Often overshadowed by its glitzy neighbour Dubai, Abu Dhabi is here to share the limelight with its stunning azure waters & blue skies, cultural attractions, amazing architecture, theme parks and majestic desert.
You can listen to an interview between our editor Marianne and Keri on our City Travel with Kids Podcast below – full show notes for the podcast can be found here.
Day 1 Abu Dhabi Itinerary with Kids
Start your trip with a visit to the simply superb Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is free to enter, and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Try to get in before the crowds with opening at 9am. Grab yourself an eGuide or join a guided tour at 10am or 11am.
After the Mosque, head over the road to Wahat al Karama, a war memorial to read about the country’s martyrs, and also spectacular views back to the mosque.
Have lunch at the Venetian Village, in the Ritz Carlton complex opposite the Mosque. There’s a selection of restaurants here to choose from, overlooking the Grand Canal.
Head to Umm al Emarat Park to let the kids run around in Abu Dhabi’s largest park. It includes botanical gardens, playparks, a petting zoo and a wadi where kids can cool off.
Next, we’re headed to the far end of the city to take in some amazing views at Observation Deck at 300, part of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel complex. Look over the Emirates Palace hotel beneath, and admire the new Presidential Place, Qasr al Watan (now open to the public for tours).
We’re headed to the Eastern Mangroves for sunset and dinner. There is a natural wetlands reserve here which you can observe up close by hiring a kayak or an eco donut boat, before enjoying dinner on the Eastern Mangroves Promenade.
Where to Stay – Family Hotels in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi doesn’t exactly do budget family hotels, but they do luxury extremely well, and often very reasonably priced for what you get. Almost all accommodation comes with a pool for cooling off after a long day of sightseeing.
There’s no ideal place to stay as attractions are dotted around over the city, so Keri recommends you could try:
Yas Island – if you are after a theme park based holiday, and think you will be daytripping to Dubai.
Saadiyat Island if you are blending in beach and relaxation. All are luxury picks! Best for families try:
Grand Canal if sightseeing and convenient location are your priority:
As a budget pick in town, we recommend the very reasonably priced Holiday Inn Downtown Abu Dhabi
Day 2 Abu Dhabi Itinerary with Kids
Start the day at the Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island, one of the city’s most spectacular buildings. The Louvre takes you on a journey through the history of humanity. At the end, children will be rewarded for their patience with a dedicated children’s museum, as well as experiencing the spectacular domed roof of the Museum that musically groans in the breeze.
Late morning, head to Qasr al Hosn, the oldest building in the city. The old fort has been refurbished and this central site takes visitors on a journey from humble beginnings as a fishing village through to present-day Abu Dhabi.
For a truly unique UAE experience, next, we’re headed to the Falcon Hospital on the outskirts of the city. You will get a two hour guided tour of the facilities and a fascinating insight into Emirati heritage – not just falconry but the Bedouin way of life (pre-booking required by phone, no advance online tickets).
In the late afternoon, head off into the desert sands beyond the city for a desert safari. Most operators will offer a pickup service from your city hoel and drive approximately an hour into the desert.
Abu Dhabi Desert Safaris can involve dune bashing (not for you under 6’s or pregnant), camel rides, quad bikes, henna painting, fat bikes and sandboarding through the dunes. (Beware the sand will get everywhere for days!!!)
Your evening will be completed with a traditional Bedouin meal under the stars and live entertainment.
Some desert camps give the option to spend the night (for example Arabian Nights Village is worth the splurge on a Bayt – traditional house), but most tours will head back and take you to your city-based hotel.
Day 3 Abu Dhabi Itinerary with Kids
Theme Park Day! Spend all day on Yas Island
We’re heading to Yas Island for a full day dedicated to theme park fun. You can enjoy the choice of Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World (the later two are both entirely indoors).
We recommend you choose only 2 per day. Yas Waterworld and then choose which indoor park you’d like best. Younger kids are probably better of at Warner Bros World – kids over 110cm can do almost every ride.
Ferrari World suits more your teens and adrenaline junkies – with the world’s fastest roller coaster the Formula Rossa, you will see why!.
Enjoy open track nights at Yas Marina circuit on a Sunday or Tuesday (Wed ladies only). Free to enter, just register and you can do laps of the track by foot or by bike; perfect for wannabe Grand Prix champions or just to claim you’ve done a lap of a real GP circuit!
Alternatively, on any other night of the week head around to Yas Marina for dinner, enjoy overlooking the yachts of the rich and famous and the lit-up dome roof of Yas Hotel over the Grand Prix track.
Further Family Activities in Abu Dhabi
If you have a little longer to stay in Abu Dhabi (ideally allow a week if you want to see the whole Emirate) then you could add on one of these ideas:
- Day Trip to Al Ain – the country’s historic centre and known as the Oasis City.
- Visit the large open plan Al Ain Zoo and the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, really great educational and fun place – for all ages!
- Day trip to Dubai Parks & Resorts, just over the Dubai border
- Take a city highlights tour of Dubai, pick up from your Abu Dhabi hotel and a guided tour around the famous sites of the glitzy neighbour (or you can follow our detailed guide here how to self-drive or take the Intercity bus).
- Head into the Empty Quarter – enjoy the vastness of the Liwa Desert, and stay in the luxury resort Qasr al Sarab, a serious spoil yourself desert resort.
- Head west of Abu Dhabi city to the remote Sir Bani Yas Island. A short ferry takes you to this nature reserve, stay overnight in the luxurious Anantara Resort.
How to get around in Abu Dhabi
As a visitor to Abu Dhabi, you are most likely to get around by taxi – they are quite reasonably priced. You could also use a Careem or Uber.
There is really not much in the way of public transport, only a small network of local buses. There’s no train or Metro system.
Keri only recommends self-driving if you are a confident driver as the traffic is very fast-moving, and although better than many other Middle Eastern countries, can be erratic.
What to pack for Abu Dhabi
It is hot but you need to dress modestly. We have a detailed guide here to help understand the dress code in Abu Dhabi.
Our top packing suggestions include long loose cotton clothing, and ladies may want to consider a scarf or a wrap. A pullover or cardigan may be handy too even in the peak of summer to deal with the airconditioning. Sandals or flipflops for your feet is fine.
Remember to pop on over and listen to the podcast if you would like to learn more about all the places we mention from Keri & the Little City team.
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