Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar: Which is the Best Middle East Stopover? 23

This is a guest post by Keri Hedrick of Baby Globetrotters.
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Who will win the battle as the best Middle East stopover city for families?

With three of the world’s largest long-haul airlines (Emirates, Etihad & Qatar Airway) competing for top spot in the airline race, it’s hard to find a flight from Australia to Europe that doesn’t stop at one of the modern mega-cities Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha.

If prices are working out around the same though, and you’re the type of person who loves to get out and explore rather than fly straight through, which might be the best stopover city for your family?

best middle east stopovers

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Let’s first talk about where they’re located and what is the same. 

Geographically, they are all within a few hundred kilometres of one another.  Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, its flashy brother is a separate Emirate about another 150kms down the road (though where one city starts and ends is blurry line). Doha is in neighbouring Qatar, by road about 6 hours away, but as the crow flies only about 300kms.

Both countries are Muslim nations, but with varying degrees of tolerance towards things like alcohol, physical contact, dress and behaviour. When travelling as a family these things really aren’t an issue (though young singles may want to read further on this topic to prevent causing offence or at worse landing themselves in jail).  You can read more on this topic and cultural matters to be aware of here.

The weather is similar between the three, with the summer months particularly May through to October being excruciatingly hot for most, but the cooler winter months an ideal retreat when much of the rest of the northern half of the world is well, pretty cold, dark and miserable!

All are desperate to win the hearts (and wallets) of a flourishing international audience, and keen to prove to the outside world that there is far more to the Middle East than just oil and sand.

Luxury hotels, amazing restaurants, shopping galore and desert safaris are readily available to visitors of all three.  Taxi transportation is cheap for visitors; sadly, road safety in general is rubbish for all three.

So when it comes down to what’s best for your family, aside from airfare price, I think it really comes down to how much time you have to spend and what sorts of things you enjoy the most.


I would say it’s a three-way tie; each have their own special districts and unique products. If anything will tip Dubai over the edge though it has to be Dubai Mall. There’s no way to describe it but megalithic! Complete with its own ice rink and aquarium its the largest by total floor space in the world.

For traditional shopping, Souq Wafiq in Doha provides the best atmosphere – although a rebuild – it’s as close as you’ll get to a traditional souk and gets my vote.  Dubai has its old town and souks too, but I’m not a fan (miserable hot, sweaty experience full of far too many hawkers, and too spread out and ill-defined – some love it though).

You can get a more modern shopping experience but with traditional design features at Souk Madinet Jumeirah in Dubai or the World Trade Centre in Abu Dhabi. Expect to pay full retail prices though.

best middle east stopover

Souk Madinet Jumeriah

Towering heights

Ok you’re going to have to win this one Dubai, hands down. I mean they did go and build the world’s tallest tower. (Ironic though Abu Dhabi has the last laugh as during the financial crisis when the Abu Dhabi emirate had to bail out Dubai, the under construction Burj Dubai got renamed the Burj Khalifa – after His Highness President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan).

best middle east stopover

Buri Khalifa

Abu Dhabi is of course not devoid of its own towering structures – the tallest is the World Trade Centre (ironically recently renamed to Burj Mohammad Bin Rashid in honour of the Ruler of Dubai…)  but the beautiful Observation Deck 300 on the 74th floor at Jumeirah Hotel, Etihad Towers is a must stop for visitors. Doha’s tallest claim to fame currently in Doha is the Aspire Tower – also known as the Torch Doha – but will be surpassed soon by two new constructions.

best middle east stopover

View from Observation 300

Thrill Seeker

I’m going to have it to Abu Dhabi on this one. The world largest indoor theme park Ferrari World with the world’s fastest roller coast Formula Rossa, alongside Yas Waterworld with the Middle East’s largest wave pool, all situated adjacent to the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

best middle east stopover

Ferrari World

Sure, Dubai will claim their indoor ski slope, Sky Dive Dubai, even the Leap of Faith at Aquadventure Atlantis the Palm but they can’t take it all!

Arts & Culture

Currently I really have to give this one to Doha. The Museum of Islamic Art is stunningly impressive and one of a kind, with a mix of temporary and permanent exhibits, one stop is not enough to take it all in! Also surrounded by the beautiful MIA Park which is a wonderful place to stretch little legs between flights and hosts frequent seasonal events throughout the year including the Doha Food Festival.

best middle east stopover

Museum of Islamic Art

Watch out though Doha, Saadiyat Island “the culture district” in Abu Dhabi is due to start opening its doors in late 2016. It will include a GuggenheimLouvre, the Zayed National Museum a maritime museum and performing arts centre.

And not to mention Abu Dhabi is home to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – this top rated attraction is a must see for UAE visitors. So much gleaming white marble, intricate design and detail, now the resting place of the founding father Sheikh Zayed and an active house of worship for thousands.

A longer stopover

Want more than a 1 or 2-day stop? The one is going to go to Dubai. Not just the largest of the three cities, but the best located for exploring all the Emirates has to offer.  You can still fit in a trip to the highlights of Abu Dhabi while staying in Dubai, as well as exploring the northern Emirates, and deeper into the desert, the oasis city of Al Ain, the Hatta Mountains.

The Airlines

Learn more about each of the airlines and what they have to offer for families here:

So, the only question left really is not will we even leave the airport?  It’s which one will you choose for your next stopover? 

best middle east stopovers

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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 toddlersontour (at) gmail (dot) com or go to my Contact Page.  You can view my Guest Post Guidelines HERE.

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About Keri Hedrick

Keri is an Aussie Expat who lives with her husband and three kids in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Having children has not stopped them exploring new cultures and travelling the world every chance they can. She started a blog BabyGlobetrotters.Net to help encourage other families they can travel confidently with kids, and enjoy it!

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