Abu Dhabi things to do: Six of the best family thrills


Opened in 2018, this is one of the world's largest indoor theme parks. On Yas Island, the city's purpose-built entertainment district (built around the Grand Prix track), this world consists of six themed areas under one huge dome. Younger kids will enjoy the rides featuring Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera characters (such as Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo). But the teenage hits are rides featuring DC Comic superheroes and villains: from Batman's gloomy Gotham City and Superman's Metropolis to Wonder Woman. Our favourite? The Green Lantern multi-universe ride. See: wbworldabudhabi.com.


PC5C5P Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at night Abu-Dhabi, UAE tra5-sixbestAbuDhabi

Photo: Alamy

Completed in 2007, this beautiful mosque is a wonder of the modern world (just check TripAdvisor). The project was launched by the late "father of the United Arab Emirates", Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and it will impress even the most cynical teenager. There's a strict dress code, but donning abayas to cover naked arms or legs is part of the experience. Non-Muslim teenagers may whinge, but the architectural majesty and introduction to Islamic faith will stay long afterwards. Just don't come at the end of Ramadan: it tends to get a bit crowded: maximum capacity 41,000. See: visitabudhabi.ae.


G2X8EB Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster in the world in Ferrari World amusement park at Yas Island - Abu Dhabi UAE tra5-sixbestAbuDhabi

Photo: Alamy

I've been here before, but it's more fun with teenage boys. The younger one – a Ferrari aficionado – just laps up the history on display in the form of bright red cars. The older one insists we ride on the Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster, reaching a top speed of 240km/h in less than five seconds (duplicating the G-force Sebastian Vettel experiences at the start of every Formula 1 race). Opened in 2010, the huge building (looking like a Ferrari race car from the air) was on the starting grid of Abu Dhabi's bid to become a stopover destination to rival neighbouring Dubai. See: ferrariworldabudhabi.com.


RKMWN0 Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island Cultural District, Abu Dhabi City, Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Persian Gulf, United Arab Emirates, UAE, The Middle East. tra5-sixbestAbuDhabi

Photo: Alamy

Welcome to Saadiyat Island, the city's "cultural district". This spectacular building – really only appreciated from the inside – was designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel and opened in 2018. Yes, it has its own Leonardo, plus important (and stunning) paintings by van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin – and David's heroic depiction of Napoleon crossing the Alps. But the museum's main ambition is to emphasis the cross-fertilisation of ideas and art between humans of different faiths. See: louvreabudhabi.ae.


MF43RC Dune bashing with a 4x4 jeep in the desert of Al Khatim in Abu Dhabi, Emirates tra5-sixbestAbuDhabi

Photo: Alamy 

Drive 90 minutes out of the city and you're on the edge of Rub' al Khali, the famous "Empty Quarter" – the largest sandy desert in the world. You can camp overnight, or just come in the late afternoon by 4WD for desert adventures. That may include dune bashing (being driven over huge dunes and sliding down the other side like a demented character out of a Cars movie); camel riding, camel posing, dune bike riding. Whatever you choose, stay under the Arabian stars for the shish kebabs and salads served on a bed of hand-woven carpets. The floor show is spectacular too. See etihad.com//en-au/hala-abu-dhabi.



AT2YX7 Dhow at sunset Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates tra5-sixbestAbuDhabi

Photo: Alamy

These simple looking, one-masted boats pioneered the spice routes between China, India and Europe. The Arabian Gulf was then part of the global aquatic highway. Today working dhows still ply their trade alongside gigantic oil tankers, transporting cargo as they have for centuries. But in Abu Dhabi, most of the dhows are tourist vessels: beautifully cushioned and serving banquet-style delicacies as you set sail to watch the sunset. There's no better way of assessing how far Abu Dhabi has come in little more than half a century than from sea as the sun sinks. See captaintonys.ae.

Steve Meacham was a guest of Abu Dhabi's department of culture and tourism, see visitabudhabi.ae.