The capital of the UAE – Abu Dhabi – can be reached in under 90 minutes by car from Dubai Airport. It has a more laid back and accessible feel than Dubai and is perfect for visiting with children in tow. There is so much to do, but here are our highlights from a highly enjoyable 48 hours…
Umm Al Emarate Park.
Centrally located on Abu Dhabi’s main island, the park has something to offer both adults and children alike. Open daily from 8am until midnight and for an entrance fee of AED 5 per person (around £1 – under 3’s go free), there is much to discover and many hours to while away.
We visited on a Saturday and were very pleased to explore The Ripe Market that takes place every Saturday from 4pm until 11pm. There were numerous stalls selling various goods as well as an abundance of food stalls offering many tasty treats (bring cash!) Our group indulged in Japanese Cheesecakes, Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts), Cajun fries and freshly baked cinnamon sugar doughnuts all washed down with a very refreshing Virgin Mojito.
We had fun exploring the gardens and lawns and paid a visit to the Wisdom Garden. This garden was created to honour the legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his efforts in environmental conservation. This part of the park is very peaceful and beautifully designed. If you’re up on your Arabic you can reflect on some of Sheikh Zayed’s inspirational quotes and if you’re not you could befriend a local and ask them to translate for you!
For children, as well as plenty of well designed play parks (mostly shaded from direct sun) there is also an animal barn, where for AED 10 (around £2), children are able to feed some of the many different types of animals housed there. Pony rides are available from 4.30pm for AED 10. I believe when we went, camel rides were on offer too. Take a towel with you, as there is a splash area for children to run around in and also water fountains that spray up from the floor.
As the sun sets, the place takes on a really lovely summer evening vibe. The palm trees and fountains light up and the cafes and restaurants buzz with people enjoying time with friends and family.
In addition the park is wonderfully clean, well laid out, with good amenities and definitely worth a visit.
Motiongate Theme Park
OK you’ve got me, technically this theme park is in Dubai, but we went there when we were staying in Abu Dhabi and is easily accessible, so I’m including it here! Set in a cluster of theme parks known collectively as Dubai Parks and Resorts (including Legoland and Bollywood) Motiongate incorporates three giants of the movie world – Dreamworks, Lionsgate and Columbia Pictures. There are lots of rides that will appeal to adults and children of all ages. Brands you can expect to find include Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Hunger Games and Smurfs to name a few.
For me this park has the advantage over a number of other theme parks in that it is not spread out over a vast area, allowing you to cover all of the park quickly and easily.
I managed to face a personal fear on the Madagascar Mad Pursuit rollercoaster. My now ex-friend, informed me this ride was ‘moderate’ in a bid to get me to try it. Cue what felt like a never-ending screamfest, eyes screwed shut. But hey, I did it and it was only afterwards I discovered this is billed as the fastest coaster in the park. My 7-year-old son enjoyed it – that’s something I guess.
The height restrictions on the rides are fairly generous. My 5-year-old daughter is 115 cms and there were only 4 to 5 rides that she wasn’t tall enough to try.
Again, you might want to bring a towel and change of clothes as there are plenty of opportunities to get soaked, but hey this is the UAE and you will dry off pretty quickly.
There are numerous food and beverage kiosks & restaurants throughout the park. I was happy to see free drinking water fountains available in each ‘zone’.
As you might expect entry is not cheap at AED 235 per person (around £47) but it is a full and very fun day out. Check out the Dubai Parks and Resorts website as they do offer packages for multiple days and multiple parks.
Dinner at Butcher & Still Steakhouse
Situated within the Four Seasons Hotel, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi – Butcher & Still Steakhouse bills itself as ‘The bar with the world’s most impressive cocktail making machine’. Whilst I didn’t personally witness the ‘machine’, I can vouch for truly drinkable cocktails. I plumped for the Classic Collins which I was delighted to note included Plymouth Gin (you can take the girl out of Plymouth…). The other thing I can vouch for is the steak! I ordered a bone-in signature house favourite fillet 14oz tender cut prime angus beef with sides of truffle fries with Bernaise and sautéed Heirloom mushrooms, rounded off with a bottle of Californian Zinfandel, one of my favourite reds for body and fruit intensity. Everything was absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious.
Surprisingly (well it would be rude to refuse) we managed to tackle a dessert. In one word – wow. Our selections were cherry pie a la mode with french vanilla ice cream and key lime pie with toasted french meringue. They were some of the largest portioned desserts I have seen and I was grateful that we were sharing them between 3 of us. Our lovely waiter brought out the Tribune Tower chocolate cake for us to admire (though none of us were brave enough to attempt) a 34 (yes 34!!) layer chocolate and ganache cake – maybe next time.
The service was impeccable as you would expect from anyone operating within the Four Seasons.
I highly recommend a table on the terrace which delivers you a breathtaking view of Abu Dhabi.
Although we didn’t take the children with us for this meal, they do offer a children’s menu.
I am still dreaming about that steak!
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
This is the largest mosque in the UAE and personally I found it to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever entered.
Constructed between 1996 and 2007 with more than 100,000 tons of pure white marble. Enchanting floral designs adorn the walls and columns and are inlaid with semi-precious stones. The sparkling chandeliers are draped with millions of Swarovski crystals and 24K gold. In short you will be hard pressed not to be impressed with this Mosque.
The general public is welcome to enter except during prayer times. As these times change daily, it is advisable to check the website before you go.
We had a personal tour with a friend, but I am aware there are free 45-minute guided tours and also audio tours in multiple languages.
The mosque as a place of worship, requires visitors to adhere to certain rules. Essentially you need to dress appropriately. Men need to wear ankle-length trousers and long-sleeved tops. Women also need to wear long, loose-fitting clothing, covering your body fully and a headscarf. However, all is not lost if you aren’t wearing appropriate attire as Kanduras and Abayas (with hoods) are available to borrow for free. At the entrance to the Mosque itself, you will be required to remove your shoes.
Granted this isn’t the most exciting place for children, they do need to behave and be respectful. Additionally, there are only so many columns they will want to look at, so be prepared to move reasonably briskly. However, from a cultural perspective, this is a great learning experience for children and I’m really glad that we took ours.
Lunch at Al-Fanar – Emirati Restaurant
I’m a bit of a Shirley Valentine when it comes to food (for those of you who don’t know, she enjoyed drinking wine in the country where the grape was grown) So I was really excited to discover this little gem of a place whilst in the UAE serving delicious authentic Emirati cuisine.
Located in the Venetian Village of the Ritz Carlton – Abu Dhabi, Al-Fanar’s rustic decor is designed to evoke memories of Dubai in the 1960’s. As I wasn’t alive then, I’ll take their word for it.
We were seated outside in what I want to describe as something other than a bamboo cage, but am struggling to find a better description. Please take my word for it, it was better than it sounds. Shoes were required to be removed whilst we were sat on cushions on a carpet with a low-level tin table the surface for our lunch. And goodness what a lunch it was!
Some of the delicious dishes we sampled included Machboos Samak (fish with spiced rice) and Saloona Deyay ma Khudhar (chicken stew) . For dessert we tucked into Balalit ma Khoboz Wagaf (sweetened thin noodles with cardamom, saffron and plain omelette). Yes for all you western folk, I said omelette – trust me it tastes good! Legaimat (golden crisp fried dough balls coated with date syrup) were a complete hit with the children.
We were very comfortably enjoying ourselves for multiple hours. The staff were friendly, welcoming and efficient. I take it as a promising sign that there were lots of locals eating here too.
You will not be disappointed making the time to sample some authentic Emirati cuisine here. It was the best way to round off our trip to Abu Dhabi.
More pictures of some of the places mentioned above available on my Instagram (livingprettyhappy)
If you are lucky enough to have more than 48-hours in Abu Dhabi (or would like to try something else!) here are some recommendations given by my trusted Abu-Dhabi resident friend:
- Ferrari World – amusement park – www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/
- Yas Waterworld – Emirati themed waterpark – www.yaswaterworld.com/
- Falcon Hospital – World’s largest Falcon hospital – http://www.falconhospital.com/
- Emirates Park Zoo – Wildlife park including elephant & giraffe-feeding sessions, bird-of-prey shows & entertainment – www.emiratesparkzooandresort.com/
- The Louvre Abu Dhabi – Art and civilisation museum – https://www.louvreabudhabi.ae