We were going from Tokyo to Scotland. It was winter, and it was a very long flight. So we thought about stopping somewhere warm mid-way for a couple of days and Abu Dhabi came as the best option. Well, why not? Here’s our guide to an Abu Dhabi stopover with kids – UAE for families.
Planning a visit to the UAE with kids and teens
Clothing for women and teens
UAE is an Islam led country and we know nothing about it. After some research, I’ve found that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are quite fine and tourist-friendly, so I was a bit more at ease. We couldn’t throw our clothes away to get new ones, and we couldn’t buy new ones and take them along because we don’t have space. So, well, at least Melissa and I would be wearing jeans and loose tees and if needed, a scarf over our heads. That we already had.
You don’t need to cover your head or wear anything specific unless you’re going to a mosque or something special. Mostly, as long as you cover shoulders, and knees (and everything in between), you’re fine.
Can we take meds to UAE?
But then came the medical problem. We had a huge pharmacy – we’ve been traveling for 2 years and we had quite a bit of vitamin, painkillers, melatonin, and allergy meds – besides our homeopathic collection.
In UAE, there’s a huge list of meds you can’t enter the country with and, after contact with their embassy, we were told that we needed a doctor’s prescription for any drugs we were going to bring into the country. We didn’t have it, they were all over the counter meds.
So we had to chuck them all out – sad, and a huge set back in our budget, but…
We still managed to enter with a few things: nose spray, eye drops, and Ibuprofen, but the rest was all left behind.
They scanned our bags around 3 times in UAE, so I’m kind of glad we left them behind. It’s a roulette, you can be chosen or not for a thorough check, so you can try or not take your stuff with you. We chose not to since the worst case scenario is jail.
Visas for UAE
We’re from New Zealand, so we can stay for a period without any visa – that’s what we did. Some countries don’t have that, check it!
I know that our Brazilian passports wouldn’t give us the same benefit, and it would cost a lot and take some time to get it.
MERS and other diseases
So while we were planning our itinerary in Abu Dhabi, there was this disease called Mers. It’s the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome that is spread from camels – oh now that we were planning camel riding?
So we’ve had to take that off of our schedule. Coral (5) was the only one who wanted to ride them and she was highly disappointed – but I was secretly relieved because I wouldn’t have to help with the camel suffering.
Other than that, if you have the basic vaccines, you should be fine in Abu Dhabi.
Family hotels in Abu Dhabi
We spent our days at Holiday Inn Downtown hotel. We don’t usually stay in hotels because we don’t have access to what we want – like towels, cooking stuff, or even the ability to go from one room to the other without being decent.
But, yes, it was a very short stay and we wanted the luxury of not doing the dishes, have a great breakfast ready when we woke up, and have a cab waiting for us when we wanted it.
The Holiday Inn Downtown is great. We got 2 rooms next to each other in a very secluded corner of the hotel, which meant more privacy and silence. One of the rooms was a corner room, and it was really big with a huge king size bed giant fluffy towels, and it was great.
The TV only spoke in Arabic which was strange, but it was fun – by the end of our third day, Coral (5) was singing the Teenage Mutant Ninja song in Arabic.
It wasn’t a family room, but it was better – it meant 2 toilets and 2 showers, which is always a bonus.
One complaint: the pool area is where people smoke. Seriously annoying, as they’d sit right next to the kids and light up their cigarettes. Not cool. We left it within 30 minutes because of that. Don’t use the pool unless you’re the only one there.
The breakfast buffet was delicious and we ate a lot every morning. Arabic bread with labneh every day, yes, please! Everything was perfect.
Things to do in Abu Dhabi with kids
There were many things we wanted to do, but due to our short stay, we’ve had to choose.
Our first stop was Burger Fuel – of course. It’d been months since our last Burger Fuel and since there are 4 branches in Abu Dhabi, we went for it. Same menu, delicious burgers, loved it. They even had Phoenix juice, made in NZ. I mean, if you come from a place filled with good burgers, then you may not need it, but we did and it was worth it.
Later that day, we asked Mac, the concierge at the hotel, about stuff to do and he helped us build a rough itinerary: we’d go to Heritage Village, then visit Marina Mall (just across the road). On the next day, we’d spend the morning at the pool and do a desert safari in the afternoon, and then we’d have our Friday morning free to pack and do our things, with a visit to Grand Mosque Sheikh Zayed at night. It was perfect.
The Heritage Village
It’s built to be like a village as they used to be. We arrived there at 3:40 pm and it closes at 4 pm. The website said 5 pm, but it was wrong. By the way, most websites there don’t work as they should. Don’t take them into much consideration.
So we arrived, bought a postcard and that was it. We were literally sent out. All the passages are closed, the shops close, and we had only the exit.
We were going to try to visit it again but ended up not managing it.
It’s said to have artisans working, food, stalls, and more.
Marina Mall is a huge mall close to The Heritage Village. There is a Ferris Wheel in front of it – which we didn’t ride.
We managed to go watch Black Panther, though, and we LOVED it! The cinema was cold and people kept chatting on their phones and seriously watching videos with the volume on, but other than that, it was super comfortable and a great theater.
Desert Safari with Desert Rose
Mac arranged this tour for us for a very cheaper price than we’d previously found. We were going to the morning tour, but we ended up choosing the evening tour because Mac was highly persuasive. The price wasn’t different, and the night tour offered dinner – bonus!
At 3 pm our driver, Hafic, was there to pick us up. Since we’re in 6, we were the only ones with him. Depending on how many people you have in your group, they may or not place more people in the same car.
He drove us, told us a few curiosities, gave us the safety guidelines, and we were on our first stop. A gas station with a little shop, where we bought water, used the loo, and Hafic had lunch. We also waited there for the rest of the group – there were around 10 cars with us.
Soon after we resumed driving, we started on dune bashing. It was so much fun. Coral (5) LOVED it, she was screaming with joy. It was around 40 minutes of bashing, and Hafic was great. He was always asking if we were alright. He started gently to see how we handled it, and by the end of it, we were doing some crazy stuff there.
We had a stop in one of the dunes to climb it and take photos mid-way, which was great. It’s stunning, something from out of this world.
We also had a camel farm stop, where we didn’t even leave the car because of Mers and the sadness of the camels.
Coral did have fun there, she even fed one camel a bit of hay. She loved it.
After a little more of dune bashing, we were taken to the camp.
It was a beautiful camp, with tables and a few stalls around.
We had henna tattoos, drinks (alcohol is paid, but water and soft drinks are free of charge), falcon encounter, and sand boarding. There was also a camel ride and sheesha smoking, but we skipped it.
There were belly dance and Tanoura dance (seriously, the dude spun around for 10 minutes in the same place, same speed, incredible!). We had Qahwa (Arabic coffee) with dates and even a stargazing moment. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy evening and we didn’t see any star at all.
The sunset over the dunes was stunning. Getting to the top of the dune – well, that was hard work. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Sandboarding was one of the highlights for the kids. They had lots of fun. I had to drag Coral’s board up to the top to let her slide – great exercise. Wear comfortable clothing and easy to slip on shoes!
And the food was delicious. Really good food, everything was perfect!
The toilets were cleaned regularly, so they were mostly fine.
It was a great day – very worth the price.
Time for the evening tour: from 3:30 pm pick up until 9:30 drop off.
Alcohol and quadbike are extras and need to be paid for, but everything else is included.
It cost 200 UAD per child and 220 UAD per person over 12 years old. It’s around 55 USD per person, but try bargaining around – they often lower it. (2018 prices)
Grand Mosque Sheikh Zayed
This is a must. What a stunning Mosque!
The entry and the guided tours are free of charge, which is a huge bonus.
It’s beautiful, seriously breathtaking.
We arrived, passed through security (X-ray and bag checks), and we went to the ladies dressing room, where a woman was deciding who would need and abaya and who was fine to enter as they were.
I was fine, apparently, but Melissa’s jeans were a little too tight and she had to wear an abaya. You basically need to wear loose clothing (not too skinny jeans and a jumper) that covers from neck to ankles and a headscarf. I wore my own clothes with the hoodie on – bah. I wanted to wear an abaya, they’re prettier.
By the way, the abaya is the dress they lend to the female visitors, which cover women from head to toe, just leaving the face and the hands out. It’s free of charge.
Angelo was also told to wear a dress robe because of his tattooed arms, but otherwise, men can wear any pants and tee shirt. Joao was also asked to cover his head because he was often mistaken for a girl with his long hair. He didn’t like it, but it’s their home, their rules.
We ran to the 5 pm tour, as they’d already gone. We got the phones to hear what the guide was saying – kids don’t get it, so I had to share mine with Jose (10) and Coral (5). The older 2 received theirs. Outside, it was very hard to hear what the guide was saying without the device, but inside was fine.
The guide was fun was informative – a great learning experience! I highly recommend you take the tour!
They run at 10 and 11 am, and 4:45 pm from Sunday to Thursday, 4:45 and 6:30 pm on Fridays, and 10 and 11 am, 2, 4:45 and 6:30 pm on Saturdays.
The Mosque itself is open every day from 9 am to 10 pm – except on Fridays, when it opens from 4:30 to 10 pm.
The tour lasts for around 30 minutes and it takes you to places where you can’t go by yourself, so it’s very worth it.
It’s all free of charge!
Other places to visit in Abu Dhabi with kids
Besides all we’ve done, there are some other kids activities in Abu Dhabi, like Yas World (a water park), Ferrari World (an amusement park), and more. You could even go visit Dubai – it’s only a couple of hours away. There’s the beach, the islands, and you can even take a boat cruise. Maybe visit the Oasis or one of the many souks (markets) around!
Abu Dhabi Stopover Packages
A few airlines offer stopover packages for UAE but they were, for us, a lot more expensive than doing everything by ourselves.
The hotel prices for the stopover were great and a lot lower than the regular prices – which allowed us to stay in a good hotel.
Best time to visit Abu Dhabi
We were there in February – it’s winter, but it was perfect! The weather was great, it wasn’t hot or cold – it was a mild and delicious temperature. The staff from the hotel said it was cold a few days before we arrived but now it was good. It really was.
I’d avoid going during summer, it’s really hot.
Things to know before going to Abu Dhabi with kids
- Fridays are their prayer day, so almost everything is closed. Our last day was a Friday and there was nothing to do – except for malls. We didn’t want malls. So we took the day to pack our stuff and rest for the long flight ahead.
Try not to be there on a Friday – not fun.
- It’s a crazy place with everything from everywhere. We saw Typo (stationary) from NZ, Cotton On (clothing from Australian), Chili’s (a restaurant franchise we saw in South America), Baskin & Robins, Starbucks, and just about everything we saw around the world! It’s a great place, and it even has Burger Fuel (best burgers from NZ). At the supermarket, we even found Whittakers chocolate (also from NZ).
- Taxis are cheap enough and they’re everywhere. Family taxis are larger and take big families like ours. The family taxis are mostly driven by women while the regular cabs are driven by men.
- Avoid camels – MERS and all… If you are going to get in contact with them, wash and sanitize your hands thoroughly before touching your face.
- Summers are really hot around there – so hot that the desert tours don’t even run during summer months. Avoid them. I’d say February is perfect.
- Take loose clothing – it doesn’t have to be baggy, just not skinny jeans; loose tees that cover shoulders (and bra straps, of course), and you’re good to go. If someone approaches you because of your clothing, apologize and say you’ll try to fix it as soon as possible.
- I have tattooed arms, so I had my arms covered as well but people didn’t seem to mind Angelo’s also tattooed arms – except at the Mosque, where he had to cover.
- Don’t make out in public – it’s not taken lightly.
- Also, have the doctor’s prescriptions for the drugs you’ll carry into the country. Just in case, but better ready than sorry.
To finish it…
We loved Abu Dhabi and next time, we’ll stay for longer. There’s just so much to see and do there that a stop over just don’t make it justice.
- City / Country
- Minimun Stay
- $ ~ $$$
- Best local transport option
- Do we recommend it?
- Abu Dhabi / UAE
- 3 days
- Very child friendly
- Super safe!