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Girl About Cheshire’s Guide to a Family Holiday in Abu Dhabi, UAE

By Jenny Schippers – 29th October 2020
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October Half Term in Abu Dhabi

As a family with two young children, we have visited Abu Dhabi twice now during the October half-term school holidays. I often find friends and family surprised or anxious at the thought of us travelling to the Middle East and I must admit that before we visited ourselves, we had so many questions and concerns regarding what it might be like. The obvious thoughts when travelling to the Middle East surround the laws, expectations on how to dress, and of course the heat. Abu Dhabi, in my opinion, is the perfect family holiday destination, particularly during our Winter months and I hope to answer and address any questions you may have following our own experience of travelling there.

Flying to the Middle East

Firstly, the flight is a very do-able 7-hour direct flight from the UK with no real jet-lag(+4hrs). Emirates and Etihad fly from a variety of regional airports and these scheduled carriers have generous baggage allowances included in the cost of the ticket so there are no worries about what to pack. My travel tip when flying with young children is to select the night flight departing the UK which should hopefully encourage your little one to sleep for some or all the journey. If flying with a baby, make sure to book a bassinet (sky cot) and bulkhead seats to give you a bit more space. All food and drink are provided on these carriers, but you will need to make a special request in advance for an infant/child meal (this can be done online through the airline’s website).

Getting Around in Abu Dhabi

For both our holidays to Abu Dhabi we flew from Manchester Airport with Etihad Airlines. On arrival in Abu Dhabi, the transfer to the hotels are quick and easy. There is a taxi rank directly outside the terminal building and the whole process is very well organised. All taxis in the Middle East are safe, metered, and easy to find. We have never hired a car whilst in Abu Dhabi and instead rely on taxis to get around as they are very reasonable. If travelling with young children, you may wish to consider packing an infant car seat for use whilst away, this is included within your baggage allowance with the airline and at no extra cost. As our children are now older, we take a travel booster seat which is easy to pack (Mifold).

Al Raha Beach Hotel

On our first trip, we stayed at the Al Raha Beach Hotel on the Al Raha Corniche approximately 10 minutes from the airport and a further 40 minutes into the city centre. This beautiful, grand hotel is a resort-style property with everything you need without ever leaving! The hotel is vast, there are 278 rooms including suites and private villas, eight restaurants, and connected to the Al Raha Shopping Mall (which houses a well-stocked supermarket, cafes, restaurants, and a cinema). The hotel sits on its own private stretch of the corniche (beach) and has an impressive spa, gym, children’s water play area, and kid’s club. All these fantastic facilities make for a wonderfully safe and self-contained holiday. On our first trip to Abu Dhabi, we did not actually leave the hotel, we enjoyed all the hotel facilities as well as the mall next door and it suited us so well with young children (who were 9 months old and 3 years old at the time).

Yas Island

On a second trip, the children were that bit older (2.5 and 5 years old) and we decided to be more adventurous! Although we absolutely loved the Al Raha Beach Hotel (and would go back in a heartbeat) we chose a hotel on Yas Island to be closer to the main entertainment attractions. Yas Island is the home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as well as Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros. Abu Dhabi, Yas Beach, and Yas Mall. These attractions and the hotels on the Island are well connected by a free, regular air-conditioned shuttle bus. We stayed at the family-friendly Yas Rotana Hotel which has a fantastic pool area, family rooms, indoor soft play, and a kid’s club all with a very informal vibe. There are also options to upgrade to Half/Full and All-Inclusive board basis which is so useful when travelling with young children. Although the hotel is not on the beach, you do have free access to the private Yas Beach connected by the shuttle bus, complete with swimming pools, cabanas, and a children’s pool.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

With regards to day trips from Abu Dhabi, you are spoilt for choice. The main visitor attraction is the incredibly impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which is a must-see regardless of religion. Open 7 days a week (9 am-10 pm daily and 2.30-10 pm on Fridays), the whole complex is vast and can see up to 55,000 visitors a day. Your taxi will drop you outside a very inconspicuous glass door at the opposite end of the complex to the mosque itself. After a trip down an escalator, you are greeted by a huge underground labyrinth of souvenir shops, western-style cafes, and an airport security style visitor centre. Before you can visit the mosque, make sure to pre-book your free tickets online at https://www.szgmc.gov.ae/en/Home and dress appropriately, as you should do throughout your time in the Middle East (outside your hotel). Guides for this can be found on the mosque’s website but as a rule, arms/legs/chest covered and lose clothing to be worn by men and women. If visiting with children, you must keep them under control and for small children, I would suggest bringing a baby carrier as prams are not allowed in the main complex.

Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Other popular attractions from Abu Dhabi include a trip to Dubai, approximately a 1 hr 45-minute drive, a sand safari into the desert, and a city tour including the Heritage Village. The Middle East may not be everyone’s first thought for a family holiday, it is certainly not the conventional choice and I would describe it as more of a city break vibe with great family-friendly beaches and facilities. The weather is pretty much guaranteed which is always a bonus for some Winter sun and even from October to January the temperatures rarely drop below 30 degrees. As the heat is all-year-round, the shopping malls, attractions, and taxis are all air-conditioned and very pleasant. Most evenings in Abu Dhabi are spent in shopping malls but if that is not your thing then the beach bars and restaurants along the Corniche are a great spot to visit especially with its pram-friendly promenade. The Marina was our favourite spot in the evening when staying at the Rotana on Yas Island and when at the Al Raha Beach Hotel we really enjoyed the beach bar/restaurant and the walk along the promenade to the private villas.

Key Points to Remember

A couple of points to note when visiting the Middle East. Obviously, there are customs to consider when visiting a Muslim country; alcohol is mainly available to purchase and drink in hotels (some hotels are ‘dry’) and it is expensive. There is a ‘Bottle Shop’ at the Al Raha Beach Hotel so you can purchase alcohol to drink in your room whilst staying at this hotel. Friday Brunches are a big thing so make sure to book one of these if visiting on a Friday, the price varies by hotel depending on the activities on offer, many have children’s entertainers/creches and live music. Dressing modestly when outside the hotel is a way to respect the local culture, both men and women should cover their arms and legs. Whilst in your hotel, around the pool and on your private beach, it is fine to wear Western-style clothes and swimwear. Be aware that public displays of affection are not considered appropriate, however, again, this is ok within the hotel but be discreet. Children are welcome in the Middle East; we have always been received warmly as a family and the girls spoiled within the hotels. Children are however expected to behave well whilst out in public and breast-feeding is to be done privately, however, most tourist attractions/malls have brilliant facilities for this.

Summary

Overall, we have been so pleasantly surprised by holidaying in Abu Dhabi with children. As parents, we have particularly enjoyed taking our girls to a destination with a different religion and culture to our own. It is a strange place, do not get me wrong, the juxtapositions between old and new, rich and poor, Eastern and Western culture is bizarre but that melting pot makes for a truly exciting and very different holiday. We will absolutely be back to experience more of this fascinating place, there are plans to visit Al Ain and see Dubai as well as the desert safari as the girls get older.

For more information visit: https://visitabudhabi.ae/en-gb

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This is a Girl About recommendation. This means that it was not gifted in return for a review but paid in full by our writer and the venue had no idea that I was there. We only recommend places we absolutely love, and places that we know you’ll love too!

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