Dubai is full of great activities for children. Here’s a quick guide to 20 of the best.
1. STAY: ATLANTIS THE PALM
You and I might know it as the gargantuan jewel in the crown of Palm Jumeirah, but for children this 1500-room mega-resort is simply a five-star entertainment wonderland. Yes it’s home to Aquaventure, Dubai’s largest and newest water park, but Atlantis also boasts an 11-million-litre aquarium, countless marine encounters such as ray feeding, and a children’s club that features climbing walls, a tech zone and underwater amphitheatre. Added grown-ups bonus? Every suite has its own large, enclosed balcony for private time. See atlantisthepalm.com.
An aerial view of Atlantis, the palm, Dubai. Photo: YASIR NISAR/GETTY IMAGES
2. SHOP: THE DUBAI MALL
Even by UAE standards where the design edict for malls (and just about everything else) appears to be “Make it BIGGER”, the size of The Dubai Mall is staggering. Sure you could drop the kids off at Caboodle, the mall’s supremely expensive in-house child-minding service ($56 for 30 minutes), so you can check out the 1200 plus stores, but then they’d miss the fun of the mall’s endless list of child-friendly entertainment options, such as the aquarium and ice-rink. Our advice? Wear roller skates. Visit thedubaimall.com.
3. EAT: THE RAINFOREST CAFE
Michelin-star candidate it may not be (Oreo pancakes with fries anyone?), but little ones will love dining at this fun rainforest-themed restaurant just the same – largely thanks to the host of life-size, mechanical gorillas and elephants shrieking from their positions around the venue. Add a couple of “waterfalls”, a large aquarium and a 14-page menu into the mix, and you’ve got a meal to remember. Check out rainforestcafeme.com.
A rainforest-themed cafe in the Dubai Mall. Photo: thedubaimall.com
4. DO: SKI INDOORS
Nothing says “hit the ski slopes” quite like a 45-degree day and if you head to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski-field located within the Mall of the Emirates shopping centre, you can do exactly that. While the $84 a person admission isn’t cheap, it does include hire of a snowsuit and gloves (essential as the indoor temperature is kept at a chilly minus 4 degrees), as well as access to the chair lifts and rides such as snow luge and tobogganing. A ski-school with qualified instructors is also available for those new to skiing. Visit theplaymania.com.
5. DO: KIDZANIA
Teach children the value of a dollar by dropping them off at this genius indoor play land, which is essentially a two-storey fake city built to scale for four to 12-year-olds, complete with paved paths, service vehicles and an established economy. The premise is simple – your child chooses their dream jobs from a list of 80 cool professions (doctor, radio announcer etc) and they then have to perform them for 20-minute slots until they make enough kidZos (the Kidzania currency) to cash in at its internal gift stores. See kidzania.ae.
6. SEE: BURJ KHALIFA
Give your family the Charlie and the Glass Elevator experience by taking them to the observation deck at Burj Khalifa, AKA the world’s tallest tower. Yes, there’s no doubt its At the Top Burj Khalifa SKY outdoor deck, located on the 148th floor of this 830-metre building, is impressive, but it’s the 10-metres-per-second elevator ride that will ease the pain of the $123 a person cost – it comes complete with light projections to really make you feel as though you are flying. Visit burjkhalifa.ae.
An aerial view of Dubai from Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, in Dubai. Photo: AHMED JADALLAH/REUTERS
7. DO: HELLO KITTY SPA
Little girls obsessed with all things feline will love this wall-to-wall pink and cream Hello Kitty day spa for “princesses” (girls) and “queens” (their mums). Located in The Dubai Mall, a treatment begins with Hello Kitty-themed cupcakes and drinks (but of course) and can include anything from organic chocolate and strawberry treatments to Hello Kitty nail art on their tootsies. You won’t have any trouble finding it; the squeals from inside can be heard for miles. Visit hellokittybeautyspa.com.
8. EAT: UNDERWATER HIGH TEA
Although the star of the show here is Ambassador Lagoon, Atlantis The Palm’s 11-million-litre tank filled with some 65,000 marine wildlife (giving the restaurant its “underwater” appearance), Ossiano’s Saturday High Tea menu will delight regal types young and old. Ribbon sandwiches, chocolate tarts and scones are complemented by live entertainment and attentive service, but note the service is only open for those aged 10 and up. See atlantisthepalm.com.
9. SHOP: SATWA FOR CLOTHES
Fancy some custom-made pilot, military or police costumes for the little ones? Take a wander down the colourful back streets of Satwa, a working class district full of ethnic boutiques, restaurants and phone repair stalls. Not only can you get clothes for yourself and your children tailor-made (including the aforementioned costumes), many designer items found at the larger malls can be found at reduced prices nearby.
10. RIDE: ABRA AT THE CREEK
Give the children a quick local history lesson by jumping on an early morning abra (a motorised wooden commuter boat) and sailing across the creek between the older districts of Bur Dubai and Deire. Yes, it’s an opportunity to view the organised chaos of the souks, stalls and street food stands from a safe distance, but more than that, it’s a chance to give them a sense of what Dubai looked like as little as 40 years ago. All rides are only one dirham (40c) each.
A traditional Abra (water taxi) crossing the Dubai Creek between Deira and Bur Dubai. Photo: iStock
11. STAY: LE MERIDIEN DUBAI HOTEL & CONFERENCE CENTRE
Telling you this chic property is located directly across the road from the airport may not sound like much of a sell, but the convenience factor alone make it a top choice for families with young children and horrific flight schedules. The trick is to book one of the new Royal Club rooms so that while your children sleep off their jetlag, you can enjoy the in-room jacuzzi and massage chair, as well as the property’s three pools and generous buffet breakfasts. See lemeridien-dubai.com.
12. DO: WATER THEME PARKS *
With temperatures regularly soaring into the mid to high 40s, water parks are big business in Dubai and two of the best are Atlantis The Palm’s Aquaventure and Wild Wadi Water Park – located in front of the Burj at Arab. With names like “Leap of Faith” and “Shark Attack”, both have thrill rides aplenty, but those with little ones might prefer Aquaventure’s impressive Splasher’s play area. Prices for Aquaventure start from $85 (free for in-house guests), while Wild Wadi is priced from $109. Seeatlantisthepalm.com and jumeirah.com.
13. SEE: FLAMINGOS AT RAS AL KHOR
Those seeking a little time out from the chaos of the city would do well to venture to this wildlife reserve where 270 species of flamingo prance around their habitat of salt flats, lagoons and mangroves. There are three viewing platforms and, as it seems to be Dubai’s best-kept secret, minimal crowds, so your budding photographers will get the kind of shots that will drive their friends back home mad with jealousy. Which apparently in their age group, is considered a win. Free entry. See wildlife.ae.
People gather in front of Burj Khalifa. Photo: AHMED JADALLAH/REUTERS
14. DO: 380 FLIGHT SIMULATOR
If your child’s latest report card has sounded the death knell for a future in aviation, give them an opportunity to taste what could have been if only they’d studied. At The Emirates A380 Experience, located in The Dubai Mall, children can pilot the world’s largest aircraft in realistic conditions, choosing their destination, flight path and even setting the weather before they take off. A hair-raising 30-minute session starts from $105. Seeemiratesa380experience.com.
15. VISIT: SMCCU FOR CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING
Enjoy a traditional Emirati breakfast or lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, and walk away with a better understanding of the Emirati’s culture, history, religion and tradition. Staffed by volunteers, the aim of the centre – located in the Bastakia quarter – is to break down barriers between nationalities – something they do through not only the meals, but through mosque visits and humorous Q&A sessions. Prices for meals start from $34 a person. See cultures.ae for details.
16. DO: DESERT SAFARI
Taking the children out into the desert for a day may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s safe to say that by doing so, you’ll never be short of an activity along the way. Camel rides, henna tattooing, sand-boarding and belly-dancing are just some of the experiences included in the six-hour evening 4X4 tours, which traverse the picturesque (and bumpy) sand dunes of Al Hibab in the late afternoon sun. Not recommended for children under three. Rates vary according to number of passengers. See desertsafaridubai.com.
A camel sits on the sand. Photo: iStock
17. DO: KART DUBAI AUTODROME
Got a mini-hoon in the family? Let them indulge their inner-Brock by taking them to Dubai Autodrome’s Kartdrome and letting loose on the large fleet of leisure karts at your disposal, with a 1.2km international-standard circuit for the over 12s as well as a large warehouse-style option for the seven-plus crew. Families can also make use of the laserdome, race room and chill-out facilities. Priced from $42 for 15 minutes. See dubaiautodrome.com.
18. DO: WATERSPORTS AT KITE BEACH
With calm, bath-temperature waters and striking views of Burj at Arab, pretty Sheikh Hamdan Beach – also known as Kite Beach – is one of the best spots in Dubai for water sports. It is incredibly popular with the kite-surfing community (hence its name and website below) and you can hire everything from kites to stand-up paddle boards right from the beach and also engage in child-friendly activities such as banana boating. Showers, toilets and nearby food trucks tick the remaining boxes. Visitthekitebeach.com.
19. SEE: DUBAI FOUNTAIN
Book a table at one of the restaurants of The Dubai Mall overlooking neighbouring Burj Khalifa lake and treat your little ones to a water display like no other. Set to popular music, the fountain “dances” to the groove and shoots water into the air as high as 150 metres during regular daily shows. Restaurants with the best views of the display include the terrace at Carluccios and TGI Fridays.
People travel on a boat in an artificial lake at Dubai Mall area. Photo: AHMED JADALLAH/REUTERS
20. VISIT: DUBAI MIRACLE GARDEN *
It’s crazy to think that the world’s largest natural garden could grow in a desert, but then crazy appears to be the name of the game in this colourful, “miracle” wonderland teeming with blooms (45 million of them to be exact) that have been fashioned into butterflies, pyramids and castles. It is closed during the summer months. Floral displays are changed each season to create new experiences for repeat visitors. Entry $113 per person. See dubaimiraclegarden.com.
The writer was a guest of Atlantis The Palm(atlantisthepalm.com).