Dan and I paid a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque last November on a weekend layover in Abu Dhabi en route to the Seychelles. We had a lot of questions, including what to wear(!), before our visit, so here is what we learned to help you on your visit!
THE SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
First off, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, one of the most beautiful and interesting things we have seen in a good while. Any visit to Abu Dhabi should not miss this important site.
In terms of facts, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was built between 1994 and 2007 and was the idea of the late UAE president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is apparently now buried in the Mosque’s courtyard. The Mosque is the largest in the UAE and is a working Mosque, with many, many people coming to worship daily (tourists don’t usually see this). The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is also home to what is considered the largest carpet in the world and the third largest chandelier in the world, and they are both ridiculously beautiful. The carpet was made by Iran’s Carpet Company and the chandeliers are by Faustig in Munich, Germany. I was HERE for these things.
HOURS OF THE SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
The Mosque is open Saturday – Thursday 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM and Friday from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Hours vary during Ramadan (check the website to confirm hours).
Good news – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is absolutely free to visit! While free, you do need to register your visit, which you can do in advance online. We registered in advance and it saved us a few minutes. Otherwise, you should be able to register onsite. Be sure to bring your registration confirmation on your phone or in paper if you do so in advance. Mosque employees will scan it several times.
WHAT TO WEAR TO THE SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
Ah, what to wear. I spent far too much time worrying about this. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s English website provides a lot of information on this, including a drawing of what is and what is not allowed. But, for those reading this blog, women should know that they must dress conservatively. Traditional dress is not required, but women will need to fully cover up, including the head, arms and legs (which is tough in the heat for those not used to dressing conservatively!). I wore long wide leg pants, sandals, and a long sleeve sweater that is not at all fitted. I also wore a head scarf, which is absolutely required for women. Here is a picture:
Men have more options, bu Dan dressed pretty conservatively. Dan worse long khakis and a long sleeve polo. However, we saw many men in short sleeves and below-the-knee shorts. Men do not have to wear a head covering. Here is Dan:
If you don’t have the appropriate attire, the mall from where one enters the Mosque has several stores selling appropriate attire and head scarfs. We saw lots of tourists buying appropriate things to wear into the Mosque and they seemed reasonably priced. We had heard/read that staff is incredibly strict and frequently makes tourists “rent” something from the Mosque to wear over ones clothing, but we did not see this happening at all on our visit (not to a single person, and there were some iffy attires IMO). That being said, however, this could have been due to the crowds when we visited. Who knows – better safe than sorry!
DO I NEED A TOUR OF THE SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
Lots and lots of companies hawk paid tours of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. And visitors will see lots of big bus tours dropping tourists off at the mosque’s Visitor Center. However, if you are at all capable of traveling on your own, you do not need a tour if you do not want one. Simply grab a taxi and get dropped off at the Mosque’s Visitor’s Center. As you will read below, the standard walk-though tour hits all the highlights and was sufficient for us. There is even an audio guide for guests to borrow during non-Covid times.
If you are looking for an actual guided tour of the mosque by an expert, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque actually offers 11 free tours to tourists daily! You can find the times here. We attempted to take one of these tours, but it was just way to crowded the day we visited. If you want to take a guided tour, I suggest arriving at least an hour early, if not more, to get in and to the meeting point, which on our visit was under the main entrance to the Mosque.
THE SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF THE SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
The self-guided standard tour begins with drop off at the Visitor’s Center, which seems to be a bit far from the Mosque. In fact, its a small building with an escalator that goes town into a mall with lots of Western outposts, including McDonalds and Starbucks… Follow the signs for the Mosque entrance and have your tickets ready (or get in line to buy them here). Also, now is a good time to buy something appropriate to wear if you are not properly dressed. Lots of shops open for this purpose.
Visitors next line up and go through a security screening. Guests then walk down a looooong hallway decorated with some history about the Mosque. Visitors eventually reach an escalator that takes them up to the entrance to the Mosque. And don’t worry, if this seems like too much walking to you, there are golf-cart style vehicles that can ferry guests around this area.
Once out of the Visitor’s Center, guests are treated to some of the best photo ops of the Mosque. Feel free to walk around this area and take lots of pictures, of course keeping in mind that guests should act in a conservative manner at all times here. When finished without door photos, guests enter the Mosque through the main white entrance.
Once inside, tourists walk around that gorgeous white marble square, on which tourists are NOT allowed to walk. Photos are a bit more difficult inside due to the number of people, and this is especially true on crowded days. We did manage to get some good pictures!
Tourists next make their way around the square and eventually into the Mosque for the first time. Tip – you need to scan your ticket again. Entry into the Mosque is into a STUNNING white room decorated with flowers. We both loooved this room.
You next get to peek inside the Mosque and catch a glimpse of the world’s largest, and perhaps prettiest, carpet! There is also a stunning chandelier on display (I think this was the largest one). Guests continue back outside and around the side of the Mosque, past beautiful white arches in the building, eventually coming to another view of a smaller floral room and another glimpse of that carpet and chandelier.
After this glimpse, guests are let outside to walk alongside the Mosque back to where one entered. This walk also offers fantastic views and photo opportunities.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street، – 5th St – Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates. Be sure to go to the Visitor’s Center.
ON A BUDGET
Go, go, go – entrance is free! This is particularly nice in pricey Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi also runs a public bus to the Mosque, so you don’t even have to take a taxi.