Undoubtedly one of the highlights for visitors to the UAE capital Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (“the Grand Mosque”)
Not only is it one of the most architecturally magnificent buildings in the world, it is a house of worship accommodating up to 41,000 people during peak times, and the resting place of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the Late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan “May God Rest his Soul”.
Located at the entrance to the city on Abu Dhabi island, its hard to miss its pristine white walls, domes and minarets during the day, or to stare in awe at its imposing night time silhouette. It is undoubtedly a modern wonder.
A few interesting facts to know about the Grand Mosque
- The Grand Mosque has been open for worship since 2007. The Mosque was built to honour the countries Founding Father, considered a visionary leader who believed nothing was impossible. He is in fact laid to rest on the Grand Mosque site, his tomb is in a separate building outside the main mosque complex (out of respect no photos are allowed here).
- The Grand Mosque is actively used throughout the week by Muslim worshipers, accommodating 10,000 in the internal areas and 31,000 in the external areas – they do reach capacity during Ramadan & Eid celebrations.
- There were more than 38 contractors and thousands of workers from around the world involved with completing various elements of the structure and decoration. Sourcing long-lasting materials and expert craftsmanship was of paramount importance.
- The architectural style is made from a combination of Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles – describe as “A fusion of Arab, Persian, Mughal and Moorish” with the purpose of fusing the diverse Islamic world with art and beauty – the result is simply stunning.
- It holds several “largest in the world” claims to fame – include the largest hand-woven carpet at a whopping 5,627 sqm and the largest marble mosaic floor in its 17,000 sqm courtyard.
- A recent TripAdvisor survey ranked the Grand Mosque as the second most popular landmark in the world, only behind Machu Picchu in Peru.
We have taken our overseas visitors to the Grand Mosque on several occasions now, with many combinations of our three children in tow (all under 6 years old). If I’m honest, it’s been very hard work. They are small and have little interest in marvelling at architecture, waiting patiently while you line up photographs or listening to ‘boring’ explanations. They want to run and touch where they shouldn’t, they want to be carried, they want to use their outside voices and swing on the ropes.
Maybe it’s just my children but I certainly find it’s a handful; so how can you best prepare yourself for a visit to such a significant and holy place?
Tips for visiting the Grand Mosque with kids
- Around the courtyard, grounds and outer perimeter of the Grand Mosque surfaces are flat and it’s easy to manoeuvre a stroller. You cannot, however, take your strollers on to the carpeted floor inside the mosque, these must be parked outside where everyone takes off their shoes before entering.
- Once inside, there are several roped off areas where children cannot go. For little wanderers, you may want reins, or a sling to carry your smaller ones as they do not take fondly to people crossing over the roped line. A slow walk around the inside may take upwards of 15-20 minutes if you’re a details person.
- Young children do not need to be covered, but its advisable for children from adolescence onward to be covered in the same way as adults – full arms and legs, and also head for women.
- There is now a large clothing hire facility (free, and as at our last visit in December 2016 a Photo ID deposit no longer required). Security will direct you here first if they think anyone in your group is dressed inappropriately. Women will hire a shayla (this is like a gown with head covering, but not the full face), and men a dishdasha or thobe – a full-length white gown, just as you see the local Emirati men and women wearing. These must be respectfully worn for the duration of your visit once inside the courtyard walls, avoiding exposed skin (easier said than done when children are tugging off you, I know). (Top tip – if you really fancy the idea to dress up and experience part of the local culture, then you can deliberately come with uncovered legs to be sent to the hire room – there is no problem or shame with this)
- Try and arrive in time for a free guided tour. Conducted in English or Arabic by fabulously well versed Emirati volunteers, they will talk you through many of the important architectural features of the building and answer any of your questions. These run daily at 10am, 11am and 5pm except Friday’s (only 5pm) and last around 45 minutes. You must be present before the start time to receive your headsets but you are then free to explore the buildings and grounds afterwards.
- If you don’t take a guided tour, there is little other signed information about the Grand Mosque. The few facts above will scrape you through with some basic knowledge if you’ve just come in for a lightening visit, but it really pays to do some research before hand to get the most out of your visit.
- The Grand Mosque is closed until 4.30pm on a Friday as this is the holy day in the Islamic world. Although it does open briefly in the evening, it can be very busy in the mosque area on a Friday so worth avoiding, especially while current car park works in the grounds are ongoing and parking is limited.
- There are for obvious reasons no food vendors on site (update December 2016 there is now a coffee shop inside the grounds). Eat before and after your visit as no food or drinks are allowed inside the Grand Mosque itself. Feeding children outside the main courtyard is fine. There are a number of luxury hotels nearby where you can get excellent meals (the Ritz Carlton, Hilton Capital Grand), or cheaper options not far away include Zayed Sports City, Holiday Inn or the Officers Club where restaurants are open to the public.
It may not be the most entertaining place for kids, but without a doubt, just be prepared for what lies ahead and make sure its an essential part of your agenda for visiting Abu Dhabi. No matter how many times I take visitors, I still discover something new to admire, see things from a different angle and learn more about this architecturally stunning place. Kids will be kids but there has to be moments that are for adults too, don’t miss Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque off your UAE agenda for their sake.
Opening Hour Details
Daily (except Friday) 9am – 10pm
Friday 4.30pm – 10pm
(always subject to change in the UAE and hours may vary during summer, Ramadan and other religious occasions – please consult the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center for current information)
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Have you visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi? What were your highlights? Did you find something the kids really enjoyed?
Want to know more about visiting the UAE? Don’t miss our guide to 15 important facts to know before visiting the UAE.
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