How to plan a family holiday to the UAE in 2021

Itching for a family escape in the sun? Then Dubai and the United Arab Emirates might just be the destination for you and your family this winter.

Situated on the Persian Gulf in the Middle East, the largest city Dubai has been re-opened for tourism since July 2020. The capital Abu Dhabi, has followed suit, now enabling fully vaccinated arrivals to visit quarantine-free from September 2021.

Curious to know exactly how to plan your visit? Here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip to Dubai and the UAE for winter 2021/22 and beyond.

Dubai beach skyline  - Plan a family holiday to the UAE

Check Your Eligibility to Visit the UAE

It’s important to check before you get too excited about your holiday in the sun weather you are not only able to fly to the United Arab Emirates, but will you be permitted to return to your home country too.

Airlines Flying to the UAE

Emirates, the major airline of Dubai operating from DXB is nearly back to running it’s full flight network, with only a limited number of countries restricted due to COVID outbreaks – see current eligibility here.

Meanwhile Etihad, the nation’s flag carrier based out of AUH is also expanding it’s reach, albeit with less frequent flights and fewer routes than pre-COVID. The two major airlines are supported by a number of budget options including FlyDubai, Air Arabia and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, each offering competitive pricing on some lesser-known routes well worth considering.

Do I Need a Visa For The UAE?

Many nationalities are able to apply for a free Visa on Arrival. Check if you might be eligible here.

The are also single and multi-entry visit visas open to all other nationalities, these come in 30 and 90 day options, as well as transit visas.

Citizens from other GCC countries do not require a Visa to enter the UAE.

Do I Need to be Vaccinated to Enter the UAE?

The UAE does not have a compulsory vaccination rule to enter, only a PCR test before you fly if aged over 12. However, it is certainly easier to move about within the country if you are, not to mention it will help keep the UAE community protected.

Vaccination rates in the UAE are very high. All residents and citizens over 12 have free access to Pfizer, whilst they have recently introduced Sinopharm for children 4 years+.

Special COVID Rules for Abu Dhabi

Although for the most part unified as 7 Emirates, when it comes to COVID rules, there have been some deviations.

Flying in to Abu Dhabi, there is still a “Green List” of countries. Depending on where you are flying in from and your vaccine status, you may still be required to self-quarantine on arrival. Since 5 September 2021 it has also been compulsory to get approval before flying from the ICA. An online application form must be completed a minimum of 5 days in advance of your travel, detailing your travel history and vaccination status.

There was previously a domestic border checkpoint between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to check for a recent negative COVID results. This was finally removed from 19 September 2021 so tourists can now freely come from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. However, Abu Dhabi has it’s own arrival rules and additional public safety measures.

Once in Abu Dhabi, all visitors regardless of arrival airport must have the Alhosn App on a mobile device which shows their vaccine status. A “Green Status” – achieved by being vaccinated and having a PCR test result within 30 days, or showing an exemption – must be shown to enter any public spaces such as malls, parks, beaches and hotels.

Under 16’s do not need to be vaccinated but must be included on a parents Alhosn app.

You can learn more about how the “Green Status” system work in Abu Dhabi here.

There is no similar requirement in Dubai emirate or any of the Northern Emirates.

Planning the Best Time of Year to Visit the UAE

The UAE is arid desert so incredibly hot in the summer (May to October) and hot to mild over the winter (November to April).

You can, of course, visit the UAE year-round. Air-conditioned shopping malls and a plethora of indoor family attractions make it perfectly plausible to plan a trip even in the hottest months but do be mindful you’re outdoor time – even a visit to the pool or beach – will be limited in the peak summer months.

The weather typically cools off from late October – ideal for October half term break in the UK! You may even need a sweater at night December and January. The water temperatures cools to around 20°C/68°F in the middle of winter.

The busiest times of year to visit are Christmas to New Year and late March for Spring school break. Pricing will also be at its highest around these times so you are well recommended to book accommodation in advance.

You can find a complete guide to the best times to visit the UAE here.

Where to Visit in the UAE on a Family Holiday

Although Dubai is probably the first major city that springs to mind when thinking of a holiday in the UAE, don’t forget about the other Emirates! There are 7 Emirates in the UAE, each with it’s own unique landmarks and choice of family hotels and resorts.

Check out what there is to see and do in each of the Emirates here!

Dubai with Kids
Abu dhabi With Kids
Al Ain with Kids
Things to do in Fujairah - Fujairah Fort with UAE flag
Kalba Sharjah
Ras al Khaimah Things to do
Umm Al Quwain

How to Book a Trip to the UAE

There are package holiday options which can work out great value if you are combining your flights and hotels – even better value if you can find meal inclusive options too. These work out best if you have beaches and theme parks on your mind – not cheap, but good value when you add up all the costs.

The other option is to self plan your trip. It is very straight forward to book your flights, hotels and tours on line.

Getting Around in the UAE

If you are only visiting Dubai and staying in a hotel or resort, there’s no need to hire a car. Dubai is well serviced by public transport – in fact any sort of transport from taxies to the Metro, bus, ferries, water taxies, even a Monorail!

Abu Dhabi you will find comprehensive coverage from taxies or Careem, less so public transport.

Heading beyond the city, you need to weigh up your options. If the only day trip you’ll make is to the desert, you can adequately rely on a desert safari tour company arranging all your pick ups and drop offs.

Equally if you are staying at one of the resorts in the Northern Emirates, the hotel you are staying at can organize a transfer, or the adventurous can try out the country’s intercity bus system!

We have a detailed guide here on how to get to each of the country’s major Emirates/Cities here:

We’d only recommend driving your own hire car in the UAE if you are a confident driver. Outside of the city you will largely find wide open freeways, but driving in Dubai in particular you need to be a strong and confident driver. (Vehicles drive on the right, steering wheel on the left).

Stay in Family-Friendly Accommodation

One look at hotel and resort choices in Dubai & the UAE is bound to leave you feeling instantly overwhelmed!

You will need to decide are you planning to base your trip around a resort and fun in the sun, or will your focus be more on sightseeing and you simply need a central place to stay?

A great family option is to stay at a hotel with an incredible water park – some even include water park entry with your stay!

Where to stay at the beach

Whilst most think of Jumeirah Beach and the Palm in Dubai, there are plenty more family options to consider in other parts of the country. We have detailed guides here that take you to the popular beach areas further afield.

Where to stay in the desert

Stay in the desert? Yup, don’t worry you won’t be wading your way through the dunes, more likely staying at one of the countries finest luxury resorts. For more detailed guides on how to enjoy some of the countries more exclusive resorts and locations, check out:

Qasr Al Sarab in the Liwa Desert, one of the country’s best desert resorts

Cultural Etiquette to be Aware of Planning Your Trip to the UAE

The UAE is a majority Sunni Muslim country. That said, there is a huge expatriate population in the country – many estimate that more than 85% of the country’s current population of nearly 10 million are not actually citizens. This makes it an immensely multi-cultural country welcoming of many cultures and religions.

There are dress standards expected of visitors to the UAE. Whilst these may be more relaxed than other neighboring Muslim countries in the Gulf, they should not be forgotten by tourists. There are different expectations while sitting at a beach resort to what you should wear in a public area such as a mall or out in the desert.

You can grab a complete family packing list for the UAE here.

Also brush up on your knowledge of local laws and consequences of breaking these laws. Most family travelers won’t have an issue but bear in mind public decency rules, the need to avoid obscene gestures and language and intoxication. There’s a good guide on gov.uk of rules to be mindful of.

Whilst you’re in Dubai, DO make time to learn more about the culture. Plan a visit to a Mosque or see what’s happening at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

The national language is Arabic but as a tourist you’ll find English is the most widely spoken and only language you’ll need to know to get by.

Setting your Family Holiday Budget for the UAE

A family holiday to the UAE can undoubtedly set you back a bit if you go with a bells and whistles holiday package.

There’s a huge range of family-friendly activities to enjoy in the major cities, as well as in the desert and mountains. We’d suggest don’t try and do it all! Pick out one key activity per day and use the remainder of your time to enjoy the parks, resorts and beaches.

Plan your splurges in advance – be it a desert tour or a trip up the Burj Khalifa – then set aside money for accommodation and meals. There are many great free and really cheap things you can do in Dubai and an extensive list of ideas and places to visit in Abu Dhabi where you can still have an amazing and immersive experience.

You can find our guide to the best outdoor activities in the UAE this winter here.

Don’t Get Complacent on COVID

As at the time of writing in September 2021, the UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of COVID vaccination, many residents having been vaccinated with both Sinopharm and Pfizer. There are still rules that should be observed in order to keep all tourists and the community safe.

Regardless of vaccine status;

  • DO get PCR tested before you fly.
  • DO wear your mask indoors and in crowded public spaces.
  • DO maintain social distancing where you can.
  • DO have the Alhosn app with your vaccine details loaded before visiting anywhere in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi

As mentioned above, exact COVID rules can vary between Emirates, check out these resources relevant to your chosen destination in the UAE.

We hope we can see you and your family in the United Arab Emirates Soon!

Combining your UAE trip with onward destinations in the Middle East?

The UAE can be a great connection point to other parts of the Middle East. If you are planning on making a stop in Dubai or Abu Dhabi on your way to a final destination you may also be interested to learn more about:

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