June. The intense heat really kicks in. School books have gotten tatty, school shoes snug and many conversations open with the words, “What are you doing for the summer?” School’s out and plans are urgently needed to fill the hazy, lazy days. Some families will stay right here in Abu Dhabi, some will travel to their home countries and more still will take the opportunity to explore the world a little. Wherever you go this summer, there is an opportunity to immerse yourself and your kids in cultures new, time travel to days of old or soak yourself in the beauty of the arts. You can visit parks and farms, castles and valleys, or simply relax in the garden (or on the beach!) with a good book. With that in mind, this month we thought we'd take you on a globe-trot to scope out places of myth and history, wildlife and nature for some good, old-fashioned family fun.
Knights & Castles
Jump on your fine white steed and charge back through the centuries to times when knights were brave, ladies bashful and intrigue and espionage flourished. Places of history and mystery can make “life in olden times” more real, more colourful and more relatable for when they trip back into school next term for the inevitable topic and dress-up day that usually greet them. After all, it’s a lot more fun climbing the ramparts of a castle than it is reading about them.
Al Ain National Museum, on the edge of Al Ain Oasis, Abu Dhabi
Discover: Take history by the hand and venture to Al Ain to see some of the city’s most unique heritage and culture in action. Housed in the same compound as the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort (also known as the Eastern Fort), the museum has three main sections which showcase UAE life back in the pre-oil days.
Explore: Insightful presentations illustrate various aspects of UAE life and include interesting collections of Bedouin jewellery, musical instruments and weapons. The reconstruction of a traditional majlis is something that will appeal to the youngest historians as they see how home life back then so differs from that of today.
Be amazed: It’s always exciting to get hands-on with history and the extensive archaeology displays include many artefacts from the nearby Hili Gardens. The gift section is also a wonder, with an unusual collection of gifts that Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan received during his lifetime. It includes golden swords, silver daggers and a golden palm tree. Displays are labelled in English and Arabic.
Teacher’s pet: Check out the impressive Al Ain Oasis nearby, which is filled with palm plantations, many of which are still working farms. The cool, shady walkways transport you from the heat and noise of the city to a tranquil haven; all you’ll hear is birdsong and the rustle of the palm fronds. The date palm oasis is one of a growing number of ecosystems that have been formally recognised by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for their importance as repositories of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
A perfect project for mini-ecologists to catalogue and explore.
Dhs3 (adults), Dhs1 (children under ten). Open Tue-Thu, Sat-Sun 8am-7.30pm, Fri 3pm-7.30pm (Mon closed). Call 03 711 8331 or 03 711 8332.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Discover: Classed as one of the most exciting historic sites in Western Europe, Edinburgh Castle is set in the heart of Scotland’s dynamic capital city and has over a million visitors a year. Imagine tramping through this immense demesne, knowing that once upon a time it could have exploded around you. It is built on a large volcano, after all (it is now inactive). Human settlers have lived here from as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages, so it really is ancient history.
Explore: There are battlements to explore, a Great Hall to play princesses in and the dazzling Crown Room which houses the intriguing “stone of destiny” which has been used in coronation ceremonies for most of England’s monarchs. When you delve into the depths below the Queen Anne Building and Great Hall, you'll discover two tiers of cavernous stone vaults that were used as prisons over many years, with prisoners from all over the world being kept there. A game of cops and robbers, anyone?
Be amazed: Cover your ears as the iconic Mons Meg cannon, probably the most famous medieval cannon in the world, is fired at one o’clock, Monday to Saturday (except when removed for essential maintenance).
Teacher’s pet: Experience the global spectacle that is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Hosted each year on the castle esplanade, it brings together musicians and performers from every part of the world for a fabulous display of international culture (August 5-27).
£16.50 (Dhs88, adults). £9.90 (Dhs53, children five to 15). £13.20 (Dhs71, adults over 60 or unemployed). Open April to September, 9.30am-6pm. Visit www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk.
Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts, USA
Discover: Less than an hour south of Boston and minutes from Cape Cod, you and your seafarers can hop on the MayFlower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original ship that sailed to Plymouth in 1620. Close your eyes and discover “The New World” then wander amongst the 17th century English village, where the locals are all eager to tell their unique stories. For a balanced view, head on down to the Wampanoag Homesite, and chat to the native people (it’s important to note that there are no role players!)
Explore: Little crafters will enjoy watching fellow artisans at work. Stone and sinew tools, hand-coiled clay pots, even porcupine head-dresses are created using the tools and craft techniques from the 1600s.
Be Amazed: The people of the Plimoth Plantation love to hear visitors ask questions and they love to chat. Nothing is off limits, so little chatterboxes need never feel shy or awkward here. They won’t know anything beyond 1627, though, which can make for some very funny conversations.
Teacher’s pet: During June your little one can join the Plimouth Adventurers' Club and have fun in another century as part of a special camp. Little historians play 17th century games and take a trip to some of the best-kept secret places around the museum.
US$36 (Dhs132, adult heritage pass), US$22 (Dhs80, child). US$32.25 (Dhs118, senior citizen). Open Sun-Thu 9am-5pm. Visit www.plimoth.org.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Discover: One of the world's wonders, this great mausoleum is like a mirage rising up from the ground and its sparkling white marble walls are decorated with 28 different varieties of precious and semi-precious stones. The beauty of it will appeal to your mini magpies, and it was built as the climax of a great love story. In 1628, Shah Jahan became ruler of the Mughal Empire. His favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (which means “chosen one of the palace”), was his loyal travel companion. In 1631, she died after giving birth to her 13th child and the Taj Mahal was built by her grief-stricken husband. Now that’s true love...
Explore: There is a beautiful garden framed with wide paths which little ones can roam and enjoy. Situated at the banks of Agra’s Yamuna River, Taj Mahal is an achievement of almost 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists. Even elephants were part of the project team. These workers were employed from all over India, and some came from as far as Turkey and Iraq. It took them almost 20 years to complete the monument and its lush gardens, in 1654.
Be amazed: Sadly, all the artists were rewarded for their good work in a very unusual way – their hands were chopped off so that they could never recreate a beautiful monument like the Taj Mahal again.
Teacher’s pet: The complex that houses this beautiful structure is completely symmetrical and the tombs are the only nonsymmetrical components. Give your child a camera and let them capture this wonder of the world.
INR1,000 (Dhs54, adults), free (children under 15). Open Sun-Thu, sunrise to sunset. Visit www.tajmahal.gov.in.
Vibes & Scribes
It’s no secret that many kids love to sing, colour and create. And while it can be frustrating when your expensive dining room table is covered in glitter and glue, you can nurture their love of the arts by packing them off to visit some interesting homes of painting, music and books. Your mini-maestros might be giving you a headache as they clatter your pots and pans and bang incessantly on the keyboard, but remember: it might be the start of something beautiful. Best to embrace it, just in case!
National Library, Mayzad Mall, Abu Dhabi
Discover: Today’s readers are tomorrow's leaders and it’s always nice to curl up with a nice story on a hot sunny day, in the cool surroundings of a library. The Mayzad branch of the National Library offers shelves full of tales and a peaceful reading space for children and adults alike. With a vast collection of books from toddler through to confident reader, kids can enjoy books from Enid Blyton, Goosebumps and more.
Explore: The children’s area is bright and colourful, with plenty of spots to scope out and sit as you leaf through a pile of books. With 2016 being designated the Year of Reading in the UAE, it’s well worth popping in to sign up for a membership.
Be amazed: Little ones will enjoy choosing their own pile of tales to enjoy over the holidays. With membership free for children from seven years, it’s one of those activities that make parents smile.
Teacher’s pet: Grab the reading list from the bottom of your school bag and get a head start on the next academic year’s homework. You might earn an extra house point or two!
Open Sun-Thu 9am-9pm, Sat 4pm-9pm. Mazyad Mall, Mohammed Bin Zayed City (02 651 5424).
The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
Discover: Cited as one of the best museums in Ireland, The Chester Beatty Library is a must-see for anyone visiting its capital city, Dublin. Trip back through the cobbled streets and immerse yourself in the library’s rich collections and artistic treasures from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Explore: Manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts complete this amazing collection – all the result of the collecting activities of one man: Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968).
Be amazed: Imagine seeing a book from almost 5,000 years ago. Sounds like a good story! Your little bookworms will really love wandering among some of these beautifully illuminated manuscripts. The Silk Worm Club offers children the chance to make a miniature Persian garden, illustrate their own fairytales or delve into Arabic calligraphy.
Teacher’s pet: Prepare yourself for the Egyptian topic at school by marvelling at the papyrus texts on display. Learn how these intricate manuscripts were written.
Free admission. Open March-October, Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. November-February, Tue-Fri 10am-5pm. Visit www.cbl.ie.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Discover: Any kid who loves to draw constructions or build castles from blocks and bricks will be awestruck by this iconic building with its sail-shaped roof and its massive red granite platform. The Sydney Opera House dominates the landscape of the city and makes for an unforgettable day out.
Explore: With a myriad of cool tours on offer, you and your little opera buffs can enjoy discovering the stories behind the world-famous sails. If you are lucky to visit in early July, your kiddies can enjoy the Junior Day Pack, a special tour just for them.
Be amazed: There’s nothing quite like getting dressed up and taking in a show. The Opera House has an extensive event list of shows on their website, which you can plan your trip around.
Teacher’s pet: With after-schools activity options now including Lego clubs and mini designer clubs, it’s the perfect time for your aspiring architect to get started. After all, Jorn Utzon unexpectedly won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House at just 39. His submission was one of 233 designs from 32 countries, many of them from the most famous architects of that time.
Prices of tickets vary. Open Sun-Thu, 9am-5pm. Visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com.
The great outdoors
We think we’d all agree that the UAE is pretty hard to beat on stuff to do outside, from fun on the beach to exploring in the city. But making the most of this in summer is tough. Families leaving to travel are craving “the green fields” and we are pretty spoilt for choice on this in almost every corner of the globe. Here is one of our favourites close to home for scenery and wildlife and three overseas outdoor wonderlands of rolling hills, breath-taking mountains, roaring rivers to cross and trees to climb to satisfy the Huckleberry Finn in your family.
Jebel Akhdar (The Green Mountain), Oman
Discover: If you’re new to the UAE at this time of year, you simply wouldn’t believe you can pack your lethargic, sweaty-hot kids in the car and drive just a few hours to get to some genuinely cool, fresh mountain air. Welcome to Jebel Akhdar, just next door in the Sultanate of Oman. Stretching around 10,000 feet above sea level, the Green Mountain, as its name translates, is 300 kilometres from the UAE so you’ll need to make it an overnight trip, but trust us when we say, as you watch the temperature on the dashboard drop from 45 degrees to a deliciously chilly 20, you’ll agree it’s worth the price of a hotel stay.
Explore: There are plenty of gentle walks for little legs from the hotels around the plateau that will take you through farms spread among beautiful terraced gardens carved into the mountainside, growing pomegranates, apricots, peaches, cherries and walnuts. There is open woodland with edible fruit to pick and an unlimited number of sheer-drop views for fab family selfies.
Be amazed: By the time June comes around there’s been a noticeable shift indoors onto iPads and game consoles while younger ones have probably watched more telly than they have in months. Watch their faces as you step out when you reach the top because they’re inhaling COLD, fresh air they can actually run around like lunatics in.
Teacher’s pet: A range of bubbling springs provide the main water supply for the communities of the region, especially those higher up the mountain. This is a brilliant geography lesson in action as kids can see how the entire area is linked with a network of Aflaj, which carry the water and deliver it right to the doorsteps of the residents.
The Alila and The Sahab hotels both welcome families. Visit www.alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar, www.sahab-hotel.com.
The Swiss National Park, Engadine, Switzerland
Discover: Straight out of a scene from the classic Heidi novel, vast plains of the greenest grass, snow-capped mountains and crystal-clear lakes make up the Swiss National Park in Engadine. This park is the oldest in the Alps and central Europe, covering an area of over 170 kilometres, and is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park is home to an extraordinary variety of alpine animals, such as chamois, marmots and red deer, as well as golden eagles, lynx, wolves, mountain hare and even the brown bear.
Explore: There are 80 kilometres of hiking paths and nature trails to get stuck into, with a choice of 21 routes for different ages and abilities. The Swiss National Park is mountainous and lies at an altitude varying between 1,400 and 3,200 metres above sea level so be careful higher altitudes don’t make some of the trails too difficult for younger kids.
Be amazed: Bring your treks to life and learn as you walk by downloading the iWebpark app before you set off, to guide you around the trails with images, stories, maps, videos and quizzes all cleverly pinged to your phone using GPS satellite navigation. There’s even a special children’s research trail called the Ardez, with information on animals and plants, and you can select themed discovery trails on rock glaciers, forest fires and butterflies.
Teacher’s pet: Call into the National Park Centre before you leave and take in one of the four fascinating exhibitions to delve deeper into the history and future of nature and mankind. The Immersion exhibition uses three huge screens to show nature up close from every angle, through every season – in water, on land, on rock and up in the air – so you can totally lose yourself in the ever-changing natural world.
Free entry, various charges for guided walking tours. Open June 1-October 31, daily 8.30am-6pm. Winter opening hours are limited. Visit www.nationalpark.ch/en.
Sweet Grass Ranch, Montana, USA
Discover: Calling all wannabe cowboys and cowgirls! Step into your very own Wild Western world as you learn to loop a lasso, drive cattle and shoe a horse on the idyllic plains of this working cattle ranch in the secluded Crazy Mountains of Montana. The ranch gives families the chance to work together, driving cattle into the mountains, swimming horses in the creek and building a fire to toast marshmallows on while camping out under the stars among mountain countryside. Their riding programmes are geared up for everyone from complete horse novices to experienced riders, but if your kids are too young or not so keen, there are always cows to milk.
Explore: With miles of hiking trails, acres of riding terrain, creeks to swim and rivers to boat on and fish from, you couldn’t possibly cover even half of this ranch in one trip. Summer is the best time to ride up higher into the mountains to see mountain goats, cool waterfalls and alpine lakes.
Be amazed: If the experience of having a go at bareback horseriding, hay bailing, scavenger hunting and learning to survive in the wilderness isn’t enough, the Big Timber Rodeo held in late June is bound to be the talk of the dinner table for years to come.
Teacher’s pet: There is no better place to understand the beauty of horses than a cattle ranch. If you’re harbouring a horse-whisperer, who would love to learn the ropes from the professionals, these guys offer everything from horsemanship clinics, arena riding, gymkhana and shoeing horses to horse-care and pony rides on specially-trained horses used to working gently with children.
Open June to mid-September. Visit www.sweetgrassranch.com.
Red House Farm, Cheshire, UK
Discover: Red House Farm is set amid the picture-perfect farmlands of Northern Cheshire, where fields of wheat and barley are dotted with a smattering of farm animals grazing lazily on the grass plains, stretching as far as the eye can see. Red House Farm’s adventure park is home to some of the best in traditional, honest-to-goodness countryside capers, where a full-on day of digging, exploring and climbing in the fresh air is guaranteed to end with the blackest fingernails, the rosiest cheeks, the muddiest knees and the best night’s sleep they’ve had in ages.
Explore: Sift the silt for gems in the shelter of one of the old barns, hop on and hold tight for a bumpy tour round the fields on the barrel tractor ride, get your thinking caps on and scour the farm to win prizes on the scavenger hunt and see who can scamper the fastest up the popular climbing wall. There’s a towering hay bale to conquer or crawl in, a huge sandpit for the littlies and picnic tables among the adventure play equipment to devour home-cooked goodies on from the farm café.
Be amazed: Created from over 500,000 toweringly-tall maize plants and unveiled just in time for the start of the summer holidays, the Red House Farm Maize Maze has become a bit of a local institution. Themed every year for added excitement, they’ll give you a list of markers to find dotted about the maze, with extra-long flags for you to wave SOS-style should you really get lost. Last year the maze was cleverly crafted into the shape of the BBC’s Blue Peter ship and the year before was the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, so we are eagerly waiting to hear what this year’s theme is going to be.
Teacher’s pet: This is a working farm, so a walk around the grounds and up the lanes of neighbouring livestock estates with a camera and a notebook would be the beginnings of a fantastic “gate to plate” project about where our food comes from, to show off next term.
Free entry, extra charges for activities. Open mid-February through October, daily 9.30am-5pm, November to mid-February, 9.30am-4pm. Visit www.redhousefarm.co.uk.
From deep in the Indian jungle to the plains of Africa, there’s nothing like a wildlife safari or a conservation-friendly zoo if you’re heading off to a city, for your kids to observe and learn about animals, close-up. The travel market has really embraced the concept of families
The Al Ain Safari, Al Ain Zoo, UAE
Discover: A ski slope, ice rinks, a man-made surfing experience with jaw-dropping waves and a zoo housing species of animals from all over the world. Add to all that a huge new wildlife safari experience and quite honestly, we might never leave! Just a short drive outside the capital lies Al Ain Zoo and Wildlife Safari Park, housing some of the planet’s most spectacular creatures with a dedicated Children’s Zoo, play and picnic areas.
Be amazed: For a more exciting perspective, head for one of the elevated viewing towers overlooking the African setting to see the wild cats such as the graceful white lion pacing their terrain or basking lazily under the shady trees. You’ll also get a great view of the dramatic Jebel Hafeet Mountain.
Explore: The zoo is impressive enough itself, but the newly-opened adjoining safari park – the world’s largest man-made enclosure – is not to be missed. The tour, either on private safari jeeps or group truck tours, will take in sightings of critically endangered or locally extinct animals, such as the Scimitar Oryx and the Addax, basking in their natural habit across 217 hectares of land, sitting in the shadow of the majestic Hajar Mountains.
Teacher’s pet: Learn more about the conservation and environmental work this place is doing by visiting the on-site Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre or book on a guided tour with a Zoo Education Officer for access to giraffe feeding or reptile handling during your trip.
From Dhs30 for children for zoo access, up to Dhs230 for a Safari Explorer ticket (includes access to the zoo, safari and the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre). Open Sat-Tue 9am-8pm, Wed 9am-4pm (public), Wed 5pm-9pm (ladies only), Thu and Fri 9am-9pm. Al Ain Zoo, Al Ain, www.alainzoo.ae (800966).
Bandipur National Park & Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India
Discover: If your family are still buzzing with the excitement of the latest Jungle Book movie and you’re headed this way over summer, the Bandipur National Park should be top of your list. Located in the stunning surroundings of the towering Western Ghat Mountains, the park covers 874 square kilometres and, combined with neighbouring wildlife sanctuaries, houses the largest habitat of wild elephants in the whole of south Asia.
Explore: The safest way to explore the park is by booking on an organised jeep safari with trained guides to talk you through the different terrain and wildlife to spot animals such as the sambhar, chital, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, wild boar, jackal, sloth bear and panther. For a real jungle experience touching the treetops, you can also ride an elephant – but swinging through the vines, Mowgli-style, is strictly forbidden!
Be amazed: The park became one of India’s first Tiger Reserves, specially established under Project Tiger in 1973 and is one of the best places to see these magical creatures roaming their natural habitat. Get the binoculars out to spy the endangered four-horned antelope and rarely-spotted sloth bear and don’t forget to look up to catch a glimpse of the crested-serpent eagles and red-headed vultures circling their prey up high.
Teacher’s pet: The Indian elephant is high on the World Wildlife Fund’s endangered species list. Help and encourage the conservationist in your family to research why the Indian elephant is so important and how humans can act to help protect it. Talk about poaching and the destruction of the natural habitat to inspire your kids to be the next generation of wildlife warriors.
Prices vary. Open daily 9am-9pm. Visit www.bandipurnational park.net or for the Tiger Reserve, www.bandipurtigerreserve.in.
Sabona Wildlife Reserve, near Cape Town, South Africa
Discover: We grew up on the powerful message of the film Born Free and our kids are well-versed with all the hits from Disney, so we think we’d all agree the chance to get within a hair’s breadth (well, from inside the safety of a 4x4) of the King of the Jungle would make for the trip of a lifetime. The African safari is now more geared up for families than ever before, with shorter game tours for younger explorers, particularly in the safer, malaria-free South, packed with kid-friendly lodges and treetop hideouts. And there are few places better to spot the famous Big Five than from the Gondwana Family Lodge in the Sabona Wildlife Reserve.
Explore: Kids over four can pull on the camouflage gear and join the thrill of the early morning and late afternoon game drives to see lions, the African elephant (which is the world’s largest), leopards, African buffalo, white rhinos, giraffes, zebra, ostrich and super-fast cheetahs – and that’s just for starters. The whole family can enjoy a gentle water safari on the impressive Bellair Dam to get up close to a pod of hippo, which can be spotted bathing in the dam.
Be amazed: Animals aside, one of the most mesmerising experiences in the Karoo has to be wrapping up in the open-air after bedtime for some of the finest stargazing in South Africa. Join a camp stargazing session or borrow a telescope from the lodge and help your kids map the stories of the night sky. In summer, Orion takes pride of place alongside Taurus the bull and Pleiades, the Seven Sisters.
Teacher’s pet: Every eight hours, another rhino is killed in South Africa for its horns and the number is growing. A sponsored family hike or swim once you’re back home in the UAE would be a great way to raise money to support charities protecting endangered species.
Prices vary, depending on which time of year you go. Visit www.sanbona.com.