Looking to take on a trip to see the greatest worldwide gathering post-COVID but nervous on how to tackle it with kids? It’s undeniably spectacular, but a huge day out so we’ve had our travel team here put together their top tips for visiting Expo 2020 Dubai as a family.
- What is Expo 2020?
- How to plan your day out at Expo 2020 with kids
- Top Pavilions and Attractions at Expo 2020 with Kids
- The Expo Passport
- Dining with kids at Expo 2020
- Playgrounds at Expo 2020
- Getting around Expo 2020
- Themes Weeks at Expo 2020
- Daily Events at Expo 2020
What is Expo 2020?
Before we dive into the how – the what! Expo 2020 is a world exposition – an international showcase for educating the public, sharing innovation, promoting progress and fostering cooperation.
It will be held in Dubai over 6 months from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022.
The major theme surrounding this expo is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” – this has been broken down to subthemes of Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity.
Participating countries (190+) have the opportunity to showcase how their nation is contributing to critical global issues and their vision for a sustainable future.
The vast 438 hectare purpose-built Expo site is south west of the main city of Dubai. The grounds are made up of a serious of “pavilions” each home to either a country, sponsor or the large pavilions representative of the main themes.
Dubai is the first world Expo host city from the Middle East & Africa.
How to plan your day out at Expo 2020 with kids
To thoroughly organise for a day out at Expo is akin to a trip to planning a theme park trip – a fair degree needs to be planned in advance, but give your day plenty of space for freely exploring too.
Here’s how we suggest you’ll get the most from your Dubai Expo 2020 experience:
Plan your journey to Expo 2020
You can arrive at Expo 2020 by private car or public transport. There are plentiful free car parks but they are huge and slightly set back from the grounds, you’ll likely need to take a shuttle from the car park to the nearest entry gate (unless you arrive early, the first few parks are just about walking distance in the heat!).
Alternatively, taking the Red Line Metro is by far the most convenient option, delivering you to the central entrance of Al Wasl. Or take advantage of the free Expo Rider buses which operate from many locations across the city, as well as other Emirates. Use the S’hail RTA app to plan your journey.
Organise your tickets to Expo 2020
Paid entry tickets are needed for anyone aged 18 to 59-years-old.
- A standard day ticket is 95 AED
- There are multi-day passes for 195 AED or the best value is a season pass 495 AED.
- A family season pass is 950 AED with a few extras thrown in – 2 adults & kids are already free
There are several “free” ticket categories in addition to kids – check here if you may be eligible.
Note although kids are free, you still need to book them a ticket, you’ll get a scannable QR code.
Timing it right
Undoubtedly there’s a balance to be had between heat and crowds when it comes to visiting Expo 2020.
The grounds are open daily from 10AM to midnight (2AM weekends).
Arriving right before opening time you can secure a close car park and get to many of the popular pavilions without queues early in the day. You will then need to tackle the midday heat as you walk between pavilions.
It starts to cool off after 4PM, by 5PM it’s getting crowded and queues at everything popular.
Note that Fridays, and to some extent Saturday’s are by far the busiest due to the local weekend. There are also school holidays and public holidays to be aware of. These days will also be much busier.
- Prophets Birthday – 21 October 2021
- Dubai and Abu Dhabi school term breaks – variable, over last to weeks of October 2021
- National Day and Commemoration Day long weekend – 1 to 4 December 2021
- Local school winter break – variable dates roughly 9 December through to first week of January 2021
- New Years Day – 1 January 2022
The coolest time of year in Dubai is January. If you have the option, visiting on a January weekday will be the least crowded and most pleasant option for families.
What to pack for Expo
A big day out, there are some absolute essentials for family comfort:
- Comfy shoes
- Reusable water bottle
- Spare face masks
- Sunhats and sunglassess
- Change of clothes (if they’ll be in the water feature)
- Small towel/picnic mat
- Strollers (and possibly scooters)
- If your little ones prone to wonder – your contact telephone number on a bracelet or somehow attached to them
COVID Safety at Expo
In order to enter Expo, adults over 18 must show proof of vaccine (this can be in Alhosn or a vaccine card from another country), or evidence of a recent PCR test (under 72 hours). This is checked by security before you enter.
Face masks must be worn at all times expect when eating.
They request social distancing too, but honestly this is near impossible to achieve in such a crowded venue.
Sanitiser stations are located everywhere – use them frequently and BYO as there are lots of hands-on displays.
Top Pavilions and Attractions at Expo 2020 with Kids
Everyone will have their personal favorites and it will depend largely on your kids age groups which pavilions and attractions will really click. Some they will not give more than a cursory glance to – others will leave adults and kids alike feeling slightly bewildered!
We recommend seeing many of the largest and most popular pavilions early in the day as the queues only grow as the day goes on which can spoil the experience (not to mention leave you all hot and grumpy).
We’ll break it down by the major sections of the park to help you plan your trip – noting our advice above you should only try and tackle 1-2 sections in a day, and even then you WILL NOT FIT THEM ALL IN A DAY!
Sea Plaza and Mobility Gate
Alif – the Mobility District Pavilion – explore a future of limitless connections where the physical and digital worlds are interconnected. See how information, ideas, goods and data can be exchanged faster than ever before.
Australia – great show in the sky the older ones at least will understand. Outside great garden with live entertainment and food along with regular mascot appearances, one of the few to offer this. Sign up for Saturday afternoon backyard cricket!
Belgium – loads of interactive stuff for kids around mobility and animation. Free biscuit on entry + great food options and chocolate gift shop!
Jamaica – Listen to music, pose with statues of Usain Bolt and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Price, our kids were given cute reggae pencils.
Poland – loads of interactive stuff for kids, small play area outside and also a couple small toy/play rooms.
France – enjoy a temporary exhibit (not clear if it’ll be there for the whole season) on Notre Dame with an interactive ipad tour
VIP entry only here – access internally
There aren’t as many pavilions in Jubilee but some of the best family attractions can be found in this corner:
- The Sky Garden (additional charge 30AED)
- The Water Feature (Water Fountain) – bring a change of clothes, kids WILL inevitably drench themselves
- Jubilee Stage & Jubilee Park
- Alkebulan- the African Food Hall, Talabat Kitchen & Rising Flavours, Irish Village
Major country pavilions worth a stop – Canada, Philippines
Earth Plaza and Sustainability Gate
Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion
Seychelles – Big traditional swings inside, some families have reported getting free pencils.
Brazil – Gorgeous visuals and an opportunity for a little splash, even more spectacular at night but expect queues.
Kuwait – Includes interactive displays with pretend animals.
Germany – Large pavilion with massive ball pit and swings.
Lebanon – Includes a room with loads of swings.
UAE – The most popular for obvious reasons there will be lining no matter what, when your ticket is called you can enter, enjoy a tour through the desert then enjoy a cinema show.
Saudi Arabia – arguably one of the most impressive visual displays, we’d have this on your “mustn’t miss” list for its sheer wow-factor.
Other big pavilions here that may be of interest: USA, DP World, India, Italy.
Includes Al Forsan Park and Dubai Millennium amphitheater for shows
Sun Plaza and Opportunity Gate
Mission Impossible – The Opportunity Pavilion
Tonga – a great smaller pavilion, story telling with headphones, see the impact of plastic on our oceans and have your coloring come to life on the interactive ocean.
Rwanda – VR headset tour and coffee to try from Rwanda Cafe (adults, obviously!).
Cyprus – we received a small pack of colour pencils and a drawing/activity sheet.
Ethiopia – Kids learned how to write their names in Amharic and Ethiopian coffee to try
Luxembourg – giant slide for kids and big kids! Enough said!
The Expo Passport
Not a section to visit, but one of the main attractions kids will absolutely love at Expo 2020 is collecting passport stamps from every country they visit.
You need to purchase the Expo Passport for 20 AED from any of the official gift stores – best to grab these from the plaza area as you enter.
You can add a lanyard and plastic carry pocket too, total cost 59 AED. Worth it if you want to keep the passport in good condition as a souvenir.
While you’re at it, we’d also recommend grabbing a paper map from a visitor centre. There is the Expo app, but we found when plotting our route with the kids, having the big paper map we could all point at really helped. It will also make a great event souvenir.
Remember with 190+ countries, getting them all will be tough! The best we’ve managed is 40 stamps in one day, focused only on small countries but that was a LOT of work! We recommend if you are planning to collect them all, you’ll need at least 10 full days at expo, you’ll need to average 15-20 countries per visit.
Dining with kids at Expo 2020
There are over 200 food options inside Expo 2020, but with kids, I think you all know it can be worth bringing your own arsenal of snacks. There does not seem to be any restrictions on you bringing in your own food and drink.
At the moment, it’s a little too hot to set up your own picnic in one of the parks (seek out Al Forsan Park and Jubilee Park) but mid-winter, this will be a viable day time option to keep kids fed and happy with a little room to run around.
Many of the larger country pavilions have dining options, as well as several stand alone “Eat” buildings offering varying degrees of dining comfort (and budget) from café style through to Michelin star dining!
Some favourite dining spots we’ve found with kids so far:
Belgium – BeCapital – waffles and frites (with finer dining and beer garden on the roof – kids welcome) Mobility
Australia – has a really laid back garden style dining with the Local Grill serving up fish and chips and BBQ goodies, along with the Local Aussie Bar, or Melbourne Lane for awesome coffee and cake Mobility
Ecco – Italian eatery with pre-made pastas and wood fire pizzas found in Opportunity
Germany – Offers Campus Kitchen, a good range of hearty meals and deserts along with beers and wines Al Forsan/Sustainability
Alkebulan – The African Food Hall has a great range of dishes for kids willing to be a little more experimental (+ mum and dad can grab a cocktail to enjoy on the balcony here too!)
Drinking water at Expo 2020
A bit of a contentious one – absolutely bring your own water bottles, and there will be a point in the day you need to refill. The supposed refill stations everywhere have been very hard to spot. We have now found some fountains in each section, but they’ve invariable not worked well for refilling bottles or the water is really warm.
To buy water is hugely variable across stalls and restaurants, some charging 10AED for tiny cans!
We hope this is an aspect around “sustainability” that Expo organisers can really improve on as staying hydrated will be essential in avoiding those mid-afternoon meltdowns with kids.
Playgrounds at Expo 2020
In addition to the pavilions offering a little something extra for kids and the water feature, families will also want to check out:
- Latifa’s Adventure Playground in Al Forsan
- Rashid’s Adventure Playground in Jubilee Park
They are still very hot middle of the day, and yup, queues as soon as it cools in the evening. On a few occasions we went to stop by they were closed for sanitisation – a good thing – but to be mindful they’re not always open when you may have promised them!
Getting around Expo 2020
Did we mention Expo is HUGE! Plan, plan, plan!!
The adults in our group were walking up to 20,000 steps a day so think how many the kids with little legs must be clocking up! You need to come prepared. Here are our top tips on how to get around Expo 2020
Choose your parking spot wisely
Familiarize yourself with the map of Expo before you go and choose which parts you’ll tackle that day. If you’re driving, choose the correct car park. From the Metro, you arrive centrally into Al Wasl and can choose which direction to head.
Wear comfy shoes
Absolutely essential as we mentioned in the packing list. You must insist the kids wear something comfy, trainers or really comfortable sandals that are already worn in. We also brought flip flops for when they had wet feet.
Take advantage of the Expo Explorer and People Mover
The Expo Explorer will take you around inside Expo for free but be aware, its slow! It stops regularly and takes a long time to load, but can be a good way to give feet a rest and get a good look around.
The People Mover is slightly different, it takes you around the outside of the grounds, moving you between the different entry points – good if you started in one point and finished in another and want to get back to your car.
If all else fails and you’re at meltdown point, it may be time to splash out for a paid buggy.
Can I take my stroller to Expo 2020?
There is a lot of walking! Little ones you’ll definitely want a stroller but note you’ll need to park them outside some pavilions where their may be stairs or a hazard to bring them into the shows. We’ve not spotted any designated stroller parks so best not to leave any valuables in your stroller and they may be in the direct sun.
You can also hire strollers at Expo 2020 if you don’t want to bring your own, as well as wheelchairs.
Can I take scooters to Expo 2020?
For your slightly older kids, a scooter may be another way of conserving some leg power. Though given how we’ve seen some parents supervise their use, maybe security will start cracking down on them being brough tin? If your kids do take scooters, remind them of sensible use in crowded areas, don’t ride them around IN pavilions and accept some pavilions may ask them to be parked outside.
Themes Weeks at Expo 2020
In addition to the timing advice we mention above, be aware there are some themed weeks at Expo too:
- Climate and Biodiversity: October 3 to 9, 2021
- Space: October 17 to 23, 2021
- Urban and Rural Development: October 31 to November 6, 2021
- Tolerance and Inclusivity: November 14 to 20, 2021
- Knowledge and Learning: December 12 to 18, 2021
- Travel and Connectivity: January 9 to 15, 2022
- Global Goals: January 15 to 22, 2022
- Health and Wellness: January 27 to February 2, 2022
- Food, Agriculture and Livelihoods: February 17 to 23, 2022
- Water: March 20 to 26, 2022
Daily Events at Expo 2020
The list of daily events is too long to list! Many Pavilions have their own daily line up of entertainment, as well as parades around the grounds, fly overs, and shows at the various stages – see around Al Forsan Park and Jubilee Park as well as the main stage in Al Wasl, and Alif, Terra and Mission Impossible.
Your best bet is to use the Expo 2020 App to see exactly what’s happening on the day you’re visiting.
Our team are still yet to check out every single pavilion at Expo 2020 but we’re doing our best! We will update here as the season rolls on with top tips and preferred pavilions for kids. If you have any more of your own top tips, do add them in the comments!
Looking for more exploration ideas this winter beyond Expo 2020? Don’t forget to check out our Winter Guide to the UAE, includes a downloadable checklist of outdoor ideas.