Winter Fun in the UAE: Outdoor Adventures With The Kids

9 mins

From hiking to kayaking, mangroves to deserts, it’s time to get out and about with the kids this winter

With the long, hot summer – and hours of indoor play – behind us it’s that’s time of year again to embrace the great outdoors with the kids here in the UAE.

With everything from beaches to parks, mountains to mangroves, nature reserves and deserts to explore, the natural environment in the UAE is varied and beautiful. And, being outside is an essential part of a healthy childhood.

According to the World Health Organisation, children aged one to two should have 180 mins of physical activity a day, those aged two to three should have 180 minutes to include 60 minutes of vigorous activity, while kids aged five to 17 should have at least 60 mins a day of moderate to vigorous activity.

US organisation The Child Mind Institute says that as well as the obvious benefits such as exercise and fresh air, spending time outdoors can boost a child’s confidence, as it’s less structured than indoor play. It’s also a great way to learn about responsibility through simple tasks like keeping a plant alive with regular watering.

And that’s not counting the benefits of vitamin D from the sunshine on healthy sleep and mood, as well as the benefits of improved communication and socialisation of outdoor play.

However, children are more sedentary than ever, thanks, in part to increased screen time. There’s even the concept of ‘nature deficit disorder’, a term coined by Richard Louv in 2005 claiming that that kids are spending less and less time outdoors.  

Keeping the kids away from screens isn’t always the easiest, but with these fun-packed options, it’s time to get back to nature with the kids at these UAE outdoor locations.

Al Ain Oasis

desert plams forest perfect for heading out with the kids

With palm trees and greenery spread over 136 hectares, Al Ain Oasis is a UNESCO Cultural Site that’s an educational day out in the fresh air for kids of all ages. This stunning oasis has nearly 150,000 date palms, with more than 100 different types of vegetation including fruit trees such as banana, fig, mango and orange. There’s also the falaj to see – an ancient irrigation system made up of 3,000-year-old channels bringing water from the mountains to keep the trees thriving. It’s free to enter, but those who want to explore with the kids at a faster pace can rent bikes at the entry to explore the paths. There’s an Eco Centre, on site too, to learn more about Al Ain.

Al Noor Island

aerial view of an island with futuristic building

A family-friendly attraction in Sharjah, Al Noor Island is reached via a boat. It’s also famed for its tropical biosphere as well as the annual Sharjah Light Festival. Kids can get an Explorer Pass with a map to discover the island, while at the biosphere kids can learn about the life cycles of butterflies – from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterflies as well as take part in gardening workshops.

There are landscaped gardens to stroll around, a kids’ play area, a 3.5km boardwalk to meander along and a healthy café to pick up some snacks. By night there are sessions from astronomy experts who’ll show kids how to use telescopes to discover the night sky. Tickets prices start from AED30 for kids and AED50 for adults.

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

flamingoes at a wetland resrve

Covering 5 sq km, this beautiful area is a must to visit with the kids, especially those that love birds. The area is famed for its population of flamingos, with up to 4,000 living there, plus more than 250 other species of birds and 37 types of plant. There are two walking trails – 1.5km or 3km – depending on the age of kids. It’s free to get in, and there are no cafés so visitors are encouraged to bring a reusable water bottle.

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi was set up in 1998 and was declared a Ransar site in 2013. In 2018 it was placed on the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, the first in the region to be named as such and is a fun day out for little ornithologists.

Desert Palm Dubai

horses ready to be ridden at a hotel with palm trees

This peaceful spot to the north of Dubai is ideal for pony-mad kids. Set in lush greenery, surrounded by date palms, the riding centre hosts lessons for all ages and abilities, and is a chance for children to interact with animals. As well as the physical plusses of horse riding being good exercise, getting fresh air and improving core strength, spending time around horses is known to have therapeutic benefits for kids too.

Also at the riding centre is a vegan-friendly café, Daughter & Dad Coffee, which serves a range of plant-based snacks and drinks. The cafe’s mission is to ‘construct plant-based delights, create community and celebrate female empowerment’, with healthy vegetarian and vegan dishes made in house. The café is dog-friendly, too, so you can go with the kids and your four legged friends too!

Green Mubazzarah

aerial view of a desertcsape

Known as the Garden City due to its abundance of greenery, as well as a visit to the Oasis, a day out in Al Ain should also include a trip to the massive park Green Mubazzarah. Found at the foot of the second tallest mountain in the UAE – Jabel Hafeet – the area is home to parkland, lakes and hot springs. With plenty of space to run around, kick a ball or have a picnic, it’s the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon with the kids. There’s also a campsite for those who want to stay longer, or who fancy a sunrise drive up Jabel Hafeet, which is 1,240m at the summit, to take in the stunning surrounding scenery.


aerial view of moutains and dam at hatta, dubai

Set high in the Hajar Mountains, Hatta is a brilliant place to get away from city life with the kids and have a burst of fresh air. Around 90 minutes from the centre of Dubai, Hatta is ideal for camping or just a day trip, plus there’s loads to do when it comes to getting back to nature. Depending on the age ofyour little ones, there are outdoor pursuits such as zip-lining, aerial adventures and zorbing to do with the kids. If they prefer the water then there are kayaks or pedalboats available to hire, for a peaceful sail out onto the picturesque Hatta Dam. Hiking and mountain biking are also popular activities in Hatta, with routes aimed at a range of abilities.

Jubail Mangrove Park

mangrove park

This beautiful mangrove park can be found between Yas Island and Saadiyat Island in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. A mangrove sanctuary, it’s a great place for nature-lovers of all ages to see birds and aquatic species that are native to the UAE. Set up in 2020, the aim of the park is to ‘enhance the awareness, appreciation and understanding of the important ecological function of the mangrove habitats that include protection of the Abu Dhabi Coastline and supporting biodiversity’.

In high tide you can either walk along the boardwalk or kayak through the mangroves with the kids and admire the beautiful water, while at low tide visitors can wader along the boardwalk and see the root systems. There are two kilometres of boardwalk to explore starting at AED15 for adults, AED5 for kids aged three to six, while kids under three go free.

Sir Bani Yas Island

deer at a reserve with mountains in background

For a special family treat this winter there’s the bucket-list family-friendly escape at Desert Islands Resort at Sir Bani Yas Island. The perfect trip for families that love an escape to nature, and adore animals, this is an extra-special staycation to do with the kids. With plenty of outdoor activities from falconry to archery, wadi walks and horse riding, plus of course splashing around in the pool, there’s loads to keep the young ones occupied. And that’s before they’ve even got to the wildlife drives. Free roaming animals include the Arabian Oryx, ostriches and giraffes – with a special tally card for kids to mark all the wildlife they see.

The Nature Park at Green Planet

big play bug at a nature park

A super-popular biodome right in the heart of Dubai, The Green Planet is home to more than 3,000 plants and animals that will delight nature-lovers. Kids will adore exploring the trail, which winds down from the roof to the ground floor, getting up close to the wildlife and plants on the way down. Expect parrots, toucans, sloths, monkeys, insects and more, with all the sounds, smells and sights of an indoor rainforest.

Until now it’s all been indoors, but this winter The Green Planet opened The Nature Park, an outdoor area for al fresco fun. Families can explore a treehouse adventure trail with the kids, with nine viewing platforms and slides, plus 20 giant animatronic bugs and nine botanical gardens. Aimed at those over three years old, there’s also a soft play and outdoor café, and passes start at AED69 (to include one adult and one child).

The Sustainable City

Whether a resident of The Sustainable City or just Dubai in general, this is a great choice for eco-conscious families to spend time with the kids this winter. With 2,500 trees planted around the perimeter of the city to purify the air, The Sustainable City is the first operational Net Zero Energy city in Dubai. A popular, thriving community, at the centre of The Sustainable City is The Farm, made up of 11 biodome greenhouses with 3,000 sq m of urban farming.

To get closer to nature there’s an animal sanctuary with goats, donkeys, chickens and ducks, a lake and kids’ play area. There’s also an equestrian club for riding lessons for all ages and abilities with options for hacking around the tree-lined tracks of the area.

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