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If you’ve read the Arabian Nights or watched Lawrence of Arabia you’ll already have the ideas of Arabia and adventure firmly linked in your mind. The city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is a common refuelling stop for airlines heading to the Far East or Australasia and offers great possibilities for an Arabian stop-over adventure. So what is there for adventure seeking families to do in and around Dubai?

Arabian Nights
adventure Options in Dubai

Arabian Nights

In case you didn’t know Dubai is both an emirate within the UAE and a city. The city of Dubai, on the Northern coast, is a global city, business hub and well known tourist destination in its own right. It’s famous for its incredible construction projects, the world’s highest and finest hotel, the Burj Al Arab, some of the biggest shopping malls on the planet and the incredible Dubai Palm Jumeirah Island, a palm shaped man-made archipelago shaped resort. It’s ranked in the top 25 most expensive cities in the world, as the most expensive city and the best place to live in the Middle East.

Now, if you’re on a budget or a nature lover, that’s probably enough to put you off, but beyond the glitter, glamour and expense lies another Dubai, full of Arabian mystery and unique adventures. The emirate of Dubai has a wide variety of scenery in a relatively small area so in a single day you can experience everything from mountain top to sand dunes, beach and lush green park; from dusty village and ancient houses to ultra modern wind towers and shopping malls. Never mind Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, it all makes for a thousand and one things to do for all types of travellers and adventure seekers. If you're thinking about going to Dubai, here’s our top 13 adventure ideas for your Dubai holidays.

1: Go on a 4WD desert safari

You can’t stopover or go on holiday to Dubai and not head into the desert. For maximum adrenaline, book yourself a dune driving tour - a rollercoaster ride driving up and down the dunes in the hands of an expert. For something a little more cultural what about a tour that combines a drive in the dunes with a BBQ dinner, a visit to a Bedouin camp or some live belly dancing. Or for a fuller experience why not join a tour that heads out to camp in the desert or stay at a Bedouin camp?

Desert Safari

2: Join a desert convoy

If you’re more a DIY kind of family, you can rent yourself a 4WD and head out for a self-drive tour but unless you’re confident you can tell one dune from another you might be better to go in convoy, following one of the modern caravans of 4WD vehicles. On these tours experienced guides lead convoys of easy to drive 4WDs along natural trails, weaving in, out, up and down windblown dunes on an unforgettable desert safari.  And as long as you can keep up there’s no need to worry about getting lost, breaking down or worse.

3: Go wadi bashing

Wadis are dry river beds and in the dry summer months you can drive a 4WD vehicle, quad bike or dune buggy along them, exploring this dramatic and unusual aspect of desert scenery and the rock pools and unexpected splashes of greenery that come with it. You’re probably best to go with an experienced driver as there are many hazards to navigate and you really don’t want to end up lost in the desert, do you?

4: Ride on a ship of the desert

Of course 4WDs and quad bikes are not exactly traditional transport. For that you’ve got to go camel riding. There’s probably no more authentic way to see the desert than on a camel, the ship of the desert. Ride out like a Bedouin, explore the dunes and the rippling landscape, maybe catch a sunset and imagine yourself starring in Lawrence of Arabia.

5: Arabian horse riding

If camel riding is a bit too adventurous for you, what about riding Arabian horses? Horses and riding are popular and part of a long Arabian equestrian tradition. There are several active riding centres around Dubai, some of which organise rides, including rides out and through the desert.

6: Go camel racing

One step up from camel riding is camel racing, but this is probably one to watch rather than have a go at. The traditional sport of camel racing is a serious business in the Gulf and you can get a taste of it as a spectator at the Al Marmoom camel racetrack on the outskirts of Dubai. It’s a competitive sport and the colourful experience is one you’ll never forget. It might even inspire you to ride one yourself, if you haven’t already.


7: Try sand skiing

If you think you might get camel sick or want to get closer to the sands then what about a spot of sand skiing or sand-boarding. If you’ve a head for heights and a taste for speed you can rent skis or boards, head out into the dunes and practice carving your turns on sand instead of snow. All the thrill without the chill.

8: Ski in the desert

But you don’t have to ski on sand. If you prefer to remain cool, how about a little ice skating or skiing. Ski Dubai is one of the world's largest indoor ski slopes with 6,000 tonnes of snow, a 400m ski-run, an artificial mountain range, chairlifts, an ice bridge, ice slide and polar bears. Yes, that’s right, all in the middle of a desert. Dubai is that kind of place.

9: Dive to a man made reef

If you’re more of an underwater kind of family how about some diving? The water is clear and warm and there’s some quite unique reefs here to explore. Like the Sheikh Mohammed Barge and various other bits of cars and tug boats that have deliberately been sunk to create an underwater diving theme park, 22m under the Arabian Gulf. Crazy but true.

10: Heli up in the sky

Well, this is the city of uber-rich so if you’ve got a little cash to spare what about taking a helicopter flight to see the sights of Dubai from a different perspective. It’probably the only way to really appreciate the incredible palm-like imprint of the Palm Islands Resort. Fly through the Dubai skyline, see the wind tower houses, fishing dhows, parks, beaches and golf courses. Wonder at man’s ability to shape the environment while getting around like the super-rich, well for half an hour anyway.

11: Live like a king or queen

The famous Burj Al Arab luxury hotel is said to be the world’s only 7 star hotel. It stands on a man-made island a few hunded metres off shore, its thousand foot tower resembling the billowing sail of an Arabian dhow. Here, if your budget will stretch to it, you can live like a king or a queen – think marble bathrooms, family sized Jacuzzis, Rolls Royce transfers around town and eight staff to every guest.  Just don’t get too used to it. If you can’t afford to stay, then the next cheapest way to experience it is to take tea in the Skyview bar, at about US$80 per person. Plus tip. You have been warned.

Burj Al Arab

12: Get a cultural education

The Jumeirah Mosque is a dominant landmark of Dubai, a wonder to behold and a tribute to modern Islamic architecture. For an insight into the Mosque, Islamic community and the Islamic religion why not try one of the Jumeirah Mosque tours organised by The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. They work to to break down the barriers between different cultural groups residing in the United Arab Emirates and to educate visitors on different cultural tradition.

13: Take a bike ride

Well we couldn't really leave this off could we? But have we saved the best for last? I'm not sure. Some would say it’s suicidal to cycle around Dubai but like most places it’s all about where you go. Dubai is not exactly known as a cycling destination but it does have plans for 1000km of dedicated cycle paths and what’s more the weather is perfect for cycling for much of the year. Some areas are better set up for cycling than others. Areas around the Ibn Battuta Mall and Mashreq Park come recommended by locals. The Dubai Roadsters club welcome visitors on some of their training rides, but it’s probably not for novices as the distances can be 70-120km! Some areas outside Dubai city are great for mountain biking including an area around Hatta which has interesting routes that include dry river beds (wadis), remote villages and small farms. If you do venture out on your bikes just try and avoid the sand. It's such slow going.


Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you thanks to support by However, the views and opinions expressed remain, as ever, entirely our own.


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