Dubai Customs and Traditions - Emirati family

Dubai Customs and Traditions Tourists Should Know About

Your complete guide about Dubai and Emirati traditions, cultural attractions, dress code, alcohol rules and visiting Dubai during Ramadan

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Dubai, the glittering jewel of the United Arab Emirates, is a destination that has captured the imagination of travellers around the world, but before visiting the city, it’s handy to get familiar with Dubai customs and traditions. This cosmopolitan city is a fusion of the old and the new, where modern skyscrapers and malls stand alongside traditional souks and historic sites. As a visitor, it’s essential to understand Dubai’s customs and traditions to have a seamless experience and show respect to the Emirati culture. I have prepared this guide to tell you about the things to know before travelling to Dubai, local customs and traditions, dos and don’ts for tourists in Dubai, dress code, religion and other essential information to make your trip to this fascinating city enjoyable and hassle-free. So follow this crash course, and you are set to go!

Introduction to Dubai customs and traditions

Dubai is a city steeped in history, with its roots tracing back to ancient Bedouin tribes. Today, after many waves of immigrants and expats, the city is a melting pot of cultures, but it still maintains a strong connection to its past. Emirati culture is an integral part of daily life in Dubai, and it’s essential to be aware of and respect the local customs and traditions while visiting. By doing so, you’ll not only have a deeper appreciation for the destination but also show respect to the locals who call it home.

Emirati culture is based on Islamic values, and you’ll find many aspects of daily life influenced by the teachings of the Quran. You will notice it in architecture, clothing, cuisine and many other things. As a visitor, it’s crucial to be aware of these values and traditions to ensure you have an enjoyable time in Dubai. Family, hospitality and respect for elders are all important aspects of Emirati culture, and being mindful of these values will go a long way in making your stay a memorable one.

Family is the cornerstone of Emirati society, with extended families often living together and providing support to one another. This strong sense of familial ties can be seen in the warmth and hospitality extended to guests, and you’ll often find yourself welcomed with open arms by the locals. As a visitor, it’s essential to respect these family values and reciprocate the kindness and hospitality you receive. Elderly people are often greeted standing and served first.

Religion plays a central role in Emirati culture, and Islamic values and teachings shape many aspects of daily life. As a visitor, it’s essential to be mindful of these values and to be respectful of local customs and traditions. This includes dressing modestly, refraining from consuming alcohol outside of designated areas, and being respectful during the holy month of Ramadan.

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Dubai Marina mosque at night

Cultural experiences and attractions for tourists in Dubai

Dubai offers a wealth of cultural attractions and things to do for tourists to explore. These are my favourite Dubai historical and cultural attractions which I have tried and highly recommend:

  • Deira, Al Fahidi and Al Shindagha Historical Neighbourhoods: A stroll through these charming areas will transport you back in time and provide a glimpse into Dubai’s history. For a more comprehensive experience, take this guided tour of historical Dubai.
  • Dubai Creek abra crossing: Take a traditional abra boat for AED 1 to enjoy a memorable ride as you slide down the waterway between Bur Dubai and Deira. The scenery of Old Dubai is just amazing!
  • Jumeirah Mosque: This beautiful mosque in Jumeirah offers guided tours, providing visitors with insights into Islamic culture and traditions.
  • Etihad Museum: This modern and elegantly shaped museum next to the Union House offers an insight into the UAE’s history and the formation of the federation.
  • Al Khayma Heritage House: Visit this famous cultural restaurant and house in Al Fahidi neighbourhood to sample a delicious traditional Emirati meal, surrounded by beautiful architecture. Book your Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant visit here.
  • Dubai Opera: Experience world-class performances at this amazing venue, resembling a dhow boat, which hosts a variety of events, including local performances.
  • Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding: Find out more about life in the UAE and its culture, listening to your knowledgeable host/hostess and enjoying a variety of Emirati dishes for lunch. Book your Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding visit here.

By immersing yourself in these cultural experiences, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Dubai’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Abra water taxi

Dos and don’ts for tourists in Dubai

What are the guidelines for tourists in Dubai? While Dubai is a cosmopolitan city that welcomes millions of travellers every year, it’s essential to be aware of the local customs and traditions in Dubai to make the most of your trip. Here is a brief overview of some Dubai etiquette rules for tourists to remember while visiting the city. For convenience, I organised them in the form of dos and don’ts.

Dos:

  • Dress modestly and respectfully in public areas, particularly in religious and cultural sites.
  • Carry your ID or passport with you at all times, as it may be required for certain activities.
  • Respect the local customs and traditions, especially during Ramadan.
  • Ask for permission before taking photos of people, in particular women and children.
  • Enjoy the shopping experience in Dubai, but bargain respectfully.

Don’ts:

  • Do not consume alcohol in public areas outside of restaurants, bars and hotels, as it is strictly prohibited.
  • Do not engage in public displays of affection, as it is considered inappropriate, and in some extreme cases, tourists are strictly punished.
  • Do not use offensive language or gestures, as it is considered disrespectful.
  • Do not engage in any illegal activities, like drugs or prostitution, as the penalties can be severe.
  • Do not take photographs of government or military buildings or installations.

What is the official language in Dubai and some other communication tips

Emirati culture is a rich tapestry of traditions and customs that have been shaped over centuries of history. Dubai today is a multicultural city, and you’ll likely encounter people from all corners of the globe during your stay. But what language is spoken in Dubai the most?

The official language of Dubai is Arabic, although English is widely used everywhere and understood by most residents. You will have no trouble speaking English in hotels, shops, restaurants, taxis and public transport in general. Personnel in the service industry actually comes from abroad in most cases. That being said, it’s always a good idea to learn a few basic Arabic phrases to help you communicate with locals and show respect for their culture. Especially if you plan to go on safari or other trips outside of Dubai.

When communicating with Emiratis, it’s crucial to be polite and respectful. This includes using appropriate greetings, such as “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be upon you), and addressing elders with the appropriate titles. Additionally, be mindful of your body language, as certain gestures may be considered offensive or inappropriate in Emirati culture. For example, avoid pointing the soles of your feet or shoes at someone, as this is perceived as disrespect.

Is Dubai safe for tourists

How safe is Dubai? Is Dubai safe to travel? Is it safe to go to Dubai? I often hear these questions. My answer is — travel with confidence! Dubai is a very safe destination for tourists, with low crime rates and a strong police surveillance. Due to the wide spread presence of cameras in the city, criminals know they can be easily traced and then either fined, jailed or deported. Dubai is also popular among solo travellers, including females, who feel comfortable exploring the city on their own.

However, like in any major city, remember to be vigilant when exploring and follow some of my tips for staying safe in Dubai:

  • All tourist places in Dubai are safe, but avoid walking alone in unfamiliar dark areas late at night in the outskirts, such as Sonapur area.
  •   Keep your belongings secure.
  •   Be cautious when using public transportation and taxis, and always make sure to use licensed operators.
  •   Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs, and follow them to avoid any issues during your stay.

I also always recommend getting appropriate insurance before travelling to Dubai to cover any possible losses or health issues.

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Dubai police women

How to dress in Dubai: Dubai’s traditional clothing and dress code for tourists

What is the dress code for tourists in Dubai? When visiting Dubai, be mindful of local customs and traditions surrounding clothing. While the city is known for its glitz and glamour, it’s recommended to dress modestly and respect the local culture. Compared to other Islamic countries and cities, Dubai is a tolerant city. If you’re coming here for the first time, don’t worry. Feel free to bring regular clothes, but be prepared to follow certain guidelines that I will tell you more about below.

How to dress in Dubai in general as a female tourist

How do women dress in Dubai? Women should aim to cover their shoulders and knees, avoiding revealing or tight-fitting clothing. Wearing a miniskirt, short dress, short and low-cut top or tight leggings in the street is not a good idea. Loose-fitting garments, such as maxi dresses, are a good option, as they provide coverage while still being comfortable in Dubai’s hot climate. Carrying a light scarf in your bag to cover the shoulders if needed can also be helpful.

How to dress in Dubai in general as a male tourist

Dress code rules for men in Dubai are relatively relaxed, and Western casual clothing is acceptable in most places. You can wear shorts and T-shirts, as long as they cover the shoulders. To visit religious sites, the clothing rules are stricter.

How to dress in Dubai to visit shopping malls

Shopping malls in Dubai have general clothing guidelines that I have described above. You will be perfectly fine wearing casual clothes, as long as it is not too explicit or provocative. You can always check for more details at the information desk. Of course, you will not be arrested for wearing a miniskirt, but I know that in some extreme cases, people got reprimands and even fines from security and police. Remember that it’s more about showing respect to the UAE local traditions and customs.

How to dress in Dubai to go out

If you are going to a restaurant, depending on its class, wear casual or elegant clothes. For example, when visiting more luxurious restaurants in Dubai in the evening, refrain from wearing shorts, flip-flops or sneakers. Some restaurants clearly communicate their dress code guidelines in advance. There is usually no specific dress code in beach restaurants, bars and terraces

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Female tourists on the beach

What to wear in Dubai to go to the beach

Officially, beachwear can only be worn around the pool and on the beach in Dubai. You can safely wear a swimsuit or bikini, but they should not be transparent or too provocative. Consider this when choosing the colour of swimwear. Men should avoid swimming in very tight briefs or underwear. Topless sunbathing and nude swimming are strictly prohibited in Dubai. Don’t even try it, you will get a high fine or even imprisonment.

How to dress in Dubai visiting religious sites

When visiting mosques and other religious sites, as well as administrative institutions, both men and women must wear full body-covering clothing.

In addition to following these guidelines, you may also wish to explore Dubai’s traditional clothing, such as the abaya for women and the kandura for men. Wearing these garments can provide a deeper connection to Emirati culture and offer a unique experience during your stay. If you wish, you can buy your own set, or rent it while visiting a mosque, for example. Trying on Emirati clothes for a photo shoot during a desert safari is also a fun experience.

Dubai Customs and Traditions - UAE family having a traditional meal

Buying alcohol in Dubai

What is the legal drinking age in Dubai? What are the alcohol laws, and how to obtain an alcohol licence in Dubai? While Dubai is a tolerant city in many aspects, it’s essential to be aware of the local laws surrounding alcohol consumption. The legal drinking age in Dubai is 21, and you may be required to show identification when purchasing or consuming alcohol.

Alcohol in Dubai is only available for purchase and consumption in designated areas, such as licensed hotels, bars and restaurants. It’s illegal to consume alcohol in public places or outside these designated areas, and doing so could result in fines or imprisonment. And, of course, as a tourist, you can safely drink at home or inside your rented accommodation.

Have Fun Dubai’s Tip: Despite the recent scrapping of the 30% alcohol tax in Dubai in 2023, prices are still relatively high because retail prices did not decrease by that amount. If you plan to consume alcohol at home, I recommend bringing it with you or buying it at duty-free shops. You are allowed to bring 4 litres of alcohol into the UAE and Dubai, including wine, beer and other spirits.

Another thing I wanted to tell you about is Dubai alcohol licence. Alcohol in Dubai is not sold in supermarkets and can be purchased only in specialised shops, like MMI and African + Eastern (though sometimes such shops share the building with a supermarket).

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Woman in a liqour shop

How to get a Dubai alcohol licence

Since 2020, all non-Muslim residents and tourists of Dubai can apply for an alcohol licence, which allows to purchase alcohol for personal consumption at home. To obtain an alcohol licence, you’ll need to meet certain criteria, such as being at least 21 years old and having a valid visa.

To apply for an alcohol licence in Dubai, go to one of the following liquor stores:

  • African + Eastern
  • Maritime and Mercantile International (MMI)

By getting such a permit, you represent that you will adhere to the rules concerning the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The Dubai alcohol licence for tourists is valid for 30 days and can be extended if you stay longer.

The liquor stores I mentioned above can be found, for instance, near or within Spinneys supermarkets, in such shopping venues as the Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Batuta Mall, Al Safa Mall and Dubai Marina Mall. The windows of such liquor stores are covered or not transparent so that alcohol does not catch the eye of Muslims.

What should tourists know about Ramadan in Dubai and travelling to Dubai during Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a significant religious holiday, the dates of which change each year depending on the lunar calendar. They annually shift approximately 10 days backward in the Gregorian calendar. Estimated dates for the start of Ramadan in the coming years (they can still fluctuate and are confirmed closer to the holiday):

  • March 11, 2024
  • March 1, 2025
  • February 18, 2026

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Ramadan lamps

Basic Ramadan terms

  • Suhoor is a pre-dawn morning meal. During Ramadan, Muslims wake up before dawn and eat until morning prayers. It is believed that the earlier they eat before sunrise, the more reward they will receive from Allah for fasting.
  • Siyam or Sawm is a fast during Ramadan. Worshippers refrain from eating, drinking and smoking. Sawm also implies spiritual purification: bad thoughts, deeds and words should be avoided.
  • Iftar means breaking the fast and an evening meal. After evening prayers, famous cannons in Dubai mark the start of iftar. According to tradition, Muslims must first break the fast with water and a few dates. It is often customary to enjoy iftar in a big family circle, restaurants or special tents throughout the city. Many restaurants and hotels in Dubai prepare a special evening menu to accommodate the tradition.
  • Tarawih is a voluntary prayer after the night prayer, lasting until dawn.

Dubai Customs and Traditions - Ramadan iftar

During Ramadan, prayers, fasting and various festive events are central in the life of Muslims. The tourism industry continues operating, and travellers are exempt from observing the rituals. If you want to visit Dubai during Ramadan, be mindful of its rules and customs. I have put together several tips for tourists travelling to Dubai during Ramadan:

  • Eating, drinking and smoking in public during daylight hours is prohibited. Many restaurants and cafes in Dubai used to close during the day, however things are gradually changing. Now, as a tourist, you can eat at hotels, shopping malls, airports etc. even during the day, without any problem. Tourists are exempt from fasting.
  • Be prepared that not all entertainment might be available, and some venues shift their working hours, with a more intensive program starting after sunset. You won’t see belly-dancing during the period, and music might be muted.
  • Dress modestly during Ramadan, as this is a time of heightened religious observance.
  • Be respectful of those fasting, and avoid engaging in activities that could be considered disruptive or disrespectful.
  • While you are not obliged to follow the Ramadan rituals in Dubai, engage in some of them for a culturally immersive experience. I highly encourage you to join iftar and have a chat with the locals to learn more about the UAE traditions and customs.

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