Family holidays in the United Arab Emirates don’t begin and end with the spectacle of astounding Dubai.
There are seven emirates in all, with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Kaimah top of the list for activities and general, all-round, kid-friendly excitement.
But transport’s excellent almost everywhere, so discovering an alternative – quieter – emirate, another style of beach or a completely different take on the ancient culture behind shiny, new UAE is very doable – even for a day or two.
Diret flights from major London airports to Dubai and Abu Dhabi put all seven emirates with easy reach.
Year round sunshine with summer temperatures climbing from 30-39˚C and average temperatures of 28˚C from November to March.
Home to the world’s biggest and tallest everything from indoor ski-slopes and hotels to shopping malls and manmade islands.
Glossy, modern cities with ancient and evocative historic quarters, old harbours and traditional souks.
A landscape of immense desert, dramatic mountains, white sand beaches edged by the warm, blue waters of the Persian Gulf.
Heritage festivals and local experiences combined with world-class theme parks, water sports, global festivals and events, designer shopping and internationally renowned restaurants.
One of the world’s greatest concentrations of luxury hotels, holiday apartments and villas and beach resorts.
Looking at opulent and glossy Abu Dhabi today it’s difficult to believe that, in the mid-1930s a mark of wealth here was a mud house instead of a palm frond hut. This is the capital of the UAE, where the all the extravagant development started in c.1967 and it’s thrilling. Spread across hundreds of Persian Gulf islands and dominated by impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi may not have any shabby homes left but its museums, historic markets and colourful local shops show heritage is far from forgotten. Surprisingly conservation conscious too, Abu Dhabi’s blissfully free of engine noise on its lovely beaches and one of the best emirates for wild desert adventure, hiking and guided treks.
Dubai is the UAE’s transport hub, home to the country’s largest airport and the world’s tallest skyline studded with record breaking buildings and legendary modern design. It’s where you’ll find gorgeous beaches all along the Persian Gulf, glamorous shopping malls, huge waterparks and enough astounding kids activities to fill a lifetime of family holidays. But there’s plenty history, heritage, art and culture to balance out the new in this energetic city. Ancient souks and pretty, traditional districts are tucked in the shadow of skyscrapers. The immense Hajar Mountains and endless desert are as untouched and mesmerising by slow, gentle camel train as they are by car, mountain bike or on foot. And from magical festivals to spectacular theatre, new art and innovative events, Dubai does everything in its great powers to entertain too.
Ras Al-Khaimah is less than an hour’s drive north of Dubai, shares a border with Oman and is a favourite holiday for UAE residents. Greener than its neighbours, with quieter beaches, pretty parks and a strong sense of heritage, RAK’s great fun for kids and the perfect emirate for making the most of desert and mountain magnificence – Jabal Jais, the highest Hajar peak dominates the skyline here. Traditional culture is celebrated here like nowhere else in the country so if you’ve promised everyone a night under the stars at a Bedouin camp, you can come good on your word.
No surprise to find almost everyone drives in the UAE and if you want to explore outside the cities, hiring a car is the best plan. Otherwise, taxis are inexpensive and most hotels and resorts will organise transport to attractions and airport transfers.