Just moved to Abu Dhabi with young children? Here's your ultimate guide

Many of your friendships will be made at the pool or in soft-play centres, the UAE equivalent of neighbourhood playgrounds

Rendering of Children’s Library, Abu Dhabi. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
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Moving to the UAE with young children is perhaps the easiest way to do it. One problem with moving is the difficulty of making new friends, and children provide an easy pretext, as well as a need to get out of the house before frustrations run high. Plus, the UAE is great for young families. Many people are able to afford household help that they wouldn't have in their home countries, and the ­family-centric atmosphere – being able to bring young children to restaurants, hotels with dedicated spaces for little ones and a general feeling of delight rather than annoyance about small children – is a breath of fresh air.  

Meeting people and things to do 

Because most people have been new to the UAE at some point, it's easy to make friends. In Abu Dhabi, The Club, usually known as the British Club but open to all nationalities, is a great place to start. Two years ago, they refurbished what they call the Family Hub, so that a small soft-play area sits next to a cafe. The Club also has a children's pool and activities throughout the year. 

Abu Dhabi - June 27, 2010: Fans watch England be defeated by Germany during a World Cup match at the British Club . Lauren Lancaster / The National?
Families watch football at the British Club. Lauren Lancaster / The National?

Many of your friendships will be made at the pool or in soft-play centres – the UAE equivalent of back gardens and playgrounds. In the capital, Little World in Nation Towers is a favourite, with a variety of activities beyond climbing frames. If your children are older, there is a climbing wall at Adventure HQ in Yas Mall. It's worth buying a season's pass to Yas Waterworld: it may seem pricey, but the children have a blast inside and you will end up going there enough times that it's worth the initial cost. 

The Abu Dhabi Children's Library at the Cultural Foundation of Abu Dhabi, next to Qasr Al Hosn, will also be a boon to parents on-island. Louvre Abu Dhabi also has a great children's section with hands-on activities, and Manarat Al Saadiyat runs drop-in art activities every weekend.

The capital's fast urban development works in your favour: in the five years since my family moved to Abu Dhabi, we benefited from Louvre Abu Dhabi, Warehouse421, Qasr Al Hosn and Warner Bros – that's a pretty incredible flowering of activities.

A rendering of the Children's Library at Qasr Al Hosn.
A rendering of the Children's Library at Qasr Al Hosn.


Carrefour and Lulu deliver, which is a lifesaver. Waitrose here is even more expensive than the UK, but could be most convenient depending on where you live. Spinneys has the best meat, while Carrefour in Yas Mall offers the best shopping experience.

It's hard when the working parent starts his or her job immediately after arriving, leaving the partner to build a new life from scratch


The UAE has its own schedule of vaccinations. You’ll have to pay for vaccinations that are off the UAE schedule, and you will have to go to a government clinic for the vaccinations on the UAE schedule (unless you pay for them yourself).

I recommend King’s College Hospital and Harley Street. If you are British, many doctors are ex-NHS and will follow the schedule in your little red medical book.


Most are of a high standard, but often have long waiting lists, so get in touch with them as soon as possible. Bright Beginnings is a long-time favourite, with two branches in the main city and another on Saadiyat. Redwood Montessori Nursery, particularly in Saadiyat, is another good option. Many parents also rave about the International Montessori Nursery in Khalifa City.    

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Where you live and dealing with loneliness 

Finally, a word of advice: don't get discouraged if you get ­lonely. It's hard when the working parent starts his or her job immediately after arriving, leaving the partner to build a new life from scratch. There's nothing like talking about these changes with others in the same boat, so even if you are shy or sceptical, it's worth getting out there. 

My best piece of advice for moving with children has to do with where you decide to live. Moving to a compound or a building with shared facilities that people actually use will improve your life immeasurably. Compounds such as Saadiyat Beach ­Residences, the St Regis apartments, the new building on Reem, the houses in Reef off-island and the new Yas developments have that most wonderful of things: community.

Ansam on Yas Island. Courtesy Aldar
Ansam on Yas Island. Courtesy Aldar