The United Arab Emirates in the Middle East is the perfect destination for a good mix of sun and Arab culture whilst being modern and family friendly. Often a stopping point for families traversing the globe, if you’re flying Etihad, it’s quite likely you’ll be touching down in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps lesser known than its neighbouring Dubai, the capital is a thriving city that offers its own perks. You can be practically anywhere within the city in under 30 minutes, the traffic and crowds are more manageable and it has it’s own assortment of attractions and activities fit for the entire family.
Here is the perfect 5 day itinerary for a family holiday in Abu Dhabi
After a good night’s sleep, head over to Etihad Towers on the Corniche. From inside the Jumeirah Hotel you’ll take the elevator to Observation Deck 300 on the 74th floor for sweeping views of the city. It’s a great way to get your bearings and unparalleled views of Emirates Palace and the Sheikh’s palace. Your ticket price gives you cash back to use at the café so before you leave, order a pastry and a drink.
Once you’ve refueled, descend and cross the street to the bike stands on the Corniche. There are plenty of options (single, double, 4-seaters and children’s bikes) to rent and you can cycle your way down the boardwalk. When the kids need a break, cross the street to one of the many playgrounds. You can deposit your bike at another stop before heading back to your hotel for a late afternoon swim and dinner.
Sleep in, take a leisurely breakfast and spend the day at the pool and beach. Perhaps the kids will want to check out the kids club so you can pop into the spa or read a book in peace.
In the late afternoon, you’ll make your way to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for the 4:45 free tour. It’s about an hour long and offers a lot of insight into the making of the Mosque and Islam. If you don’t think your kids are up for it, you can peruse the mosque on your own. (Do check the website in advance for dress codes and visiting etiquette. Abayas are provided on site and are free of charge for women at the entrance. Although not always necessary if you’re appropriately covered, you’ll be directed to wear one if not.) Stick around for the early evening call to prayer and sunset (or jump across the highway to Wahat Al Karama for fantastic views of the mosque and a great photo opportunity.)
Afterwards, go over to the Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton hotel for a traditional dinner at Al Fanr. Choose one of the outdoor tables with floor seating for an authentic experience (but you might want to reserve ahead in the busy season.)
Today is dedicated to the brand new Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. Choose whether you’d like to go at opening (10 am) or later afternoon but buy your tickets online and have your hotel print them to save time at the entrance. Check out Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Ai Weiwei but the real stunner is the building itself. There is a children’s museum geared towards 6 and up but all ages will enjoy stretching their legs in the atrium under the impressive dome.
Depending on when you visited, stop in at the Park Hyatt up the road for either Lunch or Dinner at The Beach House (I hear sunset is gorgeous.) You might also want to reserve a table ahead of time, particularly on weekends. If that’s not in the cards, jump over to the Collection at the St Regis. Shakespeare & Co is particularly kid friendly but the Indian and Lebanese are fantastic as well. All options allow you to eat outside with safe spaces for the kids to run around.
Whether you need a break from the sun or you’re looking for a little retail therapy combined with rollercoasters, today you’ll go to Yas Mall. Arguably the nicest mall in the city, you’ll find shopping for all budgets here.
Ferrari World is also attached for the adrenalin junkies in your crew but it’s best geared for older children. For the younger members of your family, try out FunWorks. There is a soft play toddler room in the back and those 2 and up will love the massive climbing structure in the centre. There is also a cinema and a host of dining options throughout the mall.
You are back in the sun today for a really fun day at Yas Waterworld. The water park is great for all ages and you’ll easily spend hours between the toddler splash parks and the larger slides.
If you aren’t too tired you’ll dress up for a dinner out on Al Maryah Island at the Galleria Mall. Home to luxury shopping and some of the best restaurants in the city, you really can’t go wrong with what you choose here. I’d suggest Loca (Mexican) for great food and a fun atmosphere. (The red lights around the booths make great racetracks for small cars.) We also love Nolu’s (California-Afghani fusion that sounds bizarre but is so delicious.) There are great views of downtown Abu Dhabi and a nice little boardwalk outside for kids to stretch their legs. (The under 5s might enjoy an hour at Caboodle – a small play place inside the mall to get all of those wiggles out before dinner.)
Abu Dhabi is full of activities and we’ve hardly scratched the surface.
If you’re staying a little longer or want a few more ideas, here are some other options:
- Arabian Nights Village – arrange a day trip out to the desert. Depending on the ages of your kids, you might go dune bashing, ride camels or just enjoy a dinner under the stars and in the sand.
- Emirates Palace – book in for lunch at one of the restaurants to check out the amazing property. It is possible to visit without reservation however people have been known to be turned away when it gets busy and if not adequately dressed.
- The Souk – pick up your souvenirs and typical Middle Eastern wares at the World Trade Centre Souk.
- Masdar City – check out Abu Dhabi’s sustainable city. Take the driverless cars from the parking to the city and grab a meal at Jim’s Kitchen Table. The food is great and it’s very family friendly with a small play area at the back of the restaurant. It might also be worth stopping at Masdar’s brand new playground afterwards.
- Eastern Mangroves – go for a meal at one of the restaurants and rent a donut boat to explore the mangroves.
- Saadiyat Public Beach – if you find yourself at a hotel without a beach but want to check out one out, head to Saadiyat. It is the city’s best beach. You pay an entrance fee and towels, chairs & umbrellas are for rent. There are a couple of food stalls and there are bathrooms with showers and change rooms.
- Umm El Emarat Park – Abu Dhabi’s Central Park has a few playgrounds and a small zoo and splash park for children. There are a couple of casual restaurants inside and on Saturdays, the Ripe Market takes place and is a really nice atmosphere.
- Day Trip to Dubai – Dubai is only an hour and a half up the road. Ask your hotel to arrange a driver for the day.
Local Insider Tips
- Stop in to a Carrefour or LuLu hypermarket to stock up on diapers, snacks and anything else you might need for your stay.
- Breastfeeding in public is not a problem but you should use a cover. Most malls have a spot near the restrooms or in the baby change stall for nursing if you’d rather but ladies prayer rooms are also an option – just remember to remove your shoes and be respectful of the women coming and going.
- Most restaurants will do takeaway. If you download Zomato, you can order food from hundreds of restaurants via the app and it’ll be delivered right to your hotel. The options are endless – from burgers to curries to steak – and might be a welcome change from your hotel restaurants and dining out with kids.
- While it may be hot outside, everywhere else is air-conditioned. For warmth and to be respectful of the conservative culture here, have a cardigan or scarf on hand and leave your beachwear for the beach.
When To Visit
Abu Dhabi experiences an arid, desert climate with sunshine almost year-round, save for a week here and there in the winter. It is best to avoid a trip to the UAE during the summer months (May through September) as temperatures rarely dip below the mid thirties and can reach daytime highs of 50 degrees Celsius. It’s uncomfortable and almost everyone spends their time inside amongst the air conditioning. You should also consider the timing of Ramadan, the month long fasting for Muslims worldwide. While non Muslims won’t be required to fast during daylight hours, you will not be able to eat or drink in public and many restaurants remain closed until sunset. For me, November and April are the best months to visit but the months in between are mostly pleasant as well.
Where To Stay
If your main prerogative is to spend your holiday on the beach and your budget allows it, certainly the St Regis Saadiyat or the Park Hyatt are your best bets. Both welcoming to families, located on the best beach in town and a mere 15 minutes from downtown, you can’t beat it. You might also consider the Fairmont with its fantastic views of the Grand Mosque.
Mid-range options include the Radisson Blu on Yas Island, with Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World and Yas Mall at your doorstep or the Beach Rotana in the centre of the city and also attached to Abu Dhabi Mall for easy access to restaurants & shops. If you are looking for the ultimate in Middle Eastern luxury, the world’s most expensive hotel, famous for it’s gold vending machine, gold leaf cappuccinos and million dollar Christmas tree, Emirates Palace has a beautiful beach, waterslides for the kids and a great location.
Also check out Jay’s Day in the Life of a Mom in Abu Dhabi feature, where you will find more inspiration for your trip to Abu Dhabi.You can follow our adventures on Instagram or her blog, From There To Here.
Yas Waterworld Photo Credit with Permission from Meg-Made