Abu Dhabi vs Dubai – which is the better holiday destination? This is a question that I get asked ALOT! Having lived and spent a lot of time in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai I think we are in a good position to answer which of these makes the best UAE holiday! So in this guide we round up which we think is best for different types of travellers including the best things to see and do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to answer once and for all the question – Dubai vs Abu Dhabi – which is best!
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai – which is best for culture?
Let’s face it culture and Dubai are not the most famed bedfellows! However, Dubai is not starved of culture as some people would have you believe – it’s just knowing where to look for it!
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! And as an added bonus – this is one of the cheapest things you can do in Dubai as the cost of these traditional dhows down the creek is very low!
There are also some great museums in Dubai such as the Dubai museum (including the Al Fahidi Fort), the coffee museum and the Etihad museum! What I love about these museums is they are about traditional Emirati life and is a great way to find out more about local culture!
Abu Dhabi on the other hand has some amazing franchise museums both open and in the works! Currently the open museums in Abu Dhabi are the architectural stunner – the Louvre and the traditional fort museum – Qatr al Hosn!
However there are many more in progress museums including the Guggenheim and also the first national museum in the UAE – the Sheikh Zayed National Museum which will document the history of the country!
So if museums are your thing then both have something on offer – it just depends whether you want to see world class culture or museums more about the location you are in as to which you will like best!
However if there is one cultural must see in the whole of the UAE for me it is the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque! I recommend going and taking the tour as it is very educational and certainly worth joining for those interested in learning more about the culture of the UAE and Islam. Please however ensure that you dress appropriately and respect the religious site you are visiting!
For a full guide on what to wear in Abu Dhabi please check out this post (it has a full section on appropriate dress in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque)!
In my opinion the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Abu Dhabi if not in the whole of the UAE and for me should be top of your UAE bucket list!
Overall: it depends on what type of culture you want to see on which place you should go however as Abu Dhabi has the Grand Mosque I would make sure this is on your itinerary!
Where has the best beaches Dubai vs Abu Dhabi?
One of the biggest draws of the UAE for holiday makers I think is the appeal of being able to get some winter sun! So if you do want some UAE winter sun I would recommend looking at staying at one of the amazing beach resorts the UAE has on offer!
Dubai is famed for its beaches and resorts especially at Jumeirah Beach and on the Palm! The Dubai hotels listed below definitely have some great amenities for those looking for resort style holidays!
Some of the highest ranked resorts with beaches in Dubai are:
On the Palm
The only draw back to these however are that they can be far away from the city centre attractions but are convenient to visit the Dubai Theme Parks and for those just wanting a resort holiday.
I would recommend, if you want to do a mix of beach and city activities then split your time between a city centre and a beach resort hotel!
For city centre hotels we always stay at the Conrad Dubai – this hotel has an amazing urban oasis with one of the best pools in central Dubai in my opinion! You can read our full review of the Conrad here!
The other downside to Palm Beach resorts is that they can get some big jellyfish blooms which makes using the sea difficult! However if you want to use the pool more than the sea this won’t be a problem!
The alternative in Dubai is then to stay at Jumeirah Beach. Some highly rated beach resorts in this location include:
So now you know the options in Dubai what about Abu Dhabi?
In some ways I I think the beaches in Abu Dhabi are better than those in Dubai because that don’t have the problem of jellyfish and aren’t as inconveniently located to other city attractions. The only draw back to the Abu Dhabi ones is that perhaps the amenities aren’t quite so extensive as some in Dubai i.e. don’t have the same scale of waterparks.
If you are looking for great beaches in Abu Dhabi then the below are highly rated:
If you are looking for an all inclusive option in Abu Dhabi then you can visit Abu Dhabi’s first all inclusive
If you are looking for pure luxury – this is something special and quite unique! We had an absolutely brilliant time on the island and would recommend to others! However, if you don’t want to shell out for a stay on the private island you could consider just doing a day trip there – just be sure to book well in advance as numbers are limited to keep exclusive!
Where is best for luxury lovers – Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
Let’s face it – the Middle East and the emirates on the whole does luxury really well! And it isn’t just in terms of accommodation that you can find luxury – it is everything from where to stay, what to eat and high end shopping on offer!
If you are looking for luxury shopping, I think Dubai just beats Abu Dhabi! Neither location is bad for shopping but in truth there is just a bit more in Dubai!
Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall are a must for shopaholics visiting Dubai! I think for me, Dubai Mall is my favourite just because of the amazing Dubai Mall Aquarium, Antony Gormley statues and proximity to the Burj Khalifa and Fountain Show which means you can spend a whole day in the mall area!
My favourite mall in Abu Dhabi is Yas Mall but in the coming years there are many new malls set to open in Abu Dhabi so do keep your eyes peeled! It will be interesting to see how this affects shopping in the UAE when they start to open!
If you like a bit of luxury in your food and drink be sure to add a trip to Emirates Palace to your Abu Dhabi itinerary! The Emirates Palace is home to the famous Emirates Palace gold cappuccino – a cappuccino sprinkled with 24 carat gold!
For luxury stays and hotels there are so many options in both Emirates!
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have some of the world’s best luxury brand hotels – from the Four Seasons, Rosewood, Anantara and the St Regis brands but also have some more one off luxury stays!
In Abu Dhabi you have Zaya Nurai and Emirates Palace while in Dubai you would want to look at the Address and of course – the SIX star hotel – Burj al Arab! Be warned the latter comes with a hefty price tag though as it only has suites on offer!
But basically – no matter which Emirate you go to you are bound to find some amazing luxury!
What is best for thrill seekers Abu Dhabi or Dubai?
There are great attractions for thrill seekers in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai!
Dubai is home to Dubai Parks and Resorts a series of theme parks! There is Motiongate, Legoland, Legoland Water Park, and Bollywood Theme Parks! We visiting several of these during our time in the UAE – you can read our in depth Motiongate review here!
If you are looking for large rollercoasters the best theme park for you is likely to be Motiongate! The Hunger Games Zone and Zombie land area have plenty of grown up rides! For younger children – the areas containing rides based on Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar are sure to delight!
If you don’t want to head to these resorts but still want some fun then there is also a water park at Atlantis that is fun for the whole family and closer to the centre for those that don’t want to travel to the Dubai Resorts World!
Even with this cornucopia of theme parks, Dubai is not the outright winner in terms of theme parks! Abu Dhabi has a range itself including Ferrari World, Warner Brothers World and Yas Water World!
Ferrari World has the most incredible looking roller coaster and is probably better for those travelling with older kids and adults! Younger kids will enjoy Warner Brothers World!
Overall: Neither Dubai or Abu Dhabi are lacking in theme parks but again it is a case of what takes your fancy most!
Is Dubai or Abu Dhabi better for families?
There are plenty of family friendly activities to do in both! Abu Dhabi has amazing beaches and theme parks but for me Dubai has the edge!
The aquarium is my daughters’ absolute favourite thing in the country so this coupled with the resorts, water parks and theme parks makes Dubai better for families, especially with toddlers and babies in my opinion!
However it is worth noting that my daughter is still a toddler which is why we love Motiongate so much as a theme park! If you are travelling with older children or teenagers then both Emirates are equally attractive!
Which has the better desert?
The desert is a must for any visit to the UAE and it is an excursion you can do from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi! You can see some Dubai and Abu Dhabi desert excursions here.
We always recommend doing an excursion for the desert as desert driving is tricky and I wouldn’t recommend hiring a car and doing yourself! We lived in the Middle Years for well over five years and I still wouldn’t take my own car across the dunes!
If you would like to visit the desert for more than just a morning or an afternoon you could consider taking an overnight safari or have a more unique hotel stay in the UAE by opting to spend time at a desert resort!
The Bab al Shams desert resort is a short drive from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai which is a great way for families to spend time amongst the dunes and requires minimal travel for a desert resort!
If you are travelling as adults however and have a bit more time you might want to consider travelling to Dubai and then out into the empty quarter and visiting some of the amazing desert resorts there such as:
Can you do both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the same trip?
Absolutely! Depending on where you are staying in each, the drive between the two cities is probably on 1.5 – 2 hours!
You can rent a car and drive otherwise there are plenty of excursions and organised tours to get from one to the other
If you do plan on doing the drive yourself I would recommend stopping at the Last Stop – a quirky food truck service area at the Dubai – Abu Dhabi border – it is really unique and is a great quirky thing to do in Dubai!
There are also some public transport options as well as plenty of taxis that would be willing to do the drive!
To read more about how to get between Dubai and Abu Dhabi click here!
Or for an itinerary that takes in both click here!
SO there you have it – our ultimate Abu Dhabi vs Dubai comparison! Which would you most like to visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi – and why?
Further UAE Reading