Looking at a family holiday in Dubai? After ideas what to do in Abu Dhabi? Seeking to explore the United Arab Emirates beyond the big cities? Here’s what you’ve been searching for
You’ve asked for it – you’ve got it! This is an absolutely bumper post, gathered with a little help from some UAE blogging mums to bring you our ultimate list of well over 100 places across the seven Emirates of the UAE to take your kids – from the obvious to the slightly obscure and links to any tips we have to make your journey as pleasant as possible.
(Click the Emirate name here to jump to the details on your favourite destination)
Al Ain Camel Market | Al Ain Zoo | Al Bateen Beach | Al Dhafra Festival | Al Wathba Wetlands | Bounce Marina Mall | Corniche | Dalma Island | Desert Safari | Eastern Mangroves |Emirates National Auto Museum | Emirates Palace | Emirates Park Zoo | Falcon Hospital | Ferrari World | Green Mubazzarah | Guggenheim Museum | Heritage Village | Hili City | Jebel Hafeet | Louvre | Manarat al Saadiyat | Marina Eye | Murjan Splash Park | Observation 300 | Qasr al Sarab | Ripe Market | Saadiyat Beach | Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | Sir Baniyas Island | Umm al Emarat Park | Wadi Adventure | Yas Beach | Yas Gateway Parks | Yas Mall | Yas Marina | Yas Marina Circuit | Yas Waterworld | Zayed National Museum
Ajman Museum | Al Neseem Nature Reserve | Al Zorah Nature Reserve | Corniche | Dhow Building Yard | Fish Market
Al Mamzar Beach Park | Al Qudra Lake | Aquadventure | Atlantis the Palm | Bastakiya | Bollywood Parks | Bur Dubai | Burj al Arab | Burj Khalifa | Butterfly Garden | Camel Racing | Dolphin Bay | Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo | Dubai Creek | Dubai Creek Park | Dubai Garden Glow | Dubai Ice Rink | Dubai Mall | Dubai Mall Fountain | Global Village | Gold Souk | IMG Worlds of Adventure | Jumeirah Beach | Kidzania | Kite Beach | Le Petit Palais | Legoland | Little Explorers | Lost Chambers | Madinet Jumeirah | Mattel PlayTown | Miracle Garden | Motiongate | Safa Park | Sega Republic | Shark Safari | Spice Souk | Souk Madinat Jumeirah | The Beach | The Green Planet | The Walk | Wild Flight | Wild Wadi | Zabel Park
Al Aqah | Al Hayl Fort | Dibba al-Fujairah | Fujairah Fort | Fujairah Heritage Museum | Hajar Mountains | Madha (Oman) & Nahwa | Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure | Awafi Desert | Al Saqr Park | Bassata Desert Village | Dahyah Fort | Jazirat al Hamra | Jebel al Jais | Banyan Tree Al Wadi | Iceland Water Park | Marjan Island | Seawings Plane
Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Center | Al Hamra Village | Al Hisn Fort | Al Majaz Waterfront |Al Montazah Park | Al Naboodah | Khor Fakkan | Khor Kalba | Old Market | Sharjah Desert Park | Sharjah Maritime Museum | Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization | Sharjah National Park | Wasit Wetland Nature Reserve
Dreamland Water Park
We’d love to keep adding to this list! Please place new suggestions in the comments below or email us [email protected] and we will get your favourite places added
Abu Dhabi is the Capital of the United Arab Emirates and by far the largest of the seven Emirates (“states”) that make up the UAE. A real mix of peaceful grace, stunning architecture, modern Islamic culture and the most family-friendly of them all (we are a little bias, we live here!).
Major City Attractions
Around the city, the most popular attraction without a doubt is the absolutely unmissable and spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – come covered or hire an abaya/kandura there for free and be prepared for the breathtaking architecture and design. Joining an organised tour is a great idea to learn more.
A favourite past time for locals and visitors alike is strolling along the beautiful Corniche – the city beach front. The best part is its free, with only a very small fee payable if you want to use the private family beach area. There are also options to hire bikes or buggies and pedal your way along the Corniche.
Those wanting to learn more about the history of the Emirates and Bedouin culture may want to visit the Heritage Village, located near Marina Mall. There are small workshops here displaying traditional handcrafts, Bedouin housing and sometimes a Falcon (though disappointingly not all displays are open all the time). While you’re down this end of town you can also check out the fairly new instalment the Marina Eye observation wheel reviewed here by Bilna from Monsoon Breeze. The Mall itself has been transformed of late with the introduction of Bounce – a fabulous new indoor trampoline park perfect to escape the heat.
Observation Deck at 300, situated on level 74 of Jumeirah Hotel, Etihad Towers is one of our favourite visitor stopping points. Amazingly good views over the city, particularity overlooking the ever expanding new presidential palace complex, and Emirates Palace. Tickets are a little pricey to get in at 75dhs (kids under 4 free) but your ticket includes a coffee/meal voucher making it the perfect spot to stop for morning or afternoon tea.
Speaking of which – if its a fancy afternoon tea you want, or a chance to check out the gold vending machines, head on down to Emirates Palace itself (go in even just for a nosy and take some photos for free – note you need to be well dressed to do this). At Christmas time they have the most spectacular Christmas tree display – as do many of the large luxury hotels.
Beaches, nature and greenery
Umm Al Emarat Park (Formerly Mushrif Central Park) is a wide expanse in the centre of Abu Dhabi. Year round features include play parks, a children’s wadi (stream), a petting zoo, botanical garden and the great lawn. Over the cooler winter months, the weekend Ripe Market is a fabulous added feature on a Saturday afternoon/evening with not just fresh food but family entertainment, artists and a huge variety of stalls.
Beyond just the Corniche there are many other beaches to soak in the rays; public beaches can be found on Saadiyat Island (with some paid beach chair facilities provided by BAKE) and a popular family option is Al Bateen Beach on the east side of the main Abu Dhabi island – there’s also a women and children’s only section.
Another way to cool off is at the Murjan Splash Park, part of Khalifa Park near to the Grand Mosque, its a much smaller version of some of the water parks but ideal size really for the quite little ones.
Eastern Mangroves is an up and coming hot spot for outdoor exploration. There a number of water hire options available from the Eastern Mangroves Marina from kayaks to Eco donut boats.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve – only open since 2014, just outside the city (Al Ain truck road) you will find this exciting new eco-conservation centre. They are open for the winter months Thursday to Saturdays. With a walking trail and bird hide, you will find over 250 species of birds now calling this area home.
Just outside Abu Dhabi
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital on the outskirts of the city, is another popular place for visitors to get up close to these magnificent creatures. They offer daily tours and also operate as an animal rescue and pet shelter. (I’ve been warned the tour may not suitable for very young children who still like to grab and poke!)
Another really family-friendly choice quite close to the capital in the suburb of Shahama is Emirates Park Zoo – it’s not huge but perfectly sized for younger children who also like to pet and feed the animals. There’s even an option to stay at the Zoo! Mie from Me and the Bump has this review of taking a staycation there.
The Islands of Abu Dhabi
The Abu Dhabi coastline is made up of a series of more than 200 islands! Most of these aren’t inhabited, but many have been transformed over the years for housing and luxury resorts – others left in their natural state. Here are 4 definitely worth a separate mention (other than the city of Abu Dhabi itself which actually sits on an island).
Yas Island is probably the most well known. Centred around the Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (held annually in November but now see’s year-round motorsports action). There are countless ways to keep the family entertained here – from the very well appointed Yas Beach, several 4 and 5 star hotels , leading restaurants, the centerpiece Yas Mall (including a Hamleys, giant Toy Store, Vox cinema complex, fun works & whizz works, and a very cool in-store slide in Virgin Mega Store – hours of free entertainment!!). Also attached to the Mall is Ferrari World – the world’s fastest roller coaster and loads of active adventures for kids (not many for the really small ones).
It doesn’t end there, to keep you cool is Yas Waterworld, and the Yas Marina Promenade itself includes a play park and fountains that kids love. A couple of slightly less well-known features are the North & South Gateway Parks – only used as car parking during the grand prix, the rest of the year the perfect spot to let kids free on bikes, scooters – there’s play park and barbeque facilities here as well. And another truly unique family activity -why not walk, run or cycle the grand prix track? Open to the public Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday (ladies only) nights, for most of the year (except GP season) – completely free!!
The other great inner-city hub to visit is Saadiyat Island the home of culture it will shortly see the opening of a Guggenheim Museum, a Louvre and the Zayed National Museum. A giant work in progress still, there are several amazing luxury hotels already with uninterrupted views over the Persian Gulf – it’s hard to believe you’re so near the city. Already open to the public Manarat al Saadiyat holds a few exhibitions as well as a showcase model of what the finished island will look like and has a decent family-friendly restaurant Al Fanr.
Sir Baniyas Island sitting a good 2.5 hour drive and a boat ride away from Abu Dhabi comes highly acclaimed. Given the distance from the city there are three Anantara resort options to stay on site for varying budgets and group sizes. On island activity options include nature walks, mountain biking, snorkelling and scuba diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking and horse riding to name a few options – read more about visiting Sir Baniyas Island
Dalma Island is another truly unique experience – sitting in the Persian Gulf, 42km off the UAE coast it’s accessible only by boat from Jebel Dahnna. Completely undeveloped like other parts of the Emirates could it be a little slice of heaven – yes according to Meg at Walck this Way!
Outside of the capital
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is vast -the “Empty Quarter” desert covering much of the land. This makes taking a trip into the desert a must to truly appreciate the country. We can recommend taking a safari with Arabian Nights Village -options to either have a pickup/drop off service in the city, or stay overnight in one of their luxury cabanas. Whilst on the safari you will see camels – a lot of camels, camel riding, mountain biking, sand boarding, dune bashing, henna, belly dancing, oud playing – even a dip in the desert pool finished with a traditional Arabic dinner.
Now not to be forgotten is the second major city in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain. Hugging the border with Oman, its known to many as expats as the closest point do a “border run (renewal point for tourist visas) due to its convenient distance between Abu Dhabi City and Dubai (only about a 1.5 hour drive). There’s far more to Al Ain to be explored though and worth giving this city a couple of days in an Emirates itinerary.
There’s a great review on Shea’s website Conversations with My Sister on what to do in Al Ain – including visiting the camel souk, the acclaimed Al Ain Zoo (and newly opened African Safari), Al Ain Oasis plus the unmissable and breathtaking trip up Jebel Hafeet – the highest point of Abu Dhabi with some spectacular views over the UAE and Omani desert.
Another quirky part of Al Ain not to miss is Hili City – a theme park stuck in about 1973 but with a unique charm that has us coming back again! Plenty of rides to suit the much younger age group – be warned of strange, non-family conducive opening times though.
Thrill seekers may also want to check out Wadi Adventures, right next door to thermal springs Green Mubazzarah – a surprise little oasis at the foot of Jebel Hafeet. Absolutely packed on weekends with picnickers and those wanting to dip their feet in the hot stream.
Want something really quirky? Why not visit the Emirates National Auto Museum. Based inside a giant pyramid on the E65 about an hour from the city it is a really fun and unique experience for kids. The world’s largest caravan? A Dodge truck with a 4 bedroom apartment? And of course the Sheikhs collection of over 200 classic and – unusual cars!
If you are heading out of the capital and want a real taste of Bedouin life, visiting in December is a must to catch the Al Dhafra Festival – camel races, Saluki racing, falconry displays, date packing and most importantly the high stakes camel beauty contest.
The Western Region is also home to some luxury desert resorts like Liwa Resort and Qasr al Sarab – they include many of the activities that you can also access on a desert safari mentioned above, with an abundance of luxury, kids clubs – you name it, a real Arabian experience!
Best family hotels in Abu Dhabi
The options are really plentiful so it’s really a question of where you want to stay. Hotels in the Yas Island area are the most convenient to both the airport and for heading North East to Dubai and & Northern Emirates, the Yas Viceroy offers large family suites (even the option for the kids to “glamp” in your hotel room). Saadiyat Beach is also a popular family choice with stunning hotels along the coast like St Regis and the Park Hyatt. Emirates Palace is another really iconic place to stay – or if your fancy superb views of the Mosque at sunset, you cannot beat the Fairmont.
If heading deep into the desert, we loved Qasr al Sarab, – Liwa Hotel is another luxury option (perfect if visiting Al Dhafra Festival in the Western region). In Al Ain we recommend Rotana City Centre – or if you’re up for a windy drive but a spectacular location on top of Jebel Hafeet, the Mecure.
Tourist Board: Visit Abu Dhabi
One of the lesser-known Northern Emirates and the smallest, Ajman comes across far more laid back than its neighbouring Sharjah. Hugging the coast along a 16km stretch of the Arabian Gulf, one of its nicknames is “the sunshine Emirate”. Reflecting this, there aren’t nearly as many tourist attractions per se to explore, but you will be treated to elegance, class and luxury that you come to expect from the Emirates with a little more of a traditional Arabic feel.
In town, you will find the Ajman Museum, the bustling fish market and there’s also the Dhow-Building Yard to explore (See how you can tackle all these sights in a morning with Filipina Expat). Nature lovers might enjoy the small but important Al Zorah Nature Reserve or simply wandering the Corniche and taking in the spectacular Arabian sunset. Also in development currently is the Al Naseem Nature Reserve.
Most though come here for the luxury beach resorts and to briefly get away from the big smoke – yet still conveniently located very close to Dubai International Airport and you may find at slightly cheaper prices than their chain competitors in Dubai with a bit more rustic charm.
Best family hotels in Ajman
Mr Globetrotter has stayed in and can recommend the beautiful beach-fronted Kempinski Hotel Ajman – with its own ten pin bowling alley no less! Other luxury options along the Arabian Gulf include Fairmont Ajman and Ajman Saray.
Tourist Board: Ajman Tourism
Wow, where do we start! Largely thanks to aggressive marketing and route expansion by Emirates Airlines, Dubai has become one of the biggest tourism and transit hubs in the world. My best advice, get out of the airport! Be prepared to be awed with the stark contrast between old and new, rich and poor, city and desert. This is one city that packs a series punch when it comes to its eclectic nature and extremes – it must be experienced to be believed!
I will try to break it down by activity but remember this is just a taster list, we could write a whole book just on kid-friendly activities in Dubai. (well Ok it appears many have already done this – check out the Lonely Planet or Eyewitness guides if you need more definite listings of what to do in Dubai, but remember you’ll lose the experienced UAE mum opinion!)
Beaches, water parks and cooling off
Did we mention it gets hot in the UAE? Planning some water action is a must for kids – living in the UAE its a way of life! And boy does the city take advantage of being on the aqua blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. The Palm Jumeirah is currently the world’s largest inhabited artificial archipelago (try saying that drunk..) with a multitude of beach resorts to go with it – 20+ just on the Palm!
One of the most iconic and popular with families is Atlantis the Palm. Not only a luxury 5-star hotel, but also home to The Lost Chambers Aquarium, Shark Safari, Aquaventure water park, and Dolphin Bay.
Elsewhere on the mainland, Jumeirah Beach is very popular with families. A long stretch, it is in fact made up of several beaches with similar sounding names. It’s important to make the distinction as some are currently closed for renovations and the building of the new Dubai Canal (which will connect the beach with Downtown Dubai and Dubai Creek – another mega-construction project, yes).
If you are after one of those amazing photos of “7-star” hotel Burj Al Arab you want the one known as Sunset Beach. Jumeirah Open Beach is currently closed (yes ironically named) as is Jumeirah Public Beach. There’s still the ever popular, though starting to date, Jumeriah Beach Hotel nearby and its accompanying water park Wild Wadi . Also popular and free to enter is the Kite Beach located in Umm Seqieum 1.
Further west along the coast you come to The Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) and The Walk. Surrounded by apartments, luxury hotels and restaurants this is another city within a city, a very popular family destination with play parks, splash parks, camel rides and water sports.
Another lesser known beach & park area is al Mamzar Beach Park. Located on the Deira side of Dubai Creek this large grassy park includes swimming pools, play parks, barbeques, water sports rentals, – even air conditioned cabanas! Note Monday’s and Wednesday’s women & children only.
Shopping, malls, soft play & indoor adventures
Most visitors to Dubai start their adventure at Dubai Mall – and its hard to see why not. Not just a mega shopping mall, one of the biggest in the world, there’s an absolute world of family entertainment attached to it. Older kids will appreciate Sega Republic, whilst youngsters will enjoy Kidzania – a mega-sized reality play centre for the juniors. If that’s too manic for you though, there’s a hidden gem in Galleries Lafayette Le Petit Palais that may be more your pace.
Still within the mall, a family favourite for many is the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo – recommend by Emily at Dubai my Sandbox. Also skating fans will be amazed to find the Olympic-size Dubai Ice Rink sitting right there in the centre of the Mall!
Now don’t miss around Dubai Mall and Downtown, the Fountain Show, with the Burj Khalifa as a backdrop this is truly spectacular to watch – water dancing to the music and at night an extraordinary light show. Great views also from Souk al-Bahar, breathtaking!
Taking a slightly different shopping pace, we really enjoy Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Modern but made in traditional Arabic styling, it’s a mix of indoor and outdoor stores so good to visit year round. Also great views from here back to Burj Al Arab. Check out this review by Shea at Conversations with My Sister on all the wonderful eco-friendly projects they have here, as well as abra rides and many little extra touches kids will love.
Indoor play centres are everywhere! Given the extreme summer heats, I’d arguably say being in Dubai is the soft play centre of earth (goodness I’m almost trembling with dread at the idea) – BUT we all know when needs must – I have honestly scoured cities before trying to find somewhere for the kids to blow off steam before a flight – so a quick list to help you!
Little Explorers in Mirdiff City Center (and new one opening in Marina Mall); Sparky’s in Al Ghurair Center. Mattel Play Town in City Walk – reviewed by Laura at Life with Baby Kicks; great if your little ones are into the likes of Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina, Bob the Builder, Barney.
“Only in Dubai” experiences
Burj Khalifa – I mean when in Dubai how can you possibly not visit the world’s tallest tower? Take a journey to At the Top on the 125th floor for spectacular views over Dubai. Thoroughly recommended that you book this part of your trip ahead of time though as its VERY pricey to buy on the day tickets. Once you have your time slot for the Burj worked out, your other travel plans can fall around this – see above you can easily spend a whole day just around the Dubai Mall and Downtown area. (Be prepared for crowds and queuing year round but especially over school and religious holiday times)
Dubai Miracle Garden – the world’s largest flower garden by total number of blooms is a mustn’t miss spectacle (winter months only), along with the neighbouring Butterfly Garden with its 9 huge domes home to over 2,500 butterflies that will happily fly around and perch on visitors.
Camel Races at Al Marmoom race track – enjoy the fun and excitement of this traditional Arabic sport – reviewed here by Tani from Our Big Dubai Adventure.
Dubai Global Village – over 70 countries are represented in this entertainment and shopping extravaganza over 36 pavilions. It is slightly bizarre, slightly overwhelming but such an eclectic place, almost worth it for the people watching alone. (Top tip – get in early, opening at 4pm in the winter months the the car park is enormous and late evenings especially weekends it gets manic – winter months only)
Dubai Garden Glow & Dinosaur Park – 2 parks in one see childhood favourites from another era brought to life in giant animated models that look and sound like the real thing! Then as the sun sets watch Zabeel Park come to life with glowing neon decorations in all shapes and sizes (winter months only)
The Green Planet at CityWalk is one of the newer attractions to arrive in Dubai – the cities first bio-dome with a virtual rainforest to explore.
Ski Dubai -indoor skiing? Why of course. Ok, so there’s a few of these around the world now but there’s still a huge novelty to being able to go skiing in the desert – many families take the kids here for some practice before heading overseas for the real thing. If you’ve already experienced the real thing, maybe not such a big thrill.
Relatively new to Dubai are the number or world class theme parks. 2016 is seeing some huge new openings with IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks & Resorts.
IMG Worlds of Adventure is made up of four zones covering Cartoon Network, Marvel, IMG Boulevard and Lost World. I’ve had mixed reports to far on what to expect from brilliant to OMG! and not enough for small children. It’s definitely more of an older kids and thrill seekers paradise, and being indoors is a huge added bonus.
Dubai Parks and Resorts in Jebel Ali (close to the Abu Dhabi border) houses three mega theme parks, a Legoland Water Park and a hotel and entertainment district. The flagship theme park for little kids is Legoland Dubai – including the world’s first indoor Mini World. Not to be upstaged you will also find a Bollywood Park and Motiongate (think your favourite Dreamworks characters). Still to come is a Six Flags adventure park -watch this space!GET YOUR LEGOLAND DUBAI TICKETS
Not sure which is best? We wrote this detailed theme park comparison article for British Mums to help you decide.
Culture, History, Parks & Desert
A moan I often hear when people talk of Dubai and the Emirates is “it’s all manufactured” “there’s no real culture” “it’s just a load of high rises and concrete”. Let’s see if we can change your perception once and for all. We wrote this detailed piece about traditional cultural experiences you can find in Dubai to hopefully dispell some of these myths and misconceptions.
For a bit more history and a feel of how things were in Dubai only decades ago, our mums recommend a trip to “old town Dubai” – Bur Dubai. For a good write-up of what to expect in Bur Dubai follow along with Walck this Way. Taking you from the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, across Dubai Creek in an open-air water taxi “abra”, then into Deira for the gold souk and spice souk.
It’s also well worth taking a walk around Bastakiya – also known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Located on the Bur Dubai side of Dubai Creek this is one of the most historic parts of Dubai. Dating back to the 1890’s the area original built by Persian merchants is now subject to a conservation and restoration order preventing any further demolition for new buildings. It’s now pedestrianised and an area filled with art, traditional perfumes, spice shops and teas. A great photo gallery of what to expect can be found on Explore with Mafaza.
Another great new find in the area thanks to Paula from And Then There Were Two is Wild Flight – a falcon and birds of prey sanctuary housed in the Juthoor Arts Center.
Dubai Creek Park and bird show comes recommended by Tarana from Sand in My Toes as a good inner city retreat – one of the older parks its still full of family entertainment, playparks, train rides, cable cars – even a newly added Dolphinarium. Tarana also recommends a trip to Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary to see flamingos and other wildlife, hard to believe it’s so close to the city but a wonderful little escape.
Other great family-friendly parks and open spaces are Zabeel Park and Safa Park (note parts of Safa Park are currently closed for the Dubai Canal Development works).
And finally, another slightly out of town and not well-publicised nature gem is Al Qudra lakes – described her beautifully by Abbey from Son and the Moon.
Best family hotels in Dubai
These are almost endless and covering all budgets in Dubai. Some of the more iconic hotels (though not necessarily cheap!) are Atlantis the Palm, or the Palace Downtown. A value for money pick for larger families is the Novotel Suites at Mall of the Emirates.
If you want to head out of the city for a luxury desert experience overnight there’s Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa and Bab Al Shams Desert Resort come recommended by readers (see Wandermust Family’s review) .
As a general search option for hotels we recommend using the incredibly powerful Hotels Combined – it will compare multiple hotel prices for you in one click – including the hotel direct!
For something really different, though still technically in Dubai, crossing over RAK for spectacular mountain views with larger family suites try JA Hatta Fort Hotel with several pools, mini golf, even archery on offer as well as spacious family rooms – could this really be part of Dubai??!
Tourism Board: Visit Dubai
Based over the Hajar Mountains (yes the UAE has mountains!) and taking you all the way to the Gulf of Oman, it will be hard to believe you left the bustling city of Dubai less than 2 hours behind. The rugged mountain scenery really sits in stark contrast to the cities and the change in landscape quite spectacular – the drive alone is an experience. We recommend any visitor to the UAE with enough time to incorporate a trip out to Fujairah for a little taster of what life once was in the UAE (before yes, of course, settling into your luxury chain hotel at the beach).
There are a couple of ways from the big cities to cross into Fujairah – either from the North taking the E87 if you are heading to Dibba Al Fujairah (the city of Dibba crosses over to Oman), or coming south there is the E84, the fairly new Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Freeway takes you directly to City Centre Fujairah – though note many of the popular beach resorts sit somewhere between the two!
Like much of the Emirates, yes the resorts are a real pull card for families, but a trip east will also reward you with a number of interesting historic sites to explore. Clara from My Yellow Bells recommends an itinerary should include a visit to Fujairah Fort and the Fujairah Heritage Museum (closed Saturdays). There’s also a smaller, but none the less still quite grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Abigail from Cuddles & Crumbs also recommends Al Hayl Fort (also known as Sheikh Abdullah Palace) as a good place to explore with the kids.
Pack your passports! Did you know the Emirate of Fujairah contains on enclave of Oman, Madha? And inside Madha, there is an enclave of Sharjah called Nahwa. No formal border crossings are in place – but an interesting tale to tell – more here for those who love their Middle East geography & history on why there are so many enclaves and unusual borders in and around the Gulf!
A note if you are heading to the north, the city of Dibba actually spreads across two countries – you will find Dibba Al-Baya in Musandam, Oman, whilst Dibba Al-Fujairah and Dibba Al-Hisn (Sharjah) are in the UAE. Jokes aside you will need a passport to explore the Omani side of Dibba! The area has a lot of archaeological significance and a popular spot in the cooler months for those who enjoy camping, wadi adventures and pristine beaches, boat excursions and deep sea fishing. Many companies run package excursions from Dubai if you are only after a highlights tour.
Best family hotels in Fujairah
The most popular accommodation choice we hear time and time again along the Gulf of Oman is Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort – soon to be reviewed with their new kids club! We’ve also heard neighbour Miramar Al Aqah caters well to larger families too. If staying in the north, we found Radisson Blu near Dibba to be good value with large rooms, a kids club and babysitting. Staying near Fujairah City? Clara from My Yellow Bells recommends Nour Arjaan by Rotana
Tourist Board: Fujairah Tourism
This could just be the hidden family travel gem you’ve been looking for?
RAK is the most northern of the Northern Emirates, before you get to the Omani peninsula. So what’s on offer? The beaches, for sure – I won’t stop going on about the amazing blue water in this country! But with its amazing landscape and rugged mountains, it’s also a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, particularly over the cooler winter months.
Arguably one of the most liberal of the Emirates, the jewel in the crown of Ras al Khaimah – affectionately known as RAK – is Marjan Island. Maybe not as famous as the Palms or the World in Dubai, this megalithic earthwork is home to several luxury hotel chains and set to be “the destination” for the rich and famous – or even ordinary folk like you and me! RAK is slowly being discovered by the international travel market as a less frenetic version of Dubai (but get in quick people before the word gets out to everyone!). And that sunset from Marjan Island! No trick photography here, they sky really lights up orange.
Did you know this is where you’ll find the UAE’s highest peak? At 6,266 feet it is a long and windy drive up Jebel al Jais, but several rest and viewing points along the way make it a rewarding experience for those who are prepared for the hour or so drive (I’d say pack the motion sickness tablets if the kiddies are prone to this though!). Here’s a review by Meg from Walck this Way on what to expect on a Jebel al Jais day trip.
So what outdoor activities are on offer? Those into 4×4 driving and dune bashing will enjoy the Awafi Desert. If you head to the mountains you will see rock climbing, abseiling, trekking, kayaking and many other activities on offer with Challenging Adventures LLC (yes they cater specifically for families). Mountain bikers may want to get in touch with Showka Bicycles to learn how to ride through the Hajar Mountain wadis, or horse riders get in touch with Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure Centre.
For more sedate outdoor enjoyment, you can try a desert safari to Bassata Desert Village – evening packages available to book through your hotels (as well as overnight stays but I have no feedback yet on whether these are family suitable). Heading to Banyan Tree Al Wadi you can catch a falconry show, as well as home to one of the most exclusive resorts and spas.
If you simply want to explore town, then new development Al Hamra Village may be where you want to start before strolling the Corniche (yes every city has one!) or seeking some greenery in Al Saqr Park. Out of town the mountain side Dahyah Fort is one of the most famous landmarks – dating back to the 16th century. After some more history? Go and explore the abandoned town of Jazirat Al Hamra – a glimpse of what to expect with Filipina Expat.
If you’re feeling brave maybe taking a Seawings plane over the mountains, or at many of the hotels enjoy their water sports programs including jet skiing, fishing, scuba diving, parasailing, and of course other favourite past times like golf you are well catered for with two world class courses.
And if you can’t get enough of water parks, yep RAK has one of its own too – Iceland Water Park. Does it have anything though that Dreamland just down the road in UAQ doesn’t, or the flashier newer water parks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?
Best family hotels in Ras Al Khaimah
This list actually becomes hard as it’s an area they excel in so well and clearly the target market for many of the resorts. You can’t go wrong with anywhere on Marjan Island. We personally recommend Hilton Doubletree Marjan Island as one of the most family-friendly resorts we’ve stayed in the UAE.
Other popular options include Waldorf Astoria, Marjan Island Resort & Spa (Managed by Accor Hotels) and the Rixos Bab al Bahr also come highly commended for families with spacious family suites and amenities such as kids clubs and vast swimming pools available. If you are staying on the mainland, Tasneem from Thoughts Over Chai recommends Hilton Al Hamra. If desert luxury is what you’re after look no further than Banyan Tree Al Wadi to tick all your boxes.
Tourist Board: Ras al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Nestled closely along Dubai’s eastern border, the two cities, in fact, merge into one another. Like the other major Emirates though, there is a lot more to Sharjah beyond the high rise and city. As well as being famous for its culture and museums, its nature reserve and conservation efforts are also a drawcard for families. Sharjah was crowned Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998 and Islamic Capital of Culture in 2014.
Amruta from Green Living Dubai previously wrote for Our Globetrotters her favourite family activities in Sharjah including the Wasit Wetland Nature Reserve and the Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Center. Khor Kalba, the largest mangrove in the UAE is also one of her recommended favourites – here’s a full listing of nature reserves in Sharjah.
Arguably one of the best places in the Emirates though to learn about desert life is Sharjah Desert Park – technical four attractions here in one hit; the Sharjah Natural History Museum, Sharjah Botanical Museum, Arabia’s Wildlife Centre and the Children’s Farm. You can read a review on a day outing here by Ginger & Scotch
In the heart of Sharjah, there are many historic and cultural sites to visit, all within relative distance to each other. Popular places to visit include Al Hisn Fort, Bait Al Naboodah, the Old Market, Sharjah Maritime Museum and Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization to name but a few! If you’re planning a busy schedule, here’s a listing of all Sharjah Museums and what to expect at each.
Sharjah is not without its beaches and parks that hold it in good stead with the bigger Emirates including Al Montazah Park – their flagship family entertainment destination, Sharjah National Park, the Al Majaz Waterfront with spectacular water features and al-Khan Beach being the most popular for visitors.
And not to be forgotten, Khor Fakkan – which is actually on the east coast of the Emirates and surrounded by the emirate of Fujairah! Its white sandy beaches and coral reefs attract divers, though it has just one beach resort, Oceanic Khorfakkan.
Best family hotels in Sharjah
Please note unlike the other Emirates, Sharjah is completely dry, hotels cannot serve alcohol, nor should you be driving through Sharjah with alcohol.
Tourist Board: Sharjah Commerce & Tourism Development Authority
Oh, Umm Al Quwain. You are just so… different! In stark contrast to its flashier neighbours on either side, in many respects, UAQ comes across as an emirate the decades left behind. One of the smallest and perhaps forgotten of the Emirates, could it possibly have anything to offer families?
Its big plus and I think most famous exploit from an expats point of view is the booze shop. Yes, Barracuda – an institution for many years as THE place to go and stock up on your duty-free grog – if you were willing to risk driving through the dry Emirate of Sharjah with your stash.
Has much changed? Well, there are far more alcohol shops in the other Emirates now for westerners who like to indulge. Those who want to stay around the Barracuda area though and make a weekend on a booze trip CAN. Here’s our review of our very unique weekend experiencing including Barracuda, Dreamland Waterpark (actually the largest water park in the UAE) and the, ah, very different Barracuda Beach Resort (you really have to see this one to believe it…). Of course throw in a few camels wandering on the side of the road and this pretty much sums up our one and only Umm Al Quwain experience.
Is there much else for families visit? Not really. With only small mentions of some early morning camel racing, bird watching, falconry and dhow building as local activities on offer (they don’t actually appear to have their own separate tourism board promoting these things), I’m afraid for most visitors this really is a pass through Emirate on your way to Ras al Khaimah or Oman.
Best Family Hotels in Umm Al Quwain
If you’re up for a bit of fun, do try the “glamping” at Dreamland Water Park – and I do genuinely mean this, it’s a great low-key way to finish a day of splashing fun is to roll straight into your own cabana with a camp fire set up for you. If you’re game, do try the two-star Barracuda Beach Resort next door, which on the plus side offers large two bedroom apartments and barbequing facilities, you could quite easily fit a larger group (I’d say 6-8) which value for money in the UAE you won’t beat!
Tourist Board: Not Available
Learning more about the UAE
Well done for reading this far (I warned you it was a bumper post!) If you haven’t already checked it out, pop over to our 15 Facts to Know Before Visiting the UAE post – some super helpful stuff here to help learn about the country, cultural respect and keeping kids happy.
Looking to live in the UAE? We have put this guide together for families coming to Abu Dhabi on a more permanent basis and how you can connect to the resources families need.
Looking for more budget-friendly family ideas? We love this post from Monsoon Breeze on “What to do in the UAE on a budget”
Do bookmark this page and check back before you travel to the UAE and see if we have any more great activities to add – and email us [email protected] if you have suggestions to add.
A note on UAE accommodation
Due to the extreme heat of the hot summer months, many of the luxury hotels offer HUGE discounts for booking between June to September. If you think you can handle the heat its the best way to make a saving on a UAE vacation with kids – but please bear in mind tips for keeping kids cool in the heat.
Like many destinations, it can be hard to book for a family of 5+. Hotel rooms are generally quite generous in size so I recommend finding accommodation that can fit 4 with existing bedding then adding a cot/sharing/use the sofa for additional children – read more on this issue in our interview with the National.
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Disclosures: This article contains affiliate links to hotels we have recommended from our personal experience and provided by fellow UAE family bloggers. If you book anything through these links it will cost you nothing more but may earn a small commission to help keep this blog running for free.
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