The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest and most important mosques. Zayed, the first president of the United Arab Emirates, endeavored to create a house of worship incorporating Islamic architecture from various eras. He envisioned a place of peace, tolerance, and diversity and wanted the structure to serve as a physical embodiment of the message of Islam.
Today, the mosque is a breathtaking work of art, deeply revered throughout the Muslim world and visited by millions of travelers each year. It features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold chandeliers, the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, and an enormous interior that can accommodate more than 40,000 worshipers at a time.
Here’s what you need to know when planning a visit to this incredible site.
Where Is The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?
The Grand Mosque is in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The country is located between Saudi Arabia and Oman along the southern edge of the Persian Gulf.
The Grand Mosque is near several other notable attractions, including the Al Maqtaa Fort and Watchtower, which has stood tall over the city for more than 200 years. Unfortunately, the fort no longer hosts public tours, but it’s still a striking piece of the city’s history.
Also nearby is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre Library, which offers a great way to immerse yourself in the history of Islam prior to your visit. Here, you’ll find manuscripts, collections of calligraphy, and copies of the Quran dating back to the 16th century. A free shuttle service provided by the mosque takes visitors to the Wahat Al Karama Memorial, another important Abu Dhabi site.
After touring these beautiful sites, you can enjoy a relaxing stroll through Khalifa Park. This respite from the city is full of gardens, museums, fountains, and plenty of shaded seating.
How To Get To The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
To visit the mosque, it’s best to start your journey in Abu Dhabi. Once you’re in the city, traveling to the Grand Mosque is quite easy.
The structure is located off Al Majd Street, and public parking is available nearby. Abu Dhabi’s bus system has several lines with stops near the mosque, but because bus schedules change occasionally, you’ll need to check the schedules if you decide to use public transportation. Head to the UAE Department of Transport website to review public transportation options or to hire a taxi in advance of your visit.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a wheelchair-accessible building and offers wheelchairs to visitors who require them.
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?
The Grand Mosque is a fantastic place to visit at any time of year, but when planning your trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. First (and most important), the mosque is closed in the mornings on Fridays.
The warmest months are between April and October, and when the mosque is full of people, it can get fairly hot and humid. The white marble reflects the sunlight, so don’t forget to bring your sunglasses when touring during the daytime.
If you’re concerned about overheating, you can visit the mosque during the evening, when the temperatures are cooler. Head there around sunset for striking views of the building’s exterior, and feel free to snap a few photos. Be prepared for crowds -- 3.4 million tourists visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2017, so even if you visit during off-hours, you won’t be able to avoid your fellow travelers.
What To See At The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
It’s a great idea to take advantage of the free tours offered by the mosque. The tour guides are seasoned experts who walk you through the rooms, explaining the history and significance of each aspect of the mosque. The guided tour schedule can be found here.
If you choose to explore the mosque on your own, be sure to visit the main prayer hall. This room is home to the largest and most stunning chandelier, 96 ornate columns, as well as the world’s largest hand-knotted rug. You’ll find jewel-studded columns and soaring domes throughout the mosque.
Most people suggest setting aside at least an hour to explore the mosque, but really you could spend hours upon hours walking through this magnificent place. The space is mostly flat, with few stairs, but you should still wear comfortable shoes during your time there.
Is There A Dress Code For Visiting The Mosque?
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque welcomes travelers from all faiths and backgrounds. However, it has a strict dress code, so dress modestly when visiting.
Avoid wearing shorts, short sleeves, or tight clothing. Women should wear a head covering, loosely fitting pants or an ankle-length skirt, and a long-sleeved shirt. The sleeves of the shirt should extend down to your wrists. Men should wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. You can find examples of appropriate clothing on the mosque’s website.
If you are worried that your clothing might not be appropriate, the mosque offers abayas and kanduras (traditional robes) to borrow for free. In past years, visitors were required to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. That rule has apparently changed, per reports from travelers who have been there recently -- to be on the safe side, though, you may want to wear matching socks.
Do You Need A Visa To Visit Abu Dhabi?
United States passport holders visiting Abu Dhabi do not need a prearranged travel visa to enter the UAE. However, your passport will need to be valid for at least six months before your arrival date. If your passport is valid, you’ll receive a free stamp with a 30-day visa upon your arrival.
If you’re a passport holder from a country that requires a travel visa, you can submit your application online here. Alternatively, if you have a close relative who is a UAE citizen, they may apply for the visa on your behalf.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an elegant example of Islamic devotion, and if you’re traveling in the UAE, it’s an essential stop. Don’t be intimidated by the building’s size -- just leave plenty of time on your itinerary to explore this extraordinary location.