Feb 102017
 
Come walk inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the world!

Come walk inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

Before arriving in the UAE, I saw a photo of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and gasped, “That’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen! How much does it cost to enter?” Turns out: FREE.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE is one of the most beautiful free tourist attractions in the world. Learn tips on visiting this amazing building.

Behold the stunning interior of the mosque.

When I landed in Abu Dhabi, I was 5 months pregnant and moving slowly, but headed directly for the Grand Mosque. Ahh! like the Taj Mahal, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of those places that exceeds already sky-high expectations. Euphoric, I spent hours exploring every corner, snapping hundreds of photos. This article has taken me 16 months to write (yes, my pregnant belly has now become a one-year-old child) because I’ve been obsessively editing those photos in a passionate attempt to bring YOU the awe-inspiring experience of being inside the Grand Mosque. Let’s go!

Me, posing with pregnant belly in the famous walkway.

Me, posing with pregnant belly in the famous walkway.

History: The mosque took 3,000 workers eleven years to build, with construction starting in 1996 and completion in 2007. The stated purpose of the structure is powerful: “To enhance cross-cultural communication.” Wonderful how art and tourism can connect humans across diverse backgrounds, yes?

Looking directly up at one of the chandeliers.

Looking directly up at one of the chandeliers.

The Grand Mosque is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was president of the United Arab Emirates from 1971 to 2004: a period of massive economic development in the country driven by oil reserves, and now increasingly connected to tourism and business. In 2013, an estimated 4,600,000 people visited the Grand Mosque, both tourists and worshippers.

The reflecting pool makes the arches dance.

The reflecting pool makes the arches dance.

Surprising Numbers: The mosque can hold 40,000 people within its 30 acres, but that’s only the beginning of its dizzying superlatives. It contains the third largest chandelier in the world: 49 feet high and 33 feet wide. Its courtyard floor is the biggest marble mosaic on Earth, and its night-time lighting system is in sync with the phases of the moon. (How I wish I could have stayed to see the mosque after dark!)

What grand doors! The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE is one of the most beautiful free tourist attractions in the world. Learn tips on visiting this amazing building.

What grand doors!

My favorite superlative, however, is about the carpet. The floor covering inside the mosque’s main building is the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world, at 35 tons and 60,5070 square feet, and it contains 2,268,000,00 knots (WHAT?!), and took more than 1,200 artisans over two years to create. The carpet was designed by an Iranian artist, in an example of how the Grand Mosque strives to unite the many different traditions of Islamic art across countries and cultures.

People come from around the world to see the mosque.

People come from around the world to see the mosque.

What to wear? It’s quite easy to follow the dress code at the Grand Mosque. As shown in the “Mosque Manners” link they provide, both genders should cover arms and legs with loose-fitting clothing (no leggings, as I learned the hard way while visiting a mosque in Turkey), and women should cover their head with a scarf. Shoes are removed before entering the main building. The guidelines also state “No Swimwear,” which is good to keep in mind if you’d been planning some bikini-clad mosque touring.

Have you ever seen a chandelier like this? The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE is one of the most beautiful free tourist attractions in the world. Learn tips on visiting this amazing building.

Have you ever seen a chandelier like this?

An unexpected warning: While passing the sign of mosque etiquette during my visit, I understood that smoking, eating, kissing, falling asleep on the balconies, and bathing in the reflecting pool (?!) were prohibited, but I didn’t understand the sign with an “X” through a person with outstretched arms. I then proceeded to take a photo of myself with outstretched arms, a favorite pose.

I loved every moment of touring the Grand Mosque.

I loved every moment of touring the Grand Mosque.

“Excuse me,” said a polite security guard who approached me as I lowed my camera. “Please delete.”

“Huh?” I responded, confused.

“This is a mosque, and that pose is not respectful,” he explained. I blushed at my ignorance and deleted the photo. The guard kindly nodded and left. I appreciated his patience with my cross-cultural learning!

Geometric shapes in the chandelier and ceiling! The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE is one of the most beautiful free tourist attractions in the world. Learn tips on visiting this amazing building.

Geometric shapes in the ceiling.

When is it open, and are there tours? Except for the month of Ramadan when schedules are revised, the Grand Mosque is open for your visiting enjoyment from 9am to 10pm every day except Friday (the main day of prayer) when it is open to tourists from 4:30pm to 10pm. Free hour-long tours are provided throughout the day, which is a great feature that I didn’t realize until after I’d left.

Curly-cues on the glistening white floor.

Curly-cues on the glistening white floor.

That must be crazy to clean… As a mother of two young, messy children, I can’t help but marvel about how clean all that glistening white marble is, despite the millions of visitors pouring in each year. The secret appears to be continual cleaning. Can you spot the man with a mop in one of my photos?

A view from the courtyard.

A view from the courtyard.

What’s around the mosque? Abu Dhabi has no shortage of astounding architecture. For another free highlight, check out the second most expensive hotel in the world, which is a short drive from the Grand Mosque. Visitors are permitted to tour the mind-blowing lobby at no cost, and it is well worth a visit.

Swooping arches.

Swooping arches.

Save money and time with this:

If you are touring Abu Dhabi, I highly recommend checking out this Big Bus Abu Dhabi Pass. It provides a hop-on-and-off bus to get around the city, along with free entry to a number of attractions. The company also provides Dubai Bus Tours and Passes as well. I wish I’d known this before wasting time and loot on individual rides and tickets!

Keyhole doorway shapes! The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE is one of the most beautiful free tourist attractions in the world. Learn tips on visiting this amazing building.

Keyhole doorway shapes!

Where to stay around the Grand Mosque:

Gazing from the walkway into the courtyard!

Gazing from the walkway into the mosque’s courtyard.

Wanderlust? Search flight deals to the UAE!

Can you see how grand the indoor space looks?

Can you see how grand the indoor space looks?

What are other beautiful examples of Islamic architecture, worldwide? I’m glad you asked! I LOVE Islamic architecture, and have featured numerous phenomenal examples on this site, including:

The mosque is different from every angle.

The mosque is different from every angle.

So what do you think? Have you visited the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi? Would you like to? Do share!

Affiliate links in this article help support this site at no cost to you. Merci, and happy travels!

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  13 Responses to “The Most Beautiful Free Tourist Attraction in the World?”

  1. The chandeliers are amazing! Beautiful photos.

  2. This mosque and your photos are stunning! I hadn’t been particularly interested in going to Abu Dhabi, thinking it was the Las Vegas of the Middle East. But this post has changed my mind, if only to experience this incredible mosque. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Beautiful but Middle East not the safest now.

    • Safety is a difficult subject to get perfect answers about! I can say from personal experience that I felt extremely safe in the UAE the whole time I was there.

  4. Hi there, we’re considering visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi with 12 and 13 year old kids. I think it seems like an amazing place to visit, but I’m wondering if there’s enough to see and do to keep them engaged. Thoughts?

  5. Gorgeous photos that made me feel like I was there!

  6. Dazzling photos! And 2 billion knots? Wow…

  7. I love your photographs of the mosque and your writing too! FYI: Hagia Sophia is not an example of Islamic architecture. It was built as a Christian cathedral almost 1000 years before it was converted into a mosque is 1453 CE. However, its minarets ARE Islamic architecturally and its interior decor is mostly Islamic, with a few residual Christian touches that have been exposed since it stopped being a mosque and became a public museum in 1935.

    • Thank you for your kind comment and for the helpful correction! I’ll add in that edit when I go in later this week to do a few other changes.

  8. Great stuff. You did an excellent job of documenting this place.It is stunning!

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