The Best Things to See and Do in Dubai With Kids

Whether you’re on a short layover or a full-on vacation, the city is brimming with child-friendly offerings.

A viewing tunnel inside the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo

The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo features 140 species including more than 400 sharks and rays.

Photo By posztos/Shutterstock

Dubai is a city of superlatives: largest, tallest, glitziest, ritziest, forever the hostess with the mostess. Remarkably, the Emirate holds that latter golden distinction even when it comes to family entertainment. I learned this firsthand when my 20-month-old toddler, Julian, and I spent nearly a week in the city during a 23-day, three-country, mother-son solo trip to the Middle East and Africa in fall 2023. We pinballed between Dubai and the surrounding Arabian desert, splashing in pools and water parks, tooling through extravagant botanical gardens and immersive art exhibitions, and bouncing around a 4x4 in a baby-friendly twist on dune bashing. What follows are highlights from that action-packed itinerary, plus a few recs for families traveling with older children.

A family relaxes on sun loungers in Dubai

Dubai offers several high-end hotels that cater to families.

Courtesy of Bab Al Shams

How to find a family-friendly place to stay in Dubai

After a brutal long-haul flight to the UAE, it feels good to collapse in the lap of luxury. Families wanting that extra TLC can do no better than the One&Only Royal Mirage, an elegant beach resort with family suites fit for a sultan. Julian and I were assigned a butler, Soumya, upon check-in; he quickly made himself indispensable—tracking down a travel stroller I had accidentally left at the Dubai airport in my haze of jet-lagged delirium. (Mom of the Year right here!) Not only did he find it that night, he arranged for it to be delivered to my room the following day and gave me a loaner stroller to use in the interim. The next-level pampering didn’t stop there: Our suite—some three times the size of my old Brooklyn apartment—was kitted out with new-in-the-box toys for Julian and a massive platter of fresh fruit that he hid around the room. (My apologies to housekeeping if they found a pineapple in the safe.) Julian had fun playing with the bidet (On! Off! On! Off!); I loved the Penhaligon toiletries; and we were both over the moon scarfing down Moroccan bissara (fava bean soup) and kebabs at Tagine, Royal Mirage’s in-house restaurant.

Another property I can heartily recommend for families with kids of varying ages is Atlantis, the Palm on Jumeirah Island—arguably one of the most over-the-top resort experiences on the planet. Like Vegas on steroids, it boggles the minds of adults and youngsters alike with its many glamorous pools, Dale Chihuly lobby sculptures, and 65,000-plus marine animals swishing through its Lost Chambers Aquarium. Julian and I could have watched that shark-and-ray ballet all day if there weren’t a million other fun things to do, like plunge down toddler-ready slides at Aquaventure, the world’s largest water park, or stuff our faces on fish and chips at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar. The water park is a dream for grade schoolers and tweens, too, with its interactive marine programming focused on sharks and dolphins and the colorful Wavehouse restaurant, a burger-and-pizza joint with a multi-level arcade, bowling alley, and surf simulator.

No trip to Dubai is complete without spending a night or two in the Arabian desert, just 45 minutes beyond city limits. At the impossibly chic Bab Al Shams resort, Moorish-inspired desert architecture with myriad fountains meets a blazing orange sun—forming what almost looks like a Hollywood film set. There are camel and falcon meet-and-greets, which both delighted and terrified my son; “baby-friendly” dune-bashing rides (same idea as regular dune bashing but far gentler); and opportunities to spot Arabian oryx and desert gazelles near a glassy artificial lake. If Julian were older, I would have loved to grab bicycles and take on the 31-mile track that snakes through the desert (at sunrise or sunset only, of course, as highs here regularly climb into the triple digits).

A family meets a parrot in Dubai's Green Planet

Kids will meet birds galore at the Green Planet Dubai. In the summer months, the indoor rainforest even lets families camp out overnight.

Photo courtesy of Dubai Economy & Tourism

What to do in Dubai with kids

In addition to the Lost Chambers Aquarium, Julian and I spent an hour gawking at the gentoo penguins, sand tiger sharks, and giant grouper at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. Its 10-million-liter tank is one of the largest suspended aquariums on Earth, housing some 140 species of aquatic animals. A walk-through tunnel runs 157 feet through the tank, making for an incredible photo op. Older kids can sign up for close-up animal encounters with otters, eagle rays, and a 1,654-pound Australian saltwater crocodile.

The wildlife parade continues at the Green Planet Dubai, an indoor vertical rainforest with upward of 3,000 plants and animals. During a special 30-minute encounter, we fed grapes and sweet potatoes to a 12-year-old sloth named Lemon. Her gentle demeanor and natural smile sent my toddler into a tailspin of frenzied giggling and clapping. He also loved barreling down the rainforest’s spiral ramp (picture the Guggenheim with plants), pausing every 20 feet or so to marvel at a jewel-toned parrot, toucan, or stony-faced owl.

Moving out of the jungle and back to the concrete skyline, Julian had zero interest in standing at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. But he did get a kick out of floating around the 30-acre lake at its base in a shaded gondola. Our boat ride was timed to the Fountain Show at Dubai Mall, with the waterworks accompanied by Superbowl halftime–caliber sound and lights.

On the outskirts of the city, we strolled through the towering topiaries at Dubai Miracle Garden, the world’s largest natural flower garden with more than 150 million blooms in peak season. Walking amid these floral giants—horses, elephants, Smurfs, a life-size recreation of an Emirates Airbus A380—with fresh juice in hand was a treat, though I’d advise going early in the morning or near sunset, as there is very little shade inside. If you prefer to stick with air-conditioning, the recently opened AYA Universe—an otherworldly network of immersive sound and light installations at Wafi City Mall—is also highly photogenic.

Three people eat food at Arabian Teahouse

Kids can enjoy pancakes while parents fuel up on gahwa (traditional coffee) at Arabian Teahouse.

Photo courtesy of Dubai Economy & Tourism

Finding great food for the whole family

Arabian Teahouse is a must-visit. Founded more than a quarter of a century ago, it attracts tourists and locals. Its spectacular Emirati breakfast trays are a sight to behold, heaped with balaleet (vermicelli laced with cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron and crowned with an omelet), bajella (fava beans), dango (a hummus-like chickpea mash without tahini), khameer (flatbread), chebab (pancakes), date molasses, and watermelon jam. The spread is generous enough to feed two adults but the kids’ menu is equally inspired with its camel-shaped pancakes and strawberry lassis.

Another meal that stood out for us—in part because it was much more than a meal—was Al Hadheerah, Bab Al Shams’ open-air dining venue and desert theater. Jules and I were spoiled for choice at its sprawling buffet, but his favorites included flame-licked lamb kebabs with Iranian rice, za’atar manakeesh, and an Emirati bread pudding called umm ali. Our charming Egyptian waiter even took us on a mini adventure to meet the camels that would be performing in that night’s show—a cabaret-like spectacle with wriggling belly dancers, whirling dervishes, and a full-on caravan.

Getting around

If you’re traveling with littles, consider hiring a driver and guide from Arabian Adventures. We were assigned a Keralan chauffeur named Jobin and a gregarious guide named Tareq, a Palestinian Jordanian expat who was raised in Kuwait but has been working in Dubai for a decade. Our luxury van was outfitted with a car seat for kids and the A/C was always blasting whenever we returned from an outing in Dubai’s ungodly heat. Arabian Adventures can map out a soup-to-nuts itinerary or gin up something fun on the spot—as when I asked Tareq to take us shopping for good-quality oud (agarwood) in the spice market. Not only did he sleuth out a deal on a lovely fragrance, he gave us a crash course in buying frankincense, demoing the proper way to waft its earthy smoke beneath the armpits and up to the nose.

Dubai’s Kids Go Free summer program offers numerous travel incentives for families. Up to two children can sleep in an adult room at no extra charge, eat free on the same meal plan as their parents, and gain free access to the hotel kids’ clubs at three-, four-, and five-star resorts. Tickets for children 13 and under are free with a paid adult at attractions like Legoland Dubai and AYA, while kids 12 and under go gratis at Expo City Dubai. Check the website for more details.

Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. She’s on the road four to six months a year (sometimes with her toddler in tow) and contributes to Afar, New York Magazine, Time, the Wall Street Journal, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Bon Appétit, Oprah, Midwest Living, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
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