Planning a family holiday in Dubai can be, in one word, overwhelming and in another word expensive!
There are SO MANY options for accommodation, things to do and places to see that trying to put together an itinerary can be a bit of a brain explosion.
I recently spent a mind blowing 4 days in Dubai with my 7 year old visiting my sister who has lived in the UAE for 5 years, so we had a bit of insider help. I’m sure there are MANY more things to do and see in Dubai, but in 4 days there was no way we would even scratch the surface, so I’ve just included the ones we did, and loved which will hopefully help if you’re planning a visit.
Where to stay
Dubai has almost 100,000 hotel rooms available in over 500 hotels and with World Expo next year (2020) that number will grow even higher. That’s A LOT to choose from. I spent ages comparing, researching and asking around for suggestions and ended up choosing Zabeel House The Greens who are part of the Jumeirah group. If you’re looking for family friendly accommodation in Dubai, stop looking, just stay here.
Zabeel House The Greens is located in a neighbourhood suburb of Dubai, around 20 minutes by car to Downtown (where the Burj Khalifa is), 10 minutes to The Palms and around 25 minutes from the airport. There are over 200 rooms all with a very cool New York loft style about them. There are single rooms all with King beds to sleep 2 adults and 1 child (under 12) or for families there are larger style apartments (where we stayed) that are really spacious and very very VERY cool! The furniture, the decor, the artwork, the big bathtub, the HUGE bed had us both high fiving that we’d be spending the next three nights here!
The apartment can be booked with an adjoining second room with a king bed and a sofa which will comfortably fit 6 people in 2 bedrooms.
There’s a great pool which is next to a big courtyard area complete with lots of seating, restaurant and…..A GIN BAR! This space is often used for hotel organised activities including outdoor movies, jumping castles and while we were there they even had a doggy day out. There’s also a kids playhouse for kids ages 2-12 with a TV, games, toys and regular fully supervised activities and events, which might give you some time to explore the city on your own.
Oh and can we just talk about the breakfast. So many hot and cold options, nice coffee, eggs to order AND fresh pancakes with Nutella EVERY SINGLE MORNING.
The staff at Zabeel were excellent, which I’m sure it’s to do with the fact that the the General Manager Luke James is a South Oz expat. Everyone was really friendly and super helpful. We loved this little spot in the foyer where visitors are encouraged to write little tips for what to see and do in Dubai and leave them on the board for other people read and use. We left a few of our own that you’ll read further on.
Find out more about Zabeel House The Greens and book online from their website at www.zabeelhouse.com/thegreens
How to get around
OK so first thing to mention is that in my opinion, Dubai is not a city built for walking. First of all, it’s almost always hot, stinking hot.
There’s traffic, lots of traffic (which is on the other side of the road to us here in Oz) and most of the things you’ll want to see and do are definitely a car ride distance away.
Dubai has a metro bus and train network, but my tip…..download an app called Careem (which is just like Uber) and use a car. No it’s not the cheapest way to get around but if you’re after a cheap holiday……Dubai is not the place. All of the cars are really nice and will 9/10 times be a Lexus with leather seats (or was that just our weird luck?!?)
You can choose your car type and size (economy, business, first class, maxi etc) and also request Careem Kids which will come fitted with child seats.
All of our drivers were excellent and more than happy to answer the one million questions my 7 year old had on each trip.
“How many people live here?” “How tall is that building?” “Why is that mans face on EVERYTHING?”
Read more about Careem here
In a city where I once paid $35AU for a KIDS Mac and Cheese I’m not going to lie and not tell you that eating out with kids in Dubai can sometimes be a cringe worthy experience. If your kids are anything like mine they’re STARVING one minute and as soon as their food comes out their suddenly not hungry anymore. That little change of mind can soon see you $100 down on kids food for a day which still makes me break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
My only advice here is to not be surprised by it, and just budget for it. Food, drinks and especially wine can be very expensive. Try and stay somewhere that includes breakfast, check out the cafes inside some of the malls (they’re not all junky fast food) and check Trip Advisor for some cheap eats in Dubai. I’m sure they’re around – we just didn’t find any.
We also got a great dinner at Social Company, the restaurant at our hotel. I had curry which was delicious and around $30 and the kids meal was about $18 with spaghetti, a drink and an ice cream.
On the other hand, if your kids are good eaters or your out without them for a meal, Dubai has some of the best restaurants in the world and there are A LOT to choose from. Click here for a list of some of the best in 2019
Where to go/What to see
OK so here’s where it gets tricky. There are just SO MANY incredible things to see and do in Dubai that we had a really hard time choosing. It really depends on what you’re into, how much time you have and what kind of holiday you’re wanting so here are a few of our favourites below.
The Burj Khalifa – The tallest building in the world
Can you come to Dubai and not go to the top of the Burj? This was at the very top of my 7 year olds to do list from the minute I told her we were going to Dubai. At 828 metres tall (160 floors) it really does have to be seen to be believed. And how convenient that the world’s largest building just happens to be attached to the world’s largest mall complete with indoor aquarium, fountain show, and Olympic size ice skating rink. #dubai
Hot Dubai Tip: , if you’re an early riser or your flight gets in early like ours did, book a sunrise tour! It’s cheaper, MUCH less crowded and you’ll get to see the incredible view of the sun coming up over this huge city.
Other buildings to check out
If architecture and REALLY big buildings are your thing you’ll probably also want to make stop at the Burj al Arab, the twisty Cayan Tower, Atlantis The Palm and my favourite The Frame. Hot Dubai Tip: You probably don’t need to pay to go to the top of ALL of these buildings. Choose one (probably the Burj Khalifa) and then just go to the bottom of the others. You can still get some great photos and sometimes it’s just as cool to look all the way up than it is all the way down.
Make tracks in the desert
One thing high up on my to do list was to get out into the desert and once again there are LOTS of ways to do this. There are many tour operators offering desert experiences so whether its camel rides, dune bashing, sunset dinners or desert safaris you’re bound to find something to suit your family. We were lucky enough to have my sister to drive us about an hour out of the city to climb some dunes and take some photos. We visited in December so although it was definitely hot, we weren’t roasting and spent about an hour looking around, taking photos, dune jumping and trying (but failing) to slide down on a piece of cardboard.
Hot Dubai Tip: If you’re after a personal desert experience, or don’t want to do a tour, try and organise a driver for a half or full day so you can go and see what you want to.
Visit the Old Town and jump on an abra
Dubai’s Old Town is home to traditional markets, authentic meals and cultural experiences. We loved walking through the spice souk and smelling ALL the smells. It’s a busy market so be prepared to be
Hot Dubai Tip: After you’ve been to the souks jump on an abra (traditional boat) and cross the Dubai creek. Boats leave every few minutes from 5am to midnight. It’ll take 5 minutes and only cost you 1 dirham each.
Go to a Waterpark
There’s actually a few waterparks to choose from in Dubai and we ended up choosing Wild Wadi which is owned by the same group as the hotel we stayed at. It’s located right near the Burj Al Arab on The Palms so you can easily do both in one day. We were planning to just do a few hours here, but that very quickly and easily turned into half a day by the time we left. This is a great park for under 10’s who aren’t quite up for super thrill rides, but still want something that goes fast and is a bit scary. If your kids are over 110cms they can go on ALL of the 30 rides at this park including single and double tube rides, wave pools and for the little ones there’s a fantastic splash park that would keep them entertained for hours.
We went after lunch on a weekday and it seemed to be a great time to go. The lines ups were max 10 minutes and we got LOTS of them in.
To find out more about Wild Wadi Waterpark click here
Check out Green Planet
One of the newer attractions in Dubai, and a recommendation from my sister was Green Planet. Dubai’s first bio dome and home to over 3000 plants and animals. It’s a four level building with a huge Avatar-esque tree right in the middle of it FULL of exotic birds including a tucan!
After passing under an impressive aquarium tunnel, you take the lift to the top and slowly walk your way down. On the way down you’ll see all sorts of animals including monkeys, snakes, lizards spiders and even a sloth! You’ll even get a little taste of home on the bottom floor at the Australian Walkabout zone. Am I the only person who didn’t know that a Kookaburra was a type of Kingfisher? I thought they got the label wrong!
We took about 45 minutes from top to bottom, but if you stay for the presentations you could easily spend a couple of hours here.
Hot Dubai Tip: Green Planet is located at City Walk which is a great area for a walk around, has a view of the Burj, and also lots of restaurants to choose from.
Get 10% off when you book tickets online at www.thegreenplanetdubai.com
Other things we didn’t get time for but looked great
Al Qadra cycle track Bike track – something for older kids
If I’d known about this before we saw it I would have definitely done it. Hire a bike and cycle part of this whopping 180km track that will take you through the desert. It’s long, it’s flat, it’s off the road, it looked awesome. Only for older kids and confident bike riders who know the rules though, there are lots of cyclists who use this track at high speed so you’ll need to make sure you’re staying to the side.
Snow skiing in the desert? Of course you can in Dubai! Located inside the Mall of the Emirates there’s a huge slope, chair lift, sledding, zorbing, snow tubing and other wintery activities.
Dubai Miracle Gardens
I was gutted to miss out on the Miracle Gardens but we just simply ran out of time. Every year from mid-November to mid-May, a 72,000 sqm space is FILLED with floal displays arranged in all sorts of colourful arches, designs and patterns
Dubai Garden Glow
And if lights are more your thing, how about the worlds largest glow in the dark garden. We drove past this on the way out to the airport and there was a collective “OH NO! We missed that!”
Lots of people recommended this indoor interactive play museum but once again #notime. Lots of hands on STEM activities that looks like a lot of fun. A good one if you need an indoor activity to beat the heat.
Another place that we heard a lot about, Kidzania is a kid-sized world where it’s all about children. Over 70 role-playing activities for children aged 2-16, where they’ll learn all about jobs, money and the real world. Be a doctor for the day, a fireman, work at the Kinder Chocolate Factory, sample life as a videographer.
You can fly direct to Dubai from Adelaide with Emirates. The flight will take around 13 hours with a 6 hour time difference (we’re ahead).
Dubai is a truly mind blowing place to visit and there is really so much for kids to do and see you’ll probably struggle to fit it all in. It’s also the half way point to many other destinations around the world so next time you’re off overseas, get out of the airport and spend a few nights, you won’t regret it!
Hopefully this gives you a little help in deciding what to put on your itinerary. I’d love to hear below if you have been to Dubai with your family, and what places your family loved.
FYI, we stayed for free at Zabeel House The Greens. No monetary payment was received for my comments and all opinions are my own.