Dubai has a reputation as a playground for the rich – and ought to have one as a playground for little ones, too.

This gleaming city is surprisingly family-friendly. Its desert climate means that most activities are indoors, but there is no shortage of running room for even the most energetic mini travelers. Here are the best things to do in Dubai with kids.

Is Dubai good for kids?

Traveling to Dubai with kids can be, well, child’s play, especially if you keep a light schedule and involve them in day-to-day planning. This famous pleasure destination offers plenty to do, from water parks and playgrounds to theme parks and activity centers. Most beach resorts operate kids’ clubs, and children under five travel free on public transport.

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The best things to do in Dubai with kids

Dubai has started to bill itself as the theme park capital of the world, and its action-packed adventures will thrill older kids. An ideal itinerary combines these fun excursions with a few choice sights and activities with some educational content, for a trip that will be memorable for children of all ages.

People playing in the water playground zone, Atlantis Aquaventure, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE, Middle East
Cool down from the heat of Dubai at Aquaventure Waterpark © IR Stone / Shutterstock

Take the plunge at Aquaventure Waterpark

From paddling-pool initiates to the most adventurous adrenaline junkies, kids of every age will dive right in at Aquaventure Waterpark. Aquaventure is likely to be a highlight of any kid’s visit to Dubai – though since some of the rides can be downright terrifying, we’d recommend taking things slowly and working your way up rather than risk getting freaked out by the craziest rides right at the beginning.

Older children will rave about rides that test the bravery of even the most courageous. Drifting in a tube around the River Ride is a great way for the whole family to ease into the water. Even if this lazy river seems too slow, “flash floods” every 30 seconds will spin you along and get you into the flow.

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Choose your own adventure at IMG Worlds of Adventure

IMG Worlds of Adventure is the world’s biggest indoor theme park, with a mind-boggling variety of attractions spread across an area the size of 28 football fields. There are four zones in the complex: Marvel, Lost World (a dinosaur-themed area with animatronic beasts), IMG Boulevard and Cartoon Network (great for the littlest ones), plus a 12-screen cinema complex that shows 3D IMAX films and promises “seven-star” comfort. Cartoon Network offers a world of imaginative activities for smaller children (although most rides are suitable for kids taller than 4ft): you can help the Powerpuff Girls protect Townsville, save the town of Elmore from a chaotic school science project or take a flight through the Land of Ooo.

The man-made tree inside a glass dome with a rainforest biome at Green Planet, Dubai, UAE, Middle East
Green Planet houses more than 3000 plants and animals in a glass dome surrounding a towering man-made tree © Phoenixproduction / Shutterstock

Discover a rainforest in the desert at Green Planet

Only in Dubai could an entire tropical rainforest ecosystem be created amid 115°F desert heat. The Green Planet houses more than 3000 plants and animals, including monkeys, iguanas and hornbills, in a glass dome surrounding a 82ft-tall, man-made fig tree. Visiting the biodome is ideal for slightly older kids with an interest in wildlife, though the Green Planet’s suspended walkways and rope bridges provide a taste of adventure that will excite younger children. The Green Planet has highly trained and enthusiastic guides, making for a top-notch educational experience even for adults – and the kids are likely to have so much fun that they might not even notice how much they’re learning.

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Families explore Bollywood Parks Dubai, Dubai, UAE, Middle East
Colorful Indian blockbusters come to life at Bollywood Parks Dubai © CreativeHymms / Shutterstock

Refine your dance moves at Bollywood Parks Dubai

Made up of five different zones based on Mumbai’s legendary movie industry, Bollywood Parks is a great place to ham it up to the colorful, joyous and oh-so-kitsch soundtrack of Indian blockbusters. There are stunt shows and plenty of rides, but to enjoy the experience to the full be sure to take in a few of the dozens of live performances that take place each day. “Stars on Steps” is a live song-and-dance show that takes place against massive LED screens that bring to life the magic of India’s temples and palaces. “Show Me Your Jalwa” offers a hilarious chance for the whole family to work on their Bollywood dance steps while the “Kids Korner” concentrates on pint-sized choreography.

Mother with toddler son look up at the first at the aquarium at Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE
The largest in the world, Dubai Mall has an acclaimed aquarium that will dazzle little ones © Johner Images / Getty Images

Ice skate, then spot fish, at Dubai Mall

With 1200 outlets, Dubai Mall is the world’s biggest shopping center. It’s also an experience in its own right, with an ice rink and a giant aquarium to keep you entertained even if you don’t happen to be a dedicated shopper. The Toy Store and the famous Hamleys are favorites with the kids, and most of the internationally known children’s clothing brands are represented here. The mall is so astonishingly huge that it helps to do a little advance research and know where you want to go to avoid mid-shopping-spree tantrums.

Go on Hollywood-inspired rides at Motiongate Dubai

Motiongate Dubai is the region’s biggest Hollywood-inspired theme park. The Smurfs Village offers great rides for small kids, while teenagers might manage to muster their nerve for a dramatic rollercoaster inspired by The Hunger Games. Apart from a whole selection of rides for kids, Motiongate also has several “edutainment” areas, such as Flint’s Imagination Lab, where kids can unleash their inner mad scientist among science-themed slides and in a laboratory maze.

Child playing on Kite Beach, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Let the little ones loose on Dubai’s Kite Beach © Nadia Leskovskaya / Shutterstock

Catch the winds at Kite Beach

The kitesurfers who once dominated Kite Beach have moved farther along the coast, and the balmy, rippling waves here are now the exclusive preserve of local families, expats and just a handful of in-the-know travelers. It’s particularly pleasant in the early morning to stroll along the 1.25-mile-long waterfront promenade with the iconic sails of Burj Al Arab looming above the skyline ahead of you. A big hat and lots of sunscreen are crucial – even by 10am, it can be roasting.

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Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area. It is a part of the Mall of the Emirates
Snow bunnies and shredders can carve up the slopes at Ski Dubai © S-F / Shutterstock

Enjoy the powder at Ski Dubai

Snow bunnies can carve some gentle turns – and take a few harmless tumbles – on Ski Dubai’s learner slopes while budding ski-champs can tackle the 1300ft (200ft drop) advanced run. With the desert sun melting the tarmac in the car park outside, it’s an irresistible novelty to be able to suit up for a winter wonderland and chill-out in a delightful 25°F.

Avoid the zombie apocalypse at Hub Zero

It’s open season for zombie hunting at Hub Zero, where many of the virtual-reality challenges are directed at exterminating swarms of snail-paced attackers. Fun racing games are stacked alongside dramatic simulator rides (note that many of the games involve a fair amount of gun play). While there’s little here to entice small children, this is a sort of doomsday heaven for older kids with a taste for electronic games and virtual-reality thrills. The emphasis is definitely on action: the Mission Impossible challenge has participants twisting through a room webbed with laser alarms, which you can tackle it alone or in a family team.

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Watch sharks swim at Lost Chambers Aquarium

Far from being “lost,” Lost Chambers Aquarium is justifiably one of Dubai’s most popular calling cards for families. The centerpiece of this vast aquarium complex set in Atlantis The Palm is the 3-million-gallon tank known as the Ambassador Lagoon. Little children are invariably thrilled to watch sharks swimming gracefully and giant rays swooping like spacecraft. (Naturally, it won’t take long before you’re playing “find Nemo.”) While there’s enough educational info around the countless smaller tanks to make the experience unforgettable for older kids, the concentration level might start to wane after an hour or so. For a great family day out that will appeal to everyone, combine Lost Chambers with a visit to Aquaventure Waterpark, located in the same complex.

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A 4x4 dune-driving excursion into the desert is almost a roller-coaster ride in itself - the ideal introduction to desert travel
Ride the roller coasters of the desert on a 4WD dune-driving excursion © Mark Eveleigh / Lonely Planet

Explore the sands on a desert safari

Racing in a 4WD across the billowing dunes just outside the city – almost a roller-coaster ride in itself – is an unmissable part of a trip to Dubai, and the wilderness is surprisingly accessible. Happy Adventures Tourism offer an evening dune-driving excursion that includes a range of activities such as sandboarding, camel riding, henna painting and a buffet barbecue dinner with live performances. You’re likely to return to your hotel after 9pm, so morning excursions might be better suited to younger children. Arabian Adventures offer more exclusive morning dune drives – farther away from the package crowds – that feature a wildlife safari in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.

Where to stay with kids in Dubai

Sheikh Zayed Road is the main artery of the city, running through Downtown Dubai. Many of the city’s major kid-friendly hotels are on this strip and are ideally situated for easy travel connections to either the main tourist sites (to the south) or the old town (Deira and Bur Dubai, to the north).

Fairmont Dubai is ideally located within an easy taxi-hop of most sights and just across the road from World Trade Centre metro station. The hotel can arrange babysitting for toddlers, and there are two kids’ pools where the little ones can cool down. Room rates are great value for money and include wonderful breakfast buffets that will set the whole family up for a day exploring.

Shangri-La, also in downtown Dubai, is a great choice for families, with kids’ fitness classes, karate, zumba, ballet and even ballroom dancing. The hotel has a special offer for guests that allows up to two children (under the age of six) to eat free at the Dunes Cafe all-day dining buffet.

Table filled with Middle Eastern dishes, such as salads, pita bread and rice
Middle Eastern staples like falafel and shawarma will delight even picky eaters © Zurijeta / Shutterstock

Where to eat with kids in Dubai

For a fun dining adventure for kids of all ages, check out Rainforest Café in Dubai Mall. You’ll feast amid tropical showers and even occasional thunderstorms while keeping an eye peeled for mechanical butterflies, jaguars, crocodiles, orangutans and gorillas.

Noire is a unique spot where you dine in complete darkness. Although it might be far from ideal for toddlers (although at least you can’t see the mess!), this, um, visionary concept features waiters in night-vision goggles and is sure to brighten mealtimes for older kids. “Have you finished what’s on your plate?” you might ask. Who knows?

Getting around Dubai with kids

Zipping around town with families is a breeze. Taxis are comfortable, efficient and relatively inexpensive (about US$4 for a 2-mile ride). A taxi from the airport to a downtown hotel will cost about Dhs60 (US$16.60). The Dubai Metro is well run and child-friendly and connects most of the major sights. Children under five travel free on public transport, and there are specially guarded carriages reserved for women and families.

This article was first published February 2019 and updated May 2022

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