While there seems to be a limited number of truly interesting and worthwhile cultural and artistic tourist attractions, there are a number of activities aimed to appeal to the tourist family or the more adventurous outdoor tourist.
Some of the more interesting desert activities include safaris, dune driving and exploring wadis in four-wheel-drive vehicles; sand-skiing, hot air ballooning and moonlit Arabian desert barbecues, complete with traditional entertainment. Closer to town there is camel racing and horse racing with no betting, of course. You can also cruise in a traditional wooden dhow on Dubai Creek or into the Gulf with or without a meal. I recommend “without.”
The UAE also has swimming, sailing, fishing, windsurfing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, scuba-diving and snorkeling. There are five grass golf courses. If you are really sports and activity oriented you can play squash and tennis or go horse back riding, trekking, paragliding, cycling, ice-skating, shooting, and bowling.
If all you want to do is watch, there’s The Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in early February, two US$1,000,000 International tennis tournaments in late February, one for women and one for men and an IRB Rugby Sevens tournament in December.
For families with children, there are lots of beaches and parks with playgrounds. Creekside Park is especially nice. It has an interactive Children’s City with areas dedicated to anatomy, science and space. Families can also ride a gondola that provides great views of the city.
The zoo on Jumeirah Beach Road is small and disappointing according to our host family but further down is Jumeirah Beach Park. It’s a huge facility with children’s play areas, barbecue sites, food kiosks, volleyball areas, and a beach with lifeguards. It’s on Jumeirah Beach Road next to the Hilton Beach Club.
The Jumeirah Beach Corniche is a little further down and has 800 meters of beach frontage, with shaded picnic tables, play areas, showers and a sheltered swimming area. It’s located just off the Beach Road, next to the Marine Beach Club.
There are also commercial sites that cater to families like the Wild Wadi Water Park and Ski Dubai next to the Mall of the Emirates for indoor skiing, sledding, snowball fights and Santa Claus at Christmas-time.
We had a fun afternoon renting ATVs at one of the locations you can't miss on the Dubai-Hatta Highway. There are also enclosed tracks for small children to experience driving an ATV on the sand.
One of the more interesting sites is Heritage Village near the Shindaga Tunnel. The site attempts to recreate the Bedouin way of life, with people dressed in traditional clothing, displays of traditional handicrafts, and traditional song and dance performances. It also has a Diving Village featuring artifacts from Dubai’s pearl diving past. It’s a wee bit tacky but maybe kids won’t notice. We didn’t see it but there is evidently a tiny section for children, with activities intended to keep youngsters occupied while the adults take coffee break at a nearby cafe.
To summarize, there’s lots to do for adventurers and families. Use the internet and Google to locate your choices and plan ahead to avoid the disappointment of closed facilities or fully booked activities.