A visit to Abu Dhabi means the chance to experience a wealth of cultural attractions and immersive experiences. This means plenty of opportunities for families to broaden their horizons in a way that’s not only great fun but also leaves a lasting impression.
World-class museums, grand palaces and art galleries, mangrove sanctuaries and vibrant harbourfront markets and more: discover the best things to do in Abu Dhabi for families.
You’ll need at least a morning or afternoon to tour the temporary exhibitions and the twelve galleries. Each of them centres around a theme and time period. The curation provides context about how far-flung civilizations and cultures have historically been connected. The 45-minute guided tour, available four times a day, is perfect for kids with limited concentration spans.
Designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the museum's exterior is as fascinating as the exhibits within. In the central plaza, steps lead to the sea. Sunlight streams in through the interlaced geometric star design of the layered 7,500-tonne dome creating patterns on the floor. Reminiscent of the feeling of being in an oasis under a canopy of date palms, this is the ‘rain of light’ effect.
There’s a children’s museum with interactive experiences and children’s activity sessions on weekends.
Kids will get a real kick out of journeying through 10 zones with sunken wrecks, volcanoes, rainforests, Atlantic caves and Arctic sea ice. They’ll learn about the UAE’s pearl diving heritage, native aquatic species and other marine ecosystems.
You can tour the aquarium in a glass-bottomed boat or get up close with puffins, freshwater rays and sharks.
A 2km boardwalk offers three routes through the park. Along the way, stop at viewing platforms and educational nodes, including a floating platform and a viewing tower.
The park has a visitor centre and cafe if you want to grab coffee or a snack. Go during high tide when the park is more picturesque. Kayaking tours of the park are also available. The park is popular with nature photographers and birdwatchers, so it’s best to book online in advance.
Inside, Moroccan artwork adorns the domes. Swarovski crystal-studded chandeliers sparkle above halls and foyers, and the world’s largest handcrafted carpet covers the floor of the main prayer hall. The mosque is open to non-Muslim visitors and is an excellent opportunity to learn about Islamic architecture and culture.
There are free 30-minute guided tours available every hour on hour from 10 am to 8 pm every day (except Friday afternoons). Both men and women should wear full-length, modest clothing that covers the arms and knees.
Sheikh Al Zayed Mosque [Image courtesy of LastMinute.com]
Highlights include The Great Hall with its large central dome, intricate mosaic work and mirrored cubes. The Spirit of Collaboration room hosts summits under a 12-tonne, 350,000-crystal chandelier. A guided tour is a good choice for a deep dive into the architecture of the palace.
Those curious about the UAE’s contributions to various fields should stop by the House of Knowledge and Qasr Al Watan Library.
Kids will love Palace In Motion, a light and sound show that takes place outside the palace at 8 pm.
On a guided tour, you’ll visit the treatment wards, and see falcon pedicures and feather repairs in action. There’s also a museum where you and the kids can learn about the history of falconry. Afterwards, witness falcons taking free flight in the aviary and get a photo with a falcon perched on your arm.
Thanks to their ability to transport goods and people across the harsh desert terrain, the region’s Bedouin tribes depended on them for survival. They continue to hold great cultural significance. Camel milk and meat are also routinely consumed in the UAE.
Visitors are welcome to walk or drive around the market which is little more than a group of livestock pens. Expect herders to invite you in to take a closer look and photograph the animals with the expectation of tips (bring small bills).
The art gallery exhibits the work of artists from the UAE and the region. Art, pottery, calligraphy, handicraft and music classes are held in the studios at the centre.
In Al Qattara Archaeological Basement, you’ll find exhibits dating to the Iron Age. They were found during excavations when the heritage building was being turned into an arts centre.
Here, sunlight streams in through nearly 147,000 date palm trees and ancient falaj irrigation channels bring water from the mountains to feed the farms. Don’t forget to pick up a free map at the visitor centre.
At Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk, browse rows of fresh produce and buy local strawberries, Indian bananas and Pakistani mangoes.
A section of the market is full of shops selling delicious dates, date-filled chocolates, nuts and dried fruits. You can ask to sample these before you buy.
A short walk away, at Al Mina Fish Market, you can buy fresh seafood such as hamour (local variety of grouper) and prawns. It will be cleaned in front of you and you can ask for it to be cooked as you like at one of the canteens.
Looking for a souvenir? Browse the nearby Carpet Souk for colourful patterned carpets and rugs.
Discover more about this beautiful city in our Rough Guides guidebooks. You might also want to see our list of where to stay in Abu Dhabi or the most romantic holidays in Abu Dhabi. Go on the trip of your dreams with our customisable tailor-made trip itineraries to the United Arab Emirates.
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