Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Costs, Highlights, Differences

Two of the busiest air hubs in the Middle East are Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the opportunity to have a holiday in either destination presents a happy problem. Dubai is a bustling metropolis with plenty to see and do, while Abu Dhabi is a more relaxed city with beautiful beaches.

So, which is best for your next Arabian journey? How do you decide on Abu Dhabi vs Dubai? Here’s a comprehensive guide to their costs, highlights, and differences.

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If you’re looking for a city with non-stop action, Dubai is your place. Whether you’re looking for nightlife, family activities, or luxury hotels, there’s always something to do in Dubai.

It is also a great option if you’re on a budget – there are plenty of affordable hotels and activities to keep you busy.

Abu Dhabi is a more relaxed city, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. Abu Dhabi is perfect for people looking for a peaceful vacation with beautiful beaches.

It’s also the ultimate fun space for kids with the largest theme park in the world.

However, it’s more expensive and I prefer the infrastructure and layout of Dubai if I’m traveling without kids.

Are Dubai and Abu Dhabi The Same Thing?

Dubai and Abu Dhabi are two completely different places, despite their similar names.

Dubai is an independent Emirate, while Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (the UAE). The UAE is a small Gulf country, one of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, with land crossings to Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Map of the United Arab Emirates showing major cities and neighboring countries
Map of the United Arab Emirates

There are seven Emirates in total:

Dubai is well known for its luxury lifestyle, towering skyscrapers, and world-class tourism infrastructure. It has a more relaxed attitude to alcohol, a large expatriate population, and is the most densely populated emirate.

It is more popular with tourists and that means that budget travelers often prefer Dubai because affordable hostels and hotels are easier to find than in the Emirati capital.

Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, is known for its oil reserves, traditional culture, outdoor activities, and beach resorts.

So, no, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are not the same things, they are separate emirates within the country that is called the UAE! If you’re looking to experience the best of both worlds, you’ll have to visit both places.

What Makes Abu Dhabi Special?

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is one of the seven emirates that make up the country.

The corniche of Abu Dhabi in the UAE
Abu Dhabi

Dubai is the most populous city in the UAE, but Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate by land area and is also the seat of the federal government.

Abu Dhabi is located on a peninsula on the Persian gulf and is the richest city in the world!

While Dubai offers a luxury lifestyle, flashy architecture, and a taste of big city life middle-eastern style, Abu Dhabi is more low-key and traditional. Abu Dhabi is a more conservative emirate than its boisterous neighbor!

However, there are still plenty of reasons to book an Abu Dhabi vacation. Here are a few things that make Abu Dhabi special:

1. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and a truly spectacular sight.

Sheik Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, with a pink sunset
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

In fact, it is considered the most visually striking of all the mosques in the world. I think it is not quite as awe-inspiring as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but it’s definitely in my Top 5!

It’s open to visitors of all faiths and is well worth visiting. It looks spectacular at sunrise, sunset, and at night when you can see it for miles around.

This fascinating half-day Abu Dhabi city tour includes a visit to Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and this highly reviewed half-day tour of Abu Dhabi city and Sheikh Zayed Mosque leaves from Dubai.

2. The Louvre Abu Dhabi

Enough said!

Photo of Louvre Museum with Abu Dhabi in the background, UAE
Louvre Museum with Abu Dhabi in the background

You’ll find this exciting building on Saadiyat Island. It is a collaboration between the French Government and the Emirate and the Louvre Abu Dhabi has the right to use the name “Louvre” until 2037.

The highlights of the collection include rarely-seen armor, helmets, pottery, and figurines from antiquity to the present. A beautiful and exciting building and collection of works – don’t miss it!

3. Emirates Palace Hotel

The Emirates Palace Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels globally and an iconic Abu Dhabi landmark.

Emirates Palace Hotel at sunset, Abu Dhabi
Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Hotel at sunset, Abu Dhabi

The gate to the Hotel is illuminated, as are the dozens of fountains flanking the entrance. From the waterside, you’ll find camels and deck chairs on the beach in front of the hotel.

4. Yas Island

Abu Dhabi is home to Yas Island, a man-made island home to a water park, Ferrari World, Yas Marina Mall, Warner Bros World, and other attractions. (See the Yas Marina Circuit below).

Photo showing racetrack over water inside Ferrari World on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Inside Ferrari World on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Ferrari World is the largest indoor theme park in the world!

It’s also the first theme park that Ferrari has branded as its own. You can buy ticket bundles, including the popular “2 Days at 2 Parks” and choose between Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros World.

If you’d like to purchase a ticket just for Ferrari World, you can check out the express skip-the-line tickets here.

5. Yas Marina Circuit

Each year, the Dubai Formula 1 Grand Prix is held on the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, making it the only Middle Eastern country to host the event.

Photo of Yas Marina Circuit and race car on straight, Abu Dhabi
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi

It is one of the longest F1 tracks and it’s also considered one of the most difficult of all the circuits. You can visit it year-round.

It’s open from 9 in the morning to midnight and you can take a circuit tour when the Grand Prix isn’t on.

What Makes Dubai Special?

There’s no question that Dubai is one of the most popular tourist destinations globally. But what makes this emirate so special?

For starters, Dubai is a city of contrasts.

In only 40 years, Dubai rose to fame with the ultra-modern skyscrapers, extravagant shopping malls, and luxury hotels of downtown Dubai that still coexist with traditional markets and historical landmarks.

Dubai is home to some of the world’s best shopping malls, dining, and nightlife. (You can also find a complete 2-day Dubai itinerary here).

The emirate is also well-known for its endless sunny days and warm weather. Dubai is one of the hottest cities on Earth.

If you’re looking for a winter getaway, Dubai is the perfect place to escape the cold and it’s a gentle introduction to the heat of the middle eastern deserts!

There are some fantastic Arabian desert day trips from four-wheel drives to camel riding. There are endless water sports available at Palm Jumeirah.

These trips enter the Dubai Desert Conservation Area. There are only a small number of tour companies and resorts allowed to operate in this zone.

The Dubai Creek, gold souk, and Dubai marina are just a few of the places where you can experience Dubai’s Arabic history and glimpse its past as a global trading port.

These sights are close together- Dubai feels more compact than Aub Dhabi for this reason.

Finally, Dubai is a melting pot of cultures. You’ll find people from all over the world living and working in Dubai. This diversity is reflected in Dubai’s food, music, and arts scene.

1. Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and it is home to some seriously luxurious resorts such as the Burj al Arab.

Photo of the Burj Khalifa against bright blue sky inDubai
Burj Khalifa, Dubai

There are a few fun ways to get to the Burj Khalifa. One is by speedboat, but the other is through the Dubai Mall where you ride a travellator that is 65 meters long!

There are observation decks on the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors, and there are ‘peak’ and ‘off-peak’ tickets available, and these include sunset visits as well as dining experiences.

I think this tour is good value because it includes access to all three of the observation deck floors for the same price of some of the tickets that don’t include access to the 148th Floor “At The Top” Observation Deck.

2. Dubai Museum

Don’t miss the Dubai Museum. It’s part of the lovely old district of Dubai, at the south end of Dubai Creek. And although you can also visit the Museum of the Future, this is my pick of Dubai museums.

Photo of the sandstone wall and tower of Al Fahidi Fort housing the Dubai Museum, UAE
Dubai Museum, UAE

You’ll find the Dubai Museum at the Al Fahidi Fort which was built in 1787 and is the oldest surviving structure in Dubai.

It has had various uses including as a monarch’s residence and fort and now it’s a place to learn about pearl diving and other important economic and cultural histories of the Persia Gulf.

In the galleries, there are recreations of date farms as well as mosques and traditional markets. As a first-timer to the Middle East, this is a gentle introduction and a great family-friendly excursion.

There’s a great little tour that ony has perfect reviews, called the Dubai Aladdin Tour. it shows you all the absolute best bits of Dubai, the part most tourists never see. It includes admission to the Dubai Museum.

3. Dubai Marina and Dhow Cruises

I get out onto the water everywhere I go because civilizations were built from the water up. The Dubai marina is commercialized and overdone in the way that only Dubai does!

Photo of lights reflecting on the dark water from an Evening Dhow Cruise, Dubai
Evening Dhow Cruise, Dubai

The Beach at JBR is the main focus of this luxury and residential part of the city. The Dubai Marina Walk has pop-up craft markets and here you’ll find the Dubai Mall.

The Dubai Mall connects with the marina district through its lavish outdoor music shows and outdoor dining options. And it’s just one of the shopping and waterside venues that are the heart of the tourist area of the city.

But if you’re tired of another restaurant each evening, the evening cruises are a fun way to see the city.

A dhow is a traditional Arabian boat that will cruise through the Marina and the Creek, past the Fountain, and is the perfect spot for viewing the regular fireworks.

4. Gold Souk

If you put together a love of gold and a love of markets, you get the Middle Eastern Gold Souq (our Souk).

Night photo of wooden covered walkway of Gold souq, Dubai
Gold souq, Dubai

The Dubai Gold Souq is a piece of the small part of Dubai that seeks to have echoes of the past and of middle eastern history brought into the 21st century. There is a cluster of souk markets that ardent shoppers spend a whole day exploring.

You’re not going to get cheap deals – but you are going to find unique and unusual pieces at reasonable pieces.

If you’re thinking of a special gift, anniversary, or just an Indian, Afghani, or middle eastern-inspired design, you’ll love the Gold Souk.

Tip: There is a “gold souk” in the Dubai Mall, but that is not the traditional gold souk.

Is Abu Dhabi Good For A Family Holiday?

If you’re looking for a family-friendly destination with something for every age group, then Abu Dhabi is a fantastic choice because of its beach resorts and Yas island which is one big theme park!

Photo of two Emirati men with a peregrine falcon resting on one of their gloved hand
Two Emirati men with a peregrine falcon

There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained, from its sandy beaches and azure waters to world-class attractions and sprawling malls.

There’s also the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital which not only cares for the UAE’s national bird, but it’s also a place where you can learn about the history of falcons in the cultures of the Middle East. Check out the Falcon Hospital tour here.

And with a fantastic range of hotels and resorts, you’re sure to find somewhere perfect for your needs.

So, if you’re wondering if Abu Dhabi is a good choice for a family holiday, the answer is definitely yes and because of Yas island, I prefer Abu Dhabi for a family getaway!

Is Dubai Good For A Family Holiday?

Dubai is becoming an increasingly popular destination for families, and it’s easy to see why. The city offers a wide range of activities and attractions perfect for all ages, from young children to adults. 

Photo of Dubai skyline at night showing multi-colored lights and yellow lit-up roads
Dubai skyline at night

The weather is almost always perfect, making it a great place to escape the cold winter months.

So if you’re thinking about taking your family to Dubai, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • First of all, accommodation in Dubai is generally very family-friendly. There are plenty of hotels that offer kids clubs and activities and babysitting services. It means that you can relax by the pool or go exploring without worrying about your children.

  • Secondly, there are plenty of things to keep the whole family entertained. You can find something for everyone when visiting Dubai, from indoor skydiving and ice skating to amusement parks, the Hatta Heritage Village, camel rides, and desert safaris!

  • And finally, Dubai is a very safe place to visit. The crime rate is very low, and the city is well-regulated. It means that you can relax and enjoy your holiday without worrying about your safety.

So if you’re looking for a fun-filled family holiday of a few days to a week or two, both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are worth considering.

Shopping in Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai 

Shopping in the UAE is a world-class shopping experience. But what’s the difference between shopping in these two cities?

Image of Indoor ski facility rocks and snow at the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai
Indoor skiing at the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Abu Dhabi is known for its luxury goods and designer brands, while Dubai is more famous for its bargain deals, street markets, and the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.

In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, you’ll find high-end malls with all the latest fashion trends. In Dubai, you can also find a few more traditional markets where you can haggle for a lower price.

If you’re on a budget and are looking for some good deals, then Dubai is probably a better option.

In either city you’ll find an experience like no other in the large malls, such as the Wafi Mall or the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai where you can indoor ski, dine by a giant aquarium, and have many other unusual indoor experiences.

When to visit Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is a great place to visit all year round, but the best time to go depends on what you want to see and do while you’re here.

Picture of tall wave-like sand formation at Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, Abu Dubai
Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, Abu Dubai

If you’re looking to enjoy the city’s outdoor attractions, the cooler months from October to April are ideal.

During this time, temperatures are more comfortable, and there’s less chance of rain.

If you want to experience Abu Dhabi’s world-famous nightlife and luxury hotels, the hotter months from May to September are a better bet.

When to Visit Dubai

The best time to visit Dubai is between November and March. When the weather is more relaxed and more bearable, it is ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the city.

Photo of the Palm Jumeirah and the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai with the Red Sea behind.
Palm Jumeirah and the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

Many of the city’s most significant events and festivals also occur during this time, so there’s always something to see and do.

If you’re looking to escape the cold weather and enjoy some sunny days, April to October is the best time to visit Dubai.

However, keep in mind that it can be pretty hot during this time, so stay hydrated and take breaks often.

If you’re not a fan of the heat, you may want to consider visiting during the cooler months, sitting at the outside cafes and restaurants during the hot season can be oppressive.

In the sweltering weather many of the richest people in the emirate head to “Dubai’s beaches” and beach clubs at Ras Al Khaimah.

My favorite month to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi? January – the most temperate climate!

Cost of Living in Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai

The cost of living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can be quite different depending on your lifestyle.

Photo of a two-storey impressive white house in an Abu Dhabi residential neighborhood, UAE
Homes in an Abu Dhabi residential neighborhood

If you’re used to a more luxurious lifestyle, Dubai will likely be more expensive.

On the other hand, if you’re content with a more modest lifestyle, Abu Dhabi can be considerably cheaper than Dubai.

Here is a comparison chart that breaks down some of the key costs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi if you’re thinking of being in either city for a period of time:

Dubai has a wide range of housing options, from luxury apartments to more affordable options. 
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Dubai is about US$2500/month (AED 9,000).
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi is about US$1500/month (AED5,500).
Dubai’s utilities can be pretty expensive, with an average monthly bill of $US400 (AED 1,500). 
In Abu Dhabi, the average monthly utility bill is US$ (AED 650).
The average monthly food bill in Dubai is about US$ (AED 2,000).
The average monthly food bill in Abu Dhabi is US$ ()AED 1,200.
Dubai has a well-developed public transportation system. In Abu Dhabi, the public transportation system is not as developed, but taxis are widely available and relatively affordable. 
The metro is the most popular option in Dubai with monthly passes US$ (AED 200).
The average taxi fare in Abu Dhabi is US$ ()AED 12 per ride.
Dubai is known for its luxury hotels and resorts and its many high-end shopping malls. As such, the cost of entertainment in Dubai can be pretty high. The average monthly entertainment budget in Dubai is about AED 1,500.
In Abu Dhabi, the cost of entertainment is more moderate, with the average monthly budget coming to about AED 800.
Comparison table of Duba vs Abu-Dhabi costs for extended stays

Frequently asked questions

What are the differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, while Dubai is a significant business and tourist hub.

Abu Dhabi is more traditional and conservative, while Dubai is more modern and cosmopolitan.

Abu Dhabi is home to most of the UAE’s oil reserves, while Dubai has a more diversified economy. Abu Dhabi is hotter and drier than Dubai, with less rainfall and more sunshine.

What are the similarities between Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are located on the Arabian Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates. They are both highly modernized cities with world-class infrastructure.

They are important business and tourist destinations, offering various activities and attractions.

What is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is from October to April when temperatures are cooler, and there is less humidity.

The best time to visit Dubai is from November to March when temperatures are also cooler, and there is less humidity.

What are the must-see attractions in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

Some of the best Abu Dhabi attractions include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace Hotel, and Ferrari World on the theme-park island, Yas Island. 

Some of the must-see attractions in Dubai include the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, Dubai Miracle Garden, Ain Dubai, and Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates.

The Marina, Creek, and Dubai Museum are also must-see Dubai destinations.

What are the best things to do in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

Some of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi include visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, taking a desert safari, and exploring Yas Island.

Some of the best things to do in Dubai include shopping at the Dubai Mall, going on a dhow cruise, and visiting the Burj Khalifa.

What are the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

The best places to stay in Abu Dhabi include the Emirates Palace Hotel, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, and The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal.

The best places to stay in Dubai include the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and Atlantis The Palm.

Final thoughts on Abu Dubai vs Dubai

After considering all of the factors in this Abu Dhabi Vs. Dubai Guide, it is clear that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are amazing places to visit. They both have a lot to offer in terms of world-class but different attractions, activities, and accommodations.

So, the best place to stay depends on what you want to see and do while you’re here as well as your budget. If you’re looking to enjoy the city sights and sounds during a luxury stay, then Dubai is your place.

With a family, I prefer Abu Dhabi, but for a romantic getaway, the luxury of Dubai is my choice.

However, if you’re looking for a more traditional experience, Abu Dhabi is the better choice.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai is not really an ‘either or’ and, as they are so close, it’s possible to visit both on the same trip, ensuring you experience the best of the UAE.

Keep Planning Your Trip to the United Arab Emirates

🧳Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Costs, Highlights, Differences

🧳2-day Dubai itinerary: how to fit it all in!

🧳15 Best Places to Visit in Ras al Khaimah

🧳United Arab Emirates