In my post about how to spend the ultimate layover in Abu Dhabi last week I mentioned that the star attraction (for us) was visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This phenomenal work of architecture and largest place of worship in the UAE is absolutely spell-binding. So many of you commented on how incredible the mosque looked and about your wishes to visit it too that I thought I would dedicate a post to my tips for visiting the Abu Dhabi landmark.
Some fast facts about Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the UAE and can hold up to 40,000 worshippers.
- The mosque was commissioned by, and named after, the first president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who passed away before the mosque’s completion. The mausoleum of the late Sheikh Zayed is located beside the mosque on the north side.
- The design of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was inspired by Persian, Mughal and Moorish mosque architecture and took more than 3,000 workers from 38 construction companies to build.
- My research (googling) hinted that it cost in excess of $500 million to complete.
- There are seven crystal chandeliers made by Faustig (from Munich, Germany) situated inside the halls and foyers including the largest ever chandelier to be found in a mosque – it weighs approximately 12 tonnes!
Tips for visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- The mosque is free to enter and you don’t need tickets.
- General visiting times are Saturday-Thursday 9am to 10pm. The mosque is closed to tourists (but open to worshippers) on Friday mornings. It reopens for tourists after 4.30pm. Note that during the month of Ramadan visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with the mosque closed all day Friday.
- You can join a number of free tours each day on a walk-in basis. Look for the desk near the east tourist entrance. Tour times are as follows:
- You are required to dress appropriately – this means long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers or skirts for both men and women and a headscarf for the ladies. Abaya’s are available for hire free of charge and you will be directed to wear one if your outfit is not deemed appropriate. (I had covered up in trousers, a high neck vest and kaftan but was told I needed to wear the full length Abaya with hood as my ankles and wrists were showing.) The gown rental room is located off the underground car park. Your ID is taken from you as a security deposit but passports are not accepted so you will need an ID card or driver’s license. I don’t drive so handed over my husband’s license instead. I overheard some other women leaving their hotel room card after much negotiation. You are given a number with your gown and your ID is handed back to you when you return both at the end of the visit.
- I’d read online to visit at dusk (approx 4.30pm depending on time of year) for glorious lighting and this was superb advice. It was magical to see the white minarets against both the sharp blue sky and the soft pink light of sunset. We stayed long enough to see the lights come on and call of prayer ring out and I recommend you time your visit to do the same.
- If you visit during the summer (or end of summer like we did) then it will be exceptionally warm to walk around the outside areas. However, the prayer halls are (impressively) well air-conditioned and there are several water fountains around the mosque that you can take advantage of.
- There’s also a Coffee Club near the north gate for refreshments! It feels slightly weird to visit a cafe within a mosque wearing an Abaya but that iced chai latte I grabbed just before sunset was so needed. There’s free wifi too if you’re missing an internet hit.
- And finally, I recommend giving yourself approx 3 hours to travel to and explore the mosque thoroughly. It’s an incredibly large complex to explore and there will be much you will want to photograph and admire. It also takes a fair bit of time to hire and collect the Abaya so make sure you have enough time set aside in order to not feel rushed.
Have you visited the Grand Mosque? What did you think?
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