Not just a stopover point for changing planes, Dubai International Airport is now the biggest in the world in terms of passenger number and the city itself has expanded exponentially over the last 20 years to become a world-class tourism hub.
A Guest Post by Keri Hedrick of Family Travel in The Middle East
As a family travel writer and an expat living in the United Arab Emirates, we have explored Dubai extensively. We share below some of our favorite family ideas for visiting Dubai – you will need at least a week to squeeze in all of these!
Top Things to Do in Dubai With Kids
Dubai Mall & Burj Khalifa
So much more to the world’s largest mall!
There’s so much more to Dubai Mall than just shopping! Yes, it is one of the largest shopping malls in the world, but it is also one of the biggest family entertainment centers in the world – and home to the world’s tallest building, of course!
Inside you will find an Olympic sized ice-skating rink, a giant Kidzania edutainment center, VR Park – a virtual reality theme park, a huge cinema complex, and the Dubai Aquarium. You’ll also find a giant Hamleys and The Toy Store for kiddy fun, and in the evenings don’t miss the dancing fountains show under the foot of the Burj while dining at one of the dozens of waterfront restaurants.
Visitors can travel to the 124th and 125th floors of the Burj Khalifa to visit “At the Top” (though technically it’s not quite the top!). You will need to buy a ticket with a predesignated time slot and expect a lot of queuing in peak times (definitely book in advance, stand by tickets cost about quadruple!).
But I’m guessing you’ll agree on those views – and bragging rights – are worth it.
The Dubai Frame
Not quite as tall as the Burj Khalifa, but still offering spectacular views of the city and a lot of fun for kids is the Dubai Frame. Based in Zabeel Park, not far from the airport this giant picture frame sits between old and new Dubai. Take a lift 48 floors to the top of the frame and watch out as the floor lights beneath you to reveal a glass bottom and the park and fountains below!
From one side of the frame, you will see Downtown Dubai and the dazzling skyscrapers, from the other Deira and Bur Dubai surrounding the Dubai Creek, and onwards to the next Emirate of Sharjah. Your tour ends back on the ground floor with a look at the Dubai of the future, a fascinating insight into what is possible from new forms of transportation through to space exploration.
Take a Cultural Walk through Old Dubai, the Souks & Al Seef
After taking in the views from the Dubai Frame, nearby the Dubai Museum is a great next stop to absorb more of the culture and history of the country. From here you should try and take a stroll – weather permitting (did we mention the summers are rather long & hot!) – around the traditional streets Bastakiya.
A very “new” addition to Old Dubai is an area called Al Seef. Built along the Dubai Creek, it’s walking distance from Bastakiya, built to blend in seamlessly with the existing architecture.
It’s undoubtedly an area that’s been built for tourists with souvenir shops, restaurants and a fun new Museum of Illusions, however, it’s great to see the effort to preserve the feel of traditional Dubai.
Next, take a traditional dhow boat over Dubai Creek to Deira to see the gold and spice souks.
Miles and Miles of Beaches!
The city of Dubai is large and sprawling along the Arabian Gulf coastline. It’s clear to see how it gets quite the reputation for its beaches. And not just the soft white sand and sunbathing, all the activity happening along the beachfront and in the water too!
Many beach fronts have undergone significant development over the past 5 years to make them into wonderful community spaces. Some favorites include JBR – The Beach and La Mer to mix shopping and restaurants with your waterfront experience.
Sunset Beach with Burj Al Arab in the backdrop.
If you are after those stunning photos with the Burj Al Arab hotel in the background, it’s Umm Suqeim Beach or Sunset Beach that you’re after. A slight quitter favorite with the locals is Kite Beach, lots of sports and activities happen here.
Stay on the World’s Largest inhabited Artificial Archipelago
A what now? We’re talking about Palm Jumeirah! An island made in the shape of a palm. Like much of Dubai it oozes luxury and wealth, home to many gigantic luxury resorts along its fronds. If the budget will permit, the perfect place to base yourself for exploring Dubai.
The most popular attraction for tourists is coming to see Atlantis the Palm, not just a luxury hotel resort, this complex also includes the Aquaventure water park, the Lost Chambers aquarium, and Dolphin Bay.
Another recent addition to the palm is the 11km Palm Jumeriah Boardwalk built over the breakwater on the palm’s outer crescent – perfect for a family stroll and views back to Jumeirah Beach. Many boating companies also operate from Dubai Marina to take you on tour around the Palm – from speedboats to luxury yachts!
Go on a Desert Safari
Getting beyond the glamour and skyscrapers of Dubai is a MUST! There are a lot of tour companies that now offer desert experiences (traveling with kids just do a bit of research what they include first so you know what you’ll be in for). Some companies run dune bashing experiences to get you to your desert camp, which is great for your adrenaline seekers, but not so much fun if you have small toddlers who would not be permitted (even in car seats), those who are pregnant and the elderly.
Most desert camps have add-ons and extras including quad biking, camel riding or sand boarding, followed by a traditional tented dinner and evening entertainment, henna painting – even belly dancing.
Visit Legoland at Dubai Parks & Resorts
Anyone with a Lego-lover in the house can’t skip Dubai Parks and Resorts off their itinerary. Situated west of Dubai, it’s an easy enough cab ride away for visitors (it’s beyond the end of the Metro line which is the easiest way for visitors to get around most of Dubai).
Here you will find not only a Legoland and Legoland waterpark but a Bollywood theme park and Motiongate movie theme park – this includes favorite Dreamworks characters, Shrek, Dragons, Kung Fu Panda through to classic Ghost Busters and modern Hunger Games based rides. These parks are a combination of indoors and outdoors, connected via outdoor entertainment district Riverland.
You can stay on site to enjoy the parks at Polynesian-styled Lapita Resort, package up your tickets if making this an overnight stay and save!
Over the cooler winter months, generally from the end of October through to late April there are several fun outdoor events you should try.
Dubai Miracle Garden
Dubai Miracle Garden is the largest flower garden in the world by total blooms. Each year the gardening team pulls out all the stops to create floral masterpieces to wow the crowds.
The centerpiece is a floral A380 (yes, a full-size plane) but all the other displays change annually. A fun photo op but mind the selfie sticks, go early to beat the crowds and heat.
Dubai Garden Glow
Dubai Garden Glow, Dinosaur Park & Ice Park is set in Zabeel Park, open from late afternoon take on a Jurassic Park-style dino tour, then as the sun dips in the sky, the park lights up to stunning glowing light displays. Kids will be enchanted, and again plenty of photos ops! There’s now an additional ice sculpture park inside the main glow park, a little pricey but a nice addition to this spectacular art display.
Then there is Global Village – I think the best way to describe it is an international fun fair! There are separate pavilions representing over 70 different countries with shopping to food and shows from 4 pm until late at night daily. There’s a large stage show area as well as an attached amusement park. Entry is ultra-cheap making it a great fun evening to travel around the world without leaving Dubai, though it is quite far from the city and most hotel areas.
Day Trips from Dubai
Day Trip to Musandam
Pack your passports as you need to take a day trip into a tiny enclave of Oman called Musandam. It’s about 2 hours away from Dubai a thin, mountainous peninsula that reaches out in the Strait of Hormuz, just before you hit Iran.
This is one of the most spectacularly scenic spots of the Middle East. The Hajar Mountains (yes, the UAE has mountains!) dramatically meet the ocean in a series of fjords, giving the area the nickname “the Norway of Arabia”.
Take a tradition dhow boat or a speed boat out on to the waters beyond Khasab and meet pods of dolphins, go snorkeling or if time permits, set up a tent overnight or event sleep on your boat to enjoy the serenity of this isolated beauty spot – such a stark contrast to the city of Dubai.
Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
If time will allow, it would be a shame to miss the capital city of the UAE, Abu Dhabi off your list. It is a more sedate and reserved city then Dubai, but arguably more beautiful – we’d need another whole post to cover everything!
The spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque forms the city gateway and should be your first stop. Then head all the way to the end of Abu Dhabi Island to the city’s famous Corniche beach, try the Aquafun inflatable water park at Al Bahar, or head to Etihad Towers and get a bird’s eye view from the Observation 300 deck over Emirates Palace and the new Presidential Palace.
If time permits the new Louvre Abu Dhabi is simply stunning, but may not hold the kid’s attention long.
Thrill seekers will want at least an overnight visit so they can fit in all the attractions on Yas Island. Home now to three amazing family parks – Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros World.
Preparing for Your Trip to Dubai
In case we haven’t reiterated it enough, be warned the summer months – which really means anything from May through to October – are really HOT! There are plenty of indoor attractions as well as outdoor beauty spots so it’s not impossible to visit at this time, just take this into account when planning what will be on your itinerary.
We have plenty more facts about Dubai for you to brush up on before your visit here.
These 10 ideas are just a taster of what families can get up to in Dubai during a short stopover. If you have longer to spend, you can delve much further, not only into Dubai but around the rest of the United Arab Emirates; from sand dunes to mountains there’s plenty to be explored beyond the city.