Family holidays to the Middle East

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Middle East – Family holiday guide

There’s no doubt it is one of the world’s most turbulent regions, but it’s also remarkably ancient and beautiful, covered in gorgeous beaches and resorts, filled with culture and safe to travel in many areas.

So where’s best to go and what should you see in the mesmerising Middle East?

Riding the sand dunes in the Arabian Desert

Riding the sand dunes in the Arabian Desert

Where to holiday with kids in the Middle East

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the United Arab Emirate’s capital built across 200 islands on the Arabian Gulf. Less than two hours south of Dubai, this is the city dominated by immense Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque rather than towering hotels. The gorgeous coastline is a protected conservation area so the beaches aren’t disturbed by noisier water sports (the quieter kind are plentiful). And, for every exciting attraction or glossy mall, there are museums, galleries, ancient souks, colourful food markets and local shops. The family resorts here are remarkable and Abu Dhabi’s traditions are well balanced by theme parks, waterparks and the desert adventure that’s second nature in this part of the world.

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How could Cairo fail to enchant kids?

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One of the Middle East’s richest countries, Qatar is also one of the newest to family holidays. But, visit the vibrant capital, Doha, and it’s difficult to imagine you aren’t in the company of a veteran. This is the city with acre upon acre of beaches, outstanding luxury resorts and a range of fun attractions good enough to give old-hands like Dubai stiff competition. And even a lack of ancient history doesn’t disconcert Doha, it simply makes up for monuments with fine museums, interesting galleries and heritage experiences from traditional sailing to falconry.

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Dubai is dazzling. It’s the city for the world’s biggest and tallest everything from shopping malls to ski-slopes and luxury hotels. Few places have a more instantly recognisable skyline and nowhere else is so powerfully associated with ostentatious wealth and opulence. Visit and get to know the city a little better and beneath the glitter you have gorgeous beaches, the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, ancient markets and traditional wooden sail boats on the enchanting creek. And no matter how high Dubai builds, nothing manmade can ever compete with its magnificent desert landscape and the imperious beauty of the incredible Hajar Mountains. High-energy, low key or a bit of both? Dubai is an all-round thrilling family holiday.

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From the dramatic Musandam Peninsula in the north to the famous blooming deserts of the south, Oman’s subtle charm is perfect for family holidays. The capital, Muscat, is bustling and lively, not short on malls and dramatic architecture but equally admired for its historic port, traditional souks and elegant, sweeping corniche. Less than half-an-hour south, holiday villages like Barra al Jissah have all you want from Arabian Gulf resorts in terms of luxury hotels, fantastic water sports and fun activities. But mixed in with the shiny and new are delightful distractions like dolphin and whale spotting, turtle farms, heritage villages, wild wadi swimming and eco-adventures in ruggedly magnificent.

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Ras al Khaimah

The most northerly of the Arab Emirates, RAK is 45 minutes by road from Dubai and shares many of its neighbour’s finer qualities: lovely beaches, year-round sunshine and resort islands and villages with every luxury detail down to a fine art. But where Dubai is all shine, RAK is the emirate with more history and heritage, the highest mountains and considerably less development. Here you can go dune-bashing, jet-skiing and extreme driving if you want. Or you can just as easily spend a night in a Bedouin camp watching Sufi dancing, trek across the desert on stately camels and watch traditional falconry in the heart of a lush, green oasis – RAK is more famous for parks and mangrove forests than skyscrapers.

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United Arab Emirates

There is often confusion about which locations make up the UAE; in fact the country is made up of seven emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula. Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain are each ruled by their own sheikh, whose own attitudes and beliefs strongly affect the culture of each emirate. Dubai is often known as the most liberal and modern of the regions, whilst the largest, Abu Dhabi, is very conservative. The weather across the UAE is almost always sunny, with winter temperatures a pleasant 15-27 C. In the summer though it can become unbearably hot, with the heat reaching above 50 C; it is not unusual for locals to get air-conditioned taxis even for the shortest of journeys! The UAE has an extremely low crime rate, making it an ideal place to visit with children. There are many wonderful and unique experiences on offer, such as desert safaris and traditional camel treks. Flight time from the UK is around seven hours.

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