With eight months of glorious weather, beautiful beaches and kid-friendly attractions galore, Dubai is perfect for families.
It’s also one of the most expensive winter sun destinations around, but it is possible to holiday here without breaking the bank, writes Lara Brunt.
Forgo the pricey beach resort in favour of a mid-range hotel with an outdoor pool and free shuttle bus to the beach, such as Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates. Opened in January, the hotel is five minutes’ walk from the metro and 200 metres from Dubai’s second largest mall.
Modern interconnecting rooms start from around £75 and one-bedroom suites, where two children aged up to 17 can stay for free on the sofa bed, cost from £132. There’s an all-day dining restaurant with children’s menu, kids’ pool and babysitting service available.
The neighbourhood is full of good-value restaurants, while Mall of the Emirates has more than 50 casual restaurants and cafés, two food courts and a huge Carrefour supermarket to stock up on snacks.
Boozy Friday brunches are the stuff of legend in Dubai, but family-friendly all-you-can-eat affairs, often held on a Saturday, are also very popular (the UAE weekend is Friday and Saturday).
Ronda Locatelli (Atlantis The Palm, Crescent Road, The Palm; +971 4 426 2626) has a four-course Italian brunch served at your table, every Saturday from 12.30pm. The three-hour brunch costs £37 per person with unlimited soft drinks or £56 for unlimited beer and wine. Children under 11 dine for free and there’s a magician and pizza making class to keep them entertained.
The Beach at JBR – a pleasant pedestrianised shopping and entertainment area metres from the sea – is a top spot for a family meal. There are more than 40 restaurants to choose from but we’re fans of Big Chefs (The Piazza; +971 4 551 5302), an airy brassiere with a huge menu of Turkish, Arabic and European dishes and separate kids’ menu.
If you’re keen to sample some local flavours, Zaroob (Jumeirah Tower Building, Sheikh Zayed Road; +971 4 327 6262) serves Arabic street food, such as falafel and shawarma, and mezze dishes that are made for sharing. If you’re not sure what to order, ask the friendly staff for recommendations. Expect to spend around £40 to feed a family of four.
If you’re visiting during the milder months of November to March, spend a day at one of Dubai’s fabulous waterparks. Wild Wadi (Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah; +971 4 348 4444) and Aquaventure (Atlantis The Palm, Crescent Road, The Palm, +971 4 426 2000) have dozens of slides, rides, pools and play areas suitable for all ages. Tickets for a family of four to will set you back around £190; if you’re celebrating a birthday while in Dubai, register for a free Aquaventure day pass.
At the foot of the world’s tallest tower, the Dubai Fountain (Downtown Dubai) is a fantastic, free spectacle that takes place daily at 1pm and 1.30pm (1.30pm and 2pm on Fridays) and every 30 minutes from 6pm-11pm. The fountains shoot water 500ft into the air, choreographed to music and lights.
If you’d rather watch the show from above, book your tickets for the Burj Khalifa (Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown; +971 4 888 8124) in advance online and you’ll save 50% when you visit outside the prime viewing hours of late afternoon to sunset.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s mega malls offer much more than just shopping. At The Dubai Mall (Financial Centre Road, Downtown, 800 38224 6255), the excellent Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo has around 33,000 sea creatures, plus cage snorkelling and shark diving for older kids. Tickets start at £19 per person (free for under threes).
More recently, the city has also embraced outdoor leisure spaces. City Walk (Al Safa Street, Al Wasl; +971 4 317 3999) is one of the best, with restaurants, cafés, shops, cinemas and ‘eduplay’ centres such as Mattel Play Town and the new Green Planet biodome with more than 3,000 tropical plants.
To experience a different side of the city, take the metro to Dubai Creek. Wander around the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood, which features narrow lanes and restored wind tower houses, then take an abra (boat) across the creek to the spice and gold souks of Deira. The boat ride costs just 20p per person each way.
Dubai has an excellent metro system, which covers most parts of the city of interest to visitors (including Dubai International Airport). You’ll need to buy a Nol smartcard first (available at metro stations), which can be used on the metro, tram and bus network. Single trips within the same zone cost around 76p and a day pass is £3.80. Kids under five travel for free; children aged five plus will need a regular Nol card.
Taxis are also plentiful and cheap. A taxi from the airport to the Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates will cost around £20 and you’ll see a line of estate-sized, pink-roof taxis reserved for women and families.
These sometimes have a child car seat, but if you’re travelling with a baby your best bet is to bring your own or use Careem, the local version of Uber, which has a fleet of larger cars with universal child seats.
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