Abu Dhabi vs Dubai is a common conundrum when considering your next getaway to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
These dazzling Middle Eastern cities have something unique to offer visitors, but you’re probably wondering: should I visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
Lucky for you, I’ve put together this Dubai vs Abu Dhabi guide to help you decide which UAE destination is best for you.
This article covers the key similarities and differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including tourist attractions, accommodation options, what makes each special, and more. Let’s dive in!
Spoiler alert — I don’t think one city is better than the other. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both fantastic cities with so much going on, so it really comes down to what kind of traveler you are and what your priorities are.
That said, let’s dive into this Abu Dhabi v Dubai guide and figure out the perfect destination for you!
In This Post:
Are Abu Dhabi and Dubai Different?
One of the most important things to know before visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi is that they are completely different cities and separate emirates with different rulers.
An emirate is similar to a state or province, and Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE is a small gulf country comprised of seven emirates, which are:
- Abu Dhabi
- Ras Al Khaimah
- Umm Al Quwain
Map of the United Arab Emirates (To Help Visualize Abu Dhabi vs Dubai)
This map of the UAE will help you visualize where Abu Dhabi and Dubai lie within the country and their proximity to one another.
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai Frequently Asked Questions
These frequently asked questions regarding Abu Dhabi vs Dubai will help you better understand the key differences and similarities between these two incredible cities.
How Far Is Abu Dhabi From Dubai?
Abu Dhabi is roughly 87 miles away from Dubai, and the drive is around 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on traffic.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both located in the UAE along the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf/Arabian Peninsula, but Abu Dhabi lies further south than Dubai.
You can easily do a day trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi or a day trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai.
They’re both great hubs to explore the rest of the United Arab Emirates as well.
👇 Best day trip options from Dubai to Abu Dhabi:
👇 Best day trip options from Abu Dhabi to Dubai:
Is Abu Dhabi Worth Visiting?
Abu Dhabi is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor Dubai, but Abu Dhabi is definitely worth a visit in its own right.
How Do Abu Dhabi and Dubai Differ?
Although Dubai and Abu Dhabi are located within the same country, they offer vastly different experiences for visitors.
Abu Dhabi is far more traditional and conservative emirate than Dubai, and its skyline is dominated by government buildings and mosques.
In contrast, Dubai is a more modern city with towering skyscrapers, lavish hotels, and luxurious malls, and it’s the most densely populated Emirate.
Abu Dhabi is also home to many of the UAE’s oil reserves, while Dubai has built its economy around tourism and finance.
As a result, Abu Dhabi is often seen as the more traditional and conservative of the two cities, while Dubai is more modern and cosmopolitan.
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: The Ultimate Showdown
Ready to start the Dubai vs Abu Dhabi comparison?
Let’s get into this detailed overview of the key differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for visitors.
1. Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Safety
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two of the safest destinations in the world.
Both cities have a strong police presence and have implemented strict laws and regulations to ensure the safety of residents, western tourists, and other visitors.
In addition, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have extensive security measures in place, including CCTV cameras and security guards.
✅ Winner: It’s a tie between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
2. Is Abu Dhabi or Dubai Richer?
Abu Dhabi is regarded as the richest city in the world per capita, while Dubai ranks a close second.
Abu Dhabi has more oil reserves than Dubai, which has helped contribute to its wealth.
Abu Dhabi also has a stronger financial sector which brings in more money.
In contrast, Dubai’s economy is based much more on tourism and real estate.
While Dubai is still an incredibly wealthy city, it can’t match Abu Dhabi when it comes to raw financial firepower.
However, it should be noted that both Abu Dhabi vs Dubai are extremely wealthy cities, with a significant amount of overlap in their economy and infrastructure.
✅ Winner: Abu Dhabi wins this round.
3. Abu Dhabi v Dubai: How to Dress Appropriately
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, you’ll notice that most locals are dressed in traditional Middle Eastern clothing.
You’re not expected to wear traditional clothing when visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a visitor, but it’s important to dress modestly and respect local customs.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered and that you avoid tight clothing.
Dubai is a little more liberal regarding attire than its neighbor, Abu Dhabi.
That’s because Dubai is more focused on tourism, and Abu Dhabi is generally more conservative.
I’ve seen women wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts in Dubai, but I’ve never seen that in Abu Dhabi, although they should still be avoided in certain areas.
In Abu Dhabi, you’re expected to dress modestly and cover your knees and shoulders in public. As such, shorts and tank tops should be avoided.
I recommend carrying a shawl or a scarf to cover your head and shoulders if needed.
✅ Verdict: Abu Dhabi is more conservative than Dubai regarding dressing for the occasion.
4. Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Can You Drink Alcohol in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?
There are different rules and standards for consuming alcohol for visitors and residents regarding licenses and permits.
As a tourist, you can drink alcohol in licensed hotels, bars, and restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
However, it’s imperative that you don’t walk outside with a drink in your hand or be intoxicated in public.
There is also a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving.
All of the above is illegal and will lead to a hefty immediate fine or jail time.
Trust me — the police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi don’t play around when it comes to this.
✅ Verdict: Abu Dhabi vs Dubai have similar rules for drinking alcohol in licensed establishments, but you must be aware of the strict laws regarding intoxication.
5. Is Dubai or Abu Dhabi Better for a Family Vacation?
When it comes to Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a family holiday, it all just depends on what you’re looking for.
Dubai is the better option if your family is into fun and adventure.
It has world-class theme parks such as Legoland Dubai, IMG Worlds of Adventure, Motiongate Dubai, and many outdoor activities like desert safaris and hot air balloon rides.
You can even take your kiddos skiing at Ski Dubai, the world’s first indoor ski resort. How cool would it be to say that you went skiing in the desert?!
If your family prefers a more laid-back getaway with lots of history and culture, an Abu Dhabi vacation is the better choice.
Abu Dhabi is home to some stunning beaches, iconic monuments like Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and incredible museums such as Louvre Abu Dhabi.
✅ Verdict: Dubai is the better option for families looking for an adventurous getaway, while Abu Dhabi is ideal for those who want to explore the city’s culture and history.
6. Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Beaches
The UAE is well-known for its stunning beaches. Abu Dhabi and Dubai both feature some of the best beaches in the Middle East, with soft white sand and crystal-clear water.
Dubai is well-known for its manmade islands and extravagant beach resorts.
The beaches in Dubai are more crowded than those in Abu Dhabi, boasting a diverse range of beaches, from the secluded Jumeirah Beach to the bustling JBR Beach.
On the other hand, the beaches in Abu Dhabi are far less crowded and offer a more tranquil environment.
Abu Dhabi’s beaches are ideal for taking long walks, admiring the views, or just soaking up some sun.
Saadiyat Beach and Corniche Beach are two of Abu Dhabi’s most popular beaches, with gorgeous stretches of coastline and plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Plus, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll see Hawksbill turtles and dolphins playing in Abu Dhabi’s waters!
✅ Winner: The clear winner in the best beaches category is Abu Dhabi, with its secluded and tranquil beaches.
7. Shopping in Abu Dhabi vs Dubai
Anyone who loves to shop will find plenty to keep them occupied in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
These two cities are known for their luxury malls and high-end boutiques and provide shoppers with a world class shopping experience.
However, there are some key differences between the shopping experiences in Abu Dhabi vs Dubai.
For one thing, Dubai is home to more than 65 shopping malls, while Abu Dhabi has 15. Can you imagine how much shopping you could get done in 65 malls?
Dubai also has more tourist-focused shopping experiences, like The Dubai Fountain and the Dubai Ice Rink, whereas Abu Dhabi is better for local markets and traditional souks.
Additionally, Dubai’s malls tend to be more modern and better designed than those in Abu Dhabi, offering a more enjoyable shopping experience.
Note — the best malls in Dubai are The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Festival City Mall, and Ibn Battuta Mall.
The best shopping malls in Abu Dhabi are Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, and Yas Mall.
✅ Winner: Dubai wins this round with its vast array of malls, tourist-friendly shopping experiences, and modern design.
8. Abu Dhabi v Dubai: Tourist Attractions
No matter which Emirate you choose, Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you’re sure to find plenty of fun things to do with their world class tourism infrastructure.
It’s tough to choose between Abu Dhabi vs Dubai when it comes to attractions, so this side-by-side comparison of some of the top tourist attractions in each Emirate will help you decide.
Burj Khalifa (Dubai) vs. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (Abu Dhabi)
If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy landmark, there’s no doubt that the Burj Khalifa in Dubai takes the cake.
At over 2,700 feet tall, it’s the tallest building in the world and offers breathtaking views of the city from its observation deck.
However, if you’re looking for a place of worship that will leave you in awe, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is well worth a visit.
This architectural masterpiece is covered in marble, gold, and crystal and can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers at one time.
Palm Jumeirah (Dubai) vs. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Do you want to feel like royalty? If so, head to Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island home to some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in Dubai.
If thrilling rides are more your thing, then Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the place for you.
This indoor amusement park has Formula One-themed rides that will give you an adrenaline rush like no other.
And if that’s not enough, there’s also a go-kart track where you can race with your friends.
Madinat Jumeirah (Dubai) vs Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi)
If you’re looking for a unique and luxurious experience, Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai is the perfect place to stay.
This five-star resort has picturesque waterways, traditional architecture, and a stunning Arabian-inspired spa.
Meanwhile, Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi offers an even grander experience with its five-star accommodations, private beach, and world-class restaurants.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (Dubai) vs Qasr Al Watan (Abu Dhabi)
If you’re a fan of history, then exploring the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in Dubai is a must.
This area is home to some of Dubai’s oldest buildings and cultural spots, including wind towers and traditional markets.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Watan offers an insight into Abu Dhabi’s government and culture.
You can explore the palace grounds, visit the library, and watch a show about Abu Dhabi’s history in the state-of-the-art theatre.
✅ Winner: It’s a tie because Abu Dhabi vs Dubai both have plenty of attractions to choose from, so it’s really up to personal preference.
9. Abu Dhabi v Dubai: Accommodation Options
Dubai and Abu Dhabi aren’t known for being very budget friendly when it comes to accommodation, and it’s certainly true that you’ll find some of the world’s most luxurious and expensive hotels in both cities.
But there are also plenty of mid-range options available in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Depending on when you visit, you can snag a 3 or 4-star hotel in both cities for around $80-90.
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai can happily wreck your wallet if you’re after luxury hotels.
Some say that Abu Dhabi has cheaper hotels than Dubai and vice versa, but after spending extensive time in the UAE, I don’t think there’s that much of a discrepancy.
✅ Winner: Again, it’s a tie! Abu Dhabi and Dubai both offer luxury hotels and plenty of accommodation options at similar prices.
👉 Find the perfect place to stay in Abu Dhabi! Click here to explore all the best accommodation options that fit your budget.
👉 Find the perfect place to stay in Dubai! Click here to explore all the best accommodation options that fit your budget.
10. Which Is Better For Couples: Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai are great destinations for couples, with plenty of romantic things to do.
Abu Dhabi is a bit quieter than Dubai, so it’s perfect for those who want to have a peaceful getaway.
In Abu Dhabi, you can relax at luxurious spa resorts, go on dinner cruises, or go on a sunset walk around Abu Dhabi’s Corniche.
In Dubai, you can have dinner at the Dubai Marina, explore the city on a hot air balloon ride, or have dinner at the Burj Khalifa.
✅ Winner: Abu Dhabi is the winner for couples who want a peaceful and romantic getaway, while Dubai is better for those looking for more adventurous activities.
11. Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Best Time to Visit
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai experience the same weather since they are so close to one another, and they both experience the same two seasons — summer and winter.
The temperatures in Abu Dhabi and Dubai can get very high in summer (May-September), with averages of over 105°F and so much humidity.
Winters (November-April) are milder and more pleasant, with temperatures dropping to around 77°F.
Due to the weather, hotels are cheaper during the summer, so Abu Dhabi and Dubai become more budget-friendly during this season.
✅ Winner: Both cities experience scorching hot summers while winters are milder and bearable.
12. Food and Nightlife Scene in Dubai vs Abu Dhabi
You won’t be disappointed in either city when it comes to food.
Abu Dhabi is known for fish and Emirati cuisine, while Dubai offers a wide range of international cuisines.
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer great nightlife scenes, although Abu Dhabi tends to be more low-key than the partying in Dubai.
✅ Winner: Both cities have excellent dining options, but the nightlife scene is where Dubai shines.
13. Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Mosques and Museums
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are full of incredible mosques and museums that you absolutely must visit.
Abu Dhabi is home to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, The Louvre, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and much more, whereas Dubai is home to a fraction of Abu Dhabi’s mosques and museums.
✅ Winner: Abu Dhabi is a clear winner because of its vast offering of incredible mosques and museums.
14. Are Desert Safaris Better in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
The UAE desert safaris are some of the best in the world, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer unique experiences with dune bashing and more.
Whether you’re only spending 1 day in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you have to experience a desert safari!
Plus, Abu Dhabi has a larger expanse of desert to explore, so you’ll be able to have a more immersive experience.
✅ Winner: Abu Dhabi is the winner for a peaceful desert safari.
What Makes Dubai Unique Compared to Abu Dhabi?
Dubai is a bustling city that never sleeps with its ever-evolving skyline, world-renowned theme parks, and hundreds of other attractions.
It’s an exciting city that offers something for everyone — from the party animals to those looking for a more laid-back holiday.
Some of the things that make Dubai more special than Abu Dhabi are:
- Bustling souks that offer anything from gold souk to perfume to spices and more
- Extraordinary attractions include the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain, the Dubai Frame, Burj Al Arab, Dubai Miracle Garden, the Palm Islands, Dubai Marina Walk, Dubai Creek, The Dubai Mall, Ain Dubai, the dazzling Dubai skyline, and several amusement parks.
- Sprawling malls like The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates
- A little less conservative city that offers a vibrant nightlife
- More luxury hotels and resorts
- Better day trip options like Ras Al Khaimah, Al Qudra Lakes, and Al Ain
What Makes Abu Dhabi Special Compared to Dubai?
Abu Dhabi is a much quieter and more peaceful city than Dubai, which makes it ideal for those looking for a serene holiday.
It’s full of stunning mosques and museums, beautiful beaches, thrilling desert safaris, and much more.
Some of the things that make Abu Dhabi a unique destination compared to Dubai are:
- Stunning landmarks like Abu Dhabi Corniche, Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Saadiyat Island, Emirates Palace, The Louvre, Etihad Towers, and more
- The jaw-dropping Zaya Nurai Island, which is touted as the Maldives of the UAE
- More beautiful and charming beaches like Abu Dhabi Beach and Corniche Beach
- Relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for families and couples who want a peaceful getaway
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai Summary
We’ve made it through this mega guide of Abu Dhabi vs Dubai so let’s refresh quickly about what we’ve covered.
- Safety: Tie
- Richer and largest Emirate: Abu Dhabi
- More relaxed dress code: Dubai (but still be respectful)
- Alcohol consumption: Both emirates allow drinking but only in licensed facilities
- Best for a family vacation: Tie depending on what kind of family trip you want
- Beaches: Abu Dhabi
- Shopping: Dubai
- Attractions: Tie depending on what kinds of attractions you want to see
- Accommodation options: Tie
- Best for a romantic getaway: Tie depending on what kind of couples trip you want
- Weather: Tie
- Food and nightlife: Tie for dining options while Dubai wins for nightlife
- Mosques and museums: Abu Dhabi
- Desert safaris: Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai Final Thoughts
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two of the most popular destinations in the UAE, each offering its own unique experiences.
When it comes to visiting Abu Dhabi vs Dubai, there’s no right or wrong answer because both emirates offer something special for everyone.
No matter which Emirati city you visit, you’re sure to have an amazing time!
And if you’re still unsure which one to visit, why not try them both?
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are just a short drive away from each other and offer the perfect combination of history, culture, attractions, and modern amenities.
Do you prefer Abu Dhabi, or do you prefer Dubai? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.