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Dubai vs Abu Dhabi – Should You Visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

If you’re planning a trip to the United Arab Emirates you might be wondering; which is better, Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

This Dubai vs Abu Dhabi guide will help you determine just that! Deciding which city to visit can be hard, which is why in this article I simplify everything to help you make your decision.

I go over both the differences and similarities between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, comparing climate, prices, accommodation, things to do, overall vibe and much more.

Personally, I don’t think one city is better than the other, just that it’s better suited to a certain type of traveller. So the question isn’t really which city is better, but which city is better for YOU.

So what are you waiting for, let’s dive in and discover who wins the Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for you!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and its reflection at sunset as seen from Wahat AlKarama

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and its reflection at sunset as seen from Wahat AlKarama

Dubai & Abu Dhabi at a glance 

Dubai and Abu Dhabi make up two of the seven federates of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi is the nation’s capital, while Dubai is a thriving international hub.

The two destinations are located just over an hour’s drive away, a driving distance of around 132 km. When it comes to looking at Abu Dhabi vs Dubai, there’s a few things to consider.

Dubai is a much more energetic destination with a thriving nightlife, exciting dining scene, a stunning skyline view and some amazing hotels to stay in.

Abu Dhabi is an incredible modern city with top shopping, better beaches, and fun desert adventures to enjoy. 

Both of the cities are part of a Muslim nation, which means that there’s local customs and laws that travellers will need to understand and take into consideration.

Enjoying the view over Burj Khalifa and Dubai from Sky Views Observatory

Enjoying the view over Burj Khalifa and Dubai from Sky Views Observatory

That said, Dubai is a more international business city, with a very high number of foreigners living there, so the rules you need to follow are a little more relaxed than in Abu Dhabi.

Wealth and luxury are the name of the game in Abu Dhabi and Dubai; driving expensive sports cars and shopping in expensive designer boutiques is an everyday occurrence. 

Dubai is a lot larger than Abu Dhabi and it has a lot more in terms of activities for different types of travellers, even budget travellers and families.

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi is a little more affordable and since it doesn’t have such a buzzing nightlife, it’s slightly more peaceful. 

Discovering Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

Discovering Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Comparing Climate 

Taking a look at which place has better weather, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, can be hard (or simple). The two cities are not very far apart and so the climate is pretty much the same.

Basically, the weather in either city shouldn’t really factor into your decision-making on which city to visit. Both destinations have hot, desert climates throughout the year.

When taking a closer look at the average temperatures, Abu Dhabi is often slightly warmer than in Dubai, but there’s usually a breeze so it actually never feels warmer. 

The iconic Dubai skyline during golden hour

The iconic Dubai skyline at golden hour

Enjoying a camel ride in Dubai desert

Enjoying a camel ride in Dubai desert

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Comparing Prices

So is Abu Dhabi or Dubai better for budget travel? The cost of a trip to both destinations can add up, but there are some differences in the price of things like accommodation, eating out, and experiences.

Dubai has a larger choice when it comes to accommodation in Dubai; you can book yourself into a luxury hotel for an average $769 per night, but you can actually find a good range of budget accommodation for around $70 per night too.

Luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi cost an average of $330 per night and budget hotels are average of $60. 

Meals out in restaurants in Dubai cost around $50, whereas a meal out in Abu Dhabi’s restaurants cost on average $40. But both cities have a range of different eateries and you can grab a budget-friendly bite to eat for $10-$15. 

Although both cities are known for luxury living, overall they can both be surprisingly affordable to visit. The Dubai vs Abu Dhabi cost of living may differ a little, if you want a cheaper trip it’s best to stick to Abu Dhabi.

That being said, you don’t have to completely rule out Dubai, the cost of activities and attractions can often work out cheaper.

The pool and outdoors area at Glo in Abu Dhabi

The pool and outdoors area at Glo in Abu Dhabi

The "Power of Words" piece inside Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

The “Power of Words” piece inside Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Comparing Things to Do

Although both of the cities might seem similar, when it comes to Abu Dhabi vs Dubai tourism there are different things to do in each city.

The two destinations appeal to slightly different types of travellers with varying interests. 

Dubai in general is more focused on shopping, the city has some of the biggest and best malls in the world. The nightlife in Dubai is a whole lot of fun too with glitzy clubs and world-club DJs to dance the night away to.

When it comes to daytime activities, there’s lots of exciting water parks for families to add to their Dubai itinerary and spend the day splashing about. There’s also history and culture to seek out.

Old Dubai with its souks, dhow cruises and local eateries is a really interesting place to explore. Then there’s the Dubai city skyline which is just incredible.

After all, this is the city that’s home to the tallest skyscraper in the world (which make for some pretty awesome Dubai Instagram shots)!

Walking along Dubai Marina

Walking along Dubai Marina

Abu Dhabi is a touch more traditional than Dubai, but don’t let that put you off. The city has some beautiful beaches for relaxing on and some chic beach clubs too.

Overall, the things to do in Abu Dhabi are more focused on the history & culture of the city. Activities include visiting the enormous grand mosque and gleaming presidential palace.

There’s also a long list of cool museums like the Abu Dhabi Louvre or Ferrari World.

Most travellers don’t get to make the most of this city, as they only visit Abu Dhabi on a day trip from Dubai, or they stick to Dubai if they don’t have long, for example during a long stopover in Dubai.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The grand interior of Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

The grand interior of Qasr Al-Watan in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Overall vibe 

So is Dubai better than Abu Dhabi? The honest answer is that it depends on what kind of vibe you’re looking for in a destination. Abu Dhabi is a much more traditional city, with more of a focus on tradition and family life.

It’s also less touristy than Dubai and visitors will need to be aware of cultural differences when compared to their home country. 

Everybody in Abu Dhabi should dress more conservatively, which means covering up and being modest with the choice of clothing, particularly in public places (check out my Dubai packing list for ideas)!

During Ramaadam a certain standard of conservative dress is expected and many establishments close during daylight hours.

Dubai is a more touristy city with a higher concentration of foreign visitors, with different nationalities living and working there. The nightlife is more glamorous and there’s high-end restaurants serving award-winning cuisine. 

Enjoying the view over Dubai at night from the Burj Khalifa

Enjoying the view over Dubai at night from the Burj Khalifa

So should you choose Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

The answer to the question ‘Is Abu Dhabi better than Dubai?’ is easy. It’s totally up to you.

Even though they are part of the same country and only around an hour’s drive away from each other, they are actually pretty different places. Working out which one to choose depends on the type of holiday you want. 

Abu Dhabi is a more relaxing, attractive, and quieter destination where you can find cheaper accommodation and discover a more authentic Emirati culture.

Dubai is the destination for those looking for more of a glitzy city break with vibrant nightlife, fancy restaurants, and shiny malls.

The unique skyline of Abu Dhabi

The unique skyline of Abu Dhabi

The sunset from The View at The Palm in Dubai

The sunset from The View at The Palm in Dubai

Final thoughts on Abu Dhabi or Dubai which is better

There you have it, the ultimate guide to helping you choose between Dubai and Abu Dhabi! Have you been to the United Arab Emirates before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!

If you were looking for a straight answer to the question; “is Dubai better than Abu Dhabi?”, I’m sorry I couldn’t give it to you.

I personally find both cities fascinating, and they both have interesting aspects, which I know different types of travellers will appreciate more. There isn’t a single answer to that question.

Even if you want to get out of the cities, into the desert and doing cool things like sand-boarding and dune bashing, these activities are available in both Emirati cities, so don’t let that be a main choosing factor.

I hope you find this guide useful in planning whether to visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi! If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments below!

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Photo collage of Sheikh Zayed Mosque at sunset and the Dubai skyline with text overlay saying "Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: which is better for you?"