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On a cool day in December, Abu Dhabi temperatures tend to hover round 25˚, the sun shines almost endlessly, and you could easily forget it’s winter altogether.
If that sounds like a tempting alternative to the UK’s relentless chill, Etihad Airways now fly direct from London to Abu Dhabi, with a flight time of just over seven hours.
So what else about gloriously sunny, beachy, arty, and active Abu Dhabi might persuade you on a family holiday this winter? Not only is Etihad the national airline, the team are leading experts on just about everything, from fun island hopping to desert drama, fantastic festivals and the grandest of all UAE Grand Prix events.
Here are a few of their very good reasons to book a flight, swap grey skies for blue in a matter of hours, and discover what makes Abu Dhabi such an unforgettable experience for families.
Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s largest uninterrupted expanse of sand: the Rub al Khali desert. Whilst it might be known colloquially as the Empty Quarter, the fringes of this ever-changing landscape are packed with possibilities for junior explorers.
Guided dune walks at dawn sound wonderfully romantic, but they have plenty of kid-appeal too. More adventurous types can try camel trekking or falconry. And no one, of any age, should ever turn down the chance of an evening’s entertainment at a traditional Bedouin camp: the food is almost as enchanting as the vast, star strewn desert skies.
Sand is a bit of a feature down by the sea too, only here it takes the form of lovely white beaches trimming the Arabian Gulf. Naturally, you’re welcome to just lie in the sun. Although it’s hard to resist being a little active, when every water sport from extreme flyboarding to soothing kayaking is so readily available.
Most families find their own stretch of shore to love best, but Corniche Beach is a great place to start. Not only is it huge, and flawless enough to deserve a Blue Flag, it’s minutes from the city centre, and has a fantastic choice of waterfront restaurants too.
As of November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has opened to global acclaim. The stunning new site is worth a visit alone, whilst the collection brings the best of its Parisian sister museum to the region, bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art. This really is an unforgettable destination in the region.
Leave plenty of time to admire the architecture from the outside, and put aside at least a few hours to explore. The galleries combine works on loan from Paris, along with art and artefacts from the local region and other major international museums; so you might find one visit is not enough. Definitely take the kids along, as Louvre Abu Dhabi has a dedicated Children’s Museum.
Artistic coups aren’t limited to galleries in this attractive emirate. International performers play here all year round, and events like Beats on the Beach and the annual Yasalam Festival on Yas Island attract the likes of Calvin Harris, Coldplay and Rihanna – along with an audience of thousands too, of course.
If you need a moment to catch your breath, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is where to find almost perfect peace. With over 80 domes and 1000s of columns, it’s one of the city’s most stunning places of worship, and it also contains the world’s largest hand-woven carpet. All faiths are welcome here, but ensure you are dressed respectfully to enter.
Abu Dhabi is unique in many ways, not least of all because it’s built on an archipelago, so it’s the only emirate where you can really island hop. But if you only have time for one leap, make it on to Yas Island.
This is entertainment central, and where you’ll find Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the now legendary Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix every year in late November, alongside the fantastic annual Yasalam Festival. Seize the opportunity for a driving experience at the Circuit, or simply walk, cycle or run around the famous track – this is as close as you may get to taking part in the Formula One!
Miss those events, and you can always console the kids with a day at Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld or playing on gorgeous Yas Island Beach with its own infinity pool. Yas Mall is the second largest shopping mall in the UAE (which technically makes it one of the world’s biggest), and fun, even for young non-shoppers.
Yas is also home to some of the city’s greatest restaurants and boasts a spectacular marina which is not to be missed.