Activities for free (yes, FREE!)
Paddle on Jumeirah Open Beach
Although it can get a tad busy of a weekend, it’s not difficult to see why Dubai’s main open beach is so popular with families. Apart from the obvious attractions (the white sand and blue surf) the open beach has been revamped in recent years and sports a rather flash running track and a cycle track. There’s also an adventure playground on the beach, as well as loos and shower facilities. Although be warned, as these can get a little mucky as the day goes on…
Splash in the fountains at Dubai Marina walk
Pack an extra set of dry clothes and let the kids burn off some energy by playing in the walk-through fountains at JBR’s Walk (it’s near Starbucks and Spinneys). Then follow it up with an afternoon on the beach with a home-packed picnic. The kids will love the fact that you’re not stressing about them getting their clothes wet, and later on, they can have a run about and swim on one of the nicest open beaches in town.
Check out the gee-gees at Jebel Ali Race course
Get a taste for the national sporting obsession and visit the races at Jebel Ali’s race track. There are usually six races on a racing afternoon, held at 30 minute intervals with the first kicking off at 2.30pm. Entry is free and children are welcomed, but parents are expected to make sure they are well supervised once they reach the racing enclosures. This might be a better pursuit for older kids or babies safely strapped into their buggies. Snacks are also available, and complimentary race cards are administered upon entry.
Friday January 13 and 27, www.emiratesracing.com (04 347 4914).
Witness some local culture at the Camel Racetrack
Take them out for an excursion with a difference to the Camel Racetrack up the Al Ain road past Dubai Outlet Mall (take the right hand exit to Al Lisali and the track is on your right). Here they can witness up to 70 sleek racing camels at a time (some carrying robot jockeys) pound around the 10 kilometre track. We like the fact that you can get up with the larks to catch the early morning races which kick off at 7.30am every weekend – perfect light for budding photographers to catch some seriously good snaps for that project at school too. Or you can wander down there after lunch for the 2.30pm sessions.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 7.30am and 2.30pm, from October to April (04 338 8170).
Enjoy a stroll around Safa Park
If they’re driving you utterly bonkers with their excess energy, why not get them into their trainers for trot around Safa Park’s outer edge. The specially designed running circuit is three kilometres’ long, so one lap is probably enough to take the ‘little monster’ out of any energetic nipper.
Open 24 hours.
Go for a camp in the desert
As long as you’ve already got the equipment (or second hand tents and the like can usually be picked up for a song on Dubizzle), this can be one of the best ways to spend an economical weekend with the kids. We recommend going with several other families including one experienced camper they’ll know how to light the bonfire and know a decent location).
For inspiration visit www.offroaduae.com.
Take a trip to the Heritage Village
We love this historical centre situated in Shindagha, and located right next to the picturesque Dubai Creek. Built to resemble an old fashioned Arabian town, there’s traditional buildings, a souk area, and enclosures for animals too. Displays include falconry, camel rides, horse riding demonstrations, art exhibitions and real bedoiun ladies who cook up traditional Emirati snacks on stone ovens and hotplates.
Open 8am-10pm Sat-Thurs; Friday 8am-11am and 4pm-10pm (04 393 7151).
Activities for less than Dhs50 (for the entire family!)
Take a Creek tour aboard an abra
For a mere Dhs1 per person, you can hop on an abra from either Bur Dubai or Deira Creek side abra stations, and experience the busy waterway and a startling array of sea birds as you bob across to the other side. The ride is over in less than 10 minutes, so if you feel you haven’t seen enough, you can actually hire an entire abra for a 30-minute creek tour, for just Dhs30. There are three routes to choose from and this is a brilliant little excursion if you have family staying who want to see a bit of Middle Eastern colour. Granny and Gramps will love the the dhows, while the children will enjoy waving to the passengers on other abras. If you fancy a slightly more stylish, air-conditioned experience, you can also opt for the brand new RTA water-taxis, with comfy seats and panoramic windows for Dhs50 (1 hour). Personally though, we prefer the old fashioned kind.
Dhs1-30, 8am-10pm daily. Bur Dubai Souk abra stations and Deira Souk abra station.
Browse Dubai Museum
Surely one of the most underrated historical activities in town, Dubai Museum, tucked away in the Bur Dubai souk, has all manner of fascinating treasures to offer families and visiting relatives alike. The outside courtyard includes a traditional Arabian house you can explore, while inside, you can find out all about the origins of the spice souks, the lives of the pearl divers, and view artifacts from the region that are thousands of years old.
Dhs3 (adults) Dhs1 (children over six). Under sixes go free. 8.30am-8.30pm (Sat-Thurs) 2.30pm-8.30pm (Fri). (04 353 1862).
Visit the Arabian Wildlife Centre
A personal favourite of ours, you can get up close to some of the rarest desert animals in the world. Think virtually being cheek to cheek with an Arabian leopard (with a pane of glass in between you!) The centre is set out in zones that display nocturnal animals (it’s all under the cover of darkness so keep an eye on your toddlers) and the ‘desert’s plains’ enclosure is an absolute winner, with birds flying freely overhead and wild hares and rabbits hopping about. You can even see a live bat exhibit. And, once you’ve done the rounds of the wildlife centre, you can pop next door to the petting farm where the kids can stroke and feed camels, Jersey cows, goats, sheep and donkeys, and get themselves a Dhs10 pony ride too.
Dhs15 (adults) children under 15 go free. 9am-5.30pm, (Sat-Thurs) 2pm-5.30pm (Fri), closed Mon (06 531 1999).
Drift around Sharjah Aquarium
This nautical centre, with all manner of fishy displays and over 250 species of fish, also includes interactive electronic screens so you can view the residents of each tank and find out what they like to eat, and their proper names too. There’s a walk-through tunnel – and a walkway above the main aquarium where you can literally reach out and touch the larger fishy residents.
Dhs20 (adults) Dhs10 (children aged four-17). Under fours go free. 8am-8pm (Mon-Thurs) 4pm-8pm (Fri) 8am-9pm (Sat). Closed Sun. www.sharjahaquarium.ae (06 528 5288).
Drive for a day out at Al Ain Zoo
Although it’s a bit of a drive from Dubai (about 1.5 hours) this well-run and beautifully landscaped zoo and wildlife park offers families a huge array of activities – and is especially good value in the cooler months. The extensive grounds offer lots of scope for picnics, and children who need to stretch their legs after the car journey can burn off their energy on the various adventure playgrounds dotted about. Then you can explore the zoo, which includes a petting farm, a giraffe feeding station (yes – you can actually hand-feed them) and more monkeys than you can throw peanuts at. It’s top value price-wise, too!
Dhs15 (adults) Dhs5 (children aged 3-12). Tots under three go free. 9am-8pm daily, www.awpr.ae (03 782 8188).
Pat a pet at Posh Paws Animal Sanctuary & Petting Farm
Nearly all the furry and feathered residents at this desert sanctuary are donated, unwanted or rescued. The non-profit organisation run by a team of volunteers and animal lovers alongside Posh Paws Kennels and Cattery also rely on donations alone, so although there is no entrance fee, a donation is always appreciated. Children can feed, touch or hold various animals while learning some fun facts about each one and how to care for the animals correctly. Residents currently include a sloth, porcupines, cockatoos, ponies, deer, llamas, guinea pigs, rabbits, kinkajou, ferrets, goats, cows, flamingoes, baboons, ducks and many more.
9am-6pm daily. Located 25 minutes from Dragon Mart (see website for directions) www.poshpawsdubai.com (050 273 0973).
Fall in love with flight at the Al Mahatta Museum
Boys of all ages will go bonkers for this gem of an aviation museum slap bang in the middle of Sharjah’s bustling metropolis. The Al Mahatta Museum was once an actual airport. The very first in the Middle East region, it was one of the stopovers used by travellers flying to Australia – back in the days when the journey by air from the UK took a staggering 16 days. At Al Mahatta, you can get up close to the three 1930s planes that look as if they’ve flown straight out of Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca. Other parts of the exhibition explore the principles of flight, flight in the 1930s and there’s a black and white Pathe film you can watch, showing you exactly how Al Mahatta was in its heyday: a tiny outpost in the middle of the stark and empty Arabian desert. Brilliant!
Dhs10 (for a family ticket), 8am-8pm (Sat-Thurs) 4pm-8pm (Fri) www.sharjahmuseums.ae (06 568 3079).
Marvel at the Jumeirah Mosque
Possibly the most beautiful mosque in Dubai, tours run every Thursday and cost Dhs10 per person. While it’s not a recommended activity for children under five, older kids will find the tour fascinating, and it’s a great chance to ask the expert tour guide all those questions about Islamic culture you’ve been meaning to read up about. Conservative clothing is also advised.
Dhs10 (per person), 10am every Thursday (except on religious holidays), Jumierah Beach Road, near The One (04 353 6666).
Take a dip in a Municipality pool
If you don’t have a pool on your compound, and the health club membership’s just too steep, consider taking a trip to the local municipality swimming pools in Mushrif Park and Al Mamzar Park. Well maintained with lifeguards, changing facilities and a place where you can get a bite to eat afterwards, they offer you a bargainous swimming session at just Dh10 (adults) and Dhs5 (children). However, be aware that cultural sensitivities require men and women to use separate swimming pools, so parents will have to take turns minding the children so everyone can get their lengths in.
Al Mamzar Beach Park (near Hamriya Port) Dhs30 (per car) to enter. (04 296 7454). Al Mushrif Park (Khawaneej Road near Mirdif) Dhs10 (per car) to enter. (04 288 3624).
Hop on the Metro
Don’t dismiss this experience as mundane – it’s something every little boy and girl will delight in, and because it’s so cheap (a one-day ticket to all zones per person costs just Dhs14, plus little ones under a certain height go free) you can treat them each to an ice cream at one of the many mall stops on the way. We especially like the long run from Dubai Airport or Al Rashidiya, all the way to Mall of the Emirates. You get to travel under Dubai Creek, pop into Burjuman, then take a stop-off at Dubai mall (where a bus shuttle service is provided) and can hop back on for the trip to MOE afterwards. After all that excitement, they’ll just be happy to relax and enjoy the journey home again.
For more inspiration, visit www.rta.ae.
Go sky high for a cable car ride along the Creek
We love this quirky 2.3 kilometre, 30-minute ride along the Dubai Creek, which offers superb views of Creek Park, as well as the local bird life and even the traffic congestion on Maktoum Bridge! Kids will love the fact that they are so high in the air, and can rock the car to scare mum (although this sort of thing is never recommended) and it’s also perfect weather to enjoy the ride. The cable cars aren’t air conditioned, so can get very sticky in summer, but are great fun in winter. You can also book either one-by-one to share a car with other visitors, or book one exclusively for the family.
Dhs25 (per person) Dhs140 (for the car – accommodates seven). 9am-7.30pm. Creek Park (04 336 7633).
Get hands on at Sharjah’s Discovery Centre
The kids will love this huge indoor play area that’s filled with seven different learning zones packed full of ‘hands on activities’ and plenty of fun for all ages. If you’re after action and entertainment, you’ll enter a colourful arena exploring the dynamics of water, the five senses, the art of travel and the mechanisms of building, become a star on TV, climb the wall and ‘shop ’til you drop’ in the children’s supermarket. There’s even a café, where mums and dads can relax over a coffee while the kids go wild.
Dhs10 (adults) Dhs5 (children). Under threes go free. 8am-2pm (Sun-Thurs) 4pm-8pm (Fri-Sat). www.sharjahmuseums.ae (06 558 6577).
Park life for a (small) fee
For a larger park experience, where activities other than picnics and playgrounds abound, check out our following recommendations, which include all manner of fun stuff to do: At Safa Park you can hire four-wheeler bikes for a song, while the beach parks have their own fairly obvious advantages. If you prefer something more in-town, then check out Creek Park, which is packed to bursting with activities and immaculately kept walkways and playgrounds, as well as amusements, a cable car ride, the Children’s City discovery centre, pony rides, bikes for hire and more.
We recommend: Safa Park (349 2111), Mushrif Park (288 3624), Al Mamzar Beach Park (04 296 7454)., Zabeel Park (04 398 6888), Jumeirah Beach Park (04 349 2555) and Creek Park (04 2883624). Opening times vary. Entry costs between Dhs3-5 (per person) and Dhs10-30 (per car).
Eating out can really make the bills rack up, but there are still some bargainous family eateries available in town.
Barbeque Delights: Perfect for a family of curry fans, Barbecue Delight on JBR Walk next to the Sofitel, offers a range of generous and well-cooked traditional Pakistani dishes. While some of it is a little heavy on the chillis, the menu is wide enough to cater to most tastes.
Dhs50-200. 12noon-midnight daily. Takeaway available. JBR Walk, (04 423 0632).
Noodle Bowl: Little ones love slurping up noodles, and you won’t find better Chinese food for this price anywhere in town, either. Located in the Dune Centre on Al Diyafa Street, a good sign is that a lot of Chinese customers choose to dine here too.
Dhs50-200. 8am-midnight. Takeaway available. Dune Centre, Al Diyafa Street (04 345 3381).
Istanbul Flower: Traditional Turkish fayre ranging in price from Dhs9 to Dhs35 per dish. Istanbul Flower offers a hearty menu with enough variations to keep the nippers happy too.
8.30am-midnight, Sheikh Zayed Road, Safestway (04 343 4585) and Healthcare City (04 449 5330).
Jigsaw Brunch: We love the Friday Brunch at the Movenpick, Deira. There’s lots of top entertainment and nosh for the nippers so mum and dad can sit back, relax and enjoy a fab lunch.
Dhs119-149 (adults) Dhs50 (children aged seven-12. Under sixes go free. 12.30-4pm (800 33472).
More Café Brunch: Tuck into More’s famous breakfasts, the hot buffet, and enjoy the endless stream of pastries, fruit, juices, teas and coffees. There are venues all over town too.
Dhs95 (adults) Dhs30 (children’s menu). 11am-4pm, Garhoud, Dubai Festival City, Gold and Diamond Park, Mirdif City Centre, Dubai Mall, www.morecafe.biz.
The Chalet: After a hard day’s work playing at the beach, it doesn’t get much better than The Chalet. A Dubai institution, this small Beach Road-side café cooks up some of the best rotisserie chickens in town, along with Chinese, Indian and Arabic nosh. Kids will also love the kooky décor (toadstools, plastic flowers and the like).
Dishes range between Dhs20-60. 11am-midnight daily. Jumierah Beach Road, just past Al Manara Street (04 348 7557).
Kids Eat for Free!
Spur: This family orientated South African restaurant serves huge juicy steaks, fantastic burgers and proper home-fried onion rings on its hearty, diner-style menu. Best of all, the kids eat for free there every Tuesday night (from 6pm-11pm) so there’s no washing up and you can save cash too.
Dhs50-200. Every Tuesday, 6pm-11pm. Dubai Festival City, Skywalk level (04 232 8866).
Mango Tree Bistro: We love this friendly Thai restaurant at Mirdif City Centre, which feeds the nippers for free every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bargain!
Dhs50-200, open daily, noon-11pm. Mirdif City Centre (04 282 3635).