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Are you torn between visiting Abu Dhabi or Dubai?
The United Arab Emirates is one of the most popular travel destinations nowadays among globetrotters of all ages and genders, and for a number of compelling reasons.
However, there is no denying that traveling to the UAE can be a costly venture, as the country is often synonymous with luxury travel and extremely up-scale living.
What’s more, travelers are often finding it difficult to decide whether to spend their travel budget on Dubai or Abu Dhabi, as both of these popular destinations can seem equally appealing.
Whether you’re flying in for a short vacation, or if you’re considering moving here to teach and build your career, you need to get acquainted with both destinations first.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world
There’s no denying that both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have risen in popularity in recent years and that all of that money the government has been pouring into their expansion and infrastructure has attracted numerous brands and businesses from a range of industries.
Because of that, you’re able to find the finest of luxury offerings in both.
This is not to say that they are the same, though, as each has its unique charm and a unique set of attractions that might strike your fancy.
In Dubai, for example, some of the top attractions include:
- The famed Burj Khalifa tower.
- Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel.
- The Palm Jumeirah boardwalk.
- The luxurious Dubai Mall.
- The mesmerizing Dubai Fountain complex.
The vast Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi is the largest contiguous sand desert
On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has its fair share of tourist attractions:
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center.
- The Emirates Palace Hotel.
- Yas Island racing circuits and theme parks.
- Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.
- Manarat Al Saadiyat center for contemporary art.
- The vast Empty Quarter desert.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Tourism Winner: Dubai might be all skyscrapers and shopping malls, but Abu Dhabi has a vibrant cultural scene. With that in mind, the winner is Abu Dhabi.
It should go without saying that the UAE is a very rich country, and so are its cities.
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have some of the most technologically-driven and sophisticated infrastructures on the planet, so deciding between the two can be tough.
Even though getting around both cities is a breeze, we should mention that Dubai has a metro while Abu Dhabi is yet to get its metro line in 2020.
For this reason, and probably the only reason, the winner here is Dubai.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Infrastructure Winner: Dubai
Souk Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai
Ease of Tourism
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are popular tourist destinations, with Dubai arguably being the more popular one.
Simply because of good marketing, a more open-minded culture when it comes to foreigners, a vibrant nightlife scene, and a more laid-back lifestyle.
When you want to go to the beach in Dubai, you can throw something light on like a summer dress and head out on the town, no one will mind.
Hey, it’s a free and tourist-oriented city.
In Abu Dhabi, though, things are a little bit different.
You need to mind your manners, after all, this is the capital of the country, where tradition and family values are held in high regard. If you decide to go to the capital, be sure to dress appropriately, cover your shoulders and extremities, and respect the local way of life.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Ease of Tourism Winner: Because of its laid-back culture, the winner is Dubai.
Again, Dubai is the party hub of the two popular cities.
Sure, you can find interesting things to do in Abu Dhabi itself, and the city has no shortage of luxurious places to eat, drink, and dance the night away.
However, Abu Dhabi leans more towards the conservative and the traditional, so you wouldn’t be able to party like nobody’s watching, because someone always is.
For being one of the wildest nightlife capitals in the world, Dubai is the winner here as well.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Nightlife Winner: Dubai
The Grand Mosque is the highlight of any visit to Abu Dhabi
Nature and Hiking
Okay, you know that you’re not visiting Mexico or Colombia, this is the Arabian Peninsula, it’s all sand and skyscrapers!
That said, it’s not like there aren’t some interesting outdoor activities you can partake in while you’re touring the country.
From Dubai, you can go skydiving or base jumping, you can go on a desert safari or dune bashing if you’re looking for a real thrill. You can also try desert quad biking or dune buggy riding, and even sandboarding.
Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, offers more leisurely activities, so again, Dubai is the winner.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Nature and Hiking Winner: Dubai
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are famous for their lavish all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch buffets
The UAE is a global tourist hotspot, so whether you go to Abu Dhabi or Dubai you’ll find every cuisine imaginable.
It’s not so much about which city has the better eateries, it’s more about the price tag that comes with every dish.
In Dubai, you can find cheap street food as well that fills you up nicely for no more than 25 AED (about seven USD), and you can find similar prices and establishments in the capital.
There’s really no winner here, as you will find similar food scenes in both cities.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Food Winner: Tie
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Given their amazing infrastructure, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are excellent places to live and work, which is why an increasing number of talented job-seekers are moving to the region from across the globe.
The wi-fi coverage in Dubai is excellent (they’re aiming to have free wi-fi across the country by 2021), you can work from a number of coworking spaces or cafés, and the laid-back culture will allow you to meet new people and network seamlessly.
Abu Dhabi offers similar perks, but again, there is a small hint of restraint towards foreigners, and you shouldn’t be so bold as to intrude on other people’s privacy or personal space.
For this reason, Dubai is the better option for freelancers and remote workers.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Remote Work Winner: Dubai
If there is a category in which these two cities are equally matched, it’s safety.
The UAE is an extremely safe country overall, and some might even feel too safe, so to speak, because everything is monitored on a 24/7 basis and there are enough resources to enforce the law at all times.
That said, perhaps you might feel even safer in Abu Dhabi, simply because the government will spend no expense to keep the capital safe.
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Safety Winner: Tie
Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai Travel Winner
When it comes down to it, it’s difficult to choose the decisive winner when planning a trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Dubai is the party-central, while Abu Dhabi is more of a cultural capital. It all depends on what you’re looking to see and do during your travels.
Nevertheless, we can conclude that Dubai is the more traveler-friendly destination for modern globetrotters.
Fiona is a lifestyle blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. She’s in love with good coffee, croissants, and fashion magazines. In her spare time, she plays tennis and travels around the world. You can read more from her on her blog High Style Life.
Ready to go?
Explore accommodation like unique stays on Airbnb or the top-rated hotels on Booking.com to plan the perfect night, weekend, or long-term stay in the UAE.
Then, check out the Country Comparison series for more showdowns like Egypt vs. Jordan, Thailand vs. Vietnam, and many more!
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