Looking for a sunny winter escape? White-sand beaches, impressive architecture and singular cultural opportunities beckon in Abu Dhabi, the opulent capital of the United Arab Emirates. From the world’s fastest roller-coaster to meetings with falcons, families can find it all here. Hannah Freedman reports
Kids can meet favourite characters, such as Scooby Doo, or become mini-superheroes in Gotham City and Metropolis at Warner Bros World. Over at Ferrari World, brave the fastest roller-coaster in the known universe or train like Ferrari drivers in an F1 advanced simulator. To beat the heat, Yas Waterworld has everything from surf simulators to waterslides. From £55 for adults, £45 for children up to 1.1m, underthrees free, for one day in one world.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Everyone will be blown away by the grandeur and design of this mosque, often considered the ‘crown jewel’ of Abu Dhabi. Pro tip: visit just before sunset to see the mosque at prime golden hour and then watch as the sun goes down for equally striking night views. Book complimentary tours and check the dress code online before your visit.
Get friendly with birds of prey on a tour at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Learn the history of falconry, fun facts about the birds (for example: falcons used for hunting get their own passports) and even see a falcon have a pedicure. At the end of the tour, guests can hold the falcons – an experience kids won’t forget. Tours from £35 for adults and children 10 and over; £12.50 for ages 5-9.
With a dome designed to recreate dappled light passing through palm-frond roofs at an oasis, the stunning architecture of this museum is worth the visit alone. The art, which ranges from prehistoric artefacts to modern masterpieces, is laid out in an easily accessible chronological format. There are special audio guides for children, as well as a children’s museum. £12.60 for adults, £6.30 for ages 13-22, under-13s free.
Arabian Nights Village
It’s easy to forget that you’re in a desert while lounging on the beach or strolling the souks, but a tour of the Arabian Nights Village soon changes that. Slide down sand dunes, take a camel ride and savour traditional Arabic dishes, plus stay overnight and sleep like a (luxurious) desert dweller. Packages from £63 for adults, £42 for ages 7-12.
The Abu Dhabi Children’s Library
This innovative, exciting new library space for children opens in March 2019 and will be a fabulous place for visitors to mingle with locals. Inspiration for its immersive learn-and-play areas comes from pop-up books and it will have a ‘Book Mountain’ at its centre. Children can read about sand dunes, climb onto camels or huddle on four-wheel drives before heading out and doing the real thing.
On the sandy shore of Saadiyat Island, the Park Hyatt has access to the best beaches in all of Abu Dhabi. It also offers a family pool, an excellent kids’ club, roomy suites and villas, and activities that include wildlife walks and eco boat tours through the nearby mangroves. £170 per room per night.
Shangri-La, Qaryat al Beri
Conveniently located near the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and city centre, the Shangri-La offers classic arabesque style. Enjoy relaxing beach and garden views, sail down winding waterways around the hotel complex in traditional Arabic boats or take a dip in the pool. From £191 per room, per night.
Enjoy the beautiful beach and dazzling views of the pale blue waters from the private balconies while staying close to the action at Radisson Blu on Yas Island. From here it’s easy to visit the mall, Louvre museum, all the Yas Island theme parks and other nearby offerings. Plus, up to two kids under 12 stay with their parents for free. From £85 per room, per night.
This store is just for kids’ clothes, selling everything from shoes to jackets and party dresses. It specialises in designer items and stocks the latest seasonal trends – even the local royal family has been known to shop for their kids here, so you know you’re in good company.
Central Market Souk
Roam around this multi-storey market to find everything from authentic silk rugs to aromatic spices. The friendly shop owners are always happy to tell you a bit about the history behind their products, and it’s a great place to pick up trinkets and souvenirs or another scarf. Stop on the roof garden for a drink or snack.
In the UAE, malls are hot spots for hanging out and being seen. And, at Yas Mall, there’s plenty to do aside from shop, like Fun Works, a children’s entertainment centre filled with rides and play areas; a Lego Pop-In and Play zone; and even a climbing wall.
Buffets work well for hungry families. Head to Jing Asia at the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi-Yas Island, or head to Choices at Yas Island Rotana.
Jumeirah Etihad Towers
Enjoy high tea and mocktails while taking in the 360-degree views from 300 metres up at the 74th-floor Observation Deck.
Flame & Bake
For a quick, cheap bite, stop at any of this local chain restaurant’s locations and try the juicy shawarma.
The Emirates Palace
It doesn’t get more decadent than the Emirates Palace. Stop here for a truly rich treat. Kids will love the goldleafed ice cream, while parents can have a signature pick-me-up cappuccino, famously topped with 24-carat gold flakes.
How to get there
Etihad Airways flies direct from London from £430, and you can pre-book children’s meals and bassinets. There are even flying nannies on some flights and a family room for premium-class guests at the airport.
How to get around
Cars are the name of the game in the UAE. You can hire a car, from £130 per week, or most hotels will arrange taxis and transport to major sites.
Abu Dhabi is less conservative than you might think – shorts and T-shirts are acceptable in many public areas and bikinis are welcome at hotel pools. Pack lightweight, loose-fitting long trousers and shirts, as average winter temperatures are around 25°C. For women, add a scarf for your head to visit mosques and places with a modest dress code.