Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Bigger, better, faster, stronger

There’s a real rivalry now between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with each trying to outdo the other. So what are the differences between these two rich emirates of the Gulf?


Many people always fancy Dubai for a holiday and to experience what all the fuss is about. But recently Abu Dhabi has also been a real destination experience for tourists. If you can’t afford both of them, then it can be tough to choose between these two Emirati powerhouses.


Dubai was the original rich man’s playground in the Gulf. From the late 1990s there was a huge influx of capital and trade. Real estate, in particular, has really taken off, and prices for apartments and flats with a sea view can go for hundreds of millions of Pounds. It is not difficult to see the wealth of the locals, either, with gold sports cars and African cats being kept as pets all used as status symbols of an abundance of oil money. Mine’s bigger than yours. Indeed.

The world's only 7 star hotel: Burj Al Arab
The world’s only 7 star hotel: Burj Al Arab
The World Islands
The World Islands

Some of Dubai’s tourist attractions are also way OTT. Real state developments such as the World Islands located just off Jumeirah Beach are even to this day mostly empty, as since the Global Economic Meltdown in 2009, nobody sees the land as value for money anymore. However, the hotels of Dubai are still being erected at a frantic pace. The Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7 star hotel, has been attracting billionaires and royalty since it opened – and this hotel even has a tennis court on its roof!

Not everything in Dubai is expensive (I wonder if you can buy Gold Big Macs?)
Not everything in Dubai is expensive (I wonder if you can buy Gold Big Macs?)
This was all sand 10 years ago...
This was all sand 10 years ago…

A trip to Dubai is simply supposed to be OTT. What you see here is the presence of mega millionaires building super structures and theme parks for tourists to spend their millions on each year. There are very few small attractions in Dubai for the tourists, even though the Dubai Creek and the Bastakia Quarter are an emotional reminder of the Dubai days before the discovery of oil. Additionally, some parts of Dubai are beginning to get run down with crime and scams. This does not occur as often, in my opinion, in Abu Dhabi.

The streets of Abu Dhabi
Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi - the epitome of luxury
Emirates Palace Hotel – upwards of £350 per night for the cheapest room – is still cheaper than some luxury hotels in Dubai!

Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital, is slightly more refined. However, the word “refined” in this context should not be taken literally! Compared to Dubai, though, Abu Dhabi is not as ‘In Your Face’. Sure, there are expensive buildings and fancy shopping malls (incidentally, it was Abu Dhabi’s money that financed the completion of Burj Khalifa in Dubai), but for a real experience of the United Arab Emirates in the 21st century, it is in Abu Dhabi where this is more likely to be found than its more famous emirate down the Sheikh Zayed Road.

Local Emiratis can still enjoy life in Abu Dhabi vast desert
Local Emiratis can still enjoy life in Abu Dhabi’s vast desert
There is even a Louvre Museum being built in Abu Dhabi...
There is even a Louvre Museum being built in Abu Dhabi…

Abu Dhabi’s tourism is booming, but it was a late-bloomer compared to Dubai, and is still growing at a slower rate than its more illustrious neighbour. Part of this is due to the lack of standout attractions in the area, although when you analyse things a little more closely, you will surely see that Abu Dhabi can be the equal of Dubai in almost every industry. Soon, there will be a Louvre Museum and a Guggenheim Museum opened on Saadiyat Island, Additionally, the Yas Marina complex, which hosts the final round of the Formula One World Championship each November, contains Ferrari World (which itself is home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world), Yas Waterworld (which is arguably the finest water park in the region), as well as innumerable fancy yachts and boats in the marina!


There are also more homely and cultural attractions in Abu Dhabi, the kind of attractions that Dubai lacks. For instance, the Falcon Hospital and the Grand Mosque are both the kind of major attractions here that would be considered too bland to include on the itinerary during your trip to Dubai.

If you want it bigger and taller, then Dubai is probably your best bet, as nobody does it better than them! If you want something slightly more refined although still with the vast Arabic wealth on display, then a trip to Abu Dhabi may suit you better. In my experience, there is more budget accommodation and more chance to shop for bargains in Abu Dhabi.


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