Undoubtedly one of the highlights for visitors to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (“the Grand Mosque”)
Not only is it one of the most architecturally magnificent buildings in the world, it is a house of worship accommodating up to 41,000 people during peak times, and the resting place of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the Late Sheik 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 its pristine white walls, domes and minarets during the day, or to stare in awe at its imposing nighttime silhouette. It is undoubtedly a modern wonder.
A few 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. He 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.
We have taken our overseas visitors to the Grand Mosque on several occasions now, with many combinations of our three children in tow (all under 6 years old). If I’m honest, it’s been very hard work. They are small and have little interest in marvelling at architecture, waiting patiently while you line up photographs or listening to ‘boring’ explanations. They want to run and touch where they shouldn’t, they want to be carried, they want to use their outside voices and swing on the ropes.
Maybe it’s just my children but I certainly find it’s a handful. But the mosque is absolutely not to be missed off your Abu Dhabi itinerary, so how can you best prepare yourself for a visit to such a significant and holy place?
Tips for visiting the Grand Mosque with kids
- 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.
- There is now clothing hire facilities at the entrance (free, and as of late 2016 a Photo ID deposit no longer required). Security will direct you here first if they think anyone in your group is dressed inappropriately. Women will borrow a shayla (this is like a gown with head covering, but not the full face), and men a dishdasha or thobe – a full-length white gown, just as you see the local Emirati men and women wearing.
- 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)
General tips for visiting the Grand Mosque
- 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. These run daily at 10am, 11am and 5pm except Friday’s (only 5pm) and last around 45 minutes. You must be present before the start time to receive your headsets but you are then free to explore the buildings and grounds afterwards.
- 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. Although it does open briefly in the evening, it can be very busy in the mosque area on a Friday so worth avoiding, especially while current car park works in the grounds are ongoing and parking is limited.
- 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.
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 but not reveal your skin!
- For the best chance of getting a crowd-free shot, you must be there for opening time at 9am.
- 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 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 for 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 Wat Al Karama. Either drive of 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, you will get some of the best views of the 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 Wat Al Karama at dawn on a clear day.
- 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 Wat 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 our 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.
If you are squeezing in a visit between flights from Abu Dhabi airport, it’s only a 15-20 minute drive away. Allow yourself at least a 4-hour stopover with time to clear immigration at both ends if you are trying to fit it in.
From Dubai, you can hire a taxi, private car, or look to join a tour, below are some of our Get Your Guide partner suggestions for tour companies.
Check out this detailed guide here on how to get between Dubai and Abu Dhabi
It may not be the most entertaining place for kids, but without a doubt, just be prepared for what lies ahead and make sure its an essential part of your agenda for visiting Abu Dhabi.
No matter how many times I take visitors, I still discover something new to admire, see things from a different angle and learn more about this architecturally stunning place. Kids will be kids but there have to be moments that are for adults too, don’t miss Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque off your UAE agenda for their sake.
Opening Hour Details
Daily (except Friday) 9am – 10pm
Friday 4.30pm – 10pm
(always subject to change in the UAE and hours may vary during summer, Ramadan and other religious occasions – please consult the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center for current information)
Have you visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi? What were your highlights? Did you find something the kids really enjoyed?
Want to know more about visiting the UAE? Don’t miss our guide to 15 important facts to know before visiting the UAE.
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