Think holidays to Abu Dhabi and you think dazzling architecture and record-breaking rollercoasters. But what’s most astonishing about Abu Dhabi is its culture. Not not only is it rich and diverse, in some places it’s older than anywhere else on earth. Yet almost everything appeals to kids. If that’s hard to believe, take a look at the list of family-friendly and fun cultural icons recommended by Experience Abu Dhabi.
Don’t miss Al Ain on family holidays to Abu Dhabi
Al Ain is a must do on holidays to Abu Dhabi. It’s one of the oldest permanently inhabited settlements in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the UAE’s only traditional Camel Markets, as well as impressive 19th century Al Jahili Fort.
Al Ain is fascinating, and extra appealing to kids because for every ancient element, there’s a fresh, new adventure to be had. It’s that clever balance of history and fun, woven through with art, Arabic customs and living culture which makes this one of Abu Dhabi’s most memorable experiences.
What to see and do in Al Ain with kids
- Imposing Al Jahili Fort hosts an exhibition which explains Sir Wilfred Thesiger’s mid-20th century exploration of Rub Al Khali.
- Visit Al Ain oasis for the traditional Camel Market, ancient irrigation systems and date palm plantations.
- Al Ain Zoo is home to more than 4000 animals and where kids can ride camels, feed giraffes and visit Elezba Petting Zoo.
- Al Ain Raceway features the longest go-karting circuit in the UAE.
- Go white-water rafting, ziplining, kayaking and surfing at Wadi Adventure.
- Recently restored Hili Fun City is the longest running theme park in UAE.
- Explore heritage arts and crafts, see artisans at work, and immerse in the atmosphere of evocative Al Ain Souk.
Safari the Arabian Wildlife Park on Sir Bani Yas Island
The World Travel Awards has previously named Sir Bani Yas Island the ‘World’s Leading Sustainable Tourism Destination’, and it’s easy to see why.
Not only is the island pristine and peaceful, the Arabian Wildlife Park covers over 80% of it. For kids, that means more than 10,000 indigenous African and Arabian animals roaming free as they would in the wild.
Although if you want to spot giraffes, viewing platforms add sustainable design to the nature. Alternatively you can safari with local guides in purpose-built, low-impact 4 x 4s. These immersive tours last several hours and, depending on times of day, you can see anything from Arabian Oryx to cheetah and hyena.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is another must-do on holidays to Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest, and extraordinary in every sense.
It was designed by a collective of architects and blends styles from several different eras of Muslim civilisation. You’ll also see design references from many Islamic countries including Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. However, it’s first and foremost an inspiring place of worship, where 40,000 people can come together at one time.
Visitors are welcome, one it’s one of the most popular Abu Dhabi sites. Although, if kids aren’t awed by the prayer hall and soaring domes, just point them in the direction of the world’s largest hand knotted carpet, that impresses everyone.
Go gaze at the art in the Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017, and was instantly recognised as a design masterpiece. It’s the first universal museum in the Arab World and covers 9200m² broken up into separate galleries. The permanent collection grows all the time and sits alongside temporary exhibitions, as well as loans from the Musée D’Orsay, Musée du Louvre and the Pompidou Centre.
It’s the first Louvre outside France and the only one with a Children’s Museum. Designed for under 12s, all exhibits are presented and aim to encourage kids’ natural curiosity and creative spirit. But to be honest, it’s mostly just an amazing adventure and great fun.
Make time for Falcon shows on holidays to Abu Dhabi
The Liwa Desert’s dunes are both immense and right on the edge of Rub Al Khali, the largest expanse of desert sand on earth. Then just add falcons and Saluki hunting dogs and you have one of the most exciting experiences you can have on holidays to Abu Dhabi.
Falconry & Saluki Shows put both skilled hunters through their paces and demonstrate why they’ve always been a part of traditional Arab life. And even if kids don’t fully get the cultural significance, they will be mesmerised by the sheer excitement.
Discover Al Dhafra ‘where the desert meets the sea’
Al Dhafra covers over half of Abu Dhabi and it’s both gateway to Rub Al Khali and home to a coastline which stretches for 100s of miles.
Several of the UAE’s best off-road experiences take place here and only the Sahara has higher dunes. So it’s also a natural for activities like sand skiing, sand boarding or extreme off-road driving.
If a visit isn’t immersive enough, families can stay at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. This opulent five-star, more oasis than hotel, sits surrounded by the endless Liwa Desert. Plus, families can look forward to a range of on-site cultural experiences such as camel trekking, falconry shows and dune hiking.
Getting to know Al Dhafra with your kids
- Al Dhafra is the gateway to vast Rub Al Khali.
- One of several UAE eco-systems recognised by the UN, Liwa Oasis contributes both to biodiversity and cultural heritage.
- Five-star Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, looks like an authentic desert fortress set within towering sand dunes.
- A famous region for festivals, like the Al Dhafra Festival which includes the world’s most prestigious Camel Beauty Contest.
7/8 Qasr Al Hosn
The oldest monument in Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn was built in 1790. It was originally a coastal watchtower designed to protect ocean trade routes and Abu Dhabi’s archipelago. However, in the mid-20th century an Outer Palace was added, and the simple watchtower became the remarkable building you see now.
Across the centuries, Qasr Al Hosn has had various functions: home to Abu Dhabi’s ruling family; a seat of government; a consultative council and the national archive. Today it’s a significant living museum and keeper of the UAE capital’s fascinating history. Don’t miss the excellent exhibition which uses a mix of oral testimony and photography to describe Abu Dhabi down the ages.
8/8 Arabian Nights Village, Al Dhafra
At Arabian Nights Village WIFI is emergency-only, so screen-keen kids have to find other distractions. That’s not difficult, because the charming desert settlement might be designed to give you an experience of authentic Bedouin life, but it also offers fat-biking and camel riding, dune surfing, desert safaris and quad biking.
Families can choose to stay in Bedouin tents or a dramatic desert fort, palm houses or historic Bayt Al Bar desert houses. All guests eat together at the delightful Al Maqam restaurant, and there’s a fabulous 200m² pool for cooling down during the day or swimming under the stars.
How to plan an Abu Dhabi family holiday
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Abu Dhabi take from 7 hours, 15 minutes. Etihad Airways flies daily from both London Heathrow and Manchester year-round.
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