When we visited Abu Dhabi, at the end of last year, the number one attraction I wanted to visit during our trip was the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the key place of worship for Friday gathering and Eid prayers in the city. After converting the beautiful structure on social media, I was looking forward to seeing it up close and personal for myself. We like Big bus tours, so when I saw that Sheikh Zayed Mosque was a stop on the road, it made sense to use the bus to get there, and it meant that we could take pictures of the mosque from the open-top bus.
If you plan to visit and don’t have big bus tickets, taxis to and from Sheikh Zayed Mosque from downtown Abu Dhabi, and even Dubai, the neighboring Emirate, are reasonably priced. In addition, if you rent a car, there are plenty of free parking spaces available.
The mosque dominates the horizon around it and is a beautiful sight to see. As we approached, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach and I couldn’t wait to get inside and see if it was as stunning as it was from the outside. We arrived around 14: 00 and the powerful Abu Dhabi sun was hitting us and with temperatures in the 30s, we immediately knew that we had incorrectly scheduled our visit. In reality and if we were to visit again, we would definitely visit for sunset, when the sun is not as strong and even if the day and night temperatures during our visit did not fluctuate much, the drop of one or two degrees would have been welcome. In addition, this is when the mosque is better because it basks in the setting sun.
Entrance to the mosque is free, which surprised me, but I did not complain, everything else – food, drink, etc., is relatively expensive in Abu Dhabi, so a free attraction got a big boost from me. On arrival it was quite obvious what we had to do and everything was well indicated. We entered the entrance, for lack of a better word, Portakabin and walked through airport-style security. I was then pointed in one direction and Mr. ILEC in the other.
Mr. ILEC had shorts, so he was given a pair of actually very fashionable pants, making him look like an extra from a 1 Direction Clip. I on the other hand, gave an abaya, long dress with hood, to wear over my clothes. I had no choice of color and ended up with an almost flesh color, making me look like a walking raw sausage (urgh!). I had also forgotten to take a scarf, which I had been recommended to wear on my head, although I do not even think that a Hermès can make this outfit, beautiful. The pants and abaya were free to borrow and we simply returned them at the end of our visit.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a breathtaking example of architecture that I couldn’t stop looking at. The complex design on such a scale is very impressive. No one else could either, as cameras and smartphones galore were pointed and pressed in the direction of mosques. However, in reality, no photograph will ever do it justice, it’s really somewhere you have to see to really appreciate it.
One thing I’m glad we had with us were sunglasses, because, man, the sun reflecting off the mosque was sometimes blinding. One thing I wish I knew before visiting (should have done more research, my bad!) was to wear shoes/sandals to put on, because you have to take off your shoes before entering and since we were both wearing sneakers, it was a bit painful to take them off and put them back on, but it was worth it.
Opened in 2007, with 82 domes, over 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, you can simply walk around alone, as long as you want. However, there are a number of free one-hour guided tours that you can join. They run (Sun-Thursday) at 10am, 11am and 5pm, Fridays at 5pm and 7pm and Saturdays at 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm. The tour is a great way to learn more about the mosque, its history and how it was made.
It is important to remember that you can not smoke, eat or drink at the mosque, not even a sneaky sip of water from a bottle in your backpack, however, there are free drinking water fountains near the entrance and exit. Other things to remember are that men and women should not touch and there are guards everywhere to enforce that, and all other rules – shoes, outfit, behavior, etc.If Rhianna can be kicked out for inappropriate behavior, so can you.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open daily to visitors, except Friday morning, reserved for the faithful. Check the mosque’s website if you plan to visit during Ramadan, as opening hours may vary. No pre-booking required or possible. However, keep in mind that this is the most popular attraction in Abu Dhabi, so it is most often busy, but due to its size, I can not imagine that it feels too busy, after all, it can hold 40,000 people.
We loved visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque and it was really one of, if not, the highlight of our visit to Abu Dhabi and one we would definitely recommend. Don’t forget to follow the rules and I’m sure you’ll have a great time too!