Where to start! With so many excursions, resorts, malls and attractions, Dubai is one big glamorous playground for families.
You have fabulous beaches, scenic waterways and the famous desert safaris to explore. A day-trip away are historic mountain villages to reach by car or Arabian fjords and islands to see from the comfort of a traditional boat and that’s only the tip of the dune!
These 5 things to do in Dubai are suitable for families with younger kids, but they are also great for people on a different mission with or without little rascals.
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Luxury and premier versions are always available for everything in Dubai if that’s your speed or if you have the urge to splurge or to treat yourself. In Dubai, the sky’s the limit when it comes to luxury, but don’t worry, we proved that the rest of us can still have a wonderful time on a budget in Dubai without breaking the bank.
The World’s Biggest and Best
To give you an idea of Dubai’s extravagance, it’s home to the world’s largest man-made island and the world’s first ‘seven-star’ hotel, the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
Apparently, one of its ultra-luxury gourmet restaurants, the Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara, is seemingly situated in an underwater aquarium accessible by a simulated submarine ride. How very exciting and out-there, but to see these riches you’ll spend over £1000 for a one night stay in the cheapest room or book a table at one of the restaurants. Fork out £150 per person for lunch at the aquarium restaurant.
Read this post before you go to Dubai for info about rules, when to go and more.
Here are the fabulous things we were able to experience in one week in Dubai with kids on a moderate budget in no particular order.
1. The Beach – JBR Dubai
The place to be for families, in my opinion. There’s plenty to see and do at The Beach of Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR).
It’s great for shopping and leisure. You have spas, perfumeries, tattoo parlours, juice bars, restaurants, salons, indoor playgrounds, a merry-go-round, and The Walk. Adventurous souls will find daring activities to splurge on and the iconic Palm Jumairah with the mythical Atlantis water park is so close that you can see it from the beach.
For more info about JBR beach, what there is to do and why we loved it, READ THIS: Visit The Beach at JBR – Things To Do In Dubai
2. The Frame
The Frame experience is broken up in three distinctive parts; the rich past of Dubai as a fishing village on the way up, present Dubai with views of the old and new Dubai as it is today from the top and Dubai as it will be in the future going down the other side. The fun thing about this attraction is the 93-meter long glass bridge at the top. Prepare for a stomach-turning walk!
3. Malls: Wold Class Shopping & Entertainment
Grownups and kids alike will love the Dubai Mall, especially if the grownups have a playful nature and deep pockets to match. That is unless you have a complete aversion to this type of outing. In which case you should stick to nature-oriented excursions such as beaches, desert safaris, walking tours, boat trips, etc. Don’t worry. There’s plenty to choose from in Dubai.
On a hot day, and there are many in the Arabian desert, state-of-the-art malls are a cool oasis of entertainment for everyone, but especially for kids. We spent half a day in just the Virtual Reality world at Dubai Mall and left without going on most of the rides!
Both the Dubai Mall and The Mall of Emirates are a feast for the eyes, offer family-friendly entertainment and designer shopping galore, but overall, the Mall of Dubai is our top pick for families.
The Dubai Mall & The Mall of Emirates
Dubai is all about boasting the best and they will not be outdone by any other city in the world. It’s the cities’ main mission and my goodness are they doing a good job! If China builds the highest view deck, Dubai will raise theirs. And they did.
This ethos is showcased at the Dubai Mall, which itself is the largest shopping destination in the world in terms of size. Just a few examples: it’s right next to the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa.
The musical water fountain in front of the Dubai Mall is the worlds largest musically synchronised water fountain. It has the aquarium and underwater zoo, the Rainforest Restaurant (we love that one), a cool Virtual Reality (VR) world, an olympic size ice rink, indoor play area and the world’s largest candy store. Why would you not go?
We spent a full and long day gwaking, shopping, eating and playing at the Dubai Mall and returned to our hotel very late, happy, exhausted and broke. Just kidding. Nearly broke.
The big draw to the smaller Mall of Emirates is the fantastic Indoor Ski centre, which is on our wish list for next time. On this trip, we didn’t fly seven hours from England to Dubai to dress up in ski suits and spend a day in the snow. No. With only a week there, we knew what we wanted. We went for the sun, sand and sea and that’s what we got.
4. Bedouin Desert Safari
This is a must if you visit Dubai. It’s just not negotiable. The Bedouin desert safari is sort of a right of passage when visiting Dubai. You can’t say that you’ve been to Dubai if you haven’t been on a desert safari to the red dunes.
For families, we recommend the evening safari over the morning experience, because it’s a cooler time of day and you’ll return to your hotel early enough to put the kids to bed at a decent hour. Saying that, we’ve not experienced a morning safari, but having felt the mid-day heat and crushing humidity, I wouldn’t try it with my kids.
Our tour – and most tours are the same – left the city between 3 and 4 pm. Depending on your guide, you’ll go on a fun dune bashing ride to a campsite where you’ll experience a desert sunset, a bbq dinner and traditional dancing.
I suggest you book a desert safari with a hotel pick up in a private vehicle.
Whichever way you book, make sure that you get a confirmation email back from the safari company confirming the pick-up address, time, date and driver details.
Read all about our unforgettable desert safari experience in Dubai HERE
5. Old Dubai & The Souks
It is worth every penny to join a guided tour to experience old Dubai. Do not miss seeing the rich Arabian history and architecture in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Then cross the Dubai Creek in a traditional wooden Abra boat or a water taxi to visit the souks in Deira.
Souk simply means an Arabian market or bazaar. You need time to see Dubai’s shopping heritage which includes the gold, spice, perfume and textile souks.
Many visitors see only the glitz and glamour of new Dubai and miss the truly fascinating chance to compare it with its origins, only possible once you’ve been to old Dubai where it all started as a small fishing village. Dubai’s roots go back as far as 3000 to 2500 BC!
The souk traders are boisterous, tenacious and adamant to sell their goods. Be prepared for an overwhelming experience. Practice your assertive yet polite ‘No, thank you’. You’re gonna need it if you want to get past the market traders.
The souk area is worth a visit and must be seen. If you are after exotic spices or gifts and can haggle with the best of them, there are bargains to be had here on anything including frankincense and myrrh.
I have to admit, we’re not great hagglers. When it’s something we want, we pay the asking price automatically, and realise afterwards by the vendor’s surprised expression that we were supposed to negotiate!
The first few items the kids wanted we paid full price for, but I did manage to haggle for a beautifully handmade gold-beaded pouch lined with red velvet just before we left the souk.
If we return to Dubai – and I’m sure we will soon if we’re alive, healthy and able to – I have a list of spices to get, because haggler or not, the prices for exotic spices are still a bargain!
A guided tour is the best way to go so that you don’t end up missing out on worthy experiences or waste valuable time with logistics if you go on your own, which is what happened to us. We got to the Al Fahidi Historic district too late in the day to visit the oldest building or to have a traditional sit-down meal experience.
Luckily, we were able to have Arabian coffee and dates covered in a yummy caramel-ish dip, an Emirate sweet treat, at the picturesque Arabian Tea House. Beautiful from the outside and in with a white pebble floor throughout and a clear view of the chef at work. Must go!
We still enjoyed a walk through the historic neighbourhood with its historic wind towers and narrow alleys before taking a boat across the Creek to the Spice Souk. By the time we made it through the spice souk maze, the children were fading one by one.
We had to call it a day before we could get to any other souks, and took a taxi back to our hotel to put the kids to bed.
When the guidelines say you need a day to do something, we double that time or halve the agenda because of the kids. Family travel doesn’t always go as planned and often it means that you can’t do and see as much as adult-only travellers can, but hey, we try to make the most of everything. Be grateful for all that we are able to do and take something positive from each experience.
Above all, we are thankful for our three perfectly healthy children who we have the privilege to put to bed at the end of the day after showing them the world. They are a blessed adventure all on their own!
RELATED POST: Going To Dubai With Kids – Where What When & How
More Examples of Dubai Excursions
As an example of day trips and activities, I’ve collected a list of some Dubai excursions ranging from luxury premium to quality budget options. There are many many more, but this will give you an idea of cost and what’s available.
Future Dubai excursion I have my eye on for next trip, is the full-day Musandam Dhow cruise to see the Arabian fjords.
Another tempting day trip from Dubai or for a one-night stay in the mountains, is Hatta lake which is gorgeous and great for kayaking and boating.
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Lindsy & Brendan