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12 hidden gems for families in Abu Dhabi

If you are looking for places to visit in Abu Dhabi with family, you are in for a treat. The UAE's bustling capital is not just about massive malls, sports cars and luxury resorts; there is also plenty of family-friendly nature, art and entertainment activities to explore!

There are lots of kids activities, from famous museums and magnificent mosques to desert safaris and beautiful mangroves. We have rounded up 12 hidden gems in Abu Dhabi that will bring immense joy to not just families but friends and even solo travellers.

Culture

1. Qasr Al Hosn

Qasr Al Hosn retains the essence of Emirati history and culture. It is home to the oldest standing building in Abu Dhabi—the Watchtower, constructed in 1760—as well as the Inner Fort (1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45). Keen young sketchers can put pencil to paper here and artsy ones will relish the photo-worthy scenes. This exquisite national archive is sure to delight all ages. 

Before heading out, stop at the House of Artisans where traditional Emirati arts and crafts come to life. Here, you can soak up the opportunity to try your hand at a number of ancient techniques. And remember to experience the highly-engaging Cultural Foundation

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2. Heritage Village

Visiting Heritage Village is a great way to learn about the way of life that once existed in the UAE. This reconstructed village features a souk, mosque, dhows and a traditional fort, originally built to ward off invaders from the sea. Kids will be fascinated at the barasti (traditional palm-leaf houses), the ox-drawn well and the falaj (an ancient irrigation system), which still works today in Abu Dhabi's garden city of Al Ain! Artisans demonstrate their craftsmanship here too, like pottery, weaving and glass blowing. You may even have the opportunity to get involved!

2. Heritage Village

3. Abu Dhabi Children's Library

A day at the Abu Dhabi Children’s Library is a great way to mix fun with learning. The library which is situated in central Abu Dhabi, has a design inspired by the diverse landscapes of the UAE. That means everyone from toddlers to teens can choose to kick back and read their favourites on soft faux sand dunes or explore new reads on Book Mountain. This impressive space is loaded with literature suitable for all ages and plenty of activities to make for an enjoyable day out.

4. Bait Mohammed Bin Khalifa

After an extensive conservation programme, the historic Bait Mohammed Bin Khalifa was beautifully restored as a community space for the public. Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Ain, you can explore the building and enjoy the permanent exhibition on display—a deep dive into the home’s history and its surroundings from over 60 years ago.

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Adventure

5. KidZania

Talking to kids about the real world is one thing, but showing them how the real world works is an interesting situation; but visiting Kidzania Abu Dhabi is probably the best way to do that! One of the most unique places for kids in Abu Dhabi, this vibrant, interactive mini-city is designed for ages 3+ and it has everything - petrol stations, supermarkets, fast food joints and even crime scenes. Combining role play and fun all into one, this is one place that you have to tick off the itinerary. They even have their own currency called kidZos!

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6. Desert Safari

A high-speed trip through the Empty Quarter, the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass, is the experience of a lifetime. Kick off with adrenaline-inducing dune bashing across the vast slopes, try a camel ride, sandboard or quad bike, marvel at the glorious desert sunset and spend the evening at a traditional Bedouin camp where you'll savour freshly grilled Arabic food. The evening’s entertainment also includes belly dancing shows and henna for the guests. Desert Rose Bedouin Desert Camp offers return transfers from your hotel for day and overnight trips.

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7. Bounce

Bounce Abu Dhabi guarantees fun for the whole family or groups of friends. This indoor trampoline park includes a variety of activities and arenas that will make you sweat. Freestyle jumpers can hop their way into the Free-Jump Arena while the ballers head to  Slam Dunk and Dodgeball. Then there is Performance, where jumpers can perfect their skills, and the Big Bag for the jumpers willing to scale the heights. And if you want to get rough, try the wall runner at The Wall or the obstacle course at X-Park. Last but not least, try some ziplining, quick dropping and speed sliding.

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Nature

8. Al Ain Zoo

A trip to the Al Ain Zoo is an Abu Dhabi-must. Home to over 4,000 animals, you can experience several fun activities like penguin feeding, the lemur exhibit, parrot show, reptile encounter, horse and camel rides, a birds-of-prey show and much more. Pop in at the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre where you will learn about how the UAE has been preserving our precious natural environment.

Book an Al Ain Safari tour for an unforgettable hour-long journey across 217 hectares of land along the base of the majestic Jebel Hafit mountain. Safari guides will share their knowledge of the ecosystem and their conservation efforts, and will ensure you get to see as many animals as possible, including lions, white rhinos, zebras, giraffes, and wildebeest. Cap it the day off with a gourmet dinner under the stars and on the edge of the lion territory.

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9. Jubail Mangroves

Jubail Mangrove Park is Abu Dhabi's first self-contained educational, nature and leisure destination, and the ultimate avian, marine and mangrove sanctuary. This is the ideal spot to learn about biodiversity as well as the ecological importance of mangrove habitats. As you stroll along the extensive boardwalk, you will be treated to sights of flamingos, herons, fish, foxes and more. It is the ideal spot to reflect or sit back and take pictures.

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10. Sir Bani Yas Island

One of eight islands making up the desert islands of Al Dhafra, Sir Bani Yas Island offers everything you need for a day of fun. For watersports, head to Desert Islands Watersports Centre where you can sail, snorkel, dive or kayak through the pristine waters of the wildlife reserve, or take a relaxing sunset cruise. 

Hop on a 4x4 safari with expert guides for a breathtaking tour of the Arabian Wildlife Park. The reserve is home to some 17,000 free-roaming animals including Arabian oryx, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs. Before you leave, remember to make a stop at the Sir Bani Yas Stables to see their state-of-the-art riding facilities.

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Food

11. Mina Markets

You do not want to miss the Mina Zayed Port markets. Discover an array of freshly caught seafood freshly at the Mina Zayed Fish Souq. You can even buy and eat the deliciously prepared grilled seafood on the spot. For a greener menu, visit the Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk and take in the colourful produce from around the world, like the Indian mangoes and Sri Lankan coconuts. Make sure to sample the dates, the quintessential fruit of the Middle East, starting with the popular Medjool.

From the port, you can also take a short trip to the Carpet Souk and browse handwoven Afghani and Iranian rugs, machine-made Turkish ones and more.

11. Mina Markets

12. Mamsha Al Saadiyat

Mamsha Al Saadiyat is just a 20-minute drive from Abu Dhabi’s city centre and is located on the beautiful Saadiyat Island, close to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. You can easily find moments of peace on the island, from painting on the beach to plenty of wellness activities like yoga and pilates. Once you are done soul-searching, check out the wide variety of restaurants by the promenade. You will find plenty of options to tuck into spanning hipster burgers at Black Tap to seriously good coffee at Coffee Architecture to juicy steaks at The Steak Room.

12. Mamsha Al Saadiyat
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