Forget the resorts, Yas Island is where it’s all happening in Abu Dhabi!
Finally, we have a complete go-to destination for family adventure and activity – and my luck its right here on our door step in Abu Dhabi – in fact, it’s only 10 minutes from Abu Dhbai Intertnational Airport and just over an hour from Dubai International Airport.
When we arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2012 they only reason we would go to Yas Island let’s be frank was for setting up home – a giant IKEA and Ace hardware dominated the landscape of convoluted roads and traffic lights. Oh yes, there was that Grand Prix track that opened in 2009 along with a bunch of hotels and a giant police station – were they expecting a crime wave?
Slowly, over the time we have lived here things have changed; almost a sense of community is forming, culminating with the opening in November 2014 of the long-awaited Yas Mall.
Exploring Yas Mall
Now you’re probably thinking ‘just what the Middle East needs is another bloody mall’: but I have to say this feels different, I’m impressed! You normally wouldn’t hear me wax lyrical about a shopping centre but even by Middle East standards (when the thermostats stuck over 35 degrees much of the year you kinda become a professional at this stuff) this one is pretty good.
Once you’ve navigated the entrances and found your favourite parking spot it really is a breath of fresh air, light, absolutely packed full of shops and restaurant choices. For the kids there are loads of exciting features including a giant Toy Store, Hamleys, a Lego Concept store, chain upon chain of leading children’s brands, a giant FunWorks and Vox 20 screen cinema including 4D.
Plenty of big brand restaurant names like Shake Shack and Cheesecake Factory – even a Rogo Restaurant where your food arrives on a roller coaster. Some family favourites include Giraffe and if you like your spices, Lemongrass. (Psst – see our Entertainer special offer below!)
The icing on the cake though has to be the giant slide inside Virgin Megastore, hours of free fun!
Theme parks & water fun on Yas Island
Plenty exists beyond the shopping centre though, I’ve digressed!
Yas Waterworld is truly up there on a world-class scale for water theme parks – it comes with a price tag though so try get hold of discounted entry vouchers, or if you’re living in the UAE without a pool at home it’s almost certainly worth an annual pass. With 43 rides apparently to choose from there’s also splash parks for children of all ages (even the really tiny tots have their own slides), along with a wave pool, lazy river and a whole stack of rides for the adrenaline seekers – though I can confess to not having tried them, being pregnant or with small babies the whole time I’ve lived here. Ok and I’m just a big sissy.
Ferrari World sits as the colourful centre-piece of the Island with its bright red roof and Ferrari logo visible from miles above. It is the world’s biggest indoor air-conditioned family theme park and reportedly has the fastest roller coaster in the world . I am yet to visit as my little globetrotters are too short for most of the rides (and refer sissy comment above). Again it comes with a price tag but you can easily get a hold of two-for-one vouchers, or combined tickets with Waterworld and make a whole weekend of it (look out especially for summer sales). It’s also very easily accessible direct from Yas Mall for your further air-conditioned comfort year round!
Sporting Events on Yas Island
Now let’s not forget the Yas Marina Circuit itself, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each November. I had the pleasure of attending the main race last year – my first grown-up night out after the arrival of Master J – and I had a brilliant time, meeting people from all over the world and getting to see The Who on stage track (for a bunch of 70-year-olds they rocked it!).
For those thinking of having kiddies in tow, some people did have very young children there and the Formula 1 cars are quieter now than in the past, but nonetheless I wouldn’t recommend taking your our globetrotters there until they can comfortably wear noise-cancelling headphones, it’s very loud for delicate ears – maybe 5+ is best?
If you don’t make it in November (when the weather is just superb) there’s still the opportunity to experience laps of the track in a race car (at a price!) throughout the year, or how about try the KartZone inside the track?
Nearly every Tuesday #TrainYAS operates where you can walk, run or cycle around the 6km or 3.5km circuits (a ladies-only version #GoYAS runs on Wednesdays but you thought the diving was bad here, wow – watch out for those Wednesday cyclists!). Sunday sessions at the track have also been introduced. Entry is free through gate 20 – all ages attend, including lots of little ones in bike trailers!
Where to stay on Yas Island
Coming from far or abroad there’s a wide range of hotels to choose from including Crowne Plaza, Rotana, Radisson Blu and the glittering, crowning jewel Yas Viceroy which actually straddles the Grand Prix track. All the hotels come with a wide range of restaurants and bars to choose from; we were impressed with the magnificent Christmas Day brunch put on by Origins at the Viceroy – complete with kids club, bouncy castle and Santa doing a few laps of the track!
Other Yas Island attractions
As for other facilities and activities on the island, there is the beautiful Yas Marina where you can look out on the lifestyles of the rich and famous while having lunch at one of the numerous restaurants and bars. During the cooler months, an outdoor market runs on a Saturday complete with play park, bouncy castle and water fountains (bring spare clothes!).
Mr Globetrotters gives a huge thumbs up to the incredible Yas Links championship golf course (and Hickory’s restaurant at the clubhouse is a great family-friendly choice too). For a wonderful wide open space for kids to ride bikes and scooters, go for a run you can’t so past Yas Gateway Parks (North & South). There’s also Yas Beach shared by the hotels and open to the public (with charge), two concert and entertainment venues and a giant nightclub – the list honestly goes on!!
Globetrotters Recommend Yas Island
Undoubtedly there is a lot to see and do now on Yas Island making it a true tourist destination in its own right – but downtown Abu Dhabi is only 30 minutes away if you want to combine a visit to the Capital and a little more old-style Middle East culture, including the Shiekh Zayed Grand Mosque. It may not be a ‘traditional’ island holiday but if you are looking for something to keep the whole family entertained for a few days at almost any time of year, it might just fit the bill.
Note a number of the attractions and restaurants listed here have 2-for-1 vouchers available with The Entertainer. We are proud to be affiliates of The Entertainer and can offer our readers a 10% DISCOUNT off the purchase price of any full-price Entertainer product bought online (Please use GLOBETROTTER10 at checkout). Note we do receive a small commission for this which doesn’t impact on how much you pay but keeps this blog running as a free family travel resource.
Have you visited Yas Island? What are your favourite ‘must do’ family experiences?
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If you are planning a trip to the UAE you might want to read our Family Travel Guide – 15 Important Things to Know Before Visiting the UAE, and check out our Discover the UAE page for more destination ideas suitable for all the family.
© Our Globetrotters