Dubai Vs. Abu Dhabi

Dubai Vs. Abu Dhabi: How are they different?

Did you know that Dubai isn’t the capital of the United Arab Emirates? While most people know of Dubai, the UAE’s capital city and largest emirate is actually Abu Dhabi.

Now, what’s the difference between two of the country’s largest and most progressive cities?

If you prefer a busy city with a lot of options for leisure and entertainment, you’ll surely feel at home in Dubai. But if you’d rather be in a more relaxed city that still has its modern conveniences, Abu Dhabi would be the perfect fit.

To give you a better perspective, here’s a detailed comparison of both cities in terms of diversity and demographics, cost of living, attractions and career opportunities.

Diversity and Demographics in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi

Diversity and Demographics in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi
Image source: Arabian Business

Dubai is the most populated city in the UAE while Abu Dhabi ranks third, according to recent statistics.
In terms of diversity, most of the UAE’s expat population is distributed between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, although Dubai has more expat residents than Abu Dhabi.

In a 2022 statistic data by Global Media Insight, Dubai had a population of 3,601,273 while Abu Dhabi only had a population of 1,567,000.

This means that Dubai is more densely populated than Abu Dhabi with both cities catering to both locals and expats.

In terms of diversity, the top nationalities in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi include Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Filipinos.

When you look at the geography of both cities, you’ll see that Dubai has a larger land area at 1,610 square kilometers as compared to Abu Dhabi with a land area of only 972 square kilometers.

Dubai is also located on the northern part of the country while Abu Dhabi is an hour drive away on the southern part.

Cost of Living in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi

Cost of Living in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi
Image source: The National

The cost of living in Dubai is 13.1% higher than Abu Dhabi including rent in both cities.
You would need at least AED 21,483 to live the lifestyle that you can enjoy in Abu Dhabi for only AED 19,000 every month.
Consumer, rent and restaurant prices are also significantly higher in Dubai than Abu Dhabi.

Using data from Numbeo, let’s break down some of the most common living expenses and how they fare in both cities:

Type of ExpenseDubaiAbu Dhabi
Housing (Average Rent per Month)
1-bedroom Apartment (City Center)AED 7,496AED 5,604
1-bedroom Apartment (Outside City Center)AED 4,322AED 4,327
3-bedroom Apartment (City Center)AED 14,659AED 14,468
3-bedroom Apartment (Outside City Center)AED 9,941AED 7,996
Utilities (Average Monthly Bill)
Basic Utilities (Includes Electricity, Water, HVAC and Garbage)AED 738AED 712
Monthly Internet Plan (60 mbps or more)AED 344AED 413 
Monthly Mobile Phone Plan (Includes calls and 10GB Data)AED 231AED 226
One Way TicketAED 7AED 2
Monthly PassAED 300AED 80
Taxi StartAED 12AED 12
Gasoline (1 liter)AED 3AED 3
Basic Groceries
Regular Milk (1 Liter)AED 6AED 7
White Rice (1 Kilogram)AED 7AED 6
Loaf of White BreadAED 5AED 4
Eggs (1 Dozen)AED 11AED 10
Chicken Filets (1 Kilogram)AED 30AED 26
Water (1.5 Liter Bottle)AED 2AED 2
Meal for One Person at an Average RestaurantAED 40AED 47
Three-Course Meal for Two People at a Mid-Range RestaurantAED 250AED 280
McDonalds Meal for One PersonAED 35AED 32
Coke BottleAED 4AED 4
Regular CappuccinoAED 20AED 19

Looking at this data, you’ll see that most expenses are higher in Dubai, especially when it comes to monthly rental, utilities and transportation.

However, some groceries and expenses for dining out are higher in Abu Dhabi.

Real Estate in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi

Real Estate in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi
Image source: Construction Week

If you want to invest in property, you’ll pay more in Abu Dhabi as compared to Dubai if you’re buying an apartment.
However, you’ll be paying more for a villa in Dubai as compared to Abu Dhabi.

Real estate prices are generally more expensive in Dubai. But if you’re buying an apartment, Abu Dhabi is more expensive per square meter than Dubai:

Type of PropertyDubaiTokyo
Apartment in the City Center (Per Square Meter)AED 15,005AED 17,103
Apartment Outside the City Center (Per Square Meter)AED 9,195AED 15,927

But if you’re looking to buy a villa, you can expect to pay AED 14,074 per square meter in Dubai but only AED 8,848 per square meter in Abu Dhabi.

Of course, there are factors that influence property prices in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These include:

  • The location of the property. Properties near the city center and those located in highly urbanized areas  and exclusive villages tend to be more expensive than those outside the city center.
  • Proximity to essential amenities. These include parks, shopping centers, hospitals, schools and other establishments that will make your life more convenient.
  • Supply and demand. When there’s a high demand for property in an area, it tends to be more expensive than areas where there’s not a lot of development yet.

Attractions in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi

Attractions in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi
Image source: The Invisible Tourist

Being a city with an economy driven mostly by tourism, Dubai has a more diverse list of tourist attractions covering almost every area that you can think of – from historical sites to modern museums.
Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, may not have as many tourist spots as Dubai. But it also has some very significant attractions that tourists have come to love.

Dubai is definitely a haven for tourists with everything that it has to offer. Are you on a budget? Dubai has some things that you can do for free.

Are you visiting during the summer? You’re covered with the best indoor activities in the city. Do you prefer to go out after sunset? Dubai has the best places to visit at night.

Are you more of a beach kind of traveler? You have the best public beaches in Dubai.

The city has no shortage of options when it comes to tourist attractions, and these are our top picks:

Famous Landmarks in DubaiFamous Resorts and Hotels in Dubai
Burj Khalifa
Ain Dubai
Museum of the Future
Palm Jumeirah
Dubai Opera
Dubai Frame
Dubai Creek
Dubai Fountain
Atlantis the Palm
Burj Al Arab
Atlantis the Palm
Atlantis the Royal
Taj Exotica Resort and Spa
Mandarin Oriental
Raffles the Palm
JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai
Palace Downtown
Famous Historical Sites in DubaiFamous Shopping Centers in Dubai
Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
Deira Clock Tower
Jumeirah Mosque
Dubai Museum
Hatta Heritage Village
The Dubai Mall
Mall of the Emirates
Dubai Marina Mall
Gold Souk
Spice Souk
Famous Theme Parks in DubaiFamous Parks and Reserves in Dubai
Dubai Miracle Garden
Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark
Dubai Parks and Resorts
Global Village
Ski DubaiI
MG Worlds of Adventures
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Reserve
Al Qudra Lakes

Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, may not have the most extensive list of tourist spots. But these attractions are also worth checking out:

Famous Landmarks in Abu DhabiFamous Resorts and Hotels in Abu Dhabi
Al Bahr Towers
Aldar Headquarters
Burj Mohammed bin Rashid
Capital Gate Building
Etihad Towers
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Bridge
Qasr Al Watan
Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental Abu Dhabi
W Abu Dhabi
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas
The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal
Le Meridien Abu Dhabi
Famous Historical Sites in Abu DhabiFamous Shopping Centers in Abu Dhabi
Abrahamic Family House
Al Jahili Fort
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Qasr Al Hosn
Wahat Al Karama
The Founder’s Memorial
Abu Dhabi mallMarina MallYas MallDalma MallThe Galleria Al Maryah Island
Famous Theme Parks in Abu DhabiFamous Parks and Reserves in Abu Dhabi
Ferrari World Yas Island
Warner Bros. World
Yas Waterworld
Dreamland Aqua Park
National Aquarium Abu Dhabi
Oasis GardenEmirates Park Zoo and ResortUmm Al Emarat ParkKhalifa ParkAlwathba Fossil Dunes

Career Opportunities in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi

Career Opportunities in Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi
Image source: Arabian Business

Dubai ranked second in the best cities for expats around the world because of its ability to offer a lifestyle that satisfies both work and leisure.
Abu Dhabi ranked ninth on the same list highlighting the city’s bureaucracy and high quality healthcare system.
Both cities also has excellent career opportunities for expats, although Dubai has a more diverse selection of job offers.
Dubai also has a higher annual average base salary at AED 104,000 as compared to Abu Dhabi’s AED 99,000 per year.

To give you a better picture, we compare the average salaries for some of the top jobs in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi with data from Payscale:

DubaiAbu Dhabi
AccountantAED 54,528 per yearAccountantAED 54,242 per year
Project ManagerAED 208,944 per yearCivil EngineerAED 60,200 per year
Civil EngineerAED 63,965 per yearMechanical EngineerAED 60,490 per year
Operations ManagerAED 156,702 per yearElectrical EngineerAED 82,766 per year
Mechanical EngineerAED 66,998 per yearRegistered NurseAED 96,894 per year
Business Development ManagerAED 148,942 per yearProject ManagerAED 241,397 per year
Finance ManagerAED 197,351 per yearProject EngineerAED 107,247 per year

Dubai vs. Abu Dhabi: How They Stack Up

After looking at different types of data, we reached the conclusion that Dubai fares better than Abu Dhabi when it comes to the general quality of living.

While Abu Dhabi is the country’s seat of government and it has experienced progress over the years, Dubai has established itself as a powerhouse in the UAE.

The decision whether to choose Dubai or Abu Dhabi will depend on your preferences. If you want to be in the middle of the action, then you’ll surely love being in the hustle and bustle of Dubai.

But if you want to be in a city that’s more relaxed and not as crowded, Abu Dhabi will surely impress you.