Having lived in the UAE, we are often which is better for a holiday in the battle of Abu Dhabi vs Dubai! In this guide we will compare these two amazing cities to help you pick which is the best vacation destination for you.
But before we get into this debate we thought it would be worth pointing out the main differences between these two amazing cities.
What is the difference between Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the two largest cities in the UAE and are each the capital of their respective Emirates, with Abu Dhabi also being capital city of the United Arab Emirates.
Depsite this, Dubai is the most visited city with its focus on tourism with a wealth of beaches, malls and famous tourist attractions such as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Abu Dhabi on the other hand is the business center of the country and is slightly more laid back and has a high number cultural attractions such as museums and the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. And both consistently make the safest cities in the world list.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that both cities have attractions which make them worthwhile to visit. But below we will tell you which is better for you depending on the type of traveler you are!
What is better Dubai or Abu Dhabi for different types of travelers?
Now you know the difference between the two cities, we will take a closer look at them cities in terms of attractions for different types of travellers.
What is best for cultural attractions Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
Let’s face it culture is not the first thing that springs to mind when you mentioned Dubai. There is a common misconception that Dubai is culturally void, being more renowned for its shopping malls. However this is not the case, you just have to know where to look.
Some of my favorite cultural attractions in Dubai include:
- Dubai Museum – located in Al Fahidi Fort, where you can learn about traditional Emirati Life
- The Museum of the Future – the newest museum of the Dubai museum scene which is dedicated to the future and is filled with interactive exhibits
- Coffee Museum – a place to learn about Arabic coffee known locally as qahwa and
- The Etihad Museum – a museum dedicated to the history of the UAE.
There is even a museum in Dubai for toddlers and young children, OliOli.
Also if you are looking to see traditional Emirati life then head down to Dubai Creek and hop on a dhow. Here you will get a real feel for old Dubai.
Abu Dhabi on the other hand is more known for its cultural attractions. It has branches of some of the world’s biggest museum brands in the city such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and has a branch of the Guggenheim in development.
On top of that there are also some locally focussed museum such as Qatr al Hosn, a museum located in a historic fort and the upcoming Sheikh Zayed National Museum which again is focussed on the history of the UAE.
But perhaps the most spectacular of Abu Dhabi’s attractions is the world famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE. And in my opinion this is one of the most beautiful places in Abu Dhabi.
Although you can visit the Mosque on your own we really recommend taking on of the free tours as it is a great way to learn more about Islam, the Uae and this amazing building. Just be sure you dress appropriately as conservative dress is required.
So both Dubai and Abu Dhabi do have cultural attractions on offer for those interested in a UAE cultural. But for me the museums and the Grand Mosque probably makes Abu Dhabi better for cultural travellers.
We have an Abu Dhabi itinerary here that covers all the main Abu Dhabi attractions, however if you can why not consider splitting your time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Where has the best beaches Dubai vs Abu Dhabi?
One of the biggest draws of the UAE for holiday makers is it is a great Winter sun destination. But if you want to spend time on the best beaches in the UAE, is Dubai or Abu Dhabi better?
Note: if your primary reason for visiting the UAE is to head to beaches, it is worth noting that many people find it too hot to use the beaches in Summer. However winter in Abu Dhabi is a great time to spend time on the beach.
Now again, Dubai. is more famed for its beautiful beaches. And some of the best UAE resorts for families are in Dubai on the Palm and in the Jumeirah Beach area. For more information on where to stay in Dubai for families check out this post.
However, just because Dubai is more famed for it’s beaches, doesn’t mean that Abu Dhabi is lacking. In fact there are lots of great resorts and public beaches in Abu Dhabi especially in the Saadiyat island Beach area.
Generally speaking, I find the beaches in Abu Dhabi to be calmer and quieter than their Dubai counterparts. While the beaches in Dubai tend to have more amenities and attractions. So really it depends on the type of beach you want as to which has the better beaches for you.
If you want a more relaxing and quieter beach then Abu Dhabi will suit you best. However if you want a beach with lots of things to do, water sports, beach clubs and amenities then Dubai would be better for you.
Is Abu Dhabi or Dubai better for family holidays?
Having lived in the UAE with kids, I can tell you from experience that both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are great with kids with lots of family activities on offer.
As we mentioned above, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have great beaches, both public and private that are great for kids.
But what other attractions are there for kids. Dubai is full of great kid friendly attractions such as:
- Dubai Aquarium in the Dubai Mall,
- water parks such as Wild Wadi, Aquaventure and Aquafun and
- theme parks such as Motiongate, LEGOLAND Dubai, and IMG World of Adventures.
When we were in Dubai with toddlers my little ones love Motiongate and Legoland. However if you are traveling to Dubai with teenagers then IMG is definitely a better pick. These are also a great thing to do in summer in Dubai as the theme parks in the UAE are outdoor / indoor attractions so are great for escaping the heat.
However Abu Dhabi also has great things to do in with kids. When we lived in Abu Dhabi my little ones favorite things to do were:
- the newly opened National Aquarium,
- waterparks like Yas Waterpark
- theme parks including Warner Brothers World and Ferrari World famed for the Formula Rossa,
world’s fastest rollercoaster.
Overall, I think families whether traveling with toddlers and babies or teenagers will have a fantastic time whichever city they decide to visit.
Which is the cheapest holiday destination Abu Dhabi or Dubai?
Let’s face it – the Middle East and the Emirates on the whole does luxury really well and isn’t known as being a budget travel destination.
If you love luxury then you will be spoiled for choice in terms of accommodation with Abu Dhabi having the beautiful Emirates Palace hotel, while Dubai is home to lots of luxury resorts such as the Atlantis on the Palm and of course the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel.
But what about for budget travellers? Accommodation is going to be your biggest expense in either city, but there are some cheaper options available however I would say neither is cheap. But if you are comparing them I would say given the volume of hotels in Dubai, it is slightly cheaper than Abu Dhabi.
If you want to look at reducing your costs in the UAE then I would recommend visiting in Summer as opposed to heading to Dubai in December for instance as the prices are much cheaper in the summer months. Also buying the Entertainer pamphlet of coupons for the city you are visiting is another great way of reducing your costs.
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai – which is best for shopping?
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both great for shoppers. Dubai is perhaps the most well known shopping destination in the world. This is probably because Dubai Mall is the most famous and largest shopping mall not only in the UAE but in the world. But on top of this Dubai also has Mall of the Emirates
If you had asked me a couple of years ago I would have said that Dubai hands down would have beaten Abu Dhabi on the shopping front. But the truth is Abu Dhabi has been making a lot of improvements in recent years in terms of malls with Yas Mall, Marina Mall and The Galleria all being great for shoppers.
However if you can only visit one mall on your UAE vacation then it has to be Dubai Mall, with its great shopping, entertainment options and bucket list activities.
Which has the better desert?
For me no Abu Dhabi and Dubai Bucket List is complete without a visit into the desert. You can do a day trip from both cities into the desert to do a desert safari, so a desert day trip isn’t the best deciding factor when choosing between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However if you want to stay in a desert resort in the UAE then Abu Dhabi is a better pick. All the main desert resorts such as the Bab al Shams desert resort and Qasr al Sarab.
Therefore if you want to stay in the desert Abu Dhabi is the best choice.
Does Abu Dhabi or Dubai have the best things to do?
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have great things to do, so it really depends on your interests as what has the best attractions for you.
Below we have listed the attractions in each city to help you decide which is best for you:
Best things to do in Abu Dhabi at a glance
- Shopping Malls – Yas Mall, Galleria and more.
- Yas Water World on Yas Island
- National Aquarium
- Amusement Parks – Warner Brothers World and Ferrari World
Sheikh Zayed mosque
- Museums – Qasr Hosan, Louvre Abu Dhabi with more opening soon
Best things to do in Dubai at a glance
- Dubai Mall
- Dubai Aquarium
- Water parks – Wild Wadi, Aquaventure, Legoland Water Park and Aquafun
- Theme Parks – IMG World of Adventure, Legoland, Bollywood Land and Motiongate.
- Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountains
- Museums – OliOli, Etihad Museu, Museum of the Future, and Coffee Museum
FAQS about choosing between Dubai or Abu Dhabi for holidays
So now you know what city is best for different type of visitors we will turn our attention to your frequently asked questions about Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
What is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai?
There are only really two seasons in the UAE – summer and winter season and both cities have a hot dry desert climate.
Winter season is peak tourist season because of the amazing weather. Whereas summer tends to be cheaper as many people find it too hot to be outside in the UAE in Summer.
However if you do decide to visit the UAE in summer, there are lots of indoor things to do.
Can you do both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the same trip?
You absolutely can do Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the same trip. Depending on where you are staying the drive between the two cities is around on 1.5 – 2 hours, traffic dependent of course. At this timing you can do a day trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and vice versa but it will be a long day.
Otherwise you can do spend 7 days in the UAE split across the two cities.
Is Abu Dhabi in Dubai?
A common question we get asked is is Abu Dhabi in Dubai? The answer is no. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi is actually the capital of the UAE though most people are more familiar with the attractions in Dubai than Abu Dhabi as this is the bigger tourist hub while Abu Dhabi is the business centre.
What are the Dress Codes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?
WE have you covered with what to wear in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the below:
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