Last Updated: October 17, 2023

Dubai Vs. Abu Dhabi: Best City In The UAE?

Trying to decide between traveling to Dubai or Abu Dhabi? It’s one of the best dilemmas in the world to have, and we’re happy to help you solve it!

Both cities on the Persian Gulf are the epitome of luxury and wealth, but each offers something slightly different to visitors. While Dubai remains the preferred playground of international tourists, Abu Dhabi tends to appeal more to slower travelers who want to explore the history, take in the views, and relax.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are remarkable, and this guide will help you decide whether to visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi first!

Dubai View

Dubai is the better city to visit because it’s more popular with tourists, meaning there are simply more things to see and do in the city. It’s also the city of superlatives, as it’s the home to many record-breaking buildings and attractions – the tallest skyscraper, the largest shopping malls, biggest aquarium, etc.

Also, Dubai is more Westernized than Abu Dhabi, so the culture shock isn’t that big. It has laxer rules on the dress code, it’s easier to find nightclubs and bars that serve alcohol to people of age, and you can wear a bikini at the beach without worrying you’ll offend everyone present.

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi is more traditional and family-oriented, with prettier beaches. If you’re looking to go on a relaxing family vacation and don’t mind the stricter rules, you might enjoy scenic Abu Dhabi more.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai: Dress Code

Abu Dhabi Modest Women

More people tend to visit Dubai, so it is a more popular tourist destination. More tourists mean fewer locals and a looser dress code and behavior.

With fewer tourists, Abu Dhabi is much more conservative, so the dress code is often enforced more strictly.

Dubai is known for its fantastic nightlife, where dress codes are nonexistent. It’s not common to see conservative Muslims at nightclubs, so women and men are free to wear more revealing clothing.

What should you wear when exploring the UAE?

If you are walking around the city during the day in Dubai or Abu Dhabi you should wear something that covers your shoulders and knees, at the very least.

Covering your head is not required except when entering a mosque. However, I recommend you have a scarf handy, just in case. When you enter less touristy parts of either city people won’t stare at you if you cover your head. I have experienced it as a woman in the UAE and it is not a comfortable experience.

On top of that, a scarf can also help protect against the hot desert sun and all the dust!

Visiting Mosques and Religious Buildings

Women need to cover up head to toe, meaning

  • a headscarf
  • long sleeves
  • loose-fitting, full-length skirts

This is how you’re expected to dress when entering a mosque anywhere in the world.

Men must wear pants (no shorts), but they can wear regular T-shirts.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Highlights

Dubai Yacht

Dubai is the city of superlatives, so head there to see

  • the world’s tallest skyscraper
  • the largest shopping malls

And many other best and biggest attractions.

It’s known for its great nightlife, spectacular views, and some of the luxury hotels on the planet.

Some people prefer Dubai because it is slightly less conservative than Abu Dhabi, so it’s better for Westerners who aren’t too keen on covering up in the middle of the summer.

Abu Dhabi tends to be much more grounded. It’s still a big and bright city. It’s the biggest Emirate by land and the richest by GDP. But it’s much more traditional and conservative than Dubai, so don’t expect to see many extravagant tourist attractions there.

Abu Dhabi is more about

  • Beautiful beaches
  • Serene natural settings
  • Theme parks that are fun for kids and adults.

It’s slower-paced than Dubai, so it’s more suitable for travelers looking to relax and enjoy themselves instead of exploring during the day and partying at night.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi: Cost

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very expensive cities, and you’ll need a juicy budget to enjoy them thoroughly. The cost of public transport, restaurants, and tourist attractions are similar in both cities, but the accommodation options are slightly more affordable in Dubai.

Visit Abu Dhabi if you want to see a less touristy city. Abu Dhabi is not as popular with tourists and lacks cheap accommodation options like hostels and budget hotels. It’s not that Dubai is swarming with them, but they are becoming more common throughout the city.

Things To Do In Dubai

Dubai Skyline

Dubai has record-breaking buildings, great nightlife, and a slightly more westernized culture. It’s also an excellent place for families thanks to the abundance of beautiful beaches and many amusement parks that the youngest travelers will adore.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest skyscraper, with a total height of 828 meters. It’s one of the most famous record-breaking buildings in the world, and it’s easily the most iconic Dubai sight. The skyscraper boasts observation decks at levels 124, 125, and 148, but the tallest of the three can only be accessed on guided tours.

It’s best to visit Burj Khalifa on a clear, sunny day to experience a truly magical panoramic sight of the Dubai skyline. Visiting on a cloudy day is not quite as impressive, but there is something special about being so high up in the sky that you’re above the clouds.

NOTE: Here’s a one-day Dubai itinerary if you only have one day to visit the city.

Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab Hotel

Burj Al Arab is another one of Dubai’s many superlatives. It’s one of the world’s most famous (and most luxurious) hotels, known for its extravagant room décor and iconic waterfront location.

The modernist architecture is as impressive as the fact that nobody thought to connect it to the city’s sewer system, meaning that one of the most expensive hotels in the world has trucks taking out the sewage every day.

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall ever built, so it’s the perfect place to go if you need to shop in the UAE. The mall boasts thousands of shops, including everything from budget souvenir shops to high-end fashion designer stores. The iconic shopping mall has an indoor ice-skating rink open year-round, the world’s largest aquarium, and countless eateries.

Dubai Miracle Garden

Dubai Miracle Garden

Dubai Miracle Garden is easily one of the prettiest sights in the entire city. It’s a vast botanic garden with a myriad of fun and colorful floral creations right there in the middle of the desert.

The Miracle Garden boasts a heart tunnel, topiary animals, and a life-sized airplane, all adorned with beautiful blooming flowers. It’s one of the most famous attractions in the entire city, and it should be at the top of your list of things to see in Dubai.

Palm Islands

Palm Islands are another iconic Dubai sight that can be seen from space. The construction of artificial islands has been one of the most talked-about things in the past two decades, both because of the sheer ambition of the project and the environmental implications.

Nevertheless, the artificial palm-shaped islands remain an iconic Dubai sight everyone should see if they can.

Dubai Parks And Resorts

Dubai MOTIONGATE Theme Park

If you’re traveling with children, Dubai is the better city to visit, thanks to the abundance of amusement and theme parks. Dubai Parks and Resorts is the largest theme park destination in the entire Middle East, and it’s heaps of fun for both kids and adults. There’s Motiongate Dubai, Legoland Water Park, Bollywood Parks Dubai, and just the good old Legoland Dubai.

All the theme parks are enormous with dozens of rides, eateries, and souvenir shops. Many of them also feature themed accommodation options and staying at an actual Legoland hotel is possible, which is pretty cool.

Related: Buy yourself the perfect backpack for amusement park visits.

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai is the city’s indoor skiing center that’s open year-round. It boasts (artificial) snow mountains, a chair lift, and some pretty decent slopes, making it perfect for anyone who needs a break from the desert heat. Ski Dubai is suitable for children and adults, but it’s generally more popular with the younger crowds.

Marina Walk – Dubai

Dubai Marina Walk

Marina Walk is a 7-kilometer waterfront walkway in Dubai Marina. It’s lined with palm trees, cafes, and restaurants, making it the perfect place for a romantic stroll in the evening. The walkway boasts beautiful views of the Dubai skyscrapers, and you can often see fabulous yachts docked at the marina.

Al Fahidi Historical District

Dubai Al Fahidi

Al Fahidi Historic District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Dubai. It’s worth checking out if you want to get a glimpse of life in the metropolis before all the skyscrapers and luxury hotels. The buildings in the historical district are all built in traditional style, and are home to various museums and art galleries that explore and celebrate the history and culture of the region.

Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk is a must-visit for anyone who is into jewelry and luxury or is just looking for souvenirs. It’s a massive market with too many stores to count, and they all sell gold jewelry. The sheer amount of gold is blinding, and seeing so many stunning pieces in one place is impressive.

You can also find other items for sale at the Gold Souk, including shoes, scarves, spices, and much more common in Dubai!

Things To Do In Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi View

As the slower-paced of the two cities, Abu Dhabi remains the better option for families and travelers looking to have a more relaxing vacation. It boasts beautiful beaches, historic sights, and some amazing theme parks that are fun for everyone!

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Abu Dhabi Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the entire world, and easily one of Abu Dhabi’s best-known sights. The extraordinary mosque boasts 82 domes, and it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates.

Everything about the mosque is fascinating, from the ornate columns to the mesmerizing interior of the Great Prayer Hall. Just bear in mind that you need to be appropriately dressed if you want to go inside the Sheikh Zayed Mosque to explore it, meaning proper pants for the gentlemen and long sleeves and headscarves for the ladies.

Emirates Palace

Abu Dhabi Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace is Abu Dhabi’s most iconic hotel. The palatial hotel has its own marina and a private beach, so it’s the perfect place for people who are looking to be away from everyone. You can even book camel rides directly at the hotel, which is as fun as it sounds.

The luxury hotel boasts a mixture of Islamic and modern architectural elements that come together wonderfully. And the good news is that regular people who have no intention of staying in the hotel are free to come and check out the grand building!

Ferrari World

Abu Dhabi Ferrari World

Ferrari World is an amusement park on Yas Island, and it’s the first Ferrari-themed park in the world. It’s home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world, which reaches speeds of over 200 km/h. It’s safe to say that the ride is not for those faint of heart, but Formula Rossa is a great rollercoaster for anyone looking to get the same adrenaline rush that comes with being behind the wheel of a Ferrari.

The Abu Dhabi amusement park is regarded as one of the best theme parks in the Middle East, and it’s one of a few theme parks that’s more fun for adults than kids. That’s probably because kids don’t get excited to see the displayed Ferrari cars, and they certainly don’t understand what an honor it is to be in the presence of an actual Ferrari F1 car.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi is an innovative art museum known for its extensive collection and impressive modern architecture. The museum is surrounded by water and features a dome roof that is inspired by the Louvre pyramid, hence the name.

The museum collection boasts exhibits from the Iron and Stone Age, as well as many famous artworks from European masters. You’ll also find a restaurant at the museum, and there’s even an option to go kayaking in the museum! It’s worth noting that Louvre Abu Dhabi features a separate children’s museum, so it’s fun for the entire family.

Sir Bani Yas Island

Yas Marina Hotel

Sir Bani Yas Island is one of the top tourist projects in Abu Dhabi, and it’s home to many interesting attractions. Most of Abu Dhabi’s theme parks are on Yas Island, including the iconic Ferrari World.

The island is also home to Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi’s race track that famously hosts F1 races. The layout of the Yas Marina Circuit can be accommodated to serve pretty much any motorsport race in the world, and you can even drive vehicles on the track, provided it’s not hosting an event while you’re visiting.

The island is also home to Yas Waterworld, Abu Dhabi’s largest water park with waterslides, static waves, and excellent shopping opportunities. You’ll also find the Warner Bros theme park on the island and the stunning, mangrove-lined Yas Beach.

Mangrove National Park

Mangrove National Park is a great place to visit in Abu Dhabi. It’s a mangrove forest with more than 60 different bird species and countless opportunities for kayaking and other water fun. It’s such an exciting sight because it’s not every day that you visit a mangrove forest in a city that’s mostly just desert!

Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat Island is one of Abu Dhabi’s most developed islands, with numerous resorts, museums, a sprawling marina, and some of the best beaches in the UAE. The entire island is a large tourist project that’s yet to be completed, so it will only get better as the years go by.

An entire district on the island is dedicated to arts and culture, and this is where the famous Louvre Abu Dhabi is. It’s also planned for the island to host a  Guggenheim museum, which is supposed to be the largest of all Guggenheim museums ever built. The island is also home to Saadiyat Beach, a vast stretch of white sand featuring water sports and chair rentals.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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