Family fun in Dubai: Outdoors and adventure

From the beach to hot air ballooning, there's plenty to do with the family

By Sam Lewis
Published 19 Dec 2015, 08:00 GMT, Updated 5 Jul 2021, 12:59 BST

01 Eyewitness: Zip to the top of Burj Khalifa
See the view from the world's highest building

Dubai's skyline spreads out in all directions below me like a winning hand of Top Trumps, with every building having to be the biggest, boldest and best. I may not be standing on the summit of Burj Khalifa where Tom Cruise was so famously pictured (he posed here after dangling out a window for a scene in Mission Impossible), but the elevator that whisks me up to the 124th floor to take in this awesome view is something straight out of one of his sci-fi efforts.

My ears pop as the lift takes just 60 seconds to ascend 1,483 ft to the world's second-highest outdoor observation deck — which fortunately doesn't give me time to contemplate the altitude. That's right, this is only the second highest. The viewing platform that pips this one into the Guinness Book of Records extends, well, just another 24 floors above me — and I'm still 39 stories shy of the penthouse. But even this one would still put the pinnacle of London's Shard in the shade, looking down on it by 479ft.

The Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure on the planet, stands at 2,717ft, a staggering tower of such improbable proportions that the mind struggles to find perspective. Looking up, the view from the bottom is vertiginous, but once inside, a sense of serenity takes over. The sprawling landscape below seems far away and detached from reality, like a map spread out on your bedroom floor, or the view from an airline window. Up here, it's hard to believe you could feel any further from terra firma, but a trip up to the higher VIP deck proves otherwise. Tom Cruise may have had a better view than this, but I'm happy where I am. Advance tickets from AED95/125 (£17/£22) child (4-12)/adult. Words: James Draven

02 Dubai Fountain
For a spectacular piece of free entertainment, catch one of the fountain shows that projects water over 500ft into the air and lights up the Burj Khalifa Lake every evening. The impressive water display is choreographed to a medley of Arab, world and classical music and is illuminated by 6,600 superlights — the brightest spot in the Middle East, so incandescent, it's visible from outer space. Combine the show with a meal at one of the lakeside restaurants.

03 Hot air balloon ride
Escape the glitzy city and enjoy a magical hot air balloon ride as the sun rises against the backdrop of the majestic Hajar Mountains. Peer down to see the wandering camels and gazelles and discover how they survive in the harsh arid desert. AED850/995 (£151/£176) child (5-12)/adult.

04 Hit the beach
If your hotel lacks a beach, head to a public one (some are free or have a small fee) or pay a bit more to wiggle your toes in the many manicured stretches of sand belonging to a luxury beachfront property.

Good public beaches include Kite Beach offering kite-surfing, kayaking, paddle-boarding and body-boarding. For snorkelling, there's a nice sprinkle of fish to be found in the coves off the shoreline behind Sunset Mall or, for a beach with blue-flag status, try Al Mamzar Beach Park. Here, from just AED5 (87p), you can have a picnic in the park, lark around in the playground and paddle in the lagoon.

For something different, reserve a beach chalet on The Island, the first venue to open on the iconic offshore World Islands development. Entry costs AED150/300 (£26/£52) child (6–13)/adult, under 3s go free. Boats depart from The Fishing Harbour Jumeirah One every 30 minutes.

05 Floating playground
Swim out to this inflatable playground floating around 100 metres from Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) and you can jump off water slides, trampolines and climbing walls right into the sea. One hour from AED50/60/75 (£14/£16/
£20) age 6-11/12-20/over 21s.

06 Take a cruise in a speedboat
Jump onboard a speedboat for a thrilling two-hour tour to see some of Dubai's most famous landmarks such as Burj Al Arab hotel, a luxury hotel in the shape of a huge sail, and Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago in the form of a giant palm tree. From AED90/120 (£21/£16) child (5-12)/adult. Children must be over 5 years old.

Published in the Dubai supplement, distributed with the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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