How to bring some seasonal magic to your expat posting in Abu Dhabi
A concern of many Christian families when they first hear they will be posted to a Muslim country, “will we still be able to celebrate Christmas?”.
Or are you seeking some winter sun over December and wondering if there will be any festive events going on in the UAE?
It might surprise newcomers and visitors just how many festive celebrations you will find in Abu Dhabi. In this guide, we will help you with:
- Finding pre-Christmas events in Abu Dhabi
- What to do on Christmas Day in Abu Dhabi
- Christmas Staycation ideas in the UAE
Please note that we are continuously updating this page as information becomes available. Due to COVID-19 restrictions in Abu Dhabi Emirate, it is likely that most events listed will be cancelled in 2020. We have retained some of the listings for 2019 for informational purposes. Most brunches are going ahead but many are already fully booked with only tables of 4 being permitted and a time limit of three hours. Takeaway dinners are likely to be in popular demand, so book early!!
This post is part of our Expat Life series – come and read more above living in Abu Dhabi as well as things to see and do in the UAE
Pre-Christmas celebrations in Abu Dhabi
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city will start to come alive with winter festivity.
Conveniently, the country’s national colours of Red, Green, White and Black fit pretty neatly into the traditional colours of Christmas – so as soon as National Day holidays are finished (2-3 December), attention in the retail stores and hotels becomes solely about Christmas.
What is there to do in Abu Dhabi at Christmas? Christmas Markets & Events
Winter Wonderland – Al Maryah Island
While the outside temperatures might not feel wintery (you can expect around an average of 26c for Christmas Day), the Winter Wonderland event on Al Maryah Island does it’s best to bring a touch of magical seasonal fun to the heart of the city.
The Galleria promises a range of festive delights in 2020 including beautiful decorations, roaming entertainment, a winter village and the opportunity to meet Santa himself!
Due to COVID-19, social distancing will be in place and a slot with Santa must be booked in advance through this link. Book early to avoid disappointment as this Santa is usually a good one!
New for 2020 is the festive-themed sensory rooms (on level 2) where you can awaken your senses with a variety of festive scenes and aromas! There will also be a winter sale for shoppers as well as other festive treats!
From December 6th – December 26th 2020 from 10am – late, daily.
For more details visit the Galleria website.
Sadly Santa at the Galleria is now fully booked for 2020
Worried you will have a full house at Christmas? Look at these options for apartment hotels in Abu Dhabi for your extra guests
Le Royal Meridien, Breakfast with Santa
Join Santa Claus for a festive breakfast filled with jolly delights. There will be stories, games and singalongs to really bring the magic alive! Saturday 5th December 2020 from 9am -11am
Extra dates added due to popular demand – Saturday 12th, Sunday 13th, Monday 14th, Tuesday 15th & Saturday 19th December 9am-11am.
Suitable for children aged 4 and over. Bookings should be made directly with Le Royal Meridien.
Westin Festive Market & Family Fun Day
Always one of the best days out on the Abu Dhabi social calendar, enjoy market vendors, school choirs, dance performances, cookie decoration, wishing tree and the famous Santa Chase (limited numbers, registration required, run by age groups)
Westin Hotel, Sas al Nakhl. Likely to be cancelled in 2020 but check back in December in case the situation changes!
Swiss Christmas Market
Run by the Swiss Business Council, this annual event is a showcase for local crafters to show their goods. The market features dozens of little Swiss chalets to give a European market feel. Expect evening carol singing and lots of festive food and drink!
Held at the Beach Rotana. Likely to be cancelled in 2020 but check back in December in case the situation changes!
Festive Family Fun Day at Saadiyat Beach Club
Includes a market, with various food and beverage offerings. Also running a Santa Chase event, pre-registration required (free entry if you register before 1 Dec).
Likely to be cancelled in 2020 although do check back in December!
Whilst there may be no Festive Family Fun Day in 2020, from the 3rd to the 24th December you can visit the Gingebread House of Treats as well as sampling the delicious festive menu at Safina restaurant!
Al Muneera Beach Plaza Market
This seasonal market returns to the relaxed beachfront setting of Al Muneera. Enjoy crafts, food stalls and live entertainment every evening while watching the sunset over the water.
Likely to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 regulations
Sanderson’s Christmas Fair
One of Abu Dhabi’s favourite community cafe’s will play host to a festive fair with local handicrafts and plenty on offer by way of kids entertainment and great food in this one-day event.
Likely to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 regulations
Abu Dhabi Mall Festive Market
A collection of 20+ stalls will be available this year, along with Santa photo sessions (see more below) and crafting workshops
Abu Dhabi Mall, TBC for 2020. Learn more here
St Josephs Christmas Festival
This annual parish event brings a whole day of festive activities, shopping bizarre, food stalls and fun activities for the kids.
Shams Boutik Winter Festival
Inside the “Waitrose Mall” on Reem Island there will be several days of festive fun including choir singers, gingerbread and cupcake-making activities and rumour has it the big man himself will be making an appearance though no confirmed times yet.
Likely to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions
Yas Island Christmas Events
Winter Carnival – You will find this large outdoor event held at Gateway Park South. Starts at 2pm daily and they will have a tree lighting ceremony every night at 7pm, followed by fireworks at 9pm.
Likely to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Expect kids activities and rides (some paid), as well as a Christmas Market and entertainment including a snow zone. Learn more about the winter carnival here
Ferrari World will also be hosting its own ‘Winter on Italian Street’ celebrations from December 4th 2020 until January 2nd 2021, which will include socially distanced performances, arts and crafts and a gingerbread factory (tickets sold separately)! Bookings must be made in advance. Learn more about Ferrari World here.
You can also celebrate Christmas with Batman and Bugs Bunny at Warner Brothers World’s Winter Spectacular! In previous years there have been beautiful decorations and magical Christmas shows as well as lots of other festive treats. The celebrations for 2020 are due to kick off on December 4th. For more details click here.
ADULT CHRISTMAS EVENTS IN ABU DHABI
Murder Mystery at the Office Christmas Party!
Work out ‘who done it’ whilst enjoying a three course festive dinner!
Victor’s Bar and Restaurant, Millenium Capital Gate, Friday 18th and Saturday 19th December 2020.
Christmas Wreath Workshop
Get crafty and creative this Christmas at this thoroughly festive Christmas wreath making workshop.
Market Kitchen, Le Royal Meridien, Tuesday 8th and Tuesday 15th December 2020
Festive Aperitivo at The St. Regis, Saadiyat Island Resort
From the 1st December head to the beautiful St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and indulge in a specially selected selection of christmassy canapes and unlimited festive cocktails.
AED 250 per person
From 5pm daily from the 1st December 2020.
A Merry Gin & Tonic Christmas at Hidden Bar, The Rosewood Hotel
Gin, Sushi, Sashimi and Oysters are the menu at this Christmas Eve with a twist.
From 6pm on Thursday 24th December 2020.
Christmas Carols and Religious Services
The most famous run in the city is by St Andrews church, their annual Carols in the Desert. You can read a full write up on this event here.
Sadly this wonderful event has been cancelled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Event details will be updated on their Facebook page here.
You will also find carolers at many of the tree lighting events and Christmas Day Brunches we list below.
Tree Lighting Ceremonies in Abu Dhabi
A fun evening for the kids can be attending annual tree lighting ceremonies at the various hotels all over town. Some hotels are only just announcing their tree lighting ceremonies for 2020 whilst others have cancelled them completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid any confusion we are only including those that have been confirmed for 2020.
- Abu Dhabi Golf Club 6pm
● Hawksbill Restaurant, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, 6-10pm
- Anantara, Eastern Mangroves, 6-8pm
- Fairmont, Bab Al Bahr, 7pm – Prior booking is necessary.
- Jumeirah at Saadiyat, (In house guests only)
- The Emirates Palace will be live streaming their Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at 7pm on Facebook and Instagram.
You can be pretty sure Santa will make an appearance and there will be extra treats on offer. Always check directly with the venue to confirm timing.
Where you could get a photo with Santa in Abu Dhabi 2020
Please check back in December for up to date information about where to see Santa in 2020!
Other than at the events mentioned above, in 2019 you could visit Santa at beautiful grottos or gingerbread cottages at the venues listed below. Most venues are still to confirm arrangements for 2020.
- Abu Dhabi Mall – TBC
- Galleria Mall – Santa’s Grotto from 6 to 26 December 2020; Advance booking is required. Click here for more details.
- World Trade Centre Mall – TBC
- Yas Mall – TBC
Yes some of these Santa’s seem to work to very late at night, but as you will see being here a while, it’s a very stay up late culture and Santa crosses over all races and religions when it comes to kids entertainment! Don’t be surprised to see yourself in line with children in national dress.
Please check back in December for up to date information about where to see Santa in 2020!
Gingerbread activities in Abu Dhabi
A festive family favourite in Abu Dhabi is attending a Gingerbread workshop or party. A number of venues have either cancelled or are still to announce workshops for 2020.
Two ‘on request’ gingerbread options that are available in 2020 are at The Rosewood Hotel and at Le Royal Meridien.
The Maglis lounge in the Rosewood are offering Gingerbread House and Nutcracker decorating from AED 200 per piece. Special offers are available if you combine with the Festive Nutcracker Afternoon Tea available daily from the 25th November.
Le Royal Meridien, in collaboration with In the Detail events, are also able to offer small socially distanced group workshops at your request. For more information contact In the Detail Events directly.
Some branches of Jones The Grocer will be offering Gingerbread House decorating workshops for AED 149. For more details click here.
The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort has also announced a Gingerbread House Workshop on Thursday 10th December at 3pm at a cost of AED 200 per child, this includes a mini afternoon tea for each child.
If you fancy a drive out into the desert, the Al Wathba Resort will be hosting an Al Fresco Gingerbread House Workshop on the 18th December. There will be popcorn, hotdogs and lots of other little treats to give your little chefs energy while they work – all for an amazing AED 120!
Note: Always book in advance for these sessions! The fee is per child but if you enquire nicely, siblings may be allowed to share one project.
Festive afternoon Teas in Abu Dhabi
A new sensation in Abu Dhabi is enjoying an afternoon tea in the lead up to Christmas, with all sorts of bite-sized festive themed treats you’re sure to get into the Christmas spirit.
- The Ritz Carlton – 16 December 2020 to 6 Janaury 2021 2pm to 5pm, 160AED per stand
- Conrad at Etihad Towers – Observation Deck & Lobby Lounge both offer a festive tea at 220AEDpp from 4th December 2020.
- The Westin are serving up a beautiful festive tea for149 AED per couple, December 1st -31st 2020
- The Shangri-La are offering a ‘Polar Afternoon Tea’ from 3rd December 2020 priced at AED 110
- Maglis at The Rosewood will have a ‘Nutcracker’ themed tea from November 24th 2020, 3-6pm from 250AED per stand.
- The Al Wathba Hotel are offering a french themed festive afternoon tea from December 1st, 4pm-7pm, AED 195 per stand.
Shopping for presents and supplies in Abu Dhabi
Yes, you can get Christmas decorations and supplies in the UAE. Maybe not as plentiful as other countries, but you don’t have to dig far to get them!
ACE Hardware store is well known for having their plastic trees and decorations ready from about September! You will also find most of what you need in Carrefour, Lulu’s and many other supermarkets and speciality shops (including Pottery Barn, Marks and Spencer (Yas Mall and Marina Mall Branches) and West Elm) from November. You can also try reliable old IKEA! Not saying items are particularly cheap, but they can be found. Daiso is one of the better budget options but you do get what you pay for.
As for Christmas present for the kids – don’t suppose you’ve got anyone arriving from overseas shortly? While we have plentiful malls with international brands, expect to pay top dollar.
Some big companies do deliver direct the UAE, and you can use Shop & Ship services, but by the time you add shipping cost, import taxes – it may well be cheaper to buy your flight overseas, stock up with full suitcases and bring them back. Plan ahead from the summer!!!
Related Reading: 15 Christmas Facts and Traditions around the world
Christmas Day in Abu Dhabi
Now not forgetting it is still a Muslim country, Christmas Day is NOT a public holiday.
That said, with children on school holidays, a lot of understanding employers will allow their Christian employees a day of leave – but not all.
(Psst, one awesome thing is all the shops are still open! So forgotten batteries, Santa fails, last-minute lunch details, no problem!)
Christmas Brunch in Abu Dhabi
If you think Friday Brunch is a big thing in Abu Dhabi, wait until you see Christmas Brunch! Hotels will pull out all the stops for one of the most spectacular spreads of the year. Save the cooking for another day and have someone else do the dishes!
Almost every hotel will have some variety of Christmas lunch but the popular ones will book out early (normally by end of November/early December) and require full payment up front to guarantee your seats. You will find most have a Christmas Eve option, too.
(Always when booking something like Brunch check if tax is included, and cut off ages for children discounts)
Here are a few of our favourite Christmas brunches for families – thanks to our many readers for these suggestions over the years:
Ritz Carlton – Giornotte
FULLY BOOKED FOR CHRISTMAS 2020 – A REPEAT BRUNCH ON BOXING DAY HAS BEEN ADDED TO THE SCHEDULE.
A spectacular spread across Giornotte Restaurant, through to their lavish dessert room, including Santa arriving on camelback, live entertainment and a kids magic show. As well as all the traditional Christmas trimmings, don’t forget they also have Abu Dhabi’s finest cheese room!
Prices starting from 495AED, Children 6-11 50% off, under 6 free.
Timing: 1pm to 4pm
Westin Abu Dhabi (next to Abu Dhabi Golf Club)
FULLY BOOKED FOR CHRISTMAS 2020
An incredibly popular family offering at their Santalicious Brunch. The action spills from their usual Friday Brunch setting at Fairways, onto the balcony then a chilled vibe on the lawn for dancing and more drinks post-lunch. Always a big line up of kids entertainment, games, bouncy castle.
Prices starting from 345 AED, child 129 AED. They also offer packages which include pre-purchase vouchers for the famous after-party on the lawn.
Timing: 12.30pm – 5pm & 5pm until late
Four Seasons – Al Maryah Island
There are three choices at the Four Seasons in 2020; Butcher & Still (1-4pm) for sizzling meats and a cheerful holiday atmosphere; Cafe Milano (12-4pm) for an Italian Christmas lunch and Crust (12.30 -4pm) for a wide variety of international delicacies and a visit from Santa!
Adult prices start at AED 340
Fairmont Bab al Bahr
WE AWAIT FURTHER DETAILS OF 2020 CHRISTMAS PACKAGES
The Fairmont will be offering a fabulous international buffet with live-cooking stations, chilled seafood, pizza and pasta as well as a turkey station which will feature stuffing and cranberry sauce!
Prices starting from 395 AED, Children 6-12 195 AED, Under 6 free
Timing: 12.30pm to 4pm
(Every time we have booked as a group at Fairmont we always get return vouchers to come back and use the pool!)
W – Yas Island
Garage Restaurant will be hosting a candy shopped themed brunch in 2020. You’re promised a sugar rush as well as the chance to see Santa wizzing around Yas Marina Circuit!
Prices starting from 365 AED per person, Children 7-11 150 AED
Timing: 1 – 4pm
This year the Emirates Palace are offering an A La Carte menu at La Vendome on Christmas Day, there will also be a festive menu at Hakkasan priced at AED398 per person.
St Regis Abu Dhabi
The options for Christmas Day 2020 are a sumptuous 5 course Italian set menu at Villa Toscana and decadent seafood options at Catch. Sadly there is no Christmas Day Brunch in The Terrace this year.
Options at Catch include Caviar and Champagne at AED950, Lobster and Oyster at AED 550 and Crab and Scallop at AED 450.
Timing: 1pm to 4pm
St Regis Saadiyat – Olea
WE AWAIT DETAILS OF 2020 CHRISTMAS PACKAGES
Enjoy the al fresco setting of Olea including live entertainment, live cooking stations, seafood, carving stations and heavenly dessert spread.
Prices starting from 380 AED, children 6-12 180AED, Under 6 free
Conrad at Etihad Towers
Get one of the best views in the city up high at the Nahaam/Sole Christmas Brunch. This year sees a fusion of Seafood and Italian in a combined mega-brunch! There will be live music as well as a visit from the man in red.
Prices starting from 550 AED, children 6 to 12 years 200 AED, under 6 free
Timing: Lunch 12.30pm-4pm
There will be an a la carte ‘Festive Style’ Christmas Dinner at Sambusek from 6pm on the 24th and 25th December as well as a ‘Festive Yum Cha’ Brunch at Dai Pai Dong from 12 noon. A set menu is also available at GLO from 6pm.
If Christmas Dinner isn’t Christmas Dinner without turkey from 12 noon on the 25th and 26th December, Hidden Bar is the place to be with its ‘Chrismassy Gin ‘O’ Clock Celebration!
For more details contact The Rosewood Directly.
Related Reading: Abu Dhabi’s Best Family-Friendly Brunches
Christmas Turkey Takeaway
Still want Christmas at home but someone to help with the heavy lifting? Why not look at some Turkey cooking (and delivery) options.
These are just some of the venues we know will do a preparation service – though we are struggling to find ordering details for some.
You are best to call and get their packages and delivery timeframes.
- Abu Dhabi City Golf Club 19th Street (02 445 9600)
- Abu Dhabi Golf Club (056 536 2230)
- Al Maha Arjaan Cafe 302 (02 610 6666)
- Aloft Abu Dhabi (02 654 5193)
- Anantara Eastern Mangroves – Ingredients (02 656 1166)
- Beach Rotana (02 697 9011)
- Belgian Beer Cafe – Radisson Blu Yas Island (02 656 2406)
- C-Mondo (02 409 6514)
- Circle Cafe (056 771 4908)
- Courtyard by Marriott 5th Street Cafe (02 698 2222)
- Dusit Thani – Urban Kitchen (02 698 8137)
- Fairmont Bab Al Bahr (02 654 3333)
- Four Seasons – Crust (02 333 2222)
- Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi (02 657 4888)
- Jones the Grocer – Various locations (email@example.com)
- Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana – The Lounge (02 657 0167)
- Le Meridien (02 644 6666)
- Le Royal Meridien – Wheat (02 674 2020)
- Marriott Downtown – Central Grounds (02 304 7777)
- Park Rotana (02 657 3319)
- Ritz Carlton – Giornotte (02 818 8282)
- Rosewood (02 813 5520)
- St Regis Abu Dhabi (02 694 455)
- St Regis Saadiyat – The Drawing Room (02 498 8888)
- Saadiyat Beach Club (02 656 3555)
- Saadiyat Beach Golf Club – Hawksbill (02 499 8100)
- Saadiyat Rotana (02 697 000)
- Sheraton Abu Dhabi (02 677 3333)
- Sofitel Abu Dhabi (02 813 7777) – Sofitel will also be providing Christmas hampers in 2020.
- Southern Sun – Filaments (02 818 4888)
- The One Bistro (02 641 1040)
- Westin – The Lounge Festive Hampers (02 616 9999)
- W Abu Dhabi – W Lounge (02 656 0600)
Make sure you book early as some of the best, most convenient mealtime slots disappear early!
Most will require a min 72 hours notice up to 7 days and might give early bird booking discounts too.
Expect anywhere from 450 – 695 AED roughly depending on the size of the bird and trimmings (and from experience the trimmings are never enough vs size of the bird; be prepared with emergency back up supplies)
We await details of staycation packages for 2020
If you are seeking a “home away from home” here are a few options of resorts in the UAE that will include a special spread for Christmas to make it a truly unique event:
Ritz al Wadi Desert Resort
Head over to the beautiful deserts of Ras al Khaimah for a truly unique experience. As well as your desert resort stay, there are two Christmas lunch dining choices in the Kaheela Restaurant or at the Farmhouse with magnificent Desert views. Musical entertainment, Santa & his helpers and a live jazz band to set the tone.
Christmas Day Brunch, 295AED soft, 395AED Drinks.
Qasr al Sarab, Liwa Desert
Deep in the desert dunes, Qasr al Sarab is synonymous with desert luxury in the UAE, and what more unique way to celebrate the festive season than in the opulent surrounds of this desert resort.
Santa will arrive at Al Falaj, their Bedouin venue at 5.30pm followed by dinner at Al Waha from 540AED.
Alternatively, dine under the stars of the empty quarter with Jazz in the Dunes, an opulent Bedouin spread with live entertainment from 540AED, 7pm start.
There is also a lunch option for those with kiddy’s who would like to dine earlier at Ghadeer with a la carte menu.
Learn more about Qasr al Sarab Christmas Events Here | Check current prices for Christmas accommodation here
Barracuda Beach Resort, Umm al Quwain
Barracuda in Umm al Quwain has your Christmas sorted – from your beverages down to your real Christmas trees and Panettone.
Well worth a drive up the highway, you can make it a day trip to pick up your supplies, or stay and enjoy a weekend staycation at the newly refurbished Barracuda Beach Resort with discounted tickets to the adjacent Dreamland waterpark.
Got overseas visitors to impress over Christmas?
There are two unique UAE events that coincide with Christmas that can add a wonderful local spin to your festive plans. We recommend you add these to your visitor bucket list in December:
Al Dhafra Festival
The Al Dhafra Festival is held in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi every December (usually the last fortnight) to celebrate the culture and tradition of the Bedouin people. Events range from date packing to goat milking, Saluki racing to camel racing – but our favourite event and the one that draws competitors from across the region with huge tribal support and massive prize money is the Camel Mazayna – a camel beauty competition.
You’ve got to see it to believe it, an utterly unique and incredibly warm and welcoming event for foreigners to embrace more of the UAE culture.
The festival will run from the 5th November 2020 – January 29th 2021. Strict COVID-19 precautions are in place. No casual visitors are permitted this year.
You can read our tips for taking kids to the Al Dhafra Festival here, as well as a Beginners Guide to the Al Dhafra Festival (know thy camel!)
Zayed Heritage Festival
Held in Al Wathba just outside of Abu Dhabi city present a great opportunity to continue the festivities and traditions that surround National Day into the winter months. Through song, dance, food and craft experience not only the UAE in-depth but the international cultures that make up the country.
There are also modern elements including nightly light and laser shows, funfair, fireworks displays (Thu, Fri, Sat evenings 8pm) and a daily World Heritage Parade at 5pm.
Held from the 20 November through to 20th February 2021 – social distancing in place, Learn more here
More of the UAE Outdoors
Don’t forget it’s also the coolest time of year in the UAE which makes it just perfect for getting out and exploring all over the Emirates without the stifling heat.
We have a bumper list of ideas on how to keep the whole family entertained outdoors on our sister website Family Travel in the Middle East.
Make sure you grab your downloadable checklist to keep your winter months brimming with ideas.
More Abu Dhabi Expat Resources
Don’t forget to check out our full collection of articles about expat life in Abu Dhabi, including:
- Family Guide to Living in Abu Dhabi
- Where to stay in Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi’s best apart-hotels for groups & longer stays
- 100+ Family things to do in the UAE
- How to spend New Year in Abu Dhabi
- Best Abu Dhabi outdoor spaces
- Best Abu Dhabi indoor playspaces
- A guide to British International Schools in Abu Dhabi
- Beginners guide to desert & beach camping in the UAE & Oman
- Family Travel in the Middle East Group – a separate Facebook community group for regional travel ideas with kids.
Got more questions or want to continue the conversation? You can connect with the Globetrotters Page on Facebook, we also run a local kids activity page on Facebook called With the Kids to help stoke your weekend and after-school ideas in the UAE.
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Do you have a favourite way to celebrate Christmas living in the UAE? We’d love to hear more about how you celebrate abroad – or do you prefer to head home with family & friends each year?
Disclosure: This post is in no way sponsored by any of the places mentioned. It is editorial content only, not a review or endorsement of any of the services. All opinions, as always, remain our own. This page contains some accommodation affiliate links that may provide a small commission to us if you make a booking, but at no extra cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.
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