For most expats, spending Christmas Day in the UAE means one thing: brunch.
But while food and drink is an essential part of the festive season, there are so many more unique, memorable and sustainable ways to spend Christmas Day in the UAE.
Plus, we all do our bit to tackle the UAE’s problem with food waste. According to Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence, the sustainable data company, roughly 38 percent of the food prepared here every day is wasted. The UAE also ranks among the top nations for per capita waste generation.
So, this Christmas, why not steer clear of the lavish buffets and spend the big day doing something more fun, enjoyable and eco-friendly instead?
Home to amazing landscapes, majestic museums, and fascinating culture, there are so many enriching, authentically Arabian and sustainable ways to spend Christmas in the UAE. Here are some ideas to get you started…
Pause and reflect at The Abrahamic Family House, Abu Dhabi
The Abrahamic Family House symbolises what is most special about the UAE. Home to a mosque, a church and a synagogue, all interconnected by a beautiful garden area, the inclusive interfaith complex is unique in every way. Although it is closed to visitors on Mondays, His Holiness Francis Church will still host a free daily mass for worshippers at 6.30pm.
Inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Present of the UAE, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the three houses are equally beautiful and statuesque. Created to promote tolerance, understanding and open dialogue, you can’t fail to be moved by the destination’s extraordinary symbolism, beauty and magic.
Entrance is free for worshippers. Abrahamicfamilyhouse.ae.
Take an abra ride through old Dubai, Dubai
Until the late 1950s, Dubai Creek was the region’s busiest port, and it was once considered the gateway to the Gulf and the epicentre of the pearling industry. Costing a grand total of just AED1 per person, riding a small wooden abra across its waters is one of the cheapest, and most enjoyable, Christmas activities you can imagine.
Abra means ‘to cross’ in Arabic, and the entire journey from one side to the other only takes about five minutes. However, you’ll relish every second of it. With 150 boats crossing at any one time, the chaos is simply glorious. Letting you live and breathe the fascinating heritage of the UAE, you can continue your exploration of Dubai’s past by wandering through the bustling spice and gold souks.
AED1 per person.
Pack a beach picnic, Abu Dhabi and Dubai
If you’re from a country where Christmas is generally a very cold, snowy and dark season, the novelty of spending it on one of the UAE’s pristine beaches never gets old. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune either. Just pack up a picnic, and head to your nearest public stretch of golden sand. Hudayriat beach in Abu Dhabi and Kite Beach in Dubai are completely free and open to picnickers, and the parks near the Corniche are littered with barbeque stations.
Or, to experience the postcard-worthy, Maldives-esque blue waters of Saadiyat Island, Soul Beach’s weekday entry fee of AED50 is absolutely worth every fil. Beds and umbrellas are provided, and you can bring your own coolers of snacks and drinks, or head across the sand to sustainable café Alkalime for some truly eco friendly festive dining.
Go hiking , UAE wide
The UAE’s hiking season is officially at its peak in December, and spending Christmas morning traversing the jagged peaks of Hatta, Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah is an experience that is impossible to beat. Great for mental and physical health, a Christmas hike lets all the family switch off from technology for a while, and spend the big day immersed in nature.
For an easy and straightforward ramble, the marked trails of Hatta Wadi Hub or Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah are perfect for an invigorating Christmas excursion. Or, if you fancy going a bit further off the beaten track, the bright blue pools and dramatic wadis of Fujairah are sure to have your pulse racing.
Check out @hikeuae for more advice on the UAE’s best hikes.
Visit Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Protected Area, Abu Dhabi
The mysterious Al Wathba fossil dunes are an unforgettable sight. Made famous after starring as the other-worldly, moon-like backdrop of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, over 1,700 of these ethereal, four-million-year-old natural wonders are now safely enclosed within a 7km protected area. The walkways make it easy to skirt over the golden waves of sand and see the fossils up close, and entry is free for all. Found 45 kilometres from Abu Dhabi, right in the centre of the Al Wathba desert, a trip out to see these enthralling structures is the ultimate Christmas treat.
Entrance is free. Visitabudhabi.ae.
Step into a world of trees at Sharjar, Sharjah
If you’ve exhausted all your usual outdoor excursions and want to go somewhere new for Christmas Day, look no further than Sharjar, Sharjah’s enormous new tree nursery. Meaning ‘trees’ in Arabic, Sharjar is home to more than 130,000 beautiful trees, spread over an area of 1.6 million square foot.
The welcome centre provides interesting information about the benefits of trees, the effects of deforestation, and the importance of biodiversity, and the guided tour takes you through the lifecycle of a tree, right through from propagation to planting. Every visitor is also invited to plant their own ghaf tree, and onsite café The Hut is a picturesque spot for a festive refreshment surrounded by lush greenery.
Entrance is free, tickets must be booked in advance. @aljadashj.