12 hidden gems for families in Abu Dhabi
If you're planning a trip to Abu Dhabi with the kids in tow, you're in for a treat. The UAE's bustling capital city is not all massive malls, speedy sports cars and luxury resorts. In fact it's one of the most family-friendly cities in the world.
Kick off the family adventure as soon as you land at Abu Dhabi International Airport, where you can stock up on notepads, colouring-in books and pencil crayons. Getting your kids to sketch the iconic landmarks you're going to visit is a great way for them to connect on a cultural level, and will also come in handy during car, boat or plane rides. A disposable instant camera is also a fun way to let your mini photographers' creative spirits free.
From famous museums and magnificent mosques to desert safaris, we've rounded up 12 hidden gems that will guarantee a bundle of fun for toddlers through to teens.
1. Louvre Abu Dhabi
As the first universal museum for the Arab world, the incredible Louvre Abu Dhabi boasts 9,200 square metres of galleries. This may not get the kids excited, but the enormous 180-metre eight-layer star-latticed dome casting its #RainofLight and sheltering breathtaking outdoor areas will leave them mesmerised. Art workshops at the Children's Museum promise to keep kids engaged, with an hour-long kayak tour in the still waters around the museum offering a fun way to discover every angle of this iconic building. Kids between 6 and 12 years old will need to be accompanied by an adult or guardian.
2. Qasr Al Hosn
Stop by the House of Artisans, where traditional Emirati arts and crafts come to life. Here, your kids will soak up the opportunity to learn about, and try their hand at, a number of ancient techniques. Don't skip experiencing the highly-engaging Cultural Foundation. Book your kids into a children's art or music workshop while you enjoy a creative class (pottery, mixed media, ceramics or calligraphy), or take in exhibitions and live-performance art. The Cultural Foundation is also home to the Abu Dhabi Children's Library - a must-visit for bookworms. This incredible multi-level space houses eight cleverly designed interactive spaces, with a Book Mountain, faux dunes on which to read, and an ancient irrigation canal (falaj) flowing with books. Your kids will never want to leave.
3. Heritage Village
Artisans demonstrate their craftsmanship here too, from pottery to weaving and glass blowing, and you may even have the opportunity to get involved.
4. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
They'll soon be looking for calligraphy verses etched into the hollows of 82 white marble domes, reflective pools, gold-plated Swarovski chandeliers, one of the world's largest mosaic artworks, 1,096 columns embedded with amethyst and jasper, and the Guinness World Records' largest hand-knotted carpet.
Little adrenaline junkies will be in their element here. The ultimate adventure hub, Clymb ™ offers five unique climbing walls for all ages and abilities, including the Summyt™ - the world's tallest indoor climbing wall. Age is but a number at this action-packed destination, where children as young as three can soar in the world's biggest indoor skydiving flight chamber. With a width of 32 feet, this freefalling adventure spot is loved by pro skydivers too.
6. Wadi Adventure
7. Desert Safari
For very little ones, bring along a bucket and spade - it's guaranteed to keep them occupied! Desert Rose Tourism offers return transfers, for day or overnight trips, from your hotel.
9. Al Ain Zoo
A trip to the Al Ain Zoo is a must. Home to over 4,000 animals, there are a number of exciting experiences, including penguin feeding, a walk inside the lemur exhibit, a hilariously entertaining parrot show, a reptile encounter, horse, camel or pony rides around gorgeous green spaces, a birds-of-prey show, and more. Pop in at the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre where you'll discover more about how the UAE has been working, and continues to work, on 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. Passionate safari guides will share their knowledge of the ecosystem and their conservation efforts, and will ensure you get to spot as many animals as possible, including lion, white rhino, zebra, giraffe, kudu, ostrich and wildebeest. A gourmet dinner under the stars, on the edge of lion territory, is the perfect end to your day.
10. Jubail Mangrove Park
11. Sir Bani Yas Island
The reserve is home to over 17,000 free-roaming animals, including Arabian oryx, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs. If you've got a little equestrian lover, don't miss out on a trip to Sir Bani Yas Stables, where kids will relish a horse ride surrounded by nature.
12. Traditional Arabic food
Make it a family tradition to try as much local food as possible when you're travelling. Your kids might gasp at the idea of anything but French fries, but introducing them to new flavours can be fun too! Hummus and pita bread are always winners, as is falafel (deep-fried meat-free balls), manakish (round bread sprinkled with cheese, ground meat or herbs), fattoush (a crispy salad of lettuce, toasted pita squares, tomato, cucumbers and onion). We can guarantee they won’t turn their noses up at shawarma. You'll find these dishes at most popular restaurants and street food markets.