The United Arab Emirates are always worth a trip. While most only think about Dubai, I personally do love Abu Dhabi just as much. A must-do in Abu Dhabi for sure is visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque! Have you ever been to the United Arab Emirates without seeing the Grand Mosque?
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque truly is a magical place. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan imagined it to be a place open for everyone around the world. Visitors can take a deeper dive into the UAE destination’s culture and religion and experience an architectural masterpiece at once – which I would 100% recommend.
Some basic “Sheikh Zayed Mosque Facts”
1. Strictly adhere to the dress code
As the Grand Mosque is a religious site, visitors must follow the Dresscode as well. In general, you need to cover up most of your body. Your clothing can’t be transparent or have any forms of profanity. Depending on your gender, here are some more rules:
- WOMEN: You basically have to cover your body from head to toes. You can dress accordingly before your visit, or you’ll be given an Abaya at the entrance. Most tourists are given abayas anyway, since wearing, e.g., tight jeans are also considered too revealing. I personally found the Abayas they handed to be very comfortable, even though I looked like a wizard due to the headcover. If you want to be more fashionable, wear/bring your own Abaya 🙂 Your hair needs to be covered at all times.
- MEN: Men are asked to wear long trousers and a shirt with no print. Of course, your shirt can’t be sleeveless. (My boyfriend wore long pants and a bottomed shirt with some clean, white shoes and was good to go.)
2. Mind your manners
Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque means strictly adhering to the given rules. This is very important and monitored by officers at all times. You shall not cross any barrier tapes or leave the public areas. Visitors need to follow the rules concerning their clothing. Women should make sure their hair is properly covered the entire visit. (We’ve seen many girls taking the headcover off or halfway down for pictures. They got talked to immediately, some also got thrown out)
Physical distance should also be avoided at all times. Don’t hold hands with your significant other or put your arms around them for a picture. Don’t eat or drink, smoke or talk on the phone. A mosque is a religious place, so you should behave mindfully and quietly.
A quick side-note story:
I was traveling the UAE with my boyfriend, and when we went to the Grand Mosque, we strictly adhere to the rules. Since we knew we couldn’t have any physical contact, I asked him to take a cute picture “reaching” for my hand without touching it. (You can see the picture on the right) We immediately got admonished by an officer to stop it since the act of reaching for my hand was already seen as too much. We apologized ten thousand times and thanked him for letting us know. I really didn’t think about that before since it’s so normal for us in Europe to share physical affection. So take this as a tip so you can behave better than we did (I still feel sorry!)
3. …but I can take a selfie, right?
Since I already told you about our posing faux-pas, we might as well continue with photography etiquette. The Grand Mosque is one of the most photographed places on earth due to its exceptional beauty. The rules for taking pictures are quite strict, though:
- No obsessive posing: Don’t do the duck face, hand signs, or lean on any walls. Respect your environment and take normal pictures of yourself without posing like an Instagram model.
- Physical distance: As I’ve already mentioned above, keep your distance. Don’t put your arms around each other or cuddle up too close. Standing next to each other is totally fine!
- Don’t use tripods: When we’ve visited, we’ve also seen people being asked to put their selfie sticks away.
- Don’t jump the barriers. There are barrier tapes all around the walk towards the center area. Don’t squeeze next to them for taking a picture or anything like that.
- Don’t block other visitors: This should be common sense in any site but don’t block the way for your personal photo session. You will also be asked to walk on if you’ve spent too much time in one place for a picture so others can have the chance as well. (I totally support that!)
4. Things to leave outside
We’ve already talked about etiquette before, so you already know what not to do inside. Let’s quickly cover the items you should leave in the car or in your hotel room:
- Food and Drinks: It is strictly forbidden to eat or drink in the Grand Mosque. If you’re getting hungry or thirsty, there are cafes in the underground area waiting for you.
- Any unnecessary items that could be seen as offensive
- Big photography gear and selfie sticks: Tripods and similar items aren’t allowed inside the mosque. Professionals can contact the mosque before their visit and demand to bring their equipment.
- Any “dangerous” Items like a leftover fork and knife from your beach picnic. You’ll go through security screening before entering the mosque so make sure you’re not having anything in your tote bag that might get you in trouble.
Overall, visitors are asked to bring as little as possible inside the mosque. Leave your big backpack in your car.
5. Is there a right time for visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque?
There are many different opinions on the “right time to visit the mosque.” I’d say it depends on your schedule and preferences, whilst it’s sure to say that weekends are always most crowded. Most people would recommend coming in the morning directly after they opened their doors. This might be interesting for photographers that try to capture the mosque as empty as possible. Nevertheless, the mosque is usually full of people within 30 minutes.
What most people don’t know before their visit: You’re not allowed to step into the middle courtyard (“Sahan”). So… the iconic view will always be unblocked, no matter what time you arrive. (If you want to get onto the area, you need to participate in one of the free guided tours)
My suggestion: Come in the afternoon, around 1-2 hours before sunset.
You’ll have enough time to explore the mosque without people piling up for sunset pictures. Once the sun starts to set, you’ve already explored every part and can peacefully watch the sunset. We even went inside again and took some more pictures of the mosque in the magical evening sun since we already knew where to go.
Another recommendation of mine would be to experience the mosque during the prayer. You will walk through a marble paradise while listening to the Imam singing the prayer. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. Watch the video below and see yourself – it’s magical.
By the way, you can check prayer timings on their website.
6. Plan ahead – and not only your stay inside!
Yes, you’ve read that right. Plan your time wisely! It’s one thing to plan to be there at 5 pm – but did you know how long it can take to get up there? Especially when you’re planning to be there right after opening or for sunset, plan a little time buffer. There is a whole underground world to conquer first! Endless walkways, escalators, and gift shops to cross after registering yourself at the entrance. Security checks will take up some more time before you’ll finally be able to get to the mosque itself.
Another side note if you’re driving there yourself: The mosque has several entrance gates, and we haven’t really seen any signs that guided us to the official visitor’s entrance. It took us quite some time to drive around the whole area and find the right Gate, the South Gate!
7. Take that free tour!
Every few hours, there are some free walk-in tours you can participate in. They are available in English as well and you don’t need to book them in advance. What many don’t know: If you’re not part of the guided tour, you’re not allowed to leave the round-walk and step on the huge Sahan area. You will be offered a lot more insights about, and around the mosque, so I’d definitely recommend that. They usually take around 45-60 minutes, and you’ll find the timings on their website.
Have you ever visited Sheikh Zayed Mosque? Did you love it as much as I did? The detailed architecture that went into the construction of the mosque is fantastic. The special vibe inside is hard to describe, and I’d urge anyone to visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi once in their lifetime!
So, when will you go and see yourself?
As always, stay happy and healthy!
See you soon,