See My City
Insider family travel guide to Abu Dhabi with boys
In a city more known perhaps for its inspiring architecture and luxury hotels than kid-friendly activities, can you keep your boys entertained and inspired in this desert city? Absolutely!
Best things to do in Abu Dhabi with boys
During the hot summer months, life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mostly moves indoors to cope with the temperature extremes, but that doesn’t mean active adventures need to stop. Our favourite place to release the kids when it’s hot is Yas Island.
The huge Yas Waterworld is a definite winner with our lot; 45 adventure rides as well as the usual wave pool, lazy river and several specially designated zones for smaller kids.
The fun keeps going right across the road though at Yas Mall you will find Ferrari World – a largely indoor action theme park with the title of housing the world’s fastest Rollercoaster “the Formula Rossa” along with loads of adrenaline pumping rides and test tracks. It’s best suited to around the 7+ year old crowd (shorter children may feel a little left out here vs the entry price).
Yas Mall itself is a great place to cool off and explore. The Virgin Mega Store has a two-story slide that kids love and several hands-on toy stores, an enormous Fun Works including a mini city for hands on educational activities and a giant Wizz Works soft play (best for your under 7’s). You’ll also find Adventure HQ with indoor rock climbing and other activities like caving, ropes courses – all in the centre of a shopping mall of course!!
Down the opposite end of town you will find Marina Mall with the newly opened “Bounce” trampolining centre, it also includes an indoor zip line and abseiling. Outside the Mall the new Marina Eye observation wheel provides some great views over the city and nearby Emirates Palace – fancy popping in for gold flakes on your coffee, perhaps a camel burger? For a truly birds eye view though pop up to the lavish Observation 300 at Etihad Towers for some ripper views on the 74th floor.
Now let’s get just beyond the city and see the nearby desert. Several tour operators offer day trips or overnight packages to experience the best of desert sports. There is a load on offer from sand boarding to 4x4 dune bashing and quad biking. Desert Camping in the cooler months is very popular, as well as wadi adventures if you head further afield into the mountains.
There’s still plenty on offer in and around the city of Abu Dhabi as well. At Eastern Mangroves you can kayak, stand up paddle or take a donut boat through this protected conservation area. For a completely different perspective of the city and a faster pace, why not try water skiing with Halla Walla on the open waters around al Raha Beach. Al Forsan in Khalifa City is another favourite for boys of all ages who like adventure sports from wake boarding to paint balling and shooting.
Not too far from the capital is the newly opened Legoland, just over the border to Dubai (less than an hour’s drive if you are staying at Yas). This is a must for all your little men under 12!
Now how could I get this far and not mention motor sports! The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is THE big event of the year. Held as the Yas Marina Circuit in November, the city comes alive with sports action, celebratory spotting, mega yachts and concerts. Year-round the Yas Circuit is open a couple of evenings a week for fitness fanatics to walk run or cycle around the track – completely free and what a thrill to power through the finish line on your bike (visitors can easily hire bikes at the track).
International sports fans may also be pleased to know there’s several great sporting events available for FREE! We got to see the Socceroos play a Football World Cup qualifier against the UAE, and the Aussie cricket team take on Pakistan in a one dayer and test series.
Favourites Places to Eat in Abu Dhabi
If little stomachs need indulging, why not introduce them to the concept of Friday Brunch? Not to be mistaken for that meal between breakfast and lunch, this is a 4-hour eating extravaganza! Put on by the best 5 star hotels in town on a Friday and always topped with a chocolate fountain! Our kids have been most impressed with the Ritz Carlton, St Regis Saadiyat and Yas Viceroy – separate supervised children’s rooms and amazing desert offerings at each.
Another popular dining favourite when visitors come to town is Rogo restaurant at Yas Mall where your food is delivered to your table by roller coaster! Expect all sorts of cuisines to be available though covering all budgets, you are well looked after when it comes to keeping the boys fed!
When to visit Abu Dhabi
It is seriously hot over the summer months; May to October day time temperatures are over 40c and the end of summer in particular we can get stifling humidity – plan accordingly!!
You will get great package deals to visit in these months – but be carefully of booking over religious occasions such as the holy month of Ramadan and the two Eid breaks – opening hours can change and other restrictions may be in place such as sale of alcohol.
The best time to visit is from late October through to early April to make the most of the outdoor lifestyle.
Top tips for families visiting Abu Dhabi
Get yourself the Entertainer App. The Abu Dhabi ‘book’ for 2017 is now out for 345dhs ($94 USD) it provides a truck load of two-for-one specials on top attractions and restaurants. It will pay itself off within a day or two of family activities!
The UAE is a Muslim country, but not as restrictive as you might think. Women should dress respectfully but no need to be fully covered. Kids are fine to dress as they please though covering shoulders and knees in public is standard for all – beach wear should be kept to the beach (here’s our full etiquette guide if you’re unsure).
The city is growing and sprawling so there are several places you could base yourself – from being ‘down town’ or in the old Tourist Club area, or staying on one of the newer islands like Saadiyat Island or Yas Island where you are closer to attractions. Taxi’s between destinations are cheap. I’d only recommend hiring a car if you’re a confident driver.
For more ideas on exploring the United Arab Emirates beyond Abu Dhabi, come and check out the Baby Globetrotters guide to 100+ Family things to do in the UAE – so much more than sandy beaches and shopping malls!!