler. It remains closed for worship only on Friday mornings. Get inspired for your trip to Abu Dhabi, and find out what to expect from a visit to this stunning landmark.
The world’s most beautiful mosque
An imposing structure of marble and gold surrounded by manicured gardens and tiled pools, the sight of Sheikh Zayed Mosque will stop you in your tracks. Spanning 17,000 square meters (56,000 square feet), the courtyard is vast and spacious – so even when it’s at its busiest, it won’t feel too crowded.
Sheikh Zayed’s main prayer hall can accommodate over 7,000 worshippers. There are 82 domes in total, as well as 1,000 marble columns. Be sure to look at them closely, as each is embedded with semi-precious stones. “Visitors should pay attention to every detail in the mosque,” says YouTuber Oksy. “Just imagine how much effort was put into building this significant architectural monument.”
Oksy has been living in the UAE for the past 5 years. She’s based in Dubai – just over an hour’s drive from Sheikh Zayed. Her YouTube channel, Oksy in Dubai is packed with videos on expat life in the UAE, and is a great place to pick up tips on the area. Oksy’s thoughts on Sheikh Zayed? “It's a masterpiece of modern Islamic architecture and the most beautiful mosque I've ever seen,” she muses. “I am impressed by the wordless beauty, tranquility and majestic atmosphere.”
The best time to visit Sheikh Zayed
To capture some truly spectacular photos, we recommend visiting just before sunset. “It’s beautiful at any time of the day, but I think the best time for a visit is before the sunset, as you can see the mosque lit up,” says Oksy. “Also, take into consideration that it is very hot in the UAE from April to October, so it's better to avoid visiting the mosque between 12pm – 4pm.” If you are planning a daytime trip, be sure to take your sunglasses! The white marble is striking, but can be quite blinding in the sun.
How to get there from Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed is just a 20-minute drive from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Abu Dhabi Yas Island. There are plenty of buses from Abi Dhabi to the site, as well as organized day trips. Alternatively, you could take a taxi – a particularly good option if you are traveling as a small group. Speak to the Radisson Blu concierge team to learn more.
What to wear
Before entering, remember that this is a religious site, and the dress code is very strict. “Women must cover the head, wrists and ankles,” explains Oksy. “If you are not dressed appropriately, you are able to hire an abaya (long dress) free of charge. Men – no tank tops and no shorts.” If you decide to wear your own headscarf, make sure that it is not transparent. Be prepared to walk around barefoot too, as you will need to remove your shoes before entering the mosque. You might find it more convenient to wear shoes that are easy to slip off, such as flip-flops.
Exploring the mosque and courtyard
Hour-long tours of the site are free, and there are several throughout the day. The tours are fun and interactive, and you’ll learn plenty about Islamic and Emirati culture. They set off from the east side of the mosque – you’ll find plenty of guides to point you in the right direction. Alternatively, you can wander freely within most areas of the compound. “It doesn’t take too much time to visit all the places in the mosque as there is usually no queue, and it’s easy enough to move around,” says Oksy. Just be sure not to skip these must-sees:
• One of the biggest chandeliers in the world. Standing at 15 meters (49 feet) tall, it contains millions of Swarovski crystals.
• The largest handmade carpet in the world. Situated in the main prayer hall, it took around 2 years for over 1,200 people to design and make it. The carpet covers a remarkable 5,700 square meters (18,700 square feet).
• The Qibla wall. Facing Mecca, this mesmerizing wall is inscribed with 99 different names for Allah.
• Sheikh Zayed’s opening times are 9am – 10pm from Saturday to Thursday, and 4.30pm – 10pm on Friday.
• During Ramadan, the mosque is closed on Fridays, and closes at 1pm from Saturday to Thursday.
• Entrance is free, although there may be a charge for certain events or exhibitions.
• Children are allowed to visit as long as they are supervised by a parent or guardian at all times.
• In the main prayer hall, do not touch the Holy Quran or any part of the building.
• No food or drink is allowed within the mosque area. Smoking is also prohibited.
The Sheikh Zayed website contains more handy tips and details to help you plan an unforgettable visit.