WHERE TO GO IN UAE? DUBAI OR ABU DHABI
As a regular Abu Dhabi and Dubai visitor, I get asked quite often whether I recommend visiting Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai?! Which is the better city to visit? Which city (emirate) wins?
As so often, the answer is not that easy. Both cities/emirates have a lot to offer to visitors – and it really depends on what you are looking for when traveling.
However, I am happy to share a list with you, which I have created based on my experiences in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, hoping that this info helps you make the perfect decision.
And that – at the end – you can decide whether Dubai or Abu Dhabi is the better place for YOUR vacation.
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai – Is Abu Dhabi and Dubai the Same?
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates located along the Persian Gulf Coast – bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman.
In December 1971, the UAE first became a federation of six emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, and Fujairah. In 1972, Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation.
The capital of the UAE is Abu Dhabi – the main city – and undoubtedly the most famous one – is Dubai though. So, while both places are part of the same country, they are not the same.
Why is Abu Dhabi Better Than Dubai?
Okay, let´s start with what makes Abu Dhabi better than Dubai.
Here is an itinerary for Abu Dhabi here if you want to find out what to do in Abu Dhabi.
- The capital of the United Arab Emirates
- Largest emirate (in size of geography)
- About 1 million inhabitants
- Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because it is home to the stunning Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
Sure, there is not one single reason that makes Abu Dhabi a better place than Dubai, but IF…it would be this mosque.
The Grand Zayed Mosque is just remarkable. The design of the mosque combines traditional Arab architectural styles with modern materials and techniques to create a stunningly unique structure.
Dubai has more interesting and more famous buildings, but it does not have Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
Over 1,300 artisans from around the globe came together and crafted this magnificent structure with intricate hand-knotting of a gigantic carpet in its main prayer hall – truly one grand piece of architectural history.
Inside you’ll find glittering golden chandeliers that sparkle like stars twinkling against amethyst and jasper embedded columns surrounding reflecting pools inviting you to admire their beauty. Make sure not to forget to look up outside at the vast marbled mosaic artwork adorning every corner!
The mosque is just beyond amazing and one of my favorite reasons to always revisit Abu Dhabi. To find out more about the mosque and tips when visiting click here.
More Beautiful Beaches
- Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because it has nicer and more tranquil beaches.
Abu Dhabi has more beautiful beaches: the public beaches at Corniche or Saadiyat Island are wonderful. Overall, the beaches in Abu Dhabi were more appealing to me than the ones in Dubai.
Though Saadiyat Island charges a small fee (about 5€) it is definitely worth the money, and if you do not want to spend money on a day at the beach you will have a nice time at the free beaches in Abu Dhabi – which are quite empty, and you´ll not see them crowded.
Luxury Accommodation is Cheaper
- Compared to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because you get more luxury for less money.
Accommodation in Abu Dhabi, especially luxury accommodation, is cheaper than in Dubai. As a test, I did some further research to be sure it was not only when I visited.
Of course, there are top-notch hotels in Abu Dhabi with correspondingly high prices – but overall, you´ll get better deals in Abu Dhabi throughout the year. To check out the best hotel deals, click here. I have stayed in several hotels in Abu Dhabi, and whenever I visited, the prices were below the ones in Dubai – while the standard is the same!
Abu Dhabi is Quieter
- Abu Dhabi is, in comparison to Dubai, the better place to visit because it is more tranquil and much quieter.
Abu Dhabi is quieter. This can either be a pro or a contra argument, but if you do not like too much “bling-bling” and too much of the hustle and bustle, you´ll probably enjoy Abu Dhabi more than Dubai. Though you will also find authentic areas in Dubai, Abu Dhabi is still a bit more “Arabian-like.”
- Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because you can visit Emirates Palace.
The Emirates Palace, the top hotel in Abu Dhabi, is also open to “ordinary” people – people like me, who do not want to spend a crazy amount of money for one overnight stay.
Ever wanted to feel like royalty? Then the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi is the place for you! Step inside and experience true luxury – even if it’s just a short visit. Alternatively, why not take your taste buds on an adventure by indulging at one of their many restaurants without needing prior reservations?
I dined at one of their “Arabic restaurants” and while, in all honesty, the food was not top-notch in my eyes, I loved to have access to the hotel and the garden restaurant which is part of the hotel.
In Dubai´s top hotel – Burj Al-Arab – you need a reservation for one of their expensive restaurants/spas and you cannot even enter the building without a written confirmation.
Zaya Nurai Island
- Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because you will find there the Maldives of the Emirates.
When I talked about the more beautiful beaches in Abu Dhabi, I also had Zaya Nurai Island in mind – one of the most beautiful islands in the region.
So step away from the ordinary and escape to a paradise full of activities, relaxation, and luxurious accommodations at Zaya Nurai Island! This resort located in the crystal clear waters off Abu Dhabi’s coast is an absolute must-visit.
You can get there after a 12-minute boat ride – but to be allowed on the island, you have to get either a day pass or stay there as an overnight guest.
Better Place to Relax
- Abu Dhabi is the better place to visit because it is more like a vacation.
Where can you relax better? In Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Well, I would say Abu Dhabi is the better place to relax. There are fewer crowds and less traffic in Abu Dhabi. So, Abu Dhabi is the better place to relax and chill.
Read about my 12 top tips for things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Why is Dubai better than Abu Dhabi?
Here are the reasons why I like Dubai better than Abu Dhabi.
- The biggest city in terms of inhabitants and the most famous city in the UAE
- About 2,5 million inhabitants
The City of Superlatives
- Dubai is the better place to visit because it constantly breaks new records.
Dubai is the city of superlatives. There are many unique buildings: including Burj Khalifa (pictures from the top of Burj Khalifa here).
Standing 828 meters (2,717 feet) tall, it is the tallest building in the entire world. Built with a combination of steel and concrete, the Burj Khalifa has numerous unique features that set it apart from other skyscrapers.
For instance, it has a world record for the highest number of stories in any building on Earth—163! It also features an observation deck and terrace with unparalleled views of Dubai’s skyline, making it a must-see sight for all travelers. In addition to its breathtaking architectural design, the Burj Khalifa is equipped with the fastest elevators in the world and has almost 900,000 square meters of space dedicated to restaurants and luxury shops. This incredible structure is definitely a sight worth seeing!
If you are into superlatives, Dubai is the better choice for your vacation.
More Attractions in Dubai
- Dubai is the better place to visit because there is so much to do and see.
There are more attractions, more to see & more to do. You will never feel bored in Dubai. Whether you head to the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), Miracle Garden, Dubai Mall, or Madinat Jumeirah – there is so much to do that it was hard for me to pick only 50 top activities in Dubai.
Dubai is More Liberal
- Dubai is the better place to visit because it is more liberal.
Dubai is more liberal. Yes, it is still a conservative place but I think it is less conservative than Abu Dhabi (click here to find out what to wear in Dubai as a female).
While Dubai is much more vibrant and open to foreign cultures than its surrounding emirates, Abu Dhabi has also become increasingly progressive in recent years.
There are more bars, clubs, and parties than in Abu Dhabi – if you are into good nightlife, you will love Dubai more. Also, you might feel less restricted in your clothing than in Abu Dhabi.
More Luxury Hotels
- Dubai is the better place to visit because there are so many luxury hotels to choose from.
Abu Dhabi has quite a lot of luxury hotels but Dubai has more luxury hotels. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or a luxurious family staycation, Dubai has plenty of options to choose from. From lavish 5-star resorts located on the beachfront with spectacular views of the Persian Gulf to historic properties surrounded by lush gardens and stunning architectural features, there is definitely something for everyone.
So, what about luxury hotels if you are on a budget?
Well, if you are on a budget, you can just do hotel sightseeing for free. Surely, it is not as amazing as staying there overnight but you´ll not get disappointed – like the “Atlantis – The Palm.” The amount of luxury hotels in Dubai is seriously crazy.
- TIP: If you want to splurge but have to save money, visit during Ramadan (it might be less fun but the hotel prices drop like crazy).
- Dubai is the better place to visit because it has unique islands, like Palm Island.
The Palm Islands in Dubai have reached cult status. And if you’re looking for a beach getaway, Dubai Palm Islands are the perfect destination! There are three islands in total – Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, and Palm Deira. However, only Palm Jumeirah has been finished and is open to visitors now.
And though the beaches on Palm Island are private, it is a perfect place to ride a bike and enjoy great views. You can also buy day passes for the beach and pool area of many luxury hotels on the Palm.
- Dubai is the better place to visit because you will find the recreation of ancient Arabia in modern dress.
Dubai has Madinat Jumeirah, which is, without any doubt, one of my favorite areas in Dubai. It is just a great place to spend the day, get lost, and top the day off.
Madinat Jumeirah is a luxurious resort complex situated along the coast of Dubai. It offers an array of high-end amenities and attractions, such as world-class shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Stroll through the Madinat Souk for exotic souvenirs or hop aboard an abra boat to explore the winding waterways of the resort. The complex also features two luxury hotels and a collection of Arabian-style villas, perfect for those looking to luxuriate in the lap of luxury.
Bigger Shopping Malls
- Dubai is the better place to visit because you will find the biggest and most interesting shopping malls there.
Dubai has more (and bigger) shopping malls (find a quick guide for Dubai Mall here) and is the place to shop.
Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall, located in the heart of Downtown Dubai. It features over 1,200 shops and has its own dedicated Fashion Avenue, as well as several other themed areas such as The Village and Souk al Bahar. This mall also houses a plethora of entertainment options including an ice rink, an aquarium, and a massive indoor theme park.
And as if this was not enough, Dubai Mall has also the most luxurious public toilets I have come across – yes, the toilets are quite fancy and worth mentioning. You can find those in Fashion Avenue inside Dubai Mall.
No, I have not seen those toilets in Abu Dhabi!
- Dubai is the better place to visit because there are also many local markets to shop.
I have a love-hate relationship with Dubai Deira and the Dubai Gold and Spice Souk. The old part of Dubai often means being stressed out BUT they are one of the oldest and most famous souks in the region, packed with over 300 stores selling exotic spices, herbs, incense, gold jewelry, traditional perfumes, rare fabrics, and more. The lively atmosphere of the souk offers a unique experience, as merchants yell out to bargain hunters and the scent of fresh spices wafts through the air.
The Gold Souk is located in Deira, one of the oldest parts of Dubai, and is especially popular with tourists. The winding alleys are lined with jewelry stores filled with things to buy – while Abu Dhabi also has its own souks, they cannot be compared to the Dubai Gold and Spice souks.
Better Day Trips Options
- Dubai is the better place to visit because you can do some very fun day tours.
Location: Dubai has, in my opinion, a better location. It is closer to Oman (and a day trip to Oman is fun) and to other emirates like Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, so day trips to other places are easier and more fun from Dubai.
- Find my tips for the 50 best things to do in Dubai here – and click here to find all my Dubai posts.
CONCLUSION: DUBAI VS ABU DHABI
As you can see, it really depends on what you are interested in and what you like to answer the question of whether Abu Dhabi or Dubai is better for a vacation. Are you more of a person who likes to go out and enjoy those “wow” moments, or do you enjoy the “natural” beauty and more quiet?
What about me? Do I think Abu Dhabi or Dubai is better? I actually liked Abu Dhabi as well as Dubai. I have to admit that I visited Abu Dhabi only three times, while I have visited Dubai more often and have spent much more time there.
Knowing what I know now, I would say: If I stayed in the United Arab Emirates for one week, I would probably stay 4-5 nights in Dubai and then 2-3 nights in Abu Dhabi.
By the way: Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not that far away from each other. So if you still cannot decide which place to visit, you can just take a hop-on and hop-off bus to Abu Dhabi or Dubai or take a taxi to get from one city to the other (about 80 kilometers).
There is also a bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and the other way around.
Ready to book your next trip? Will you visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Or both 🙂
TRAVEL TIPS FOR DUBAI AND ABU DHABI
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both fun cities to visit with great tours and activities. Here are a few more tips for your trip – whether you visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi – or both!
- What to Pack for Dubai and Abu Dhabi: Read more about important things to pack for Dubai and Abu Dhabi
- Dubai on a Budget: Click here to find some budget travel tips for Dubai
- Where to Stay in Dubai: Check out my accommodation guide for Dubai.
- Where to Stay in Abu Dhabi: Check out my full Abu Dhabi accommodation guide.
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