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Abu Dhabi’s white gem – the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Visiting the United Arab Emirates was a bit of an eye-opener, one just doesn’t automatically think of the Middle East as a place where you can kayak in the mangroves or hang out at a super chi-chi beach club in your bikini – most probably you’ll think of visiting its mosques, and if there is just one mosque you have to check out, make it the gleaming white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, 3rd largest mosque in the world.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Pano Courtyard

There are 82 domes in total in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque


The idea of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was conceived in 1986, though work only started 10 years later and was finally completed in 2007, utilizing over 3,000 workers and materials from all over the globe. At any one time, the mosque can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers in its indoor and outdoor courts, imagine that.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Guide Clock

Our excellent guide Jasin showing us a special clock that displays all the Muslim prayer times for the day – Fajr (Dawn), Dhuhr (Midday), Asr (Afternoon), Maghrib (Sunset), Isha’a (Night)… I can’t remember what the 6th petal is for though, maybe the actual time? The center portion has the dates for our calendar and the corresponding Islamic one.

While you can visit it on your own time, I highly recommend taking one of the free English tours because not only do you get a very thorough explanation and background of the mosque, you get special access to walk beyond the barriers of where the normal tourists are directed.

The English tours are at 10am, 11am and 4pm (no pre-booking required unless you have a particularly large group) – our tour started quite promptly. It’s a pretty informal set-up where the guides welcome you at the entrance and then split the groups up among the guides. Each guide takes his group to a different area and explains its background and history in detail. A lot of intricate craftsmanship when into building this mosque, and I can’t imagine how much work is needed to keep it this white. Because we were on tour, we got to cut across the courtyard, while other visitors were directed to keep within the marked pathways.



The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is really impressive from the outside – all that white expanse, and as you get closer to the walls you see how much detail has been carved into its surface, it’s really stunning.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Entrance

Look at how small the people are in comparison to the mosque. On the occasion the mosque gets too full, the crowds spill out into this courtyard area. White then becomes practical because it’s much cooler under the hot sun

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Wall Detail

It’s not just a flat wall, look at the floral detail carved into it

The exterior also has all these beautiful pillars that are meant to mimic palm trees which are very important in Abu Dhabi. In true Emirati style, it’s all gleaming gold and beautiful.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed PIllars

Thanks J for this awesome shot. I can’t get enough of the detail and symmetry happening in this hallway

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Palm Minaret

There are 4 minaret towers around the mosque, one in each corner

You simultaneously you had wide angle vision and a macro lens at the same time. The scale of the mosque is massive and really does make you feel small and humbled, perhaps the intention, but you can see just how much work went into making every single artistic detail.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Doorway Flowers

I love the colourful flowers – here you can see how large the mosque really is and how tall those doorways are

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Flower Carvings

The flowers on the floor are part of the tilework or painted on, but those on the walls are actual carvings – look at the detail



The inside of the mosque is no less impressive than the outside – it’s hard to decide what to gawk at first, there are these huge, glittering chandeliers, intricate shiny wall designs, and what is apparently the world’s largest carpet that covers the interior floor of the mosque.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Chandelier Drop

Random thought: cleaning these must be such a pain

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Chandelier Round

Fun fact – these chandeliers are actually all imported from Munich and made of Swarovski crystals

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Wall Names

Shiny – Those are the 99 names of Allah

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Me Inside

Even the carpet is all sorts of impressive – The carpet is the large continuous piece in the world, weighs 36 tonnes and took 2 years to hand-make and transport. If you notice the raised grooves in the carpet – these lines help demarcate the rows of worshippers and were made by hand-shaving the carpet after it was installed. The shaving took off about 12 tonnes worth of material.

I definitely recommend anyone visiting Abu Dhabi to pop by the mosque for a visit – it’s an architectural feat but it’s also a great way to learn about the Muslim and Islamic culture. The guide was really great and was happy to answer just about any question you could ask.



Modesty is the way to go – covered shoulders and upper arms, long pants or skirts, and something to cover your head with for the ladies. If in doubt, err on the side of modesty. But in the event you forget, they do provide free Abayas at the entrance that you can pull on (the black coverall hooded dress that the local women wear) and Thobes (the white tunic men wear), which might be an experience in itself. You’ll need to take off your shoes when entering the mosque.

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Me Back

All covered up – I wore jeans with a tunic dress, threw on a thin long sleeved windbreaker to be safe and had a scarf for my head.


Pro tip: I visited in the day time, but you might also want to consider coming back in the evening when it starts to get dark – there have a pretty funky lighting system which is supposed to follow the phases of the moon and looks awesome. More on the Mosque’s website.


Check out the rest of my UAE posts, or check out the really cool Falcon Hospital or my desert oasis villa experience

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
Tel: +971 2 4416444
Email: [email protected]
Opening Hours: The mosque is generally open from Sat – Thurs from 9am – 10pm, but is closed during prayer time and on Friday till 4.30pm, so keep an eye out here for more details on opening hours and tour timings before you visit.