Abu Dhabi is the capital city of UAE. It’s different than Dubai because it’s not such a business hub and it’s much more green. The main reason to visit it is the Grand Mosque which is most definitely the most extraordinary and glorious piece of architecture you will ever see! If you don’t trust me trust these facts:
And these photos:
Go and see it! It’s all for free!
Literally everything at the Mosque is for free. There’s no entrance fee. You can come over at the right time of the day to catch one of the free guided tours in English or Arabic. I missed both of the morning tours and I would have had to wait 5 hours for the afternoon one. That wasn’t a problem because you can rent an audio-guide in 11 different languages for free. All you need is an ID to show for it. I didn’t bring my ID so as not to lose it on the trip, but they had my back anyway- I was given a pretty sweet brochure in English, with all the basic information to read. If you’re a lady, you need to have a certain outfit to enter any mosque. But you don’t have to worry about it either! You will get a special cloak, with a hood to cover your hair, so no need to be stressing about the appropriate clothing. Warning- there are only 2 colors available there: blue and beige. And trust me, you want the blue! Beige looks very unattractive on every single girl. It’s kind of a vomit color, so just kindly ask for the blue if they have the right size for you. I got me a beige one, since I’m really tiny and… not even single photo of me from Mosque is nice 😀 So instead I’m posting this handsome fella all in white!
How to get there
You can take a cab and pay a million, or just be reasonable and take a bus. You can either use bus no. E100 from Al Ghubaiba station or no. E101 from Ibn Battuta Metro Station. Since I stayed in Downtown I took the metro from Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall to Ibn Battuta Mall. And here the drama starts. Because Dubai is preparing for World Expo in 2020, they are building a new metro line. So due to construction works the red metro line goes only as far as Jumeirah Lake Towers station. There you have to switch to a free shuttle bus (the journey takes way longer this way), which takes you to Ibn Battuta. From here I picked E101 to Abu Dhabi main bus station. The cost of a one way trip is 25 AED with a NOL card. Once you get to the bus station in the capital city, every single bus goes to the Grand Mosque, except for the one starting with a letter L. Don’t worry if you feel lost, there’s people to help you at the station wearing special uniforms so you will know right away. Those information officers are very patient and helpful, speaking perfect English. They saved my life!
Obviously the drama wasn’t over and it turned out you cannot use a NOL card outside of Dubai. Somehow I expected it to be valid through all of Emirates. But it seems like different city means different rules for transport. So I had to buy another card. It’s called “Halifat travel easy”. I mean, isn’t that ironic? “Easy,” seriously?! Anyway, it was already way after 10, so I missed my guided tour at 10am and I’m stressing out I will not make it for the one at 11am. You could buy the Halifat card for the capital city transportation in a ticket machine at the station. But… I didn’t have any more cash in dirhams on me, so I had to go and exchange some dollars. The kind man in a uniform told me where to find an exchange office (there’s one in the nearby Al Wahda shopping mall). I run there, get the AED currency and get back. The information officer explained everything about the Abu Dhabi tickets and helped me pick the right ticket. So I got a temporary card, with 5 AED on it, because that is the smallest amount on money you could pick and it’s also enough to cover 2 trips with a local bus- to and from Grand Mosque. I finally got on a bus, knowing in my heart that I will not make it for any of the morning guided tours. But hey, what are you gonna do?
I was getting excited at the thought of being closer and closer to the final destination. Once you’re on a bus it’s easy to know where you should step out, because the driver yells “Grand Mosque” at the right stop. So, no way you will miss it. When I got out I immediately forgot about all the hardships of my trip. I didn’t care if I made it for any tour anymore. The sheer sight of the monumental building ahead of me just took my breath away. As I was walking up to it I was filled up with joy and excitement! WOW! It’s so beautiful, even from afar! Since the mosque is huge, it takes minimum of 30 mins to walk around it, to get to the actual entrance. At least in my case, because I stepped out of a bus in the back of the mosque so I had do to a lot of walking. I didn’t mind it one bit–the truth is I enjoyed every second of it. I got the feeling of an intellectual and visual orgasm, when you are just soooo happy to look at this wonderful man’s creation and you can’t take your eyes off of it! I got that feeling only once before, when I walked into the Prague Castle and saw the Cathedral of St. Vitus. WOWZA!
Expect the unexpected
Due to all the complications on my way (closed metro, shuttle bus, exchanging money, buying Halifat card) all this trip took me 5 hours! I left at 7am, got there at 12am, meaning that I’ve missed both of the morning tours. Luckily you can still get an audioguide or a brochure to read in English there. Lesson learned is- always take some extra money, cause you never know when you might need it. And another one- leave early, not even 7am is enough because it might turn out a trip which is supposed to take 1.5 hour will be 5 hours long. So start you journey waaaay ahead of time and expect the unexpected.
What to see there
Walking around while trying to find the entrance to the Mosque is pure pleasure. There are 82 domes on top of it, big and small, representing different Islamic architectural styles. The biggest dome is 32.6 meters in diameter (so when you draw a line through it, it’s that long)! Probably the most stunning thing you will see first is the Courtyard, the open space at the center of The Mosque. It is by far the greatest mosaic made of marble! Different colors combined into a floral pattern make a stunning impression. This is also the best photo opp you will get here, so use it well!
Go big or go home!
The Grand Mosque is the biggest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and holds a respectful place within TOP 10 biggest in the whole world. It has the capacity to take in 40 thousand worshipers and an area of 22 thousand square meters. You will probably never see this much gold, marble, crystals, mother-of-pearl, semi-precious stones in one place! (Well, maybe except the Vatican Museum–that place is insanely rich and lavish when it comes to decorations.) In the Main Prayer Hall you get to see the world’s biggest chandelier. It’s very heavy (12 tons) and hangs from the biggest of all the onion-shaped domes. Made of gilded brass, stainless steel and glass panels finished with Swarovski’s crystals makes for a magnificent view. Another world’s biggest thing here is… the carpet! Impressive fact is that this vast 5,700 square meters carpet was hand-knotted by around 1,200 artisans during just 2 years. So you can now enjoy their hard work and admire their talent walking on the world’s largest carpet. In short- if you wanna see the world’s finest go to the Grand Mosque of Sheikh Zayed, you will not be disappointed!
Warning: while taking pictures and selfies in the Mosque be very respectful. I took a picture with my hand up, to show the courtyard and I was yelled at by the security and they also made me delete the picture. So just keep it in mind, no hand gestures, no weird poses, just be aware this is a sacred place.
Warning: There’s no automatic machines to top up your NOL card in Abu Dhabi, so if you wanna get back to Dubai and have less than 25 AED on your card you have to buy a paper ticket in the window no.4 at the main bus station in Abu Dhabi. That ticket takes you either to Al Ghubaiba or to Ibn Battuta, so you get one ticket valid for any of the buses going to Dubai: E100 or E101. Going back to Ibn Battuta Mall will give you a chance to explore the coolest shopping mall ever. Ibn Battuta was the most famous Arabic traveler and so this mall is inspired by different parts of the world he visited. Each of six courts has a designs inspired by some of the countries visited by this explorer- China, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, Andalusia and India. I was extremely tired after the trip to mosque but still think it’s worth to roam for a while in this cool interior.