Whether you’re a new arrival or a seasoned expat, February is the ideal time to make the most of all that the UAE has to offer. From free family activities to off-the-beaten-track adventures, we’ve rounded up the best value entertainment for your calendar this month…
Free and easy
Who says you need to spend a fortune to enjoy your life here? Get out and about and leave your wallet at home with these free (or Dhs1) options for family fun
Hit the sand
Be it the beach or the desert, we’re surrounded by sand in Dubai so make the most of it and enjoy a family day out in the fresh air. If you’re looking for a beach with all the facilities – from cafes to watersports, sunbeds/umbrellas and a buzzy vibe – then Kite Beach in Umm Suqeim is perfect, as is the new La Mer development in Jumeirah where overwater hammocks, cute pastel-coloured beach hut changing rooms and pretty eateries make for gorgeous photos. Looking for a quieter experience? Try Palace Beach off Al Sufouh Road – the water here is usually beautifully calm and shallow, so perfect for little swimmers.
And as for desert adventures? We love Al Qudra Lakes, a series of manmade lakes around a 20-minute drive from Arabian Ranches, which offer lots of perfect picnic spots as well as walking and wildlife-spotting opportunities.
Explore Dubai Creek & Al Fahidi Cultural District
Guaranteed to delight every member of your family, a traditional abra trip across Dubai creek is not only magical but cheap too – while we’re technically cheating on the ‘free’ criteria, a boat ride costs just Dhs1 per person, so we’ll make an exception. The antithesis of SZR’s shiny new malls, this part of Dubai takes you back to the city’s roots, with winding alleys, souks, stunning sand-coloured buildings and traditional windtowers in all their glory. It’s chock full of museums and galleries, many of which you can browse for free, plus some really lovely little cafés if you’re feeling a tad more flush – stop at the Arabian Tea House for traditional Arabic mezze and mint tea, plus ice cream for the little ones, all in a pretty courtyard setting.
Have a wander at Ripe
OK, so the shopping isn’t free, but there’s plenty of fun to be had each week at Ripe, even if you’re trying to rein in your spending. With live music and entertainment, lots of stalls to browse and tasty produce to sample, it’s an engaging way to while away a few hours, while kids will love the extensive facilities at Zabeel Park, where Friday’s Dubai market is held. With multiple play spaces, huge expanses of grass, cycle tracks and even BBQ facilities, there’s plenty to fill the best part of a lazy day in the winter sun.
Picnic in the park
Dubai’s little havens of green have something for all ages – they’re usually not overcrowded and offer well-maintained playgrounds for all your small ones’ swinging and climbing needs, as well as lawns for picnicking on, the welcome shade of mature trees, birdsong and that all-important dose of the outdoors we all love so much. We’re currently quite taken with the small but perfectly formed, eco-minded Al Khazzan Park opposite City Walk, where you’ll find lots of green open space, views of the Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai and an opportunity to teach your kids about the park’s solar plant. Got a little budget freedom? Enjoy a coffee, breakfast or lunch under the huge ancient ghaf tree at the park’s centre, where the cute solar-powered eatery Inn The Park serves up a concise but tasty menu. Perfect for families looking to eat, enjoy some fresh air and allow the kids to run about too. Download Dubai Municipality’s Parks & Beaches app for a full list of open public facilities.
Get on your bike at Nad Al Sheba
While cycling on the road may not be the safest option as a family, you can load up the car and head to newly-refurbished District One running and bike track – perfect for encouraging the kids’ confidence on two wheels as well as getting the whole family exercising. When everyone gets a bit tired of biking, a little playground and lawn area with views of the Dubai skyline awaits.
Rise for the weekend at Dubai Creek Harbour
This fab spot offers weekend fun for families plus incredible views of the Dubai skyline across the water (it’s amazing at sunset and worth going for the photo opportunities alone). With great kids’ playgrounds, including largely shaded huge climb-on wooden structures, plus food trucks, free children’s activities, street performers, a retail market and much more, all from noon until night each Friday, Rise is an ideal place to spend a few hours at the weekend.
You might need to throw a little money at them, but these family activities offer a generous bang for your buck
Kayaking the Eastern Mangroves in Abu Dhabi
While the weather’s so perfect there’s no excuse not to be out and about – and if you’re looking for a fun way to spend the day that the whole family can enjoy, a kayaking trip through Abu Dhabi’s vast mangrove forests is right up there on our list of favourites. There are numerous tour companies offering private and group options for various budgets, some of which will accept kids as young as three, and with the mangroves acting as a natural habitat for lots of birds and marine creatures, you’ll all love watching out for signs of life while navigating the calm waters and channels through the forests.
XDubai Skate Park
If a full day on the sand is too much, break it up with a visit to the XDubai Skate Park, where children over the age of four are encouraged to let loose on their bikes, scooters and skateboards in a super-cool but safe environment. Parents are welcome to pull up a pew and watch from the grassy areas and benches, and there are staff on hand if your little adventurers are new to the whole thing and need a few pointers. With 29 obstacles, including a mini bowl, crater, street elements and more to whizz around and navigate, helmets are obligatory (the park has some on site if you don’t bring your own) and all of Kite Beach’s cafes and hangouts await for refreshments afterwards.
How do you fancy tree-surfing and zip-lining in the midst of the largest natural ghaf tree forest in the UAE? Aventura Adventure Park in Mushrif Park offers just that, with over 80 exhilarating challenges across five different levels. With tracks both high up and in between the trees, the whole family can be on top of the world and immersed in nature, just a short drive from Downtown Dubai.
Talk to the animals at Al Ain Zoo
For a day in the fresh air, surrounded by some of the planet’s most incredible creatures, you can’t get much better than Al Ain Zoo – a 400-hectare area originally established by the late Sheikh Zayed as a place to breed endangered animals, now committed to protecting them in habitats as natural to their own. Set against the majestic Hajar Mountains, Al Ain Zoo not only features an impressive collection of wildlife, flora and fauna, surprisingly, it also offers a safari option. Covering over 200 hectares of land and home to native African animals including the white rhino, giraffe and African lion, it’s a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. The best part? You can even feed the giraffes, a completely magical experience that both kids and adults will relish.
The Dubai frame
Originally set to open in 2015, the Dubai frame has now finally opened its walkway to the public. The two towers are connected by a 100-square-metre bridge, which has a 25-square-metre glass panel in the middle and shows off impressive views of the city from its home in Zabeel Park. Entry costs Dhs50, or Dhs30 for children.