The sprawling site of Expo 2020 Dubai offers several attractions for families of all ages. The whole thing is a spectacular show and its taster menu of different pavilions will expose children to the cuisines, crafts, and architecture of countries around the world.
The organisers have clearly catered for families as visitor centres around the park offer breastfeeding rooms – in welcome full-blast air-conditioning – and there are a number of ways to navigate the areas.
These include bikes with child seats attached (available to hire) and the Expo Express, the cheery cross between a train and a golf buggy that serves the main arteries. There are also playgrounds (Latifa’s Adventures and Rashid’s World), and the Around the World merry-go-round in Mobility, roughly opposite the Belgium Pavilion.
Below are some top-billed attractions but an expected joy of Expo 2020 is bouncing from country to country in the network of smaller pavilions, from Suriname to Guyana to Timor-Leste. These are often less crowded than the major sites, and while your children might know something about the national dishes of, say, Thailand, the tea in Ethiopia could be more of a surprise.
Finally, a word on timing. Expo comes alive at night, when it’s cooler and the attractions are lit up. The pavilions’ amazing architecture often incorporates lights, from the ticker-tape messages of the Saudi Arabia Pavilion and the LED memos of the United Kingdom’s to the kinetic block-swapping of the extraordinary Korean building.
Until the weather cools down during the day, it’s worth pushing bedtime to let the little ones experience it – grab dinner at one of the pavilions (Chinese? Estonian?) and take in the performances hosted on a regular basis by the pavilions.
Here are six not-to-miss attractions to visit at Expo 2020 Dubai:
This brick-lattice-worked site, near the gate to the Mobility section, will host daily art workshops for children throughout Expo 2020’s six months.
The programme highlights the continued destruction of the ocean’s coral reefs – which they will metaphorically work to redress, by painting 3D designs of the blanched reefs.
Their creations will then be dotted around the House’s small garden, circling a hammour fish made out of recycled “ghost fishing nets” – fishing nets that are left in the sea as debris.
Al Wasl Dome
The flair of this spectacular light show will no doubt be familiar thanks to the opening ceremony, which showed off how a 360º projection fills the dome after dark.
Even for a country that thinks it’s seen a spectacle or two, it’s pretty amazing. Dot-matrix-like printing of traditional woven patterns gives way to the dome as an opera house, with dancers leaping from archway to archway.
The Water Feature
Granted one’s appreciation of the Water Feature was probably aided by the heat and the humidity of the first few days of Expo – but this will be a boon for younger and older children alike, and their trailing, ailing parents.
Imagine an enormous bowl with water cascading down the sides to a soundtrack by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi. The choreography, by the group WET, is mesmerising as well as interactive. Visitors can stand and run up the shallow sides of the bowl, paddling around and getting their feet wet – just be prepared for a queue on hot days.
Afra Al Dhaheri’s Pillow Fort
Expo 2020 commissioned an exemplary art programme for the event, all designed as public sculptures that people are welcome to touch and engage with.
Emirati artist Afra Al Dhaheri took inspiration from the pillow forts she and her siblings made when they were young, and created a marble sculpture that looks like a soft and billowing arch, with the carving that mimics the floral patterns and scalloped edgings familiar to Khaleeji childhoods.
Though adults might appreciate the trompe l’oeil effect and its nostalgic evocations of days gone by, children will have a way with those fancy terms and do what they’re meant to do: muck in and play.
There’s a lot to learn just by encountering the different cultures at Expo 2020, but the Desert Farm is a dedicated learning centre where children can learn about the kinds of plants that grow naturally in the desert, and gaze at the fish endemic to the Arabian Sea.
The Desert Farm is near Latifa’s Adventure playground, a grassy expanse, and Al Dhaheri’s pillow fort (all in the purple-signposted areas, behind the falcon-like UAE Pavilion), making this area a good section to park in if the main Expo site is leaving everyone a little frazzled.
It is hard to choose a favourite among the major pavilions: the Luxembourg Pavilion has a slide! The Netherlands harvests water out of thin air and Egypt brought a mummy! But for sustained room-on-room wonder, we like the Pakistan Pavilion, located in the Opportunity District, which is signposted in orange.
The architecture, of a multicoloured network of separate hillocks, makes it a cool building to enter and the country’s presentation combines spectacular videography of its extraordinary landscape: think pink Himalayan salt rocks and an intricately carved wooden boat. A very decent selection of Pakistani handicrafts such as block-printed napkins, and a popular restaurant on the ground floor make this a one-stop shop for family joys.