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 is, “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:
Please note that we are continuously updating this page as information becomes available – information below relates to Christmas 2021, where regular events continued to be modified or cancelled for COVID. We will update listings for 2022 in November.
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 the 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 & Performances
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 its best to bring a touch of magical seasonal fun to the heart of the city.
The Galleria promises a range of festive delights including beautiful decorations, roaming entertainment, a winter village and the opportunity to meet Santa himself! Note that the decorations have been scaled back somewhat in 2021 by comparison to previous years.
The Winter Wonderland occurs outside on the water front between the Rosewood hotel and the Four Seasons.
Santa visits occur separately inside the Mall extension. Santa should be booked in advance and you will be socially distanced during your meet and greet. Book early to avoid disappointment as this Santa is usually a good one! Note standby visits are possible this year but priority is given to those who’ve booked
From December 9th – December 25th 2021 from 10am to late.
For more details visit the Galleria website.
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 4th, 11th and 18th, and Monday 14th & 21st, Wednesday 15th & 22nd and Thursday 16th & 23rd December 2021 from 9-11am.
Suitable for children aged 4 and over. Tickets can be booked through Virgin megastore or directly though Market Kitchen.
Magic Phil’s Jolly Jingle
Theatre by Erth, a new Abu Dhabi theatre venue based at the old Armed Forces Officers club, presents the UAE’s favourite children’s entertainer Magic Phil on December 12 & 13 2021. You can buy tickets here.
The festive pantomime CInderella will bring some fairy-tale magic to the capital this December, with performances between the 16th and 27th 2021 December also at Theatre by Erth. Tickets start at AED 96 and are available here.
Fifth Street Festive Market at Courtyard by Marriott
Every day in December there will be treats and goodies galore at the Fifth Street Cafe at Courtyard by Marriott. As well as the chance to buy Christmas gifts there will be Willy Wonka cupcake and gingerbread making classes for children. 1st -31st December 2021
Lindt Christmas Market and Chocolate Making Classes
The lobby of the Conrad Etihad Towers is set to be transformed in December 2021, with swiss chalets, snow and chocolate making master classes for adults and children. Classes are only available for circus afternoon tea guests on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – the rest of the week they are open to all. Entry costs AED 40 and places should be booked in advance. From 5.30-6.20 pm (children only) 6.30-7.20 pm (adults and children), 9th -24th December. For more details click here.
The Westin Festive Market in the Lounge
The Westin’s Family Fun Day and festive market was always one of the best days out on the Abu Dhabi social calendar. Sadly COVID has meant that this wonderful event, complete with a Santa chase around the lawns has been cancelled again this year. In its place there are a number of smaller events including the festive market in The Lounge coffee shop. Open daily throughout December 7am-7pm.
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.
Cancelled in 2020 but check back soon for details in 2021.
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.
Cancelled in 2020 but check back soon for details in 2021.
Abu Dhabi Mall Festive Market
A collection of more than stalls, along with Santa photo sessions (see more below) and crafting workshops
Abu Dhabi Mall, TBC for 2021. Learn more here
St Joseph’s Christmas Festival
This annual parish event brings a whole day of festive activities, shopping bizarre, food stalls and fun activities for the kids.
St Josephs Cathedral. Cancelled in 2020 but check back soon for details in 2021. – Learn more here
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.
Cancelled in 2020 but check back soon for details in 2021.
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.
Cancelled in 2020 and 2021.
Expect kids activities and rides (some paid), as well as a Christmas Market and entertainment including a snow zone.
Ferrari World will also be hosting its own ‘Winter on Italian Street’ celebrations from 5th November 2021 until January 8th 2022, which will include socially distanced performances, arts and crafts and a gingerbread factory (tickets sold separately). Learn more about Ferrari World here.
You can also celebrate Christmas with Batman and Bugs Bunny at Warner Brothers World’s Winter Spectacular! There are beautiful decorations and magical Christmas shows as well as lots of other festive treats. The celebrations for 2021 started on 5 November and will run until 8 January 2022. For more details click here.
ADULT CHRISTMAS EVENTS IN ABU DHABI
Fun Festive Sweater Evening
Put on your flashiest festive sweater for an evening of holiday fun at PJ O’Reilly’s evening brunch on Thursday 9th December from 7-10 pm. Packages start at 149 AED for soft beverages and 225 AED for house beverages.
Murder Mystery at the Office Christmas Party!
In 2021, In the detail events are offering Murder Mystery Christmas parties. Contact In the detail directly for more information.
The Christmas Song Book
Theatre by Erth is offering a real treat this season with ‘The Christmas Songbook’! Sing along behind your face mask as the Divas and Maestros belt out some festive favourites on the 28th and 29th December 2021. Tickets start at AED 96 and area available here.
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 had to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may no longer run as the key organisers have left the country. Please look up their Facebook page here to see if the situation has changed.
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. There are often carol singers, mulled wine and mince pies and sometimes even a visit from Santa Claus! Here is a list of some of Abu Dhabi’s most beautiful Christmas trees:
Confirmed for 2021
4 December 2021 Saadiyat Beach Club 6-8pm 4 December 2021 St. Regis on the Corniche8 December 2021 Saadiyat Golf Club 7-10pm 8 December 2021 Fairmont, Bab Al Bahr 7pm8 December 2021 Dusit Thani, 6-7pm 8 December 2021 Shangri-La Hotel, Bab Al Bahr 7pm9 December 2021 Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana 5-6.30pm 11 December 2021 The Emirates Palace 7pm 12 December 2021 Anantara, Eastern Mangroves 7pm15 December 2021 Yas Links Golf Club 6-7pm 16 December 2021 The Crown Plaza, Yas Island, 6pm
Always check directly with the venue to confirm timings and whether booking is necessary.
The impressive Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Christmas Tree
Where you can get a photo with Santa in Abu Dhabi 2022
Other than at the events mentioned above, Santa will also visit many of the city’s malls. Due to COVID restrictions, it is unlikely that children will be able to get too close to Santa and many malls will ask you to book an appointment, but some, like Yas Mall do not have a booking system.
Abu Dhabi Mall – From the 14th to the 25th December 2021, you can find Santa in his magical grotto from 11am to 8pm. There will also be festive parades on the 15th, 17th and 19th December. For more details click here. Galleria Mall – From the 9th to the 25th December 2021 you can visit the Galleria’s Winter Village and meet Santa. Visits to Santa must be booked in advance through this link. World Trade Centre Mall – TBCYas Mall – Yas Mall’s Winter Wonderland festivities run from the 10th to the 25th December 2021. Santa will be there but his ‘office hours’ are still to be announced.
Yes some of these Santa’s seem to work 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.
Santa’s Grotto at Yas Mall from 2018; Generally he has pretty short lines if you go early
Please check back in December 2022 for up to date information about where to see Santa this year
Gingerbread activities in Abu Dhabi
A festive family favourite in Abu Dhabi is attending a Gingerbread workshop or party. A number of venues cancelled their workshops in 2020 and most are still to announce workshops for 2021.
The Maglis lounge at the Rosewood will be offering Gingerbread Nutcracker biscuit decorating this year alongside their famous nutcracker afternoon teas. Courtyard by Marriott are also offering cookie decorating and cupcake making workshops and Conrad at Etihad towers will be hosting a number of chocolate master classes.
Gingerbread House Workshop at the Emirates Palace 2018
Jones The Grocer will be offering a Gingerbread House decorating webinar in 2021. The webinar is free but you must purchase a gingerbread house making kit from Jones the grocer for AED119. For more details click here.
The following in person gingerbread house making workshops for 2021 have been confirmed:
The St. Regis on the Corniche at 3pm on Saturday 4th December at a cost of AED 200 per child and coincides with the St. Regis’ Christmas tree lighting ceremony.The St. Regis Saadiyat Resort will host their gingerbread house making workshop on Friday 10th DEcember at 3pm. THe cost is 250 AED per child but includes a Tiny Afternoon Tea. The Anantara at Eastern Mangroves from 6 to 8pm on Wednesday 15th December at a cost of 150 AED.
The Ritz-Carlton will have separate workshops on December 18th and 21st at a fee of 175 AED per house. The Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana are hosting a very economical workshop at 100 AED per person including everything you need to make your gingerbread house and drinks on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th December from 4-5.30pm. The gingerbread factory at Ferrari World costs 200 AED per project and must be paid for in addition to your park entry ticket. It is a lovely set up with lots of little extras and a cozy setting but you must book in advance as it does get busy!
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
Please check back in December for up to date information about where to enjoy a festive afternoon tea in 2021!
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. Afternoon tea needs to be booked at least 24 hours in advance.
The Ritz Carlton – from 15 December 2021 to 6 January 2022 2pm to 5pm, 160 AED per standConrad at Etihad Towers – The spectacular circus afternoon tea is to be held in the Lobby Lounge throughout December 2021 and is 220 AED per person. You can indulge in the Sugar Plum Fairy afternoon tea in the Crystal Lounge at the St. Regis on the Corniche throughout December. Prices start at 195 AED per stand. The Westin – TBC for 2021 (2020 they served up a beautiful festive tea for149 AED per couple, December 1st -31st 2020).The Shangri-La – TBC in 2021 (last year offered a ‘Polar Afternoon Tea’ from 3rd December 2020 priced at AED 110)Maglis at The Rosewood – The ‘Nutcracker’ themed afternoon tea returns in 2021, from 3-6pm daily, 250AED per standThe Al Wathba Hotel are offering a Festive themed festive afternoon tea from December 1st, 4pm-7pm, AED 195 per person.
Other family events
Maker Space in Al Zeina are will be hosting a variety of crafty Christmas themed workshops including wooden gingerbread houses on the 4th December. You can book a slot between 1 and 2pm or between 2.30 and 3.30pm by phoning 02 558 8624. 200AED per family. Suitable for ages 4 and up.
Shopping for gifts and supplies in Abu Dhabi
Yes, you can get Christmas decorations and other supplies in the UAE. They may not be as plentiful as in some other countries but you do not have to dig deep to find the. Year on year more and more is becoming available.
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 presents 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 to 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 upfront 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)
A choir welcomes diners to the Fairways Brunch at the Westin Abu Dhabi
Here are a few of our favourite Christmas brunches for families – thanks to our many readers for these suggestions over the years:
THIS LISTING IS NOT FULLY UPDATED FOR 2021: SOME DETAILS BELOW MAY STILL BE PRIOR YEAR PRICING WHERE THE HOTEL HAS NOT PROVIDED US CONFIRMATION
Ritz Carlton – Giornotte
A spectacular spread across Giornotte Restaurant including turkey and Wagyu beef through to lavish desserts. Santa will also be making an appearance – in previous years he arrived on camelback! As well as all the traditional Christmas trimmings, don’t forget they also have Abu Dhabi’s finest cheese room!
2021 Prices starting from 450 AED rising to 750 AED for premium bubbles. Children 6-11 50% off, under 6 free.
Timing: 1pm to 4pm
Westin Abu Dhabi (next to Abu Dhabi Golf Club)
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. There’s usually a big line up of kids entertainment, games, bouncy castle and a visit from Santa.
Prices start from 495 AED for the soft drinks package and children from 7-12 are charged 245 AED.
If you book this brunch before the 5th December, you will receive an invitation to the exclusive ‘Oh Santa Baby Cocktail Party’ on the 9th December.
Fairmont Bab al Bahr
The Fairmont will be offering a fabulous international buffet at Cuiscene with live cooking stations, chilled seafood, pizza and pasta as well as a turkey station that will feature stuffing and cranberry sauce!
Prices starting from 375 AED, Children 6-12 135 `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!)
St Regis Abu Dhabi
The options for Christmas Day 2021 include decadent seafood at Catch as well as the amazing international flavours of the Festive brunch at The Terrace. The hotel looks amazing with its multiple Christmas trees and quaint gingerbread cottage. There will be live entertainment at both venues.
The Terrace brunch starts at 345 AED per person for a soft drinks package rising to 595 AED for the champagne package. Options at catch range from 450 AED to 695 AED per person.
See our review of the regular Terrace on the Corniche Brunch & a Christmas Staycation here
Timing: 1pm to 4pm
Spectacular gingerbread creation in the St Regis foyer
St Regis Saadiyat – Olea
Enjoy the alfresco 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 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. Also look out for the chocolate brunch at Nahaam over the festive season! Prices starting from 550 AED, children 6 to 12 years 200 AED, under 6 free
Whilst the mega bunch books up quickly an alternative is the Latin American VaKaVa brunch from 2-7pm. Soft drinks packages are 350AED, whilst the house beverage package will set you back 650 AED.
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 protected])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 super early on (like November) as some of the best, most convenient mealtime slots disappear fast!
Most restaurants will require a minimum 72 hours notice up to 7 days and might give early bird booking discounts.
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 backup supplies)
We await details of staycation packages for 2021
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 set the tone.
Christmas Day Brunch, 295AED soft, 395AED Drinks.
Check here for current accommodation pricing for the Ritz over Christmas.
We talked about why the Ritz is one of our favourite Desert Resorts here
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
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 to celebrate the culture and tradition of the Bedouin people. The event has now expanded in 2021 to cover several locations in Abu Dhabi emirate.
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.
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!). Getting an official timetable or up to date information in English has always been a challenge!
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.
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:
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.
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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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