Abu Dhabi is NOT Dubai

Reading Time: 7 minutes


If someone ask me “How is it living in Dubai?” ONE MORE TIME, I may have a conniption fit!

From the Fast and the Furious jumping luxury cars from skyscrapers to housing one of the world’s largest mosque, and hosting the notorious Formula 1 Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi holds its weight in so many different ways. But, let everyone in the world who hasn’t been here or frequent the UAE tell it, Abu Dhabi doesn’t exist, so they just call it Dubai.

Sometimes I want to shake people and say Abu Dhabi is different than Dubai! Click To Tweet

As an expat of 4 years, I cannot tell you the amount of times friends have asked me how is it living in Dubai? Or I hear my family telling folks “Yeah my cousin lives in Dubai.” Normally, I let it slide, but after 4 years and thousands of Facebook, IG, and blog post combined, I would THINK that people would know the difference by now. But humans are going to human every time. So, due to lack of learning or my inability to previously educate about my geographical place in the world I wanted to give you a spotlight post on my dear old Abu Dhabi. In an effort to educate and stop y’all from getting blank stares from myself and people whom you mistakenly think I live in Dubai, I have created a quick rundown of the differences in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.


Let’s begin with the obvious: Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not the same. The main similarities that they hold are that they are both emirates (something like states) and they are both located in the United Arab Emirates. That’s about it!

It’s actually funny that Abu Dhabi is mostly mistaken for Dubai when Abu Dhabi is, in fact, the capital of the UAE and the largest emirate of seven in the country.

Following the fact that Abu Dhabi beats Dubai in size, let’s talk about the fact that Dubai is an entirely different emirate which is about an hour and a half away from Abu Dhabi city center. I often refer to the distance that it used to take me to get from my college town of Greensboro, North Carolina to my hometown near Charlotte, North Carolina as a reference for the time it takes me to travel from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. You could even compare it to the time it takes a New Yorker to get out of traffic during rush hour 😂but I digress…


If you ever visit you will notice the vast difference in pace. AD is the graduated cousin of the 2 while Dubai is the college undergrad, looking to top any and every experience more than the last.

Abu Dhabi is traditional where Dubai is more westernized. You can easily find a good time in either of the Emirates but Dubai has taken the title of the “Vegas of the Middle East” to another level. From the pool parties at Drai’s to the late night party scenes, and their famous brunches, Dubai doesn’t cease to show its visitors a good time. Now, Abu Dhabi doesn’t come up short with its own version of a good time but Dubai wins the award if we are comparing.


Coming from a self-proclaimed “veteran teacher,” I personally consider Dubai as the “Land of private schools.” Dubai operates with the most private schools in the emirates with 207 schools (90% of the school education) and only 48 public schools. Dubai School Stats. While Abu Dhabi operates with 192 private schools and 250 public across 3 regions. Abu Dhabi School Stats.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me run it down. There are two different branches of schools that students can attend and teachers can work at in the UAE. Government and private. Government schools are:

“Working hard to promote the Emirati Educational system to build a knowledge-based society while enriching citizenship values. Their values include a strengthening of national identity and social responsibilities, reinforcement of human values and a commitment to professionalism and transparency.” -Teachaway recruitment group.

While private schools are:

“Elite education organizations.” – Teachaway recruitment group.

Private schools serve the purpose of offering an education based on their selected countries curriculum. Private schools also have the authority to offer languages, beliefs, and specializations based on the owners of their schools rather than following the guidelines set by government school entities.

Essentially government schools run off of criteria set by the government while private schools have the authority to operate based off of their owners while adhering to the rules of the UAE government.


Due to its vast oil resources, Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest emirate in the UAE. In fact, it is one of the richest cities in the world! Lot’s of people get confused by the fact that Dubai is super flashy and is known as the “City of Gold”. When in fact Abu Dhabi had to bail Dubai out of debt in recent years according to the UAE news publication The National. Abu Dhabi pays Dubai’s debt.

Now don’t get it twisted, although they have gone through financial issues, like any developing city, Dubai is booming and has been ranked as the best city globally

Ranked as one of the safest countries in the world by several notable publications, the UAE has some amazing aspects and places to visit. Some are often overlooked thanks to the media and general popular opinions but the fact remains and that Dubai is not the only place in the UAE that should be given credit. Do yourself a huge favor and research the seven emirates. You are bound to find some really cool things in each and every one. You never know, you may just see someone you know taking over them all very soon.

Have you ever visited Abu Dhabi or Dubai? Did you know that they are different places? Is the UAE on your radar as a place to visit?
Until next time,
Take The World!


  1. June 11, 2019 / 1:32 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this LESSON!! LOL Honestly, it was very entertaining and informative. I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Abu Dhabi.

      June 12, 2019 / 6:10 am

      Thanks Lavonta! I’m glad you learned a little something something and were entertained in the process. Keep coming back for the latest in travel.

  2. Ken Gee
    June 11, 2019 / 7:57 pm

    Yes indeed. I used to think they were pretty much the same same. Perfect analogy!! Abu Dhabi is grad school, Dubai undergrad. But don’t get it twisted, grad school gets to the business too.

      June 12, 2019 / 6:11 am

      Lol, right! People often look at Dubai as the only city in the UAE. I’ve even heard Dubai referred to as a country lol.

  3. June 12, 2019 / 3:17 am

    These are good points! As someone who has lived in both cities, I see the merits of both and in my opinion- they cannot be compared. They are simply in 2 different leagues and appeal to different kinds of people. Which is why I always find it amusing when they are thought to be 1 and the same. While Abu Dhabi will always have my heart, after a year in Dubai I can tell you that I would never move back! There is something special in Dubai that Abu Dhabi lacks… its hard to explain if you don’t live here but it goes beyond the glitzy buildings & traffic… its the fact that you are in 1 of the most awe inspiring cities in the world where anything is possible. FYI: I used to despise Dubai before I moved here but now I embrace it!! Anyway I loved this post!

      June 12, 2019 / 6:13 am

      Really!!? You love Dubai that much? I don’t think I could ever live in Dubai. It’s way too fast for me. But, I also haven’t lived there so I won’t completely knock it without trying it. You obviously felt the same sentiments that I have. I just love Dubai for a weekend but couldn’t imagine the hustle and bustle of everyday life there. It’s like New York City to me…just way too much.

  4. Court Too Fly
    June 12, 2019 / 1:15 pm

    Good info! Especially about the educational aspect of the 2.

      June 16, 2019 / 3:22 am

      Thanks Court,
      I hope the info helped you and your future travels out here.

  5. June 12, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    Been to Dubai twice. The first time was in my honeymoon before it was the “it” city that everyone goes to and the 2nd time was just last year and even though it’s changed a lot in a small amount of time there is just something that I love about it. Never been to AD even though it’s been on my list for a while. After living in the slow paced Middle East (Kuwait) The UAE in general seems a bit fast for me. While I know teaching is lucrative I think I would be too tempted to spend all my coins lol.
    Thanks for the article

      June 16, 2019 / 3:23 am

      The temptations of spending coins are definitely there. There are so many things you can do that aren’t accessible back home (for me anyway) but it’s worth it for the most part. You definitely should visit AD it’s the slower paced of the two.

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