A trip to Abu Dhabi with kids will not disappoint. Whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, there are so many things to do in Abu Dhabi with kids. And who better to tell us but mother of three and Aussie expat Keri Hedrick, who’s been living in Abu Dhabi since 2012.
Abu Dhabi with Kids.
In a city perhaps better known for its inspiring architecture and luxury hotels than kid-friendly activities, can you keep your kids entertained in this desert city? Absolutely!
Know before you go Abu Dhabi with Kids
It’s very important to understand Abu Dhabi’s weather. Based on the Arabian Gulf, summers are scorching hot (May through mid-October) whilst the winters are mild and pleasant – rain is rare. The best months to visit in are November or March-April if you still like it hot enough for mixing lazing on the beach mixed with outdoor sightseeing.
The other thing to be mindful of is visiting during the Holy Month of Ramadan. The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and Ramadan is strictly observed. The most obvious change for tourists is following rules around daytime fasting and change in business hours to accommodate this. The start date changes each year based on moon sightings but expect Ramadan 2020 to start late April.
Best Things to do in Abu Dhabi with Kids
Family-Friendly Fun on Yas Island for Summer
During the hot summer months, life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mostly moves indoors to cope with the temperature extremes, but that doesn’t mean active adventures need to stop. Our favourite place to release the kids in Abu Dhabi when it’s hot, is Yas Island.
The huge Yas Waterworld is a definite winner; 45 adventure rides as well as the usual wave pool, lazy river and several specially designated zones for smaller kids. It has now been joined by the world’s largest entirely indoor theme park, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi; 29 spectacular rides and shows all themed around DC Comics and cartoon classics, it’s quickly jumped to the top of our favourite theme parks list (go off-peak when there are barely any queues!!!)
The fun keeps going right across the road though at Yas Mall you will find Ferrari World – a largely indoor action theme park with the title of housing the world’s fastest Rollercoaster “the Formula Rossa” along with loads of adrenaline pumping rides and test tracks. It’s best suited to around the 7+year-old crowd (shorter children may feel a little left out here vs the entry price).
Yas Mall itself is a great place to cool off and explore with kids. The Virgin Megastore has a two-story slide that kids love and several hands-on toy stores; Pop in and Play Lego store (handy if you want a couple of hours of childminding too for your over 4’s!); an enormous Fun Works including a mini-city for hands-on educational activities and a giant Wizz Works soft play (best for your under 7’s). You’ll also find Adventure HQ with indoor rock climbing and other activities like caving, ropes courses – all in the centre of a shopping mall, of course!!
Down the opposite end of town, you will find Marina Mall with a “Bounce” trampolining centre, it also includes an indoor zip line, abseiling and an X-Park obstacle course which is great for slightly older kids in Abu Dhabi. Outside the Mall, the Marina Eye observation wheel provides some great views over the city and nearby Emirates Palace – fancy popping in for gold flakes on your coffee, perhaps a camel burger?
For a true birds-eye city view though pop up to the lavish Observation 300 at Etihad Towers for some ripper views on the 74th floor and afternoon tea.
Active and outdoors kids activities in Abu Dhabi
Outdoor enthusiasts will be pleased to know Abu Dhabi is packed full of parks. In the centre of the island (yes, the city itself is actually on an island too!) you’ll find Umm al Emarat Park, lots of playgrounds, lawned areas and a botanical garden. Seasonally they’ve also had a giant maze.
One of the most popular outdoor spaces in Abu Dhabi for kids is the Corniche, the long beachfront that sits along the end of Abu Dhabi Island. Enjoy the Aqua Fun inflatable playground on the water, or the A’l Bahar waterfront entertainment zone that has everything from eateries to climbing courses and an outdoor gym and sports courts.
On the east coast of Abu Dhabi island, you will find the Eastern Mangroves, a protected national park where you can kayak, stand up paddle or take an eco-donut boat through this conservation area.
Al Forsan in Khalifa City is another favourite for active kids who like adventure sports from wakeboarding to shooting.
Must-see Abu Dhabi Attractions
Now these ones aren’t exclusively designed for kids, but they’re four essential stops that need to be on every visitor’s itinerary when visiting Abu Dhabi:
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: An utterly spectacular house of worship built in honour of the country’s founding Father Sheikh Zayed. Entry is free to enjoy this masterpiece and free tours also run. Respectful clothing can be hired for free at the entry.
Qasr al Watan: The Presidential Palace of Abu Dhabi is a new opening in 2019. Just when we thought nothing could be more opulent and spectacular than the Grand Mosque, the Palace is a vast show of the country’s wealth and houses of power, but also a visual masterpiece that will leave you in awe. Paid entry and tours are available.
Qasr al Hosn: Another recent re-opening at Abu Dhabi’s oldest historic site, this is the place to come to learn more about the country’s Bedouin past and traditions. Small entry fee applies.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi: Another one where the building itself is part of the spectacle. Set on the stunning Saadiyat Island with the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf lapping inside the building, take a journey through the history of humanity as well as revolving seasonal exhibits. Kids can be rewarded with a visit to the children’s museum at the end.
Beyond Abu Dhabi City
If time permits, you really need to get beyond the city and see the nearby desert – after all the vast majority of the country is desert! Several tour operators offer family day trips or overnight packages to experience the best of desert sports – there are a load on offer from sand boarding to 4×4 dune bashing and quad biking.
Desert Camping with kids in the cooler months is very popular, as well as wadi adventures if you head further afield into the mountains but do arrange to do these things with an experienced guide.
Not too far from the capital (about a one-hour drive, depending on where you start from) is Dubai Parks and Resorts, including Legoland Dubai, and Motiongate Dubai – a Hollywood styled theme park. Other than at peak times, crowds here are low so you will get plenty of ride action and value for money from a day trip.
Big events in Abu Dhabi
Now how could I get this far and not mention motor sports! The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is THE big event of the year. Held at the Yas Marina Circuit in November, the city comes alive with sports action, celebratory spotting, mega yachts, and concerts.
Year round the Yas Circuit is open a couple of evenings a week for fitness fanatics to walk run or cycle around the track – completely free and what a thrill to power through the finish line on your bike (visitors can easily hire bikes at the track).
International sports fans may also be pleased to know there’s a number of great sporting events available for FREE! The Special Olympics were recently hosted here; we got to see the Socceroos play a World Cup qualifier and the Asia Cup, as well as the Australian cricket team making regular appearances for their Pakistan fixtures.
Where to Stay – Best Family Hotels in Abu Dhabi
The city is growing and sprawling so there are several places you could base yourself – from being ‘downtown’, staying along the Corniche or in the old Tourist Club area. Alternatively, the bigger shinier new resorts are on Saadiyat Island, or for convenience Yas Island where you are close to attractions and have fabulous pools and amenities.
Looking for the best family hotels in Abu Dhabi? Our top choice, if you are planning on making a proper vacation of it, is to choose one of the Saadiyat Resorts with extensive kid’s club facilities and pools – try Rotana Saadiyat Island, the St Regis Saadiyat Island or Rixos All Inclusive.
Saadiyat Rotana Resort and Villas – click here for latest prices and more information
The St Regis Saadiyat Island – click here for latest prices and more information
Rixos Saadiyat Island – all inclusive – click here for latest prices and more information
Favourite Places to Eat in Abu Dhabi
Most restaurants are attached to either luxury hotels or inside shopping malls. If you are after dinner with a nice view though, there are a few favourite spots. We love dining at the Eastern Mangroves Promenade, where you can watch the sunset over the Mangroves after taking a paddle, or heading to Bab al Bahr – Between the Bridges – where you can watch the sunset over the Mosque. For cheap(er) and cheerful outdoor dining, head to A’l Bahar on the Corniche.
If little stomachs need indulging (and who am I kidding, parents want a real treat!) why not introduce them to the concept of Friday Brunch? Not to be mistaken for that meal between breakfast and lunch, this is a 4-hour eating extravaganza! Put on by the best 5-star hotels in town on a Friday lunchtime and always topped with a chocolate fountain! Our kids have been most impressed with the Four Seasons, St Regis Saadiyat and Rosewood – separate supervised children’s rooms and amazing desert rooms with kiddy favourites at each.
More Top Tips for Visiting Abu Dhabi with Kids
Get yourself the Entertainer App. The app is free to load on your phone, but you then need to buy the city products you want. If you think you will be doing even a handful of activities and dining out in Abu Dhabi, the 2-4-1 vouchers will quickly pay themselves off.
The UAE is a Muslim country, but not as restrictive as you might think. Women should dress respectfully but no need to be fully covered. Kids are fine to dress as they please though covering shoulders and knees in public is standard – beachwear should be kept to the beach (here’s our full etiquette guide if you’re unsure).
The regular working week in the UAE is Sunday to Thursday. Thursday night through Saturday everything is much busier, and the Emirati’s have a very stay up late culture. If you want to beat the crowds anywhere – go early in the day!
About the author
Keri is an Aussie expat mum of 3 living in Abu Dhabi since 2012. She is a freelance travel writer and also runs several travel websites focused especially on family travellers. You can find her at her personal blog ourglobetrotters.com sharing her family adventures. She is also the Editor of Family Travel in the Middle East and co-editor and podcaster at Little City Trips.