Best things to do in Abu Dhabi with kids

I WANT TO COOL OFF

Mama, it's hot out here! When the temperature rises, the hot go to Yas Waterworld, a vast waterpark on Yas Island with more than 40 rides, from baby waterplay parks to the rollercoaster that whooshes overhead, leaving a trail of dying screams in its wake. Don't believe the staff when they tell you it isn't scary. Far gentler is the winding lazy river, or try the wave pool and the many water slides, which are graded from gentle to blood-curdling: the most fierce feature corkscrews and blacked-out sections. Note that tandem mats let you slide with your child (if you're too scared to go alone!). See yaswaterworld.com

I WANT TO MEET BATMAN

Set aside a full day for the new Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi. The theme park is indoors, but its groundbreaking technology plays with light, sound, temperature, scent and scenery to transport you through six lands, from the gentle prehistoric landscape of the Flintstones' Bedrock through to the dark, and downright grungy badlands of Gotham City and into the realm of superheroes in Metropolis. We buy an autograph book and pursue the Joker, Catwoman, Batman, Coyote and Tweety, badgering them for signatures and a photo. They are also happy to do video messages to send to envious siblings. The sets and rides are compelling even for the most cynical adults – especially the terrifying Riddler Revolution and the 5D Green Lantern ride, which sees you dive into an Avatar-inspired world: we went back and back. All rides are included in the price, and cafes scattered throughout serve themed food, including the six-person bronto burgers in the Flintstones' neck of the woods. See wbworld.com

I WANT TO COLOUR IN

The Children's Museum at the Louvre Abu Dhabi lets small fries  run amok: no "shushing" here. Kids aged six to 12 can play with shadow puppets and sculptures, draw or get the mouse working on multimedia experiments. Family workshops are based around the major exhibitions currently showing in the general section. In the museum's new Costume Adventure, children can dress their avatar in clothes they've spotted in artworks. Children under 13 enter the Louvre free. See louvreabudhabi.ae

I WANT TO SEE BEAUTIFUL THINGS

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world's largest mosques, and the best time to visit is just before sunset, when the imam's call to maghrib prayers echo through the building's elegant white columns and minarets. As the sun sets, the mosque is splashed with a blush of colour as men in white thobes swish across the mosque's vast quadrangle. Prayer rooms are for Muslims only and everyone has to be modestly dressed with no knees or armpits showing; abayas (long women's robes) can be borrowed at the entrance and women must also cover their hair. See szgmc.gov.ae

I WANT TO BE A DESERT RAT

Fun things to do to your children: cover them in sunscreen then let them roll down an enormous yellow sand dune (or maybe that's just me). Arabian Nights offers accommodation alongside an experience of real desert life in the sand dunes of Al Khatim an hour from Abu Dhabi. On the drive out, we spy a camel train and camel race track. At the camp take a twin-share ride on a camel equipped with beautiful padded saddles; or kids who need to burn off energy can run down the dunes. The camp also serves a buffet breakfast and lunch and there's a cool, cabana-lined pool to soak in during the heat of the day. Get a temporary henna tattoo in a traditional design or try sand boarding. See arabiannightsvillage.com

I WANT TO GO REALLY FAST

Yas Marina Circuit hosts Abu Dhabi's Formula One races around December each year, but off race days, its professional drivers take speed demons around a hot lap or two in a Yas Radical SST racer. Passengers 14 years and above are packed into a hot suit and for four minutes, cover three laps that reach up to 200km/h on the straight. Anxious parents can wring their hands from the pit. And if you're going to go fast, you may as well do it in a Ferrari. Abu Dhabi abounds in theme parks and Ferrari World is in the elite class with the world's fastest rollercoaster, the Formula Rossa, which picks up speed from zero to 240 km/h in 4.9 seconds and drops you 52 metres. If your kids are under 140 centimetres, and therefore too short, they can take smaller rollercoasters or hit the dodgem cars in the theme park. See yasmarinacircuit.com, ferrariworldabudhabi.com

I WANT TO EAT LIKE A LOCAL

With its myriad tiny dishes spread across the table, Middle Eastern cuisine is designed for large gatherings and lets everyone pick and choose. Find traditional Emirati dishes at Al Fanar where a banquet completely fills the table. Stand-out dishes include yoghurt-marinated chicken kebabs and the deep-fried donut-like balls of zalabia doused in honey. For more familiar tastes, Black Tap is directly opposite Al Fanar and specialises in burgers but that's not why you go there – the cult burger cafe, that originated in New York, also serves the most ridiculously enormous, eminently photogenic freak shakes featuring giant Oreo cookies, clouds of turquoise fairy floss and mountains of sprinkles. Both restaurants are at the entrance to Ferrari World in Yas Mall. See alfanarrestaurant.com, blacktapme.com

I WANT TO SEE THE WILD THINGS

The UAE isn't known as a wilderness destination, but the emirate maintains large tracts of mangroves rich in wildlife. Take a guided kayaking tour through the Eastern Mangroves and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, flamingos and turtles. Otherwise, the hotels on Saadiyat Island take guests on eco-patrols to spy its indigenous, endangered hawksbill turtles, which lay their eggs here between April and June. Emiratis are also crazy falconers and you only have to visit its falcon hospital to see the love lavished on these dignified animals. See noukhada.ae, falconhospital.ae

I WANT TO GET FANCY

Sunday brunch at Emirates Palace Hotel does it for both parents and children. Choose the free-pouring champagne option while browsing the alfresco tables of extravagant fare, from oysters to fresh-baked breads, smoked fishes, lavish Middle Eastern salads and dips, and exquisite pastries made to be cooed over. Facepainters and balloon-knotters will take the kids off parents' plate-filled hands. To ramp it up a notch, check the kids into the day spa. The Children's Spa is available for those aged between five  and 15 years – under-10s must be accompanied by an adult – and includes kid massages, teen facials and manicures. We try a 30-minute chocolate body scrub, which smells good enough to eat, and which costs AED250 (or about $98). See emiratespalace.ae

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I WANT TO RIDE A BIKE

The Corniche runs eight kilometres along the coastline from the Dhow Harbour to the Emirates Palace hotel and is dotted with bike hire racks. Pick up a pushie and pedal down to the Heritage Village pausing, perhaps, at a playground or Corniche Beach which has a Blue Flag eco label for meeting stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria. Be sure to stop for a coffee or an ice-cream along the way. See visitabudhabi.ae

I WANT THE FACTS

POPULATION

1.45 million

LOCATION

Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates, which includes Sharjah and glitzy Dubai, 90 minutes' (very fast) drive north.

CLIMATE

Hot, hot, hot. During the summer months of June to August, which is the Gulf's low season, temperatures in this desert city can hit 50 degrees. Spring and autumn make for happy travels, while temps drop to a high of 18 degrees in the winter months of December and January.

ARCHITECTURE

The Grand Mosque exemplifies the new Islamic architecture – high-white marble with gold and crystal touches. If it doesn't bling, it isn't worth seeing. Bring sunglasses. Many hotels work Arabian arches and arabesque designs into their terracotta coloured buildings, reminiscent of their humble, mud brick ancestors.

ACCOMMODATION

The five-star Saadiyat Rotana hotel is set on a  nine-kilometre strip of white-sand beach on Saadiyat Island with views out to the Arabian Gulf. Particularly family-friendly features include the swimmable beach, paddling lagoons and vast buffets to lure fussy eaters. Influenced by the Islamic world, the food is drawn from Persia to Egypt and includes chocolate fountains and waffle makers. The extra special kids club Aladdin's Cave features a "lazy river" and competent lifeguards. Rooms from AED806 (about $320) a night. See rotana.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/abu-dhabi

visitabudhabi.ae

Belinda Jackson and her daughter visited Abu Dhabi as a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Etihad Airways.

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