Ultimate guide to Abu Dhabi things to do & weekend getaways

Since COVID-19 safety measures saw the road borders between Abu Dhabi and it’s neighbouring Emirate Dubai shut in late June 2020, residents in Abu Dhabi have been left with fewer exploration options as the Dubai & the Northern Emirates are a little out of reach, without the hassle of PCR testing.

But fear not! It’s not all entirely bad news.  We don’t know how long these closures or health check requirements will last for but it will be the perfect opportunity now that the weather is cooling to get out and explore the whole Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

In this guide we’ll take you through:

If you are still up for crossing the Dubai border – it can be done just be aware of COVID testing requirements for all members of your party over the age of 12 – both to cross the border and subsequently 4 & 8 days after crossing if you reside in AD.

Since first publishing this article the requirements changed from border crossing + 6 days to testing at the border, plus day 4 and day 8.

The most up-to-date guide at present can be found here.

Abu Dhabi Family Day Outings

If you’re just looking for day trips around the city, why not try some of these ideas with the kids:

Yas Waterworld

It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy an outdoors splash. Daily numbers are currently limited but there’s still plenty happening at Yas Waterworld to keep the family happy. Look our for Ladies Day every Mondays & Thursday, and ticket specials combined with Ferrari World in Celebration of National Day at a 49% discount.

You can find our full guide to the Yas Island theme parks here

Jubail Mangrove Park

Only briefly open in January this year, many people missed the opportunity to check out the latest outdoor nature spot open in Abu Dhabi. The mangrove boardwalks of Jubail Island (adjacent to Saadiyat Island on the outskirts of the city) are open once more ready to explore. A small entry fee is now levied and your time slot must be booked in advance. Look our for tide times as you’ll have quite a different experience between high and low tide.

Learn more and book your time slot directly with Jubail Mangrove Park.

A Beach Club Daycation

Only want to spoil yourself for a day of beach and poolside action? There are plenty of resorts that allow you to stay just for the day without the added expense of an overnight stay. Many of these beach resort and pool day pass deals even include the cost of your food and money back vouchers so can be a really cost-effective way to spoil the family for the day. Also look our on weekends for brunch inclusive offers.

You can find a guide to all our favourite Abu Dhabi family beach clubs here.

Beach Clubs in Abu Dhabi

A day at the beach

As well as beach clubs, Abu Dhabi has several public beaches too. Most are free or have a very minimal cover charge. At one stage pre-registration and COVID testing was requested but this has long since been abolished. Things will likely get busier as the weather cools but you should still have no issues maintaining social distance in these public spaces.

Learn more about the fabulous free beaches and gardens on Abu Dhabi here

Get the family active at Hudayriat Island

New sports and leisure facilities – even a glamping site – have opened on Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriat Island. Joining the line up of food trucks, cycling and running tracks is Circuit X – BMX tracks to a high ropes course – OCR Park Obstacle course, a new heritage walk and even more sports facilities.

See all the new attractions, opening times and how to book them here

Al Hudayriat Island

Movie nights at Umm Al Emarat

Pull up a picnic rug and enjoy a free movie under the stars at Umm al Emarat Park. All your kiddy favourites from Pixar Classics to Dr Dolittle will be screening every Thursday to Saturday night over winter. Only usual park entry fees apply, limit four people per section. See schedule here.

You can see more ways to explore Abu Dhabi for free here

Bounce at Umm Al Emarat

In an exciting new winter instalment at Abu Dhabi’s beloved central park, kids’ favourite Bounce brings action play outside. Climb walls, show off your parkour skills or take flight into the giant air pillow. All precautionary measures in place – full review coming soon!

(Weekdays 3pm to midnight; Weekends 10am to midnight until April 2021)

Explore Qasr Al Watan

The UAE’s stunning Presidential Palace has re-opened its doors to the public. Enjoy self-guided tours within the palace and return for the evening light and sounds show “Palace in Motion” at 7:30 PM. Over National Day there will be special shows and the projection of the UAE flag along with the national anthem played at 7:15PM on December 1 & 2.

You can see our complete review how to visit Qasr al Watan here

Brunch it

Brunch season is back in full swing in Abu Dhabi, with a few modifications for COVID-19, including more table service options, staff will serve you at the buffet and max tables of 4 (not ideal for families, but it seems some are making exceptions). Some great Friday al fresco options as we role into winter include:

  • Aqua at the Rosewood
  • Giornotte at the Ritz Carlton
  • Brunch at the Palace!

More indoor entertainment in Abu Dhabi

If you are looking at indoor entertainment, cinemas, play centres and sporting venues are slowly but surely now able to re-open their doors with safety measures. CLYMB in Yas Mall is a great one for your active kids with rock climbing and indoor skydiving, or try the ever-popular Bounce at Marina Mall.

See our complete guide to Abu Dhabi indoors with kids.

City-Based Abu Dhabi Staycations

The city of Abu Dhabi is still brimming with hotels and resorts encouraging resident families to stay and play within the Emirate this autumn. Look out for deals inclusive of meals or F&B vouchers and Entertainer specials too.

Beach hotels to try in Abu Dhbai

In a city made up of a series of islands, its no surprise that there are plenty of hotels claiming beach frontage clubs around Abu Dhabi. Areas you can look at include those along the Corniche, and a big selection around Ras Al Akhdar (Emirates Palace end including the InterCon, Conrad, Grand Hyatt, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan & Bab Al Qasr).

Abu Dhabi Hotels Ras Al akhdar

In the old Tourist Club area, you’ll find family favourites Beach Rotana, Le Meridien & the Sheraton. Don’t forget “Between the Bridges” too, The Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Traders & Shangri-La.

You can find a full collection of Abu Dhabi hotels offering their own beach here

Saadiyat Island

If it is the tranquillity of real waves you are after, you simply can’t go past the selection of Saadaiyat luxury resorts that line the shores of the Arabian Gulf. Each offers residents and tourists alike a luxurious getaway only minutes from the city. Whilst kids clubs remain closed, there’s still a great choice of pools and dining on offer and, of course, the beach.

You can see our complete guide to Saadiyat Island resorts here.

Saadiyat Rotana Resort aeril virew from the beach
© Saadiyat Rotana Beach Resort & Spa

Stay on an island!

Further than just Saadiyat Island, two daycation or staycation options nearby to the city you could consider are:

The former definitely comes with the cheaper price tag for families but the later is certainly a unique place for a spoil-yourself occasion.

Staycation in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi & Liwa Desert

Whilst most normally head east towards the northern Emirates for a staycation, don’t dismiss the idea of heading west from Abu Dhabi city to explore the extensive Western Region of Abu Dhabi.

Home to the Empty Quarter and long beachy shorelines there’s a wide variety of staycation ideas on offer, why not try:

Qasr al Sarab

The ultimate in desert luxury this is arguably the best in the country. Sitting around 2-hours drive from the city, it’s the ultimate Arabian luxury experience. From the shimmering sand-swept entrance, you are transported to another world.  Summer renovations have seen the pool extended and renovations to the kids club. Check pricing on booking.com here.

Tilal Liwa – Madinat Zayed

Located just beyond the western region city of Madinat Zayed.  There’s not a great deal to see and do for most family visitors around Madinat Zayed, outside of the Al Dhafra Festival in the winter.  However, Tila Liwa provides a 4-star alternative to the more expensive desert resorts. Enjoy the pool and outdoor desert sports.  Check pricing on booking.com here.

Tilal Liwa Hotel | hotel accommodation near to the al Dhafra Festival

Sir Bani Yas Island

Unfortunately still closed at the moment (October 2020) but a must-see to include if you’re putting together your winter bucket list. The Arabian Wildlife Park is home to over 17,000 free-roaming animals.

Guest can stay at the Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa or there are two villa accommodation options, great for families.  The island will reopen, as we are currently informed. in January 2021.

Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

Another great value beach alternative to consider is Danat Jebel Dhanna, as you approach Sir Bani Yas but before jumping on the ferry you will find this hotel near to the town of Ruwais.  It makes for a pleasant and peaceful beachside stay at often a fraction of the cost of the city resorts in Abu Dhabi. Check pricing on booking.com here.

You can find our complete guide to UAE desert resorts – for family retreats and couples-only luxury getaways here.

A family weekend in Al Ain

If you are yet to explore the Oasis City, get this one on your bucket list!

Most families in Abu Dhabi have probably made it to the Al Ain Zoo at some point – if you’ve not been in a while definitely worth a re-visit as they’re making improvements all the time. The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre is also one of the best educational displays you’ll find in the UAE. The tickets still remain amazingly good value!

Elsewhere in Al Ain, you may want to include on your sightseeing list:

  • A stroll through the historic Al Ain Oasis
  • Hunt out the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Bee Hive tombs
  • Make the mountain drive up to Jebel Hafeet
  • Glamp it out at Jebel Hafit Desert Park – and explore the 5000-year-old beehive tombs
  • The many museums of Al Ain including the Palace Museum, Qasr al Muwaiji & Al Faihidi Fort

Another desert resort option to consider close to Al Ain is Telal Resort (not to be confused with Tilal Liwa).

You can find our full family guide to things to do in Al Ain here, and if you’re making a weekend of it, our favourite family resorts in Al Ain.

Camping in Abu Dhabi

This would have to be the ultimate cheap winter weekend out in the UAE.  Abu Dhabi. There is, of course, the magnificent Liwa Desert to explore however there are many dunes much closer to the city too, past Al Wathba and Sweihan where you can find your own little patch.

You just need the obvious; Access to a 4WD, some camping gear and an experienced crew of at least two in case you run into any trouble.

You can find our complete guide to camping in the UAE here.

UAE Desert Camping

If camping doesn’t take your fancy with all the sand, you can also check out these glamping options – a few in Abu Dhabi Emirate as we’ve mentioned above though most are in the northern Emirates.

What next for Abu Dhabi Travellers

Whilst we long for the day when travel between Emirates – and countries – within the Middle East becomes easier, we hope this list will inspire you to get out and explore the Emirate of Abu Dhabi this winter and make the best of the situation we are currently in.

If you are prepared to meet COVID testing rules, there are still some great opportunities to explore Dubai & the Northern Emirates. Pop over to our Winter Weekends in the UAE – including a checklist you can print out for the fridge!

Hajar Mountains UAE
Hajar Mountains UAE

We have a comprehensive guide to all the best attractions and family resorts across the UAE here

Before you go….   more guides that may help you enjoy your time in the Middle East

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Abu Dhabi Winter Weekend Getaways

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