Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the two largest cities in the United Arab Emirates. They are one of the Middle East's leading destinations, with the rapid development of the country due to the discovery of oil has boosted tourism for over a decade.
While the public is generally more familiar with Dubai, Abu Dhabi offers many interesting activities and is striving to boost the city's appeal to compete with Dubai. So here's an article with all the information you need to help you choose the best vacation destination between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Two world-class cities with similarities
If you're looking for an exciting vacation destination with a variety of activities and attractions, you can't go wrong with Dubai or Abu Dhabi. These two major cities of the United Arab Emirates are constantly expanding their tourist activity, and your trip is likely to be unforgettable whatever your choice. Here are some of the main similarities between the two cities:
- both cities have an international airport
- Abu Dhabi and Dubai share the same climate: hot and dry from October to April, then very hot and dry from May to September. Sunshine prevails all year round, with the odd rainy day in winter.
- Abu Dhabi is the country's capital, with a population of 1.45 million, compared with over 3 million in Dubai.
- both cities are capitals of their emirates
- similar architectural styles, with a mix of impressive skyscrapers and traditional architecture
- with direct access to the sea from the center (Persian Gulf)
Dubai the Guide - a spectacular city
Dubai is the world's most spectacular city, with avant-garde infrastructure and architecture. Take a look at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the United Arab Emirates and the world, with an incredible height of 828 meters and 163 stories. You'll enjoy breathtaking vistas from two observation platforms offering 360-degree views.
Completed in 2010, this skyscraper has since become the city's iconic meeting point, with its observatory offering breathtaking views of the entire region.
If you're a shopping enthusiast, then you'll be in heaven if you visit the city. The Dubai Mall is one of the world's largest shopping malls, with over 1,200 stores serving more than 40 million visitors every year.
You'll find an impressive variety of retailers, including many prestigious international names such as Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale's and Louis Vuitton.
The mall also offers a host of attractions, including an aquarium featuring over a thousand marine species, a Dubai Ice rink, a wall of waterfalls and even a virtual reality park! The Dubai Mall offers much more than shopping, it's a real spectacle.
Burj al Arab
The city's emblematic "7-star hotel" in the shape of a sail is a sight to behold on any trip to Dubai. Built on its artificial island, the Burj al Arab is nevertheless off-limits to visitors, so you'll either have to book a room or make a reservation at one of the hotel's restaurants.
The Dubai Fountain
Tourists also often visit the Dubai Fountain. The fountain is particularly famous for its choreographed nightly shows and festive atmosphere. It is even the world's tallest animated fountain, with jets up to 150 meters high.
Of course, no trip to Dubai would be complete without spending some time on Palm Jumeirah Island, one of the world's most iconic artificial islands. This palm-shaped island is home to luxurious hotels, high-end restaurants and even a water park.
You can also take a trip to Marina Mall, an elegantly designed shopping center whose contemporary architecture creates a sophisticated ambiance. The breathtaking views over the marina and the lively atmosphere make Dubai Marina Mall a must-see destination for your trip.
All these attractions make Dubai a city out of the ordinary, sure to amaze you on every visit during your stay!
Dubai's water parks: the guide
Dubai boasts several water parks to suit all tastes:
- Atlantis Aquaventure: a majestic, renowned water park in the heart of the Palm Jumeirah
- Wild Wadi Waterpark: a roller coaster of water and surf in an outdoor water park
- Legoland Waterpark: a theme park with numerous games and activities for children and parents alike
- Splash'n'Party: a small waterpark for children with water activities and attractions
Abu Dhabi - exploring the culture and history of the United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi has its fair share of luxury and entertainment, but it's its commitment to a culture that remains its most distinctive DNA as the country's capital.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The city is home to several world-renowned museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an ultra-modern museum surrounded by the sea, which opened its doors to the public in 2017. While the museum is a true architectural work in itself, it also boasts an impressive art collection, spanning centuries and cultures from around the world.
Zayed National Museum
You can also visit Abu Dhabi's Zayed National Museum. A museum dedicated to the history of the United Arab Emirates, it explores the occupation of this territory over the past 200,000 years. The museum is named in honor of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, of which he was the first ruler.
Formula 1 Grand Prix and International Book Fair
The city also hosts international events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix (2022) and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, a benchmark event in the literary world of the Middle East and the UAE.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Last but not least, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must-see in Abu Dhabi. Indeed, it is one of the world's largest mosques, as well as being a true work of architecture. It contains 82 domes with pure marble cladding and 4 majestic minarets.
The architecture of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is resolutely modern, reflecting a desire to create a place of tolerance, diversity and learning about Islamic values.
Make sure you visit in the late afternoon to enjoy your visit in daylight, then at night, when the whole mosque lights up to offer visitors a fantastic spectacle.
As a result, Abu Dhabi is just as interesting a city as Dubai, with something for everyone. Whether you're interested in art, history or sport, you'll find plenty to keep you entertained in this dynamic city of the United Arab Emirates.
For its part, Dubai also offers a wide range of cultural attractions: Dubai Opera, Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai Museum, but you'll find more options in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi - a more affordable tourist destination than Dubai
For those wishing to enjoy the best the United Arab Emirates has to offer without breaking the bank, Abu Dhabi is the ideal destination.
The city is slightly more affordable than its sister city, particularly in terms of hotels and dining options. For example, a traditional meal will cost you around 15 euros in Abu Dhabi, compared with an average of 25 euros in Dubai.
For an 8-night stay in a luxury hotel in Dubai, expect to pay between 3,500 and 6,500 euros on average, compared with an average of 1,500 to 4,000 euros for 8 nights in Abu Dhabi.
Dubai - a more cosmopolitan, international city
Dubai is a more Westernized city than Abu Dhabi. It is also a city that welcomes people from all over the world. According to recent estimates, around 90% of Dubai's population are expatriates. This mix of people brings with it a diversity of cultures and traditions, making Dubai an exciting and dynamic place to live.
Whether you're looking for traditional Arabic or international cuisine, you're sure to find it in Dubai.
Dubai - the party destination
Dubai is known for its luxurious lifestyle and vibrant nightlife. From rooftop bars to famous beach clubs, there's something for everyone.
Dubai's party scene is constantly evolving, with new clubs and bars popping up all the time. If you're looking for a truly wild night out, Dubai is the place to be.
Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, offers fewer options for bars and clubs. The approach to entertainment is more traditional, and locals and tourists alike take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy activities that are too strenuous in the middle of the day due to the heat, and that are more social and traditional than what we're used to in the West. And that's what makes Abu Dhabi so charming!
Dubai or Abu Dhabi for family vacations?
Abu Dhabi offers interesting family activities: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros World, while the spectacular aspect of Dubai is perhaps more likely to suit young and old alike.
Abu Dhabi's Yas Waterworld, located on Yas Island, also promises to delight young and old alike. Indeed, this theme park has points reserved for the youngest visitors, so that everyone can have fun and enjoy this relaxing space.
Another aspect to consider when deciding which city to visit in the UAE is the city's atmosphere: more festive in Dubai, and quieter in Abu Dhabi. The choice will depend on your preferences, but Abu Dhabi remains a good option for families, especially as the lower prices can be a boost for a group trip.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi both offer access to the desert
If you're looking to explore the desert, you'll be spoilt for choice in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both cities offer numerous opportunities to get out into the dunes and discover the unique landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula. From guided safaris to 4x4 adventures, there's something for everyone.
And why not take your desert expedition as far as the town of Al Ain? Located on the other side of the desert, on the border with Oman, this town is famous for its zoo, gardens and palm groves.
Abu Dhabi - nature everywhere
Abu Dhabi boasts a national park right in the heart of the city: the Eastern Mangrove National Park. It boasts a wide variety of plant and animal species, as well as water sports facilities. Although Abu Dhabi is a bustling metropolis, nature is always just a stone's throw away.
What's more, the beaches here are more unspoiled and pleasant than in Dubai, so you can make the most of a relaxing afternoon, or even try your hand at kitesurfing! Abu Dhabi also boasts over 200 islands, making it a natural landscape in a class of its own.
Traditional culture - Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi is the city that best combines traditional Emirati culture with modernity, continuing to perpetuate local customs such as falconry and camel racing. In both cities, you'll find numerous souks and traditional villages, such as Heritage Village and Dubai Old City in Dubai, or the Emirates Heritage Club in Abu Dhabi.
It all depends on what you're looking for in a vacation destination
In conclusion, the choice between visiting Dubai or Abu Dhabi depends above all on you. No one city's better than the other, as each offers different activities and a unique experience. Whatever you decide, you're sure to have a memorable vacation in the United Arab Emirates in one of these two cities!