Constructed between 1996 and 2007 at the request of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and first president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is by far the most popular of Abu Dhabi’s sights, and it’s easy to see why. One of the largest mosques in the world, this house of worship features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns and a white and gold facade. What’s more, this is one of only two mosques in the UAE open to non-Muslim tourists. That means that visitors from all around the globe can walk across the world’s largest hand-woven rug, gaze up at one of the world’s largest chandeliers and admire the fusion of Fatimid, Mamluk and Ottoman architectural styles, representing three different Islamic dynasties.
Although it’s not Abu Dhabi’s oldest attraction, those who have visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque say that a stop here is a must for those who want a better understanding of the city’s religious identity. The site is one of the world’s most significant examples of contemporary Islamic architecture. You are welcome to explore the mosque on your own, but many travelers recommend tagging along on one of the free guided tours; tours take between 45 minutes and an hour and can be reserved in advance, or you can simply show up and wait for the next scheduled English tour. “Our guide was outstanding; no religion, just amazing facts and with his commentary we understood the incredible engineering, art [and] workmanship that make this so very special,” according to one TripAdvisor user. Previous visitors highly recommend touring the mosque in the evening when the sunset reflects off the marble courtyard.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open to the public Saturday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the last entry at 9:30 p.m. On Fridays, the mosque is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Admission is free every day of the week. Walk-in tours are offered at various times during those days. The mosque is located near the three bridges separating the city of Abu Dhabi from the mainland — you can access the site via taxi or the 32, 44 and 54 buses from central Abu Dhabi city. Remember: This is still an active mosque serving up to 40,000 worshippers. You should dress modestly in loose-fitting long pants or skirts and long-sleeve shirts, and women will need to cover their heads.