Not only is it one of the most architecturally magnificent buildings in the world, but it is also an active house of worship accommodating up to 41,000 people. The Grand Mosque is also the resting place of the Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, the Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan “May Allah rest his soul in peace”.
Located at the entrance to the city on Abu Dhabi island, its hard to miss the Grand Mosque with its pristine white walls, domes and minarets during the day. Or maybe you prefer it’s soft nighttime glow and awe-inspiring silhouette. It is undoubtedly a modern wonder. So how do you visit the Grand Mosque?
In this article we will cover:
- Interesting facts to know about the Grand Mosque
- General tips and etiquette for visitors to the Grand Mosque
- How to visit the Grand Mosque with young children
- More about nearby Wahat Al Karama memorial
- Tips for photographing the Grand Mosque
- Where to stay in Abu Dhabi for the best Geand Mosque views
- How to get to the Grand Mosque
- Grand Mosque opening hours and tour times
Interesting facts to know about the Grand Mosque
- The Grand Mosque has been open for worship since 2007. The Mosque was built to honour the countries Founding Father, considered a visionary leader who believed nothing was impossible.
- Sheikh Zayed is in fact laid to rest on the Grand Mosque site. His mausoleum is in a separate building outside the main mosque complex (out of respect no photos are allowed here).
- The Grand Mosque is actively used throughout the week by Muslim worshipers, accommodating 10,000 in the internal areas and 31,000 in the external areas – they do reach capacity during Ramadan & Eid celebrations.
- There were more than 38 contractors and thousands of workers from around the world involved with completing various elements of the structure and decoration. Sourcing long-lasting materials and expert craftsmanship was of paramount importance.
- The architectural style is made from a combination of Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles – describe as “A fusion of Arab, Persian, Mughal and Moorish” with the purpose of fusing the diverse Islamic world with art and beauty – the result is simply stunning.
- It holds several “largest in the world” claims to fame – include the largest hand-woven carpet at a whopping 5,627 sqm and the largest marble mosaic floor in its 17,000 sqm courtyard.
- A recent TripAdvisor survey ranked the Grand Mosque as the second most popular landmark in the world, only behind Machu Picchu in Peru.
General tips for visiting the Grand Mosque
- The Grand Mosque is open to the public seven days a week from 9am (except Fridays) until 10pm – get in as early as possible in the day to avoid the heat and inevitable crowds.
- Entrance is FREE, you must only pass through security screening to enter.
- Respectful dress must be worn inside the Grand Mosque grounds at all times. For everyone, this means long trousers and for women, arms and head must also be covered.
- If you are not well enough covered, there is a dressing room available at security before entering the Mosque grounds. Women can hire abayas (full-length robes) or shaylas (a head covering only) free of charge here. Men with shorts above the knee may also be asked to hire a Kandura – white long-sleeved robe.
- Try and arrive in time for a free guided tour. Conducted in English or Arabic by fabulously well versed Emirati volunteers, they will talk you through many of the important architectural features of the building and answer any of your questions. See timing below.
- You must be present before the tour start time to receive your headsets so arrive in plenty of time – you can freely tour the rest of the Mosque and grounds after your tour.
- If you don’t take a guided tour, there is little other signed information around the Grand Mosque. The few facts above will scrape you through with some basic knowledge if you’ve just come in for a lightning visit, but it really pays to do some research beforehand to get the most out of your visit and fully appreciate it’s grandeur.
- The Grand Mosque is closed until 4.30pm on a Friday as this is the holy day in the Islamic world.
- There is a small coffee and gift shop on the grounds, but no food or drinks are allowed inside the Grand Mosque itself. Feeding children outside the main courtyard is fine.
- There are a number of luxury hotels nearby where you can get excellent meals (the Ritz Carlton, Hilton Capital Grand), or cheaper options not far away include Zayed Sports City, Holiday Inn or the Officers Club where restaurants are open to the public.
- More on how to get there from Abu Dhabi and Dubai below.
Tips for visiting the Grand Mosque with young kids
We have taken our young children to the Grand Mosque on many different occasions and at many different ages. And it is honestly hard work.
Small children have little patience for architectural marvelling. Unlike many sites in the Middle East where children can freely explore, the Grand Mosque is carefully guarded and rules must be adhered to; there is no swinging on ropes, inside voices must be used and touching many parts of the building is strictly NOT allowed – all with good reason! It is, after all, a place of holy significance, not just a tourist attraction.
But the Grand Mosque is a mustn’t-miss attraction of the UAE. How do you find some balance and harmony to make your Grand Mosque trip worthwhile for you all?
- Around the courtyard, grounds and the outer perimeter of the Grand Mosque surfaces are flat and it’s easy to manoeuvre a stroller. You cannot, however, take your strollers on to the carpeted floor of the mosque. Strollers must be parked outside where everyone takes off their shoes before entering and you’ll need to carry your valuables.
- Once inside, there are several roped off areas where children cannot go. For little wanderers, you may want reins or a sling to carry your smaller ones as they do not take fondly to people crossing over the roped line.
- A slow walk around the inside may take upwards of 15-20 minutes if you’re a details person.
- Young children do not need to be covered, but its advisable for children from adolescence onward to be covered in the same way as adults – full arms and legs, and also head for women.
- Women and men have separate entrances but your group can rejoin immediately after. Young boys can go with their mothers.
- Your robes must be respectfully worn for the duration of your visit once inside the courtyard walls, avoiding exposed skin (easier said than done when children are tugging off you, I know).
(Top tip – if you really fancy the idea to dress up and experiencing part of the local culture, then you can deliberately come with uncovered legs to be sent to the hire room – there is no problem or shame with this)
Wahat Al Karama
Extend your trip to the Grand Mosque by also visiting Wahat Al Karama – translated “oasis of dignity”. The 45,000 sqm monument is located across the freeway from the Grand Mosque, next door to the Ritz Hotel and the General Headquarters of the UAE Armed Forces. The site is a permanent tribute and war memorial to honour the UAE’s martyred soldiers and other Emiratis who sacrificed their lives for the service of the nation.
The site includes a Memorial with distinctive aluminium clad slabs resting on one another, a Memorial Plaza with a beautiful reflective pool and a Pavillion of Honour. Open 9am to 10.45pm daily.
Tip for photographing the Grand Mosque
- Absolute number 1 rule; remain respectful of where you are at all time. Group shots are not allowed; wandering onto the central courtyard without permission is not allowed; Gratuitous selfies are just plain inappropriate. Remember it’s first and foremost a house of worship.
- It can be hard work especially on the ladies trying to get the right pose (for your camera, not your selfie) but not reveal your skin! Wearing something long under your abaya will reduce accidental reveals.
- For the best chance of getting a crowd-free shot, you must be there for the opening time at 9am. Late evenings after Isha (final prayers) it can be quieter too for some moody reflective shots.
- From up close, it’s really hard to get everything in one shot! If you don’t have a wide angle lens, you may need to use panorama or stitch features if your smartphone or camera has these.
- There are many reflective ponds that you can use to catch the light at it’s best.
- Play with the detail; there is so much detail that often gets overlooked in favour of the grand shots! Check out the intricate marble work, the archways, the stain glassed windows. The light will play with you no matter the time of day.
- For the best distance shots, head to Wahat Al Karama. Either drive or taxi over (the roads are a little complicated!) or if parked at the Mosque, head to the front by foot and you’ll find a footbridge that takes you across the freeway to the war memorial. Not only will you get to observe another part of the UAE’s very recent history, but you will also get some of the best views of the Grand Mosque over the stunning reflective pond.
- Golden hour is, of course, the best time – but evenings are very busy. If you are enthusiastic and really want that plum shot, get up early and head to Wahat Al Karama at dawn on a clear day (though those can be few and far between, most mornings you will find a little haze and slightly grey skies).
- In the winter you can get fogs too which make wonderful moody photos but are very hard to predict and capture.
- Be prepared for the humidity in the warmer summer months. Using a DSLR? Let your camera warm up before you are ready to shoot, keeping the lens cap on until you are ready.
- Beware of others in your photos, local ladies particularly should not be photographed without permission.
Where to stay in Abu Dhabi for the best views of the Grand Mosque
The closest hotel and the only one that is really walking distance if the weather is cool enough is The Ritz Carlton. This imposing hotel is immediately over the freeway connected by the pedestrian bridge to Wahat Al Karama. It’s also one of our top recommended stays for families with its restaurants and facilities, if budget permits.
The best distance views of the Mosque are captured from Bab al Bahr where there are several hotels including the Fairmont, Traders Hotel and the Shangri-La. When staying at these hotels you will likely be charged more for a waterside/mosque view room but waking up to see this stunning beauty? Completely worth it!
Check out this detailed guide to all the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi if you are travelling as a family
How to get to the Grand Mosque
From any hotel in central Abu Dhabi or from Yas Island it is an easy taxi drive, and plentiful drivers wait in the taxi ranks to take you to your next destination.
Visiting the Grand Mosque from Dubai
Even if you are staying in Dubai, the Grand Mosque is still frequently suggested as part of an itinerary. Note that you are just over 1 hours drive without heavy traffic from Downtown Dubai to the Mosque. You can hire a taxi (looking at 300AED roughly), private car (slightly more depending on size/quality of vehicle), or look to join a tour.
Below are some of our Get Your Guide partner suggestions for tour companies.
Can you visit the Grand Mosque during an AUH stopover?
If you are squeezing in a visit between flights from Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), it’s only a 15-20 minute drive away by taxi. Allow yourself at least a 4-hour stopover with time to clear immigration at both ends. An airport taxi adds a 25AED flag fall so expect a taxi to the Mosque to cost about 60-65AED. Your return taxi will be about 40AED. There is a taxi rank at the Grand Mosque.
If you are on a budget and coming via bus, the closest stopping point for the A1 route is at Zayed Sports City. The fare at time of writing is 4AED per person one way. It’s then approximately a 15-20 minute walk back to the Grand Mosque – not recommended in the summer heat but you may be able to catch a shorter taxi ride from ZSC to the Grand Mosque.
Opening Hour Details
Sunday to Thursday: 9am – 10pm (Tours: 10am, 11am, 5pm)
Friday: 4.30pm – 10pm (Tours: 5pm, 7pm)
Saturday: 9am to 10pm (Tours: 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 7pm)
Last admissions at 9.30pm
*Timings are always subject to change in the UAE and hours will vary for Ramadan and other religious occasions – please consult the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center for current information*
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Have you visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi? What were your highlights or top tips for families?
This post was originally published on Our Globetrotters – Adventurous Family Travel Blog (revised and updated as at September 2018). Researched and written by our editor Keri Hedrick, an avid traveller, writer and mum of 3 based in the UAE you can see more of Keri’s regional and overseas adventures with kids on Instagram. This article is not sponsored or endorsed by any of the businesses mentioned but does contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission.