Beautiful walking, gorgeous boat rides, stunning desert landscape, and a ton of interesting activities: we spent ten days between Christmas and New Year’s in Dubai with our two-year-old and loved it. Everyone likely knows it is a terrific destination for adults but it was a surprisingly amazing destination for kids and families as well. There was an incredible mix of interesting activities for all of us.
Where Is It
Dubai is located on the Persian Gulf, north of Abu Dhabi and east of Qatar. Abu Dhabi is about an hour and a half driving and Doha is a short flight away. The city itself has about three million people and is located directly on the water, with many hotels located on a beach. The city is surrounded by a desert, although you would not know it from the existing skyscrapers and impressive development everywhere around the city.
How To Get There
We flew Emirates direct from Miami to Dubai. The flight from Miami was about 14 hours with a nine hours time difference. The flight from London is a more manageable seven hours, with a four hours time difference. There were a lot more Europeans in town than Americans while we were there, which I suspect is common given the ease of travel from Europe.
Emirates has many direct routes from the US and from Europe on extremely comfortable planes and we highly recommend the airlines with kids. It was an unexpected surprise just how nice they were with our little one. They brought around a little backpack with entertaining toys to keep, they took a goofy Polaroid picture of our son, they gave him a special care package with kid-sized socks and a kid-sized eye mask, they had kid-specific meals and they came by with extra snacks for kids several times. Emirates was a pleasant experience for all of us, but they were particularly thoughtful with the little kids on the plane.
Emirates had more convenient flights for us, but Eithad also has many direct flights into Abu Dhabi and it is an easy drive away from Dubai.
So much to do: Dubai is a world-class city with many different interesting things to do. It was a terrific way to spend a holiday and keep all of us engaged.
Dubai was SUPER kid-friendly! We walked a lot and we were so impressed by the number of families and things catering to families everywhere we went. From playgrounds built under shaded bridges to ice skating and aquariums in the malls to splash pads and obstacle courses along the water to child-friendly dune bashing – we were shocked at how accommodating all the activities were for kids. Culturally, kids were also everywhere and up playing super late at night and just hanging out with their families, which was really nice to see.
There was another kid-friendly perk to Dubai that we appreciated – amazing childcare. We used a nanny service called Malaak for three of the days we were in town visiting. This helped the trip feel more like a vacation for all of us – the nannies were all also trained nurses, their behavior with our little one was terrific, the service was very reasonably priced ( (~$15/hr), and it was basically an extra set of hands to help out while we were doing certain activities together, getting some work done, or out to dinner as a couple.
When To Visit
We visited during the week between Christmas and New Year 2022. It seems like the best weather for visiting is from November-March, when temperatures range from 75-85. Our weather was perfect while in town – around 75-80 every day. There are a lot of beautiful places to walk around in Dubai, so I would probably recommend visiting during November-March to take advantage of this walking weather.
From April-October, average temperatures range from 90-110, so it gets quite hot during the day and it’s a bit more difficult to walk around during the day. Originally we were a little surprised by the prevalence of huge indoor malls but this summer weather makes going to the mall an extremely practical choice for wandering around.
There were a lot of highlights from this trip. First, we loved our trip to the desert. We did this with a company called Arabian Adventures. They have the trip down to a science, so everything runs extremely smoothly. When traveling with kids, you must book a private car with a special car seat, which we appreciated, although it was a little expensive for our small group ($680 for a private car with all food and entertainment included, up to six people). The pick-up was around 15:00 and we met all the cars for the day at a desert reserve about an hour outside the city, where everyone lets air out of their tires for the dune bashing. Then we did some kid-friendly dune-bashing with all the cars in a caravan in case someone gets stuck (no one did), we went sandboarding, we took many amazing pictures at sunset, and then we drove to Arabian Adventure’s campsite. At the Bedouin-style campsite, there are camel rides, visits with a falcon, little shopping booths to visit, an opportunity to play dress-up and take some pictures, henna hand-painting, a bar, and a stage. The team prepares a three-course meal while everyone wanders around and explores. One note: grab a good table immediately upon arrival and just leave some things at the table to mark your place. It is helpful for the little ones to be in the front row for a good view of the stage. Once dinner is ready, everyone sits down and the dinner show begins. The food was delicious and the show is entertaining, with Tanoura dancers, belly dancers, and super-impressive fire dancers. We were all mesmerized. After dinner, our driver took us home and we were home by 10pm.
Second, we explored Al Fahidi, Dubai Creek, and Gold Souk area. We booked lunch in Al Fahidi at the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding (lunch for $35/person), which we highly recommend. The lunch is set up as a prepared group meal in a traditional courtyard, with an Emirati discussing some history, culture, and traditions of the Emiratis, then answering any questions. It was really fascinating. Afterward, we wandered around Al Fahidi. The neighborhood is lovely, with small shops and restaurants along the water in a historical area, with winding, small, narrow lanes. There are also some small museums and a fort in the neighborhood. We stopped at the Coffee Museum for a quick coffee in the charming upstairs bar and, later in the day, we stopped for a snack at the XVA Gallery. The courtyard is pretty and the gallery was interesting to wander around and snap some pictures. After wandering around here, we crossed the Dubai Creek on an abra to head over to the Gold Souk area. The abras are the older wooden boats that make the crossing frequently and the trip costs 1AED per person (about a quarter in USD). The trip along the water is lovely.
The Gold Souk is home to hundreds of gold retailers selling out of connected little booths in a labyrinth of covered walkways. It is worth seeing to check out some of the crazy things made out of gold for sale and, of course, if you are looking to buy some gold jewelry – this is certainly a great place to do so. Our hotel quoted us the price per gram of gold in advance as a helpful negotiation starting point.
Our son loves elevators more than almost anything else in the world, so we spent a day visiting Burj Khalifa (and its elevators) as well as the Dubai Mall (and its elevators) and the Dubai Fountain. The Burj Khalifa (tickets from $20) has an incredible view that helps you understand the layout of Dubai better and there are some interesting explanations around the progression of Dubai’s development over time. The displays also talk about the city’s 100-year plan, which is an impressive approach to developing a city and you come away really appreciating the vision and execution of the Sheikh when it comes to building out Dubai. The Dubai Mall was a surprisingly terrific experience as well. There is just so much to do here – we went to the aquarium, stopped at a virtual reality park, landed an Emirates plane in a flight simulator (book this in advance at: https://www.emiratesa380experience.com/), checked out the indoor ice skating rink, did some shopping, and I still feel we missed out many things on offer. The mall is attached to the Burj Kalifa so it is easy to combine the two sites plus also see the impressive fountain show nearby. We ate lunch at Al Halleb, a Lebanese restaurant in the Dubai Mall with an outdoor deck overlooking the Dubai Fountain so that we could see the show. It is worth seeing, although I suspect that it is a lot more fun to see at night.
We also visited Ski Dubai (tickets from $50/person) in the Mall of the Emirates. This activity was our son’s second favorite activity after Burj Khalifa’s elevator, so it is worth mentioning here. There’s a cute snow playground, several snow tubing rides and slides, bumper cars, a chairlift, the ski hill, and, most adorably, a meet and greet with a couple of types of penguins. Unfortunately, we did not book in advance for the penguins, so this was sold-out for the days around our trip. However, we did enjoy the rest of Ski Dubai for several hours and, coming from Miami, it was a unique experience for our son.
It is key to mention Dubai’s incredible skyline and sunset views as a separate activity daily. We watched the sunset almost every night in town. There were two sunset activity highlights. First, we rented a boat for three hours around sunset and went out towards the Burj al Arab and back – this was incredible. We used Centaurus Charters for the boat rental, which worked out to about $600 for three hours. The sunset combined with the skyline in Dubai is gorgeous. During this week of the year, there was also a drone show over the water each night, which was super entertaining to watch from the boat (although a little terrifying that drone technology is this good already).
Second, we visited the new sky deck at The View at the Palm Jumeirah (~$40/person) – it was cool to see the palm a little more directly, particularly at sunset.
Lastly, there’s a whole other long list of things we did not do but want to do when we return next! Chief on this list is Skydive Dubai, where you can skydive above the palm and view it coming down. This activity books up a month in advance during busy tourist times. We were both bummed we did not have the foresight to book this but we heard really incredible things about it as a particularly unique skydiving experience. We also heard terrific things about the hot air balloon rides for sunrise in the desert. Our son was too young for this activity but we would have done it otherwise. We also did not make it to Kite Beach, the Dubai Frame, or the Dubai Expo, all of which we heard are worth visiting.
Abu Dhabi is about an hour and a half away driving. Abu Dhabi has a beautiful mosque, a lovely corniche along the water with good options to rent bicycles, as well as several Ferrari and Formula One-related experiences. As with skydiving, the Formula One experiences book up in advance so we would recommend reserving your spot early.
For an extra night or two in the desert, our friends also recommended Nara Desert Escape, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort, and also the Ritz Ras Al Khaimah. We ran out of time to do this but after the Arabian Adventures experience for the evening, we wish we had made time to do some sort of more extended trip to the desert with our son. It is really unique and magical there.
Where To Eat
The food in Dubai is incredible. We loved every meal we ate. Most of the higher-end restaurants are also successful restaurants in other parts of the world. It is worth noting that the weekends in Dubai are Friday and Saturday, so the Thursday night scene is also a thing in Dubai, which can make it more difficult to get reservations. Also, several people recommended eating at Atmosphere in the Armani Hotel to get a very similar view to the Burj Khalifa as well as Scape in the Burj al Arab to get an amazing view from that vantage point. The Burj al-Arab is a hotel that looks like a sailboat and it is deemed the world’s only seven-star hotel. Unfortunately, both restaurants were booked during our time in town. Note also that most nice restaurants are located in hotels because hotels have liquor licenses.
Our favorite was Li’Brasil – this was a Brazilian-Lebanese fusion restaurant in an incredibly beautiful space outside. We also really liked Coya, a Peruvian restaurant in the Four Seasons. Zuma is terrific everywhere in the world but the vibe is particularly cool in Dubai. Because we were on a longer vacation, we either ordered delivery or ate out at a nice restaurant as an event, so all of our choices above were in the more expensive category. For delivery, we used Careem and had a terrific experience relying mostly on customer reviews to pick restaurants. Dubai has an incredible service culture with a lot of motorbike delivery people, so delivery is excellent, affordable, and fast.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Address Beach Resort (from $350/night), which we all loved. There are also several other well-rated hotels in this area. The hotel itself was very family-friendly – our room was large with a nice bathtub, the hotel gifted our son a set of beach toys on arrival, the beach itself was super calm, the hotel had a splash pad and the hotel also included two hours of supervised playroom time daily. We liked staying in this particular location because you get the easy beach access to JBR as well as the lovely walking path along the Dubai Marina and the walking path to Bluewaters Island, all of which were great for all of us during our jetlagged wandering. JBR has the beach itself, which is beautiful and in front of an incredible view of the Dubai skyline, plus there is a nice beach walkway with many restaurants, shops, a big splash pad for kids, an obstacle course for kids, some rides for kids, and several other entertainment options along the way. The Dubai Marina has coffee/juice stops and playgrounds set up all along the marina path, which made for some great stops along the way for our little one. Bluewaters Island has a stunning view of Dubai as well as the world’s largest Ferris wheel and many shops and restaurants as well.
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