Yas Island is the home for family entertainment in Abu Dhabi!
Finally, we have a complete go-to destination for family adventure and activity – and my luck it’s right here on our doorstep in Abu Dhabi – in fact, it’s only 10 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport and just over an hour from Dubai International Airport.
When we arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2012 they only reason we would go to Yas Island let’s be frank was for setting up home – a giant IKEA and ACE hardware dominated the landscape of convoluted roads and traffic lights.
Oh yes, there was that Yas Marina Circuit Grand Prix track that opened in 2009 along with a bunch of hotels and a giant police station (were they expecting a crime wave?)
Slowly, over the time we have lived here in Abu Dhabi the landscape has changed. There’s a real sense of island community growing, a brand new Mall and multiple theme parks. Let’s take a little look at what to expect.
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE
Exploring Yas Mall – Yas Island
Now you’re probably thinking ‘just what the Middle East needs is another bloody mall’: but I have to say this one’s different, I’m impressed!
You normally wouldn’t hear me wax lyrical about a shopping centre but even by Middle East standards (when the thermostats stuck over 40 degrees Celsius for much of the year you kinda become a professional at this stuff), this one is pretty good!
Stuck in Abu Dhabi over summer? Check out this Abu Dhabi indoors guide
Once you’ve navigated the multiple entrances and convoluted car parking, the shopping centre itself really is quite impressive; full of natural light, absolutely packed full of shops and restaurant choices as well as entertainment.
For the kids, there are loads of exciting features including a giant Toy Store, Hamleys, a Lego Concept store, Lego Pop in and Play Store, chain upon chain of leading children’s brands, a giant FunWorks and Vox 20 screen cinema including 4D.
Plenty of big brand restaurant names like Shake Shack and Cheesecake Factory – even a Rogo Restaurant where your food arrives on a roller coaster (update 2018 this is now sadly gone – we are waiting for its replacement). Some family favourite restaurants in Yas Mall include Giraffe and Black Tap (think mega freak shakes) and if you like your spices, Lemongrass.
The icing on the cake though has to be the giant slide inside Virgin Megastore, hours of free fun!
Theme parks & water fun on Yas Island
Plenty exists beyond the shopping centre though, I’ve digressed! On to some super fun family attractions:
Truly up there on a world-class scale for water theme parks – it comes with a price tag though so try to get hold of discounted entry vouchers, or if you’re living in the UAE without a pool at home it’s almost certainly worth an annual pass.
With 43 rides apparently to choose from there’s also splash parks for children of all ages (even the really tiny tots have their own slides), along with a wave pool, lazy river and a whole stack of rides for the adrenaline seekers – though I can confess to not having tried them, being pregnant or with small babies the whole time I’ve lived here. (Ok that and I’m just a big sissy.)
The colourful centre-piece of Yas Island with its bright red roof and Ferrari logo visible from miles above. It was once the world’s biggest indoor air-conditioned family theme park (now a title disputed between IMG Worlds of Adventure and WB World I believe!) and home to the fastest roller coaster in the world. Our Globetrotters are still too short for most of the rides (and refer sissy comment above) so I cannot give a first-hand review, but our visitors with teens have loved it.
Again it comes with a price tag but you can easily get a hold of two-for-one vouchers, or combined tickets with Waterworld and make a whole weekend of it (look out especially for summer sales). It’s also very easily accessible direct from Yas Mall for your further air-conditioned comfort year round!
Update 2018 – Warner Bros World
The latest and greatest opening on the island came in July 2018. An entirely indoors theme park you will find all your favourites from Marvel Characters in the deep dark streets of Gotham City through to cartoon classics like Marvin the Martian and Wyle. E. Coyote in Dynamite Gulch. There’s a superb collection of 29 rides and attractions and a load of character meet and greet opportunities.
You can read our full review of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi here.
Sporting Events on Yas Island
Now let’s not forget the Yas Marina Circuit itself, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each November.
I had the pleasure of attending the main race last year – my first grown-up night out after the arrival of Master J – and I had a brilliant time, meeting people from all over the world and getting to see The Who on stage track (for a bunch of 70-year-olds they rocked it!).
For those thinking of having kiddies in tow, some people did have very young children there and the Formula 1 cars are quieter now than in the past, but nonetheless I wouldn’t recommend taking your our globetrotters there until they can comfortably wear noise-cancelling headphones, it’s very loud for delicate ears – maybe 5+ is best?
If you don’t make it in November (when the weather is just superb) there’s still the opportunity to experience laps of the track in a race car (at a price!) throughout the year, or how about trying the KartZone inside the track?
Nearly every Tuesday #TrainYAS operates where you can walk, run or cycle around the 6km or 3.5km circuits (a ladies-only version #GoYAS runs on Wednesdays but you thought the diving was bad here, wow – watch out for those Wednesday cyclists!). Sunday sessions at the track have also been introduced. Entry is free through Gate 20 – all ages attend, including lots of little ones in bike trailers!
Other Yas Island attractions
As for other facilities and activities on the island, there is the beautiful Yas Marina where you can look out on the lifestyles of the rich and famous while having lunch at one of the numerous restaurants and bars. During the cooler months, an outdoor market runs on a Saturday complete with play park, bouncy castle and water fountains (bring spare clothes!). There’s a permanent play park here, as well as launching point for many boat cruises.
Mr Globetrotters gives a huge thumbs up to the incredible Yas Links golf course. Also attached is Hickory’s Restaurant at the clubhouse, a great family-friendly choice for a meal and during the winter months you will find a bouncy castle on the lawn for kids entertainment. Stunning sunset views back to Abu Dhabi city over the water.
For a wonderful wide open space for kids to ride bikes and scooters, go for a run you can’t so past Yas Gateway Parks (North & South).
There’s also Yas Beach shared by the hotels and open to the public (with charge), two concert and entertainment venues and a giant nightclub – the list honestly goes on!!
Where to stay on Yas Island
Coming from far or abroad there’s a wide range of hotels to choose from including Crowne Plaza, Rotana, Radisson Blu and the glittering, crowning jewel Yas Hotel (formerly Yas Viceroy) which actually straddles the Grand Prix track.
All the hotels come with a wide range of restaurants and bars to choose from and leisure facilities, as well as a free shuttle to Yas Beach. We were impressed with the magnificent Christmas Day brunch put on by Origins at the Yas Hotel – complete with kids club, bouncy castle and Santa doing a few laps of the track!
How to get to Yas Island
Yas is located approximately 30 minutes outside of the city centre of Abu Dhabi or less than 10 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport. A great way to get to Yas Island if you do not have a private vehicle is by taking Big Bus Tours Abu Dhabi. Their Yas Island Drive – Green Route bus leaves from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and makes several stops around the island at the popular attractions we’ve mentioned.
Globetrotters Recommend Yas Island
Undoubtedly there is a lot to see and do now on Yas Island making it a true tourist destination in its own right. It may not be a ‘traditional’ island holiday but if you are looking for something to keep the whole family entertained for several days at almost any time of year, it might just fit the bill.
Have you visited Yas Island? What are your favourite ‘must do’ family experiences?
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If you are planning a trip to the UAE you might want to read our Family Travel Guide – 15 Important Things to Know Before Visiting the UAE, and check out our Discover the UAE page for more destination ideas suitable for all the family.
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