After spending five days in Dubai we went to Abu Dhabi. Our main aim was to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We decided against a bus tour offered by many travel agents in Dubai and instead chose the public transport option. Also, we were interested to see, if that was a cheaper option too. After all, we are budget travellers!
Public Transport: Dubai ⇒ Abu Dhabi
The one-way bus ticket is 25AED. However, in Dubai Al Ghubaiba Bus Station we were charged for the silver NOL card too and thus the Dubai to Abu Dhabi ticket was 35AED, although I still had 4AED on the card to spend (in Dubai all public transport is paid with NOL cards and we were using red NOL cards). The return ticket was 25AED; so total for the bus trip was 60AED (note: 10AED is approximately £2).
Buses to Abu Dhabi run almost every 30minutes and have air conditioning to make the 2hours and a bit trip more comfortable. In order to beat the queues at the Grand Mosque and join the first morning free guided tour, we left Dubai with 06:55am bus. It was very early and sleepy start of the day.
Abu Dhabi Main Bust Terminal ⇒ The Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is about 20minutes drive from the main bus station. We didn’t really have time to figure out the local busses and thus took a taxi. Walking in such heat was not an option. All taxies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are metered and thus you don’t need to worry about being overcharged. All our experiences with taxi while visiting the UAE were good. The taxi cost us 37AED.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Mosque opens at 9am to 10pm on Thursdays to Saturdays and 4:30pm to 10pm on Fridays. The Grand Mosque has a strict modest dress code, which means that your clothes need to be loose fitting and cover your arms, knees and hair (women). At the entrance to the Mosque area women can rent abayas and scarves and men kandourahs free of charge. I was dressed appropriately but my husband was with shorts and after some confusion with guards both of us needed to borrow the clothes, which was not an issue as the whole process is very simple. At the entrance of the Mosque you will need to take your shoes off. There are shoes racks provided where to leave them.
We joined the first morning free guided tour organised by the Grand Mosque. Once you enter the Grand Mosque, you wait at clearly designated area for the guide to come. The tour lasts between 45 and 60minutes; ours was 60minutes. I highly recommend joining the tour.
The guide explained about the Mosque and included some very interesting facts like the ivory-white mausoleum, Taj Mahal in India, was an inspiration for the Mosque! By joining the guided tour you can walk more freely in the areas, which are restricted to visitors. Visitors turn left after entering the Grand Mosque and follow the restricted route around the Mosque and enter a restricted area in the main hall. If you join the tour, the guide takes you to the right and the way to the main hall is not restricted like on the left. Actually, the guide takes you inside the main prayer hall and you can observe chandeliers, decorations, the carpet and the Qibla wall (facing towards the Holy city of Mecca) from very close! Much better experience with the guide than without as we tried both ways. Also, fewer people around for greater experience and of course better pictures.
The guide also lets you to walk in the main square, which is not allowed outside the guided tour. I tried but it was so hot that the heat of the marble surface was unbearable for my bare feet!
It is a magnificent building that took 11years to build and one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen! It has not only 82 Moroccan style domes, 28 different types of marble but also 1144 columns (1048 columns outside and 96 columns inside). The top of domes is covered with pure (24 karat) gold. Columns are decorated with flowers, which have semi-precious stones like agate, pearl, amethyst and gold imitation at the top. They look stunning in the white marble surrounding and bright sun and reflected by mirror water pools.
I learnt that decorations in Islam do not contain animals or humans. Instead they decorate with calligraphy, geometrical shapes and flowers such as tulips, lilies. The details of the Grand Mosque are delicate and very precise. Attention to every detail!
The Persian carpet in the main hall is astonishing! It is the biggest carpet I have ever seen with my eyes. It actually holds the Guinness world record for largest hand-woven carpet. It took 18months and 1,200 artisans to make it and used 35 tonnes of wool and cotton.
The main hall has three gorgeous chandeliers. The middle one is called ‘mother of all mosque chandeliers’ and weights nine tonnes. Nine tonnes! It is unbelievable. Chandeliers in the main hall represent Palm trees, which are very important in Arabic life. It is made up of millions of Swarovski crystals and 24karat plated gold. The seven chandeliers in the Mosque were made in German and cost more than eight million dollars; a number that I cannot comprehend.
How do you clean these massive and delicate things? Two people clean chandeliers twice a year by climbing hidden tunnels in the chandeliers.
After the tour we spent another 2 hours walking inside and outside the mosque. There is a coffee shop outside the mosque to cool down and have a cold or hot drink or even a sandwich or cake.
It was a summer in UAE in September and we were extremely hot after walking around the Grand Mosque in long sleeved clothing. The temperature was 45C+ (!); extremely hot for my liking. So after seeing a free shuttle with air conditioning (we were desperate to cool down) bus to the Wahat Al Karama, we didn’t think twice. The shuttle bus goes between the Grand Mosque and the Wahat Al Karama every 30minutes.
Wahat AL Karama
It is a Memorial to the UAEs’ heroes who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country since the time of the its founding. The site is directly opposite the Grand Mosque and was opened in 2016. It is still under development as museum is being currently built as well. It has great views of the Grand Mosque.
The centrepiece of the Memorial is a structure of 31 massive leaning tablets clad in aluminium. Many poems and quotations are engraved in the tablets’ surface in an Arabic simple script.
We stayed there for 30minutes and took the shuttle bus back to the Grand Mosque to grab a taxi.
The Grand Mosque: Bus Tour or Public Transport?
If we were visiting only the Grand Mosque in the Abu Dhabi (for me it was the main aim), the trip would have cost approximately 90AED per person (based on two people sharing taxies). The benefit of using public transport was that I was not limited to the time I could spend in the Grand Mosque, was able to join the free guided tour (highly recommended) and did not need to visit commercial places for photos in which I had no interest at all.
The typical bus tour costs 250-300AED. You will visit the Grand Mosque but would be limited to time and would not be able to join the free guided tour. They would drive you to take pictures outside the Marina, YAS world, Ferrari World Theme Park, Emirates Palace. You would visit the Heritage Village, which we actually wanted to see too. If you decide to do the bus tour, look at GROUPON for offers. We successfully used GROUPON for activities in Dubai.
Sizzling heat, failed visit to the Emirates Palace and Corniche
After visiting the Grand Mosque, we took a taxi to the Empire Palace. Unlike to Burj Arab in Dubai you can enter the Empire Palace without reservation at the hotel. To our disappointment and slight surprise we were not let in. They too have a strict dress code and shorts, which my husband was wearing, were not allowed. So instead we looked at it from the outside like everyone else coming with bus tours. The taxi from the Grand Mosque to the Empire Palace was 50AED.
We walked towards the beach and the Corniche Street. The stroll on the beach very slightly cooled us down but the heat was draining us immensely and thus we decided to end the day and head back to Dubai and cool down in the rooftop pool instead. The taxi from the cornice to the main bus station was 19AED.