When we visited Abu Dhabi at the back 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. Having converted the magnificent structure on social media I was eager to see it up close and personal for myself. We love Big Bus Tours so when I saw that the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was a stop on the route, it made sense to utilise the bus to get there, plus it meant we could get some shots of the mosque from the open top bus.
If you plan to visit and don’t have Big Bus Tour tickets, taxis to and from Sheikh Zayed Mosque from downtown Abu Dhabi and even Dubai, the neighbouring Emirate, are reasonably priced. Also, if you hire a car there are plenty of free parking spaces available.
The mosque dominates the skyline around it and is a beautiful sight to behold. As we got closer I could feel the butterflies in my stomach and couldn’t wait to get inside and see if it was as breathtaking as it was from the outside. We arrived at around 2.00pm and the powerful Abu Dhabi sun was beating down on us and with temperatures in the high 30s, we instantly knew we had mistimed 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 though the day and night temperatures when we visit didn’t fluctuate that much, the one or two-degree drop would have been very welcome. Plus it is reported to be when the mosque looks its best as it basks in the setting sun.
Entrance to the mosque is free, which surprised me, but I didn’t complain, everything else – food, drink etc, is relatively expensive in Abu Dhabi, so a free attraction got a big thumbs up from me. Upon arrival, it was pretty obvious what we had to do and everything was signposted well. We walked into the entrance, for want of a better word, Portakabin and passed through airport-style security. I was then pointed in one direction and Mr ESLT in the other.
Mr ESLT had shorts on, therefore he was given a pair of actually quite fashionable trousers, making him look like an extra from a 1 Direction music video. I, on the other hand, was given an abaya, a long dress with hood, to wear over my own clothes. I was not given a choice of colour and ended up with an almost flesh coloured one, making me look like a walking raw sausage (urgh!). I had also forgotten to take a scarf, which had been recommended to wear over my head, although I don’t even think a Hermès could make this outfit look good. Both the trousers and the abaya were free to borrow and we simply returned them at the end of our visit.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a breathtaking example of architecture and one that I could not stop staring at. The intricate design on such a grand scale is very impressive. Neither could anyone else as cameras and smartphones galore were being pointed and pressed in the mosques direction. However, in reality, no photograph will ever do it justice, it is truly somewhere that has to be seen to really appreciate it.
One thing that I’m glad we had with us were sunglasses because, man, the sun reflecting off the mosque was at sometimes blinding. One thing I wish we had known before we visited (should have done more research, my bad!) was to wear slip-on shoes/sandals, as you have to remove your shoes before entering and as we both were wearing trainers, it was a bit of a pain in the bum taking them off and putting them back on, but totally worth it.
Opened in 2007, with 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, you can just simply wander about on your own, for as long as you like. However, there are a number of complimentary one hour guided tours which you can join. They run (Sun-Thurs) at 10am, 11am and 5pm, Fridays at 5pm and 7pm and Saturdays 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm. The tour is a great way of finding out more about the mosque, its history and how it was made.
It’s important to remember that you cannot smoke, eat or drink at the mosque, not even a sneaky swig of water out of a bottle in your backpack, however, there are free drinking water fountains close to the entrance and exit. Other things to remember are that men and women should not touch and there are guards everywhere to enforce this, and all the other rules – shoes, attire, behaviour etc. If Rhianna can be kicked out for inappropriate behaviour, so can you.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open daily to visitors, except on Friday mornings, which are for worshippers only. Check out the mosque’s website if you plan to visit during Ramadan as opening hours may vary. No pre-booking necessary or possible. However, bear in mind it is the most popular attraction in Abu Dhabi, therefore it is more often than not busy, but because of its size, I can’t imagine it ever feels too busy, after all, it can hold 40,000 people.
We loved visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and it truly was one of, if not, the highlight of our visit to Abu Dhabi and one we would definitely recommend. Just remember to adhere to the rules and I’m sure you will have a great time too!
Have you visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque before? Did you love it as much as we did? We’d love to hear your opinion….