This is a guest post by Keri Hedrick who writes Baby Globetrotters. Today she is sharing her favourite places to visit with kids in Abu Dhabi.
Keri is an Australian expatriate mum of three under six, who currently lives in Abu Dhabi. Keri works as a freelance writer and blogger at Baby Globetrotters.
Most people know about the glitzy and glamorous city of Dubai, but much less is known about its big brother down the road, Abu Dhabi, which is actually the capital of the UAE and the largest of all the Emirates (also the one with all the oil!).
More than just a stopover point when you’re flying with Etihad, let me introduce you to some of the great activities there are for young children in and around Abu Dhabi, a very family friendly city keen to impress its visitors on a grand scale.
What to do with Kids in Abu Dhabi
The starting point for most visitors to Abu Dhabi is this wonderful golden stretch of sand in front of the city skyscrapers called the Corniche. There are now several public beach areas perfect for families with chairs and shade facilities along the water front (as well as some privately owned beach resorts belonging to big hotels if you want to splash out). Entrance to some areas of the public beach are charged for at 10dhs just to keep it clean and nice for families. At the end of 30th street there’s a collection of restaurants, take outs and ice-cream stalls as well as a play park. The more adventurous may want to hire bikes or pedal cars and cycle the Corniche.
Across the road from the main beach, there is a long strip of parkland (accessible by a number of underground tunnels) with loads of different play parks for different age groups, as well as a splash park area, perfect for cooling off in the heat – very popular with locals in the evenings but plenty of equipment to go around here (rather than the quite small one on the beach itself).
Though perhaps not on the same scale as the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Abu Dhabi does have its own share of impressively tall towers, including one with a visitors viewing deck – Observation Deck at 300 in Jumeirah Hotel, Etihad Towers. You will see a refreshingly different landscape in Abu Dhabi, a lot more greenery, more spectacular palaces – including the megalithic new Presidential Palace – marinas and the stunning blue waters of the Arabian Gulf. More than just an observation deck, morning or afternoon teas is included in your ticket (under 3’s are free). While you’re sipping away, rest assured the kids will be entertained with the action down below and the staff are incredibly accommodating of little people being there despite the quite luxurious setting.
Catch some greenery
The city is slowly but surely opening up more beautiful green spaces to meet the high demand for residents and visitors alike. Most of our visitors to Abu Dhabi comment that compared to other Middle East cities like Dubai and Doha, Abu Dhabi appears much greener.
We can’t wait to check out the newly open Mushrif Central Gardens which includes some amazingly gardens and a fabulously designed children’s play area where kids can splash about in a wadi as well as traditional play equipment (bring your towels!). There’s also a botanical garden with shade house, an animal barn, an evening garden that spectacularly lights up at night and an enormous amphitheatre. This will definitely become a favourite relaxation spot for us when the weather cools again.
There are two great Zoo options for animal lovers in the Abu Dhabi Emirate.
Just outside of Abu Dhabi, approximately 10 minutes from the airport is Emirates Park Zoo. Perfectly designed for younger children, they can gain a really interactive hands on experience here with animals ranging from zebras and giraffes to smaller domestic animals, monkeys, a reptile house and bird aviaries. There are options to buy animal feed at the door too which the children love, walking around and enticing the animals to come closer.
On a much grander scale, if you venture outside of Abu Dhabi only an hour and a half away you will find Al Ain Zoo -a 400 hectare wildlife park with over 4000 animals. Beautifully spaced out and with appropriate species you would expect to see in the hot climate (though the indoor penguin enclosure does come as a surprise), it is well worth the longer drive out-of-town where you can feed giraffes, catch the miniature train admire the monkeys or watch the rhinos roam. Be warned it is big! You will definitely want to pack your strollers.
Take a step back in time
If you are making the trip out to the oasis city of Al Ain, make it an overnight adventure and also check out Hili Fun City. A feel of theme parks from yesteryear you can be mistaken for thinking perhaps it’s been abandoned! Not open until later in the day (trap for new players who might be considering an early start to the day), the park springs to life in the afternoons and evenings with thrill rides to suit all ages even from quite small tots through to teenage thrill seekers. Opening times vary so check beforehand and get in early to have the park basically to yourself – though on a quiet day this can mean they alternate which rides are open.
Yas Island – “the prime entertainment and leisure destination”
An ideal way to explore Abu Dhabi is to stay on Yas Island. A man-made island, not only does it annually host the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each November, it is absolutely packed full of family friendly activities. It boasts the world’s largest indoor theme park – Ferrari World (though most rides are too small for my munchkins so I have yet to go and review!) as well as the mighty impressive water park Yas Waterworld which has 45 rides! There are three play areas designated specially for kids (all the way down to babies) as well as a big wave pool, a lazy river – perfect for your water lovers even in the summer you can still chill out here.
The island also boasts the huge Yas Mall where kids can enjoy a number of free activities like toy demonstrations in the mega-sized toy shops Hamleys and The Toy Store. At a fee there is a giant Fun Works indoor entertainment centre including soft play – great for hot days where you need somewhere cool to escape to, but our favourite free entertainment here is the slide inside the Virgin Megastore.
A little culture?
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has recently been voted number one attraction not only in the UAE but the Middle East by TripAdvisor readers. It’s a truly spectacular structure and one of the first buildings you will pass on your welcome to The Capital from the airport or Dubai. There are no specific activities for kids but it’s not to be missed on your agenda, hopefully they will be as awed as you are and enjoy seeing the grown-ups dressed in abayas or kanduras (local tradition dress that can be borrowed for free if you’re not fully covered, all the way to wrists and ankles).
Something a bit more out of the ordinary?
The Emirates National Auto Museum, based less than an hour drive outside the capital (but basically the middle of nowhere in the desert!) sits inside a rather odd-looking pyramid. In it is housed Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamndan Al Nahyan’s personal motor collection – almost bordering on eccentric! You will see a Dodge Truck housing a four bedroom apartment, the world’s biggest caravan, as well as a huge array of luxury vehicles, four-wheel drives and even your every day cars in every color of the rainbow. A must see if you have some little motor enthusiasts in your family!
There is still a load more to come from Abu Dhabi – it is a city constantly under construction and keenly trying to build its image as a family friendly tourist destination. Starting from 2016, the cultural district on Saadiyat Island will start to open which will house a Guggenheim Museum, The Louvre, a performing arts centre and the Zayed National Museum. Just up the road on the Abu Dhabi/Dubai border, Dubai Parks & Resorts group are building a giant theme park complex that will include Legoland, Bollywood Parks and Motiongate – only a 30 minute car journey from Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Extra tips for visiting the UAE with young kids
If you are planning your first trip to the Emirates, don’t forget to check out the visitors guide on Baby Globetrotters for some of the customs and etiquette, especially if you’re visiting during the holy month of Ramadan.
The summer months can be incredibly hot but between mid-October to mid-March the weather is great and a perfect time to visit.
You will find accessibility in some parts of down town challenging with strollers, but most of the time you will likely go straight from one air-conditioned car or building to the next.
Seat belt laws are non-existent so either hire a car with infant seats as an extra, or bring your own to be sure if you are planning on catching taxis.
Which activity would your family enjoy seeing?
Tell me in the comments.
If you would like to write a guest post for Toddlers on Tour sharing your experiences, photos and tips for travel with kids in your favourite destination please send me an email to email@example.com or go to my Contact Page.
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