Fam-Tastic days out in the UAE: 17 awesome things to do for the whole family
Great days out for the whole family…
Family time is precious, but quality family time is the stuff of forever memories. So parents, take this as a sign to put down your phones, and lock your eyes on the horizon because where we’re going… we won’t need screens
The Great Outdoors
High up in Dubai’s swathe of the Hajar mountains the, now confirmed as record-breaking, big white Hatta sign serves as a beacon to the UAE’s adventure-seekers and escapade-curious. Come for the day and experience wadi-hikes, kayaking trips, horse riding, mountain biking, zip-lining, axe-throwing, archery, zorbing, climbing, bodyboarding and a rucksack more alfresco fun. There’s a lot to do, so if you fancy making it a weekend trip, your stay options run from camping to star-gazing-enabled bubble domes; there’s luxury on tap at JA Hatta Fort Hotel; mountain terrace lodges at Damani Lodges Resort, and retro Sedr trailers for a bit of rustic ‘Gram-fit glam.
Just a short drive away from Abu Dhabi city’s Al Bateen Beach, over the humpback bridge, lies Hudayriyat. The island-sized activity hub from developers Modon, offers a feisty ensemble of alfresco active adventures such as the shiny new Trail X, a 15km long mountain biking trail. Some are paid attractions, such as the Circuit X skate park, splash park and OCR Obstacle Course. Others such as the bike parks, public beach, outdoor gym, Heritage Walk and overwater cycling track, are free. Staying for longer? There’s a mega cute glamping experience, Bab Al Nojoum, with beachfront pitches and AirStream trailers.
Dubai Safari Park
*David Attenborough voice* “Here, all of the animals are kept safe in their own enclosures, all except the world’s most fearsome predator… Man”. If you like getting right up in the whiskery face of nature, Dubai Safari delivers close-clawed and cuddly encounters with an incredibly diverse diaspora of wildlife. The 119-hectare site houses 3,000 animals. There are 78 species of mammal, 50 forms of reptile, and more than 100 brands of bird. Admission packages start at Dhs50 for adults (Dhs30 for under 12s), it’s divided into four different villages and offers immersive experiences, such as a Kids’ Farm and the on-rail Safari Journey, to help you live your best Our Planet life.
Al Warqa, daily 9pm to 5pm. @dubaisafari
Sharjah might not be top of everyone’s list for weekend exploration, but allow us to expat-splain one of many reasons it should be. Khorfakkan, found along the picturesque eastern coast of the emirate, offers up a collection of attractions that blend culture and nature, alongside a dusting of artisanal farm-to-mouth grandeur. Like many of the UAE’s outdoorsy hot spots, trail-treading (along with biking and horse galloping) is chief amongst the recommended activities (check out Shees Park, and the Rabi Trail), but if little feet get too tired you could always head to the beach; dine out at statement restaurants such as The View by Wave; make a trip to the ominous-sounding Shark Island. Too sharky? Attractive trip pivots are available at Al Rabi Tower, Al Rafisah Dam and the iconic amphitheatre for entertainment under the stars. And you’ll soon be able to take a well-deserved chill stop at Khorfakkan Hotel, Autograph Collection. It’s set to be an absolute stunner.
If Ras Al Khaimah had a spirit animal, it would be a bear. More specifically, it would be Bear Grylls – not least because there’s a survivalist camp there (majoring in such key life skills as wadi treks, bushcraft and ravine-rappelling) with his name attached to it. But for something that still has the same quota of outdoorsy ‘arrrgh’ vibes but with a more family-friendly edge to it, try Jais Adventure Parks. There you’ll find the Jais Sledder (adult and child combo from Dhs60) – a white-knuckle, 1,840m mountainside toboggan ride, that squeaks through the peaks of the Hajar range at up to 40kph. After, we recommend recalibrating at 1484 By Puro. At one and a half kilometres above sea level, it’s the UAE’s highest restaurant, they do a banging Thai beef salad, and the views aren’t half bad either.
Long time top pick for picnics, Dubai’s Mushrif Park is all about wide open spaces and ghaf tree-shaded places. The Park offers a 20km cycling loop, and a 10km hike that wends through leafy canopy tunnels, striking sculptures and a finish line reward of Al Khawaneej Walk, a leisure space with Last Exit food trucks and shiny shopping detours. Aventura offers opportunities to scramble like a spider monkey, dangle from zip lines, and work your way around challenging rope courses (from Dhs165). Far enough removed from city lights, Mushrif is well known for its winter star-gazing credentials, and population of indigenous wildlife that make the perfect eye candy for I-spying ramblers.
Snoopy Island is one of Fujairah’s best-loved landmarks and is named after the famous dog, the cartoon, not the rapper, which the island is said to resemble. It’s a true maritime paradise offering some of the best ‘sight-seaing’ in the UAE. The natural reefs provide a home for a kaleidoscopic clique of fishy friends, visiting turtles, and even the odd white-tip reef shark. On a day trip to Snoopy Island, the whole family can mask up for a team snorkel, or stay above the surface for an afternoon of paddle boarding or kayaking – the gear for all of which can be rented from the shore. Those looking to make a weekend of it can check-in to Sandy Beach Hotel, the legendary Fujairah resort that sits smack bang in front of Snoopy Island.
Kite Beach, Umm Al Quwain
Originally a dedicated kitesurfing school, as is often the way with UAE beauty spots, Kite Beach Umm Al Quwain has capitalised on its good looks and easy charm, evolving into something so much more. The design aesthetic is a laidback blend of Bali and Tulum, decorated with mismatched sun loungers and made from solid wood sitting under traditional thatched beach umbrellas. Up-cycled doors placed in the sand offer a dream Instagram backdrop and families can rent a rustic double level beach hut for the day to enjoy the sand in style. For off-piste activities, you can hire a kayak, tour the mangroves or book in a team surf lesson and make the most of the waves. You need to pay for access, which starts from Dhs45 in the week and Dhs75 on weekends.
Daily 6am to 10pm. kitebeachcenter.ae
Dubai Parks and Resorts
The home of family adrenaline thrill rides in Dubai, this theme park hub currently holds three separate avenues of adventure within its walls. And that’s not including the whimsical central Riverland shopping and dining district that feels ripped straight from the pages of an old European fable. Legoland Dubai, Legoland Waterpark and Motiongate Dubai, each offer their own genre of attractions, with the two Lego-based parks tailoring to younger children, and Motiongate, with its movie-themed rollercoasters (Madagascar: Mad Pursuit is in the running for best UAE ride) taking care of everyone else. There’s currently a two-park combo pass (Dhs395) which gives families with a wide age range the option of not having someone sulking on the car ride home. On-site Lapita and Legoland hotels, also open up the option of an overnighter.
Legoland, Mon to Fri 10am to 6pm, Sat and Sun 10am to 7pm. Legoland Waterpark Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 10am to 5pm, Sat and Sun 10am to 6pm, Weds closed. dubaiparksandresorts.com
Sandwiched between two of Abu Dhabi’s most famous island idylls, Yas and Saadiyat, sits the humble and meek, but oh-so deep, Jubail Island. Out on a quiet outcrop of the still largely undeveloped isle, you’ll find Jubail Mangrove Park. It features a meandering 2.3km boardwalk that quite literally draws you right into nature. And there are plenty of ways to explore the capital’s serene green Everglades including boardwalk meditation sessions (Dhs120) ranger-led, guided tours (from Dhs50), kayaking (Dhs100), and e-dragon boat excursions (from Dhs80).
Jubail Island, 7am to 9pm. jubailisland.ae
Family fiestas under Dhs120 per person
Scheduled to reopen on October 18, after its annual summer slumber, this Dubai-famous world fair was on the international pavilion tip way before ground had even broken on the Expo site. GV began enthralling visitors as a set of kiosks in 1997, and has since ballooned in size, adding all sorts of attractions and shows, rides and dining experiences, scares and thrills, markets and exhibits, hosting concerts and periodically setting off extravagant fireworks displays. But you know what hasn’t grown dramatically along with it? The admissions cost. Unlike Freddo bars – Global Village has resisted the temptations of inflation, and as of the end of last season – ticket prices were still just Dhs25.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road E 311, Mon to Thu 4pm to midnight, Sat to Sun 4pm to 1am. globalvillage.ae
Dubai Garden Glow
Another alfresco favourite in Dubai’s cooler months, this pixelated utopia really leans into the eye-twitching visual aesthetic. The experience takes the form of an evening park stroll through a land of luminescent sculptures, comprised of more than 10 million energy-saving light bulbs. Looming lit-up polar bears and fluorescent floral fractals guide you along your journey towards the light. There’s also an adjacent animatronic dinosaur park, magic park and ice park. Combo tickets are available from Dhs70.
Zabeel Park Gate Six and Seven, Sun to Fri 5pm to 11pm, Sat 5pm to midnight. dubaigardenglow.com
The stars have aligned in Sharjah to offer a fascinating focus on the local and distant ends of our cosmic manor. Serving up educational exhibits, a collection of meteorites, laser shows, and dome-projected theatrics covering topics such as black holes and the birth of planet earth – there’s more than enough awe to inspire any knee-high deGrasse Tysons.
University City, Mon to Thu 9am to 3pm. saasst.ae
The Ripe Market
The Ripe Market takes place at the Academy Park every year from October to May. Founded as a way of sourcing seasonal and local products, Ripe was originally very much a farmer’s style market. Now, it’s far beyond that, hosting stalls with a wide collection of artisanal knick knackery – from sustainable macrame teepees to organic bamboo bongos, and heavy metal graphic tees. The market takes place on Saturdays and Sundays, at an entrance fee of Dhs5. There’s a range of food truck eateries, workshops, a petting zoo, live entertainment, a children’s park, and more.
Academy Park, Al Sufouh, 9am to 9pm Sat, 9am to 7pm Sun. ripeevents.com
Kite Beach, Dubai
A day out at the beach doesn’t initially sound like the most creative or varied adventure, but Kite Beach isn’t your average beach. In addition to the definition-necessitated sand and proximity to the sea, you’ll find a bunch of cafés and food trucks; skate haven XPark (daypass Dhs75); the wonderland of nature exploration that is XPark Jr. (entry Dhs85); sports courts (including padel and volleyball); and the occasional kite.
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Bluewaters’ sprawling 65,000 square foot indoor jungle is decorated with 12-metre-high treetops. Munchkin Monster’s soft play area (from Dhs45) is for the littlest bugs; Skyfall’s trampoline park (from Dhs65) is for tweens, and laser tag (from Dhs65) is for teens. Wait, wait, there’s more – the whole family can get stuck in with a round of mini golf (from Dhs45), which is located in a glow-in-the-dark tropical rainforest, for an Amazonian tonne of neon-bogey fun.
Bluewaters, Mon to Thu midday-midnight, Fri midday to 12.30am, Sat 11am to 12.30am, Sun 11am to midnight. tr88house.com
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
This literal desert oasis is located just a few minutes’ drive from Dubai Mall and contains within its green embrace 67 different species of bird. Its most famous resident is of course, perennial Barbiecore ambassadors, the flamingos. The reserve holds three viewing hides dotted around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Best of all, the sanctuary is completely free to enter.
Ras Al Khor, daily 7.30am to 5.30pm. dm.gov.ae