Probably the most asked question by travellers to Muslim countries is ‘what to wear?’. ‘Do I need to cover my hair?’. ‘Can I wear a bikini on the beach or at a waterpark in Dubai?’. ‘Can I wear a short dress at a shopping mall in Abu-Dhabi?’… Women are usually the ones who seek advice, but men should also inform about the local habits as they too might need to wear long pants, a shirt, and closed shoes on some occasions…
What clothing is appropriate depends on the Muslim country you are visiting, but also on the places you go to. If in doubt, always go for the safer version (covered arms and legs) and women should also carry a thin headscarf in case they need to cover their hair. I bought a maxi skirt especially for this trip and although it wasn’t really necessary I wore it on a couple occasions in Dubai and felt very much at ease anywhere we went.
I think one should always be respectful to the local habits of the country and its people. Just as people should be respectful to our way of life when they come to the West! But that’s another topic, so let’s not get into politics….
This simple what-to-wear guide should help you pack and feel more at ease when traveling to Dubai, UAE.
What to wear in Dubai: practical advice for travellers
Dubai is actually very relaxed and open-minded when it comes to clothing, and as the public is very international, so is the clothing. You will see people wearing all imaginable sorts of clothing in Dubai – from shorts and sleeveless t-shirts to burqas. But don’t forget that it’s a Muslim country and you are a guest.
Dress code at Dubai hotels, restaurants and malls
Most malls, restaurants, and hotels in Dubai ask customers to ‘dress modestly’ and advise to cover your knees and shoulders, but we saw many people who didn’t fit this description and nobody really seemed to be bothered. As long as you stay in the very touristic places (hotels, malls…), you can pretty much wear whatever you want. The rules might be enforced more strictly during the Ramadan, so keep this in mind.
Most upmarket restaurants require that men wear long trousers and closed shoes; women can wear sandals any time.
Beachwear is only for the beach, so don’t go to a restaurant wearing only a bikini or swimming shorts.
What to wear at the beach, swimming pools and water parks in Dubai
Any type of beachwear from bikini to full cover Islamic swimsuits is allowed at all beaches, pools, and waterparks, like e.g. Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis, The Palm. The only rule is no nudity.
What to wear in United Arab Emirates mosques, traditional markets and rural areas
In the old part of Dubai where the traditional markets like Spice Souk or Gold Souk are located you will be surrounded by many more locals and muslims from other countries than expats or tourists from the West. You will be much more at ease and avoid the stares if you are dressed more conservatively.
If you are planning to go to some rural areas in the Emirates or visit a a mosque, you should better leave sleeveless blouses and shorts at the hotel. Covered arms and legs for both men and women are advisable, and women have to also cover their hair inside the mosque. The mosques that allow non-muslim visits, usually provide appropriate clothing if needed.
What to wear on Dubai desert safari
One of the most popular tourist activities outside the city is visiting the desert. I would recommend wearing pants, shorts, or capri pants (no skirts or mini shorts) and a t-shirt or a blouse. Don’t forget sun protection!
Normally, it’s very hot in the desert, but it was very cold when we visited in December. In winter, take a sweater or even a jacket as it gets really cold in the evening. Sandals or closed shoes – depends on your preference.
Clothing advice for Abu Dhabi and the other Emirates
We haven’t been to the other Emirates, but I heard that Abu-Dhabi is already much more conservative than Dubai and that women are often stared at if they are dressed the way we do in the West. That makes me think that all the other emirates are even more traditional.
From what I understand, Dubai is by far the most tolerant of the 7 of the United Arabic Emirates, so keep that in mind if traveling outside of Dubai.
Update after a comment from a reader who grew up in Abu Dhabi. This is what she said: ‘I’m an expat born and brought up in Abu Dhabi and was free to dress however I please, including shorter shorts and sleeveless…(Abu Dhabi) is just as open-minded in terms of dress (as Dubai)’.
What to wear for women traveling to Dubai alone
If you are traveling alone as a woman or with a group of girlfriends, and especially at night, you are probably better off dressing modestly. It’s your choice of course; I say this based on the way some men stared at two young ladies in tight mini dresses we met at the Dubai Marina one night.
Do you need warm clothing in Dubai?
Normally, you only need summer clothing and footwear in Dubai. A thin sweater can be nice for some cooler evenings in winter or inside the malls. In December, when we visited, the malls were air conditioned, but not that cold that you would need a sweater. I hear that it might be different in the warmer seasons and you may want to take a thin sweater with you when going shopping – just in case the AC works too hard .
We visited Dubai for Christmas and New Year, and the temperatures we had were pretty much as cold as it gets over there, with the minimum temperatures around 20°C (68°F) and the maximum temperatures of 28°C (82°F) during the day. One day we even had some rain (it hardly ever rains in Dubai) and that was also the day we visited the desert. You’ve got to be lucky, right?! The wind was very cold and we wore long pants and a sweater during the day and a thin rain jacket in the evening.
Except for this one day, we never needed jeans or jackets in Dubai and only used our sweaters once or twice at night. My closed shoes stayed in the suitcase during the whole trip.
What you should definitely pack for Dubai?
I’m not going to give the whole packing list because packing for Dubai is pretty much the same as packing for any other warm destination. So here are just a few tips.
First, make sure you carry a summer shawl/wrap which you can use to cover your head, shoulders or knees if needed.
Second, wear comfortable summer sandals. You will look a bit out of the place with the hiking sandals though. Sportive sandals are ok for children and for men during the day.
Looking for more information for your trip to Dubai? Read more:
Dubai Interesting Facts: from Must Know to Trivia
Top 5 Free Dubai Experiences and 3 Activities Under 3 EUR
All You Need to Know About Dubai Public Transport as a Tourist
20 Things To Do in Dubai for The Whole Family
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