At first glance, Dubai doesn’t seem the ideal place to raise your family. The glamour and glitz seem far removed from the busy, messy reality of young children. You may worry that your usual options of playing in the park or garden just won’t be suitable in high summer temperatures.
According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey carried out in 2013, the UAE ranked 18 out of 37 in the ‘raising children abroad’ league tables – scoring poorly for factors including health and wellbeing.
Issues such as the heavy traffic can make it hard to stay active, and affect both adults and children. Similarly, the heat at certain times of the day can restrict outdoor play.
However, there is a solution. Carefully chosen activities will ensure your children stay fit, inspired and feel culturally engaged with this exciting place. You’ll find that simply heading out of the city centre can bring many advantages too – you escape that traffic for a start, and you will find more peaceful, educational options for your children.
As Nic Brown, the Global Head of Distribution at Aetna International, says, “It’s vital for your family to spend time away from the hustle and bustle of city life. More space and a change of scenery can work wonders for their health, wellbeing and behaviour.”
Luckily, there are many fantastic opportunities for your family to unwind together, both in and not far outside the city.
1. Learn about the local culture
There’s no point living somewhere so different to home if you stay in that expat bubble and fail to learn about the local culture. The Dubai Heritage Village, located in the Shindagha, near the creek’s mouth, is a fabulous traditional village. It provides an engaging way of discovering Dubai’s traditional culture and lifestyle, including its maritime history and pearl diving traditions.
2. Explore the desert
Children will be fascinated by experiencing the desert surrounding the city. Older children may enjoy the high-octane ‘dune bashing’ but for a more educational, gentler experience, then a wildlife safari is fantastic. Not many companies are permitted to conduct wildlife safaris actually within the Dubai Desert Conservation reserve, so do check that yours is one of them! You’ll travel through the stunning dunes, looking for native animals such as sand gazelles, Arabian hares and caracal. Do have a go at camel riding while you’re at it.
3. Go skiing
There is something so fun about leaving the heat to head to sub-zero temperatures. Learning to ski or snowboard is a great life skill and provides lots of exercise too. Ski Dubai offers reasonably priced children’s discovery lessons, and it is hassle free because all clothing and equipment is provided. However, bear in mind that it’s not suitable for under twos.
4. Experience falconry
Hunting with birds is embedded in local culture. Falcons were used for hunting hares and houbara to supplement the Bedouin diet. Seeing the birds in action is breathtaking, and you may have the chance to fly a falcon yourself.
5. Go crazy at water parks
For masses of activity that is guaranteed to make them sleep well, then the city’s water parks really make the most of both Dubai’s fantastic ability to entertain and the hot weather. You can choose between Wild Wadi Water Park and Aquaventure at the Atlantis. Both will give you more slides and splashes than you thought possible and you’ll find rides and activities suitable for all age groups.
6. A day at the park
Creekside Park is a very popular location for families. The children can enjoy the waterside green space and have a good run around in the fresh air. You’ll find playgrounds and beautiful gardens, as well as a 30-metre-high cable car. Hiring bikes is a lovely option too. To whet your appetite and see what other families think, check out the brilliant reviews on Trip Advisor.
7. Learn about marine life
Did you know that the waters of Dubai are rich in marine life? They are home to more than 300 species of fish as well as the endangered Hawksbill and Green Turtles. The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project lets you meet some of these turtles, while they are recovering from illness or injury. Your kids will be entranced by these gentle giants, as well as learning lots about the threats they face and what we can all do to help.
8. Make music
The Centre for Musical Arts offers a high standard of musical tuition to youngsters across a range of instruments. Group, as well as individual, lessons are available for most instruments. It won’t be long before your child will be able to take part in performances. The regular sessions are a great way of children meeting new friends outside school.
9. Set their imagination free
Kidszania is an interactive city, where everything is built to the scale of children. They will explore the streets and buildings and can try out over 80 jobs, such as doctor, chef and firefighter. This sort of imaginative play will really inspire them, as well as giving you lots to talk about as a family.
10. Defy gravity
It is incredible that children over the age of three can have the opportunity to experience sky diving! Luckily, there is no need to chuck your infants out of a plane. At iFLY, the wind tunnel allows you to float in the air, three metres high!