Dubai vs Abu Dhabi — which emirate is best for travellers

Dubai vs Abu Dhabi — which emirate is best for travellers

The debate between Abu Dhabi versus Dubai is a growing topic of interest when choosing destinations for a visit to the Gulf Region and the UAE. Amongst the seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are popular among tourists.

Although Dubai is more popular, Abu Dhabi is also gaining a lot of popularity in recent times. This has caused a lot of confusion among tourists when choosing a location for their holidays. So, which one is the better city for vacation? Let us find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Dubai is known for its dynamic atmosphere, luxurious hotels, expansive shopping malls, and world-class entertainment venues.
  • Abu Dhabi offers a more traditional and cultural experience with a focus on heritage sites and cultural festivals.
  • Both cities provide a variety of beach resorts and waterfront activities, but Dubai has a wider range of options.
  • For shopping enthusiasts, Dubai boasts numerous luxury malls, while Abu Dhabi offers unique shopping districts and traditional markets.
  • Dining and nightlife options are plentiful in both cities, with Dubai offering a more vibrant nightlife scene.

Cultural Attractions in Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

Museums and Heritage Sites

Abu Dhabi boasts some fantastic cultural attractions, which cover art, history, and religion. The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, is regarded as the more conservative city and tends to put a greater emphasis on cultural activities and attractions, such as museums and galleries. Dubai, on the other hand, is often cited as the more dynamic of the two and is known for its luxurious hotels, expansive shopping malls, and world-class entertainment venues. While Dubai has just opened the Museum of the Future, Abu Dhabi is meticulously restoring historic forts and palaces in Al Ain.

Modern Art and Architecture

Dubai is known for its glitz and glamour, with iconic structures like the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Frame. The city is a hub for modern art and architecture, attracting international artists and architects. Abu Dhabi, while also embracing modernity, focuses more on cultural and historical preservation. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a prime example of how the city blends modern architecture with cultural heritage.

Cultural Festivals

Both emirates host a variety of cultural festivals throughout the year. Dubai's festivals often have a more international flair, featuring global artists and performers. Abu Dhabi's festivals, however, tend to focus more on local culture and traditions, offering a more authentic Emirati experience. Whether you're interested in film, music, or traditional arts, both cities offer a rich calendar of events to explore.

Beaches and Waterfronts: Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

When it comes to beaches and waterfronts, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer stunning options for travelers. Dubai is known for its vibrant beach scene, while Abu Dhabi provides a more tranquil and relaxed atmosphere.

In Dubai, some of the most popular beaches include Jumeirah Beach, Kite Beach, and La Mer. These beaches are well-equipped with amenities and offer a lively atmosphere. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi boasts beautiful beaches such as Yas Beach, Saadiyat Beach, and Corniche Beach. These beaches are perfect for those looking to unwind and enjoy the serene surroundings.

Waterfront Activities

Dubai offers a plethora of waterfront activities, from jet skiing and parasailing to paddleboarding and beach volleyball. The emirate's coastline is bustling with activities that cater to thrill-seekers and families alike. Abu Dhabi, while also offering water sports, focuses more on relaxation and nature. Activities like kayaking in the mangroves and sunset cruises are popular among visitors.

Beach Resorts

Dubai's beach resorts are synonymous with luxury. Resorts like Atlantis The Palm and Jumeirah Al Naseem offer world-class amenities and stunning views of the Arabian Gulf. Abu Dhabi's beach resorts, such as the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and Nurai Island, provide a more secluded and intimate experience, perfect for those seeking a peaceful retreat.

Whether you prefer the energetic vibe of Dubai's beaches or the calm and serene atmosphere of Abu Dhabi's waterfronts, both emirates offer unique experiences that cater to different types of travelers.

Shopping Experiences: Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

Luxury Malls

Dubai is often cited as the more dynamic of the two and is known for its expansive shopping malls. The city hosts the Dubai Shopping Festival, the largest shopping festival in the world, offering amazing discounts and awesome deals. In comparison, shopping in Abu Dhabi may seem a little less exciting, but the city offers several malls, with Marina Mall being one of the best.

Traditional Markets

For a more authentic experience, hit the souks in Dubai. These traditional markets offer a variety of goods, from spices to textiles. Abu Dhabi also has its share of Arabic open-air markets and rustic marketplaces, providing a more local feel.

Unique Shopping Districts

Dubai's unique shopping districts are a major draw for international visitors. The city is known for its luxurious hotels and world-class entertainment venues, making it a popular destination. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, is regarded as the more conservative city, putting a greater emphasis on cultural landmarks and local experiences.

Dining and Nightlife: Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

Fine Dining

Dubai is renowned for its luxurious hotels and world-class dining experiences. From Michelin-starred restaurants to exclusive dining cruises, the city offers a plethora of options for those looking to indulge. Abu Dhabi, while more conservative, also boasts a range of high-end dining establishments, often with a focus on local Emirati cuisine.

Street Food

For a more casual dining experience, both cities offer a variety of street food options. Dubai's street food scene is vibrant, featuring everything from shawarma stands to food trucks offering international cuisines. Abu Dhabi's street food is more understated but equally delicious, with a focus on traditional Middle Eastern dishes.

Nightlife Hotspots

Dubai is frequently regarded as the most well-liked travel destination for nightlife, offering a wide array of activities such as dancing clubs, rooftop bar hopping, and nightly light shows at Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, is more relaxed and has fewer nightclubs. However, it compensates with live music, comedy shows, and dining cruises, making it perfect for those looking for a more laid-back evening.

If you want to explore the nightlife of Abu Dhabi, you are likely to be disappointed. Sadly, there are not many nightclubs in the city. However, this does not mean that you will not be able to enjoy your holiday.

Both cities offer unique experiences, but your choice will depend on whether you prefer the glitz and glamour of Dubai or the more relaxed atmosphere of Abu Dhabi.

Adventure and Outdoor Activities

Desert Safaris

Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer thrilling desert safaris that cater to adventure enthusiasts. Dubai's desert safaris are renowned for their variety, including evening, morning, and overnight options. Visitors can enjoy quad biking, dune bashing, and even a dinner in the desert. Abu Dhabi also offers exciting desert experiences, with a focus on cultural immersion and luxury.

Water Sports

Both emirates boast a wide range of water sports activities. In Dubai, you can indulge in jet skiing, parasailing, and flyboarding along the iconic Jumeirah Beach. Abu Dhabi offers equally exciting options, such as kayaking in the mangroves, paddleboarding, and scuba diving in the clear waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Theme Parks

Dubai is home to some of the world's most famous theme parks, including IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts, which features Motiongate, Bollywood Parks, and Legoland. Abu Dhabi is not far behind with its impressive Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros. World, making it a fantastic destination for families and thrill-seekers alike.

Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or looking for family-friendly fun, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer a plethora of adventure and outdoor activities to suit every traveler's needs.

Family-Friendly Attractions

red and yellow metal amusement park ride under blue sky during daytime

Parks and Playgrounds

Dubai is packed with family friendly attractions. The city offers a variety of parks and playgrounds that cater to children of all ages. Some popular options include the Dubai Miracle Garden and the Dubai Garden Glow, where families can enjoy beautiful floral displays and illuminated sculptures. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, boasts the serene Umm Al Emarat Park, which features a petting zoo and a botanical garden.

Educational Experiences

For families seeking educational experiences, both emirates have plenty to offer. In Dubai, Kidzania is a must-visit, where kids get to learn adult skills like managing money and maintaining a budget, all the while having a hoot. The Museum of Illusions and Oli Oli — the children’s play museum — are also great options. Abu Dhabi offers the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which provides an immersive cultural experience for both kids and adults.

Family Resorts

When it comes to family resorts, Dubai is surely a haven. The city is home to numerous family-friendly resorts such as Atlantis The Palm, which features the 17-hectare Aquaventure Waterpark. Abu Dhabi is not far behind, with Yas Island offering a range of family-friendly accommodations and attractions like Yas Waterworld and Warner Bros World.

If you’re travelling with children, you’ll want to check out the endless list of kid-friendly attractions in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From adrenaline-fuelled days out to wholesome parks days and outdoor pursuits, these emirates have it all.

Accommodation Options

Luxury Hotels

Abu Dhabi tends to have more luxurious and expensive hotels, while Dubai offers a broader range of budget to luxury options. Dubai has more choice when it comes to beach resorts – the choice is plentiful and the resorts are so huge that you need never leave them if you didn’t want to.

Budget Stays

The number of accommodation options on offer can make the prices for holidays to Dubai more competitive than Abu Dhabi, and there is literally a board type and room type to suit everyone.

Unique Lodging

A highly recommended alternative to camping is a stay at The Outpost Al Barari, a small 20-tent retreat away from the noise of dune-bashing vehicles. Most of the tents have ensuite swimming pools, and there is a good restaurant. Note that the camp is dry.

For a seamless accommodation experience that complements your holiday, consider using to find great deals on hotels and homestays.

Transportation and Accessibility

Public Transport

Dubai and Abu Dhabi both offer convenient and efficient public transportation systems. Dubai's Metro runs regularly from the airport’s three terminals to the city centre, taking around 15 minutes. Public buses in both cities are equipped with ramps and designated spaces, making it easier for travelers with disabilities or special needs to navigate through the cities. Abu Dhabi also has a reliable bus network that connects major parts of the city.

Car Rentals

Renting a car is a popular option for tourists who prefer flexibility. Both cities have numerous car rental agencies offering a wide range of vehicles. Having a car makes getting around easier, especially if you plan to explore areas outside the main city centers.

Airport Connectivity

Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport are both well-connected to their respective city centers. Taxis from Dubai International Airport to the city center cost around 150-180 AED (£31-£39), while public transportation offers a more budget-friendly option. Similarly, Abu Dhabi International Airport provides easy access to the city through taxis and buses.

Navigating through cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi is made easier with accessible transportation options.

Events and Festivals

Annual Events

Dubai and Abu Dhabi host a plethora of annual events that attract visitors from around the globe. Dubai Shopping Festival is a major highlight, offering incredible discounts and entertainment. Abu Dhabi's annual events include the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is a must-see for Formula 1 fans.

Music and Art Festivals

Both emirates are rich in cultural festivals. Dubai International Film Festival and Art Dubai are significant events that showcase global talent. In Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Festival is a premier event celebrating music, arts, and culture.

Sports Events

Sports enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy. Dubai hosts the Dubai Desert Classic, a key event in the golfing calendar. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, is famous for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

Whether you're a fan of shopping, arts, or sports, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer a diverse range of events and festivals that cater to all interests.

Cost of Travel: Dubai vs Abu Dhabi

yellow Volkswagen van on road

Accommodation Costs

Dubai offers a wide range of accommodation options, from budget hotels to luxury resorts. On a moderate budget, you can find hotel rooms from $60-150/night. In contrast, Abu Dhabi generally offers more affordable lodging, making it a better option for budget-conscious travelers.

Dining and Entertainment

Dining in Dubai can be quite expensive, especially if you opt for high-end restaurants. Meals can range from $5-20 for budget options, but it's easy to spend more on luxuries. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, tends to have more affordable dining and entertainment options.

Transportation Expenses

Traveling between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is relatively easy and takes about 90 minutes. You can take a private vehicle or bus to travel between the cities. Prices can vary depending on the car type, but expect to pay something in the ballpark of what a taxi ride would cost, plus gas. Pro tip: splitting the rental cost with fellow travelers can make it more economical.

Safety and Security

aerial photo of city highway surrounded by high-rise buildings

General Safety

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very safe for tourists. Violent crime rates are extremely low, and tourist areas are heavily monitored. However, standard precautions such as being wary of pickpockets and not wandering alone at night are advised. The entire region is pretty much crime-free, and it is not uncommon to hear that one can leave behind a mobile phone in a restaurant or bar and return the following day to find it still there. This may be more to do with crime and punishment than the altruism of local residents, but whatever the case, it equals a reassuring holiday for all.

Health Services

The UAE offers excellent health services, with numerous hospitals and clinics providing high-quality care. It is advisable to have travel insurance that covers health expenses. For those carrying personal medicines, it is important to follow the guidelines provided by the UAE authorities to avoid any issues at the airport.

Travel Advisories

The US Department of State currently recommends US citizens exercise increased caution in travel to the United Arab Emirates due to the threat of missile or drone attacks. However, these incidents are rare and typically do not affect tourist areas. Most warnings involve acting appropriately, such as not showing public affection or drinking in public, rather than concerns about criminal activity.


Choosing between Dubai and Abu Dhabi for your next travel destination ultimately depends on what kind of experience you are seeking. Dubai dazzles with its luxurious hotels, expansive shopping malls, and world-class entertainment venues, making it a haven for those looking for a vibrant and dynamic holiday. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi offers a more laid-back and culturally rich experience, with its traditional architecture, serene beaches, and unique cultural sights. Both emirates have their own unique charm and attractions, so whether you prefer the glitz and glamour of Dubai or the cultural depth of Abu Dhabi, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience in the UAE.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which emirate is better for cultural attractions, Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Dubai is known for its modern art and architecture, while Abu Dhabi offers a more traditional experience with its museums and heritage sites. Both cities host various cultural festivals throughout the year.

Are the beaches better in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Dubai has a larger number of popular beaches and beach resorts, but Abu Dhabi offers a more serene and less crowded beach experience. Both emirates provide a variety of waterfront activities.

Which city offers better shopping experiences?

Dubai is famous for its luxury malls and unique shopping districts, whereas Abu Dhabi offers a blend of traditional markets and modern shopping centers.

Is the nightlife better in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Dubai is known for its vibrant nightlife hotspots and a wide range of fine dining options. Abu Dhabi offers a more laid-back nightlife experience but still has plenty of street food and dining options.

What kind of outdoor activities can I do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Both cities offer a range of outdoor activities including desert safaris, water sports, and theme parks. Dubai tends to have more expansive theme parks, while Abu Dhabi offers unique desert experiences.

Which city is more family-friendly?

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have numerous family-friendly attractions, including parks, playgrounds, educational experiences, and family resorts. Abu Dhabi is often considered more relaxed and less crowded.

How do accommodation costs compare between Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Dubai generally offers a wider range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget stays, often making it more competitive in terms of pricing. Abu Dhabi also has luxury and budget options but tends to be slightly more expensive.

Is it easy to get around in Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Both cities have efficient public transport systems, car rental options, and good airport connectivity. Dubai's public transport network is more extensive, while Abu Dhabi offers a more relaxed driving experience.

Curtis Duggan

Curtis Duggan

Curtis is a serial tech entrepreneur, content creator and the host of the Remotely Serious podcast on the future of remote work and digital nomadism.


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