Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is a brilliant family-friendly and safe destination to travel to with kids. The exotic mix of desert and traditional culture, coupled with modern luxury glitzy shopping malls, fun parks, and seemingly the biggest/tallest/longest of everything makes it a great place to explore for a few days.
It’s also a good stopover point on the way to or from Europe to the Southern Hemisphere where we were heading, so we spent three nights soaking up some of the main attractions that Dubai has to offer.
Due to its location in the middle of the desert, the majority of activities are indoor, where there’s plenty of air-conditioning. Dubai can reach temperatures of 45 degrees celsius in the summer months!
There are so many family friendly things to do in Dubai that we only scratched the surface during our 3-day visit. Here’s what we got up to:
Burj Khalifa is officially the world’s tallest building, soaring a breathtaking 829 meters into the sky. It’s an iconic building that can be seen from many parts of Dubai, particularly when it’s lit up at night. We only viewed it from the ground, but you can buy tickets to the observation decks located at levels 125 and 148.
Dubai Mall is—you guessed it—the largest shopping mall in the world by area. The mall has over 1,200 retail outlets and 200 food and beverage outlets so you can literally shop till you drop! The mall boasts plenty of luxury retailers—think Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel and Christian Louboutin—and two massive department stores Galleries Lafayette and Bloomingdales. It also has a modern take of a traditional souq (Arabic trading market) located within the mall.
In addition to all the amazing shopping, the mall has plenty to do for kids including:
- A huge cinema complex
- The Dubai Dino: a life size replica dinosaur skeleton that our dinosaur-crazy son loved
- Kidzania: an “edutainment” center for kids
- The Dubai Fountain: it shoots water 140 meters into the air
- An ice skating rink
- Sega Republic: a huge indoor theme park
- The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
With all this shopping and entertainment on offer, you could easily spend a few days here!
IMG Worlds of Adventure
IMG Worlds of Adventure is Dubai’s newest theme park and is also now the world’s largest indoor theme park. It had only been open a few weeks when we visited in September 2016 and we spent a marathon 11 hours exploring it.
The park is divided into four adventure zones: Marvel, Lost Valley, Cartoon Network and IMG Boulevard.
Our kids aged 4 and 6 particularly enjoyed the Marvel and Cartoon Network zones as they catered more for younger children and my 4-year-old is a superhero fanatic. They were a little bit scared in the Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs. It’s amazing but also features extremely lifelike dinosaurs wandering around.
For older kids and adults, some of the rides were incredible. The Predator roller coaster in the Lost Valley was truly not for the faint-hearted and the Thor Thunderspin was a gravity-defying ride that made me feel ill just watching! However if thrill-seeking is your thing, then it’s a great place to go.
There were plenty of choices in terms of places to eat and with cuisines from all around the world. In saying that, not all of the food and beverage outlets were open, we assumed because the park has just opened.
One thing we loved was the “extra” entertainment that was throughout the park and included in the entrance fee. Our kids got their faces painted, cartoon caricatures done and my daughter and I got some beautiful henna artwork done on our hands. They also have characters walking around for you to get photos with. My son was beside himself at meeting Spiderman!
If you have younger kids, be sure to measure them to make sure they can go on most of the rides. Our 4-year-old only just made the cut off for the 105cm limit for most of the rides, and they were constantly checking him before they let him go on the rides. We found this reassuring as it means health and safety standards are high. However we found out afterwards that you can get measured once at the entrance gate and get a band to show you’ve made the height grade which would have been good to know.
Overall, our impressions of the park were good and we had a great day out. Prices were comparable to a day at a Disney theme park, so we were a little disappointed when some of the rides were unavailable due to “technical issues.” We assumed this was due to opening-related issues and hopefully these have been ironed out by now.
Other things to do in Dubai with kids
- Wild Wadi Waterpark: an outdoor water park with 30 rides and attractions
- Ski Dubai: the first indoor ski slope in the Middle East
- Flip Out Dubai: an indoor trampoline park
- Dubai Creek: you can take a cruise on a traditional dhow boat
- Atlantis Adventure Waterpark: complete with an aquarium and dolphin encounter
- Visiting the gold and spice souqs
- A 4WD expedition out to the desert to ride camels and have dinner at sunset
Where to Stay in Dubai With Kids
We stayed at the JA Ocean View Hotel at Jumeirah Beach, which was a great choice. The room had stunning views out over the Arabian Gulf, and a lovely pool for cooling off after the heat of the day. There are plenty of shops and restaurants located outside the door on “The Beach” complex at JBR The Walk and you can also swim at the beach.
The hotel provides a free shuttle bus to some of the main attractions including Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates and the souq area in Old Dubai. You can also take the shuttle bus to the private beach at the sister hotel JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort.
We were lucky enough to be staying during Eid Al Adha holiday, so got to enjoy a stunning fireworks display at “The Beach” across the road from our hotel.
You can see more family friendly hotels in Dubai here.
What to Eat in Dubai with Kids
Eating well is not a problem in Dubai! Arabic food is absolutely delicious and both us and the kids enjoyed beautiful hummus and flat breads, traditional Bedouin stews, manousah (Arabic pizza), fattoush (bread salad) and shawarma (meat in a wrap or served on rice).
If your preference is Western style food, there is a plethora of familiar chains everywhere along with many fine dining and luxury options available, including numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.
If you happen to be in Dubai on a Friday, it’s well worth checking out the Friday brunch offered by many luxury hotels and restaurants. It’s a bit of a Dubai institution and there are many family-friendly options available complete with entertainment such as magicians, chocolate fountains, balloon artists, petting zoos and acrobatic troops. Wow!
How to Get to Dubai
We flew with the national carrier Emirates from Germany to New Zealand via Dubai, about as long-haul as it gets! We were blown away by the fantastic family-friendly service we received along the way.
The crew provided our kids with amazing activity packs, soft toy blankets, delicious kids menus and the on-board entertainment selection was fantastic. The wonderful crew even did face painting for our children at 36,000 feet and provided them with a Polaroid snap as a little souvenir of the flight.