Ultimate guide to Abu Dhabi things to do & short getaways

The opening up of borders and the scent of cooler days ahead hold great promise for some exciting exploration of Abu Dhabi emirate this winter.

The capital of the United Arab Emirates has recently removed the need to self-quarantine on arrival if you’re fully vaccinated, encouraging the return of both domestic international tourism in winter 2021/22.

In this guide to things to do in Abu Dhabi we’ll take you through:

The need to have a PCR or DPI test when crossing the domestic border from Dubai to Abu Dhabi has been abolished. You must, however, have “green status” or the “green pass” on your Alhosn app in order to enter any public places in the Emirate such as malls, hotels, parks and beaches.

Learn more about Abu Dhabi’s latest entry requirements and the removal of the Dubai border crossing point 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. One of the best things to do with kids in Abu Dhabi is spend a day at Yas Waterworld. Daily numbers are capped but there’s still plenty happening at Yas Waterworld to keep the family happy this winter.

Look our for Ladies Day every Mondays & Thursday, and ticket specials combined with Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi.

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

Jubail Mangrove Park

The mangrove boardwalks of Jubail Island (adjacent to Saadiyat Island on the outskirts of the city) are open once more ready to explore the cities coastal mangrove forests. 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 -either way it’s the perfect place to spend some time outside.

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

Go karting at Yas Marina Circuit

Not quite ready to take on the Grand Prix circuit? Kids can enjoy testing out their driving skills at the Yas Marina Karting circuit. Special sessions are held for kids (5 to 7 years) as well as juniors (4 to 12 years) – open daily 4pm to midnight.

Learn more about karting sessions at Yas Marina circuit here

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 fun family action movies will be screening every Thursday to Saturday night over winter. Only usual park entry fees apply, limit four people per section.

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!

(We’re waiting for confirmation if this fixture in the park will be coming back for winter 2021/22)

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

There’s never a bad time to pay a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Reduced crowds over the past year have, however, made this an even more beautiful and intimate experience. Whether it’s your first or 10th visit to the Grand Mosque, even the little ones get caught up in the grandeur and allure of visiting this stunning beautiful mosque. It truly is a city highlight and undoubtedly the best thing to do in Abu Dhabi whether you’re a tourist or resident.

You can learn exactly how to plan a Grand Mosque visit with kids here

Explore Qasr Al Watan

The UAE’s stunning Presidential Palace is one of the most exciting new tourist attractions in the capital. Public tours are back in groups of max. 4, or enjoy self-guided tours within the palace (including a specially-made kids tour to help them explore the palace at their pace with fun activities) 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

Make and Play at the Louvre Abu Dhbai

The city’s stunning museum of humanity always has exciting new offerings to help keep the family entertained. This summer they have been running #makeandplay activities with hands on support from museum staff in making your take-home creations. This can be enjoyed in addition to visiting the museum’s main galleries (which kids can visit free with any adult ticket!)

You can learn more about how to plan a trip to the Louvre Abu Dhabi 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 10. Some great Friday al fresco options as we role into winter include:

  • Aqua at the Rosewood
  • Giornotte at the Ritz Carlton
  • Nahamm at Conrad Etihad Towers
  • 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 and Air Maniax 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 tranquility of real waves you are after, you simply can’t go past the selection of Saadiyat 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 some kids clubs and facilities 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 (September 2021) 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 to the public we are advised in October 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

Every day seems to bring more good news when it comes to the re-opening of borders, but not without its challenges. 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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