Ever heard the expression “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”? It means when you are visiting a place, you should follow its traditions and customs. Every nation has a unique culture which prompts people to abide by a collection of unspoken rules. Not being familiar with these rules and making yourself at home in a foreign country can sometimes get you into trouble.
As a metropolitan hub for tourism and trade, the city of Dubai attracts millions of visitors each year from around the globe. The United Arab Nations is an Islamic country and its culture is an interwoven combination of eastern customs and Sharia traditions. It’s better not to learn about these customs and traditions the hard way by involuntarily insulting them and facing the consequences! To help you prevent this and have a peaceful visit, we have gathered a list of 25 dos and don’ts of visiting Dubai for the first time. Read on to learn about what to do and what not to do when in Dubai.
Dos of Visiting Dubai for First-Timers
Dubai is an international tourism hub for good reasons. This exuberant metropolis greets its visitors with never-ending fun and joy. You can never have enough of Dubai’s ultramodern urban infrastructure and iconic landmarks; from the 830-meter-tall Burj Khalifa to the gorgeous Palm Jumeirah. There are also plenty of world-class resorts and hotels that you can spend the time of your life in and these are just the start!
Dubai is a paradise for adventurers. Whether it’s exploring the Sunken City at the bottom of the world’s deepest pool or being awed by the wonders of the Museum of Future, this beautiful city offers activities the likes of which you cannot find in any other place in the whole world!
A quick surf through the internet and you’ll come across a plethora of articles suggesting places to visit and things to do, but the cultural and traditional norms you should be aware of are usually overlooked. If you are planning your first visit to Dubai, you’ll probably find these tips useful:
Pick the Right Time for Your Visit
Dubai has a desert climate and gets scorching hot and pretty humid during summers. In fact, the average temperature on a typical summer day in Dubai is 45 degrees Celsius! How can this city attract tourists despite its extreme heat? Pay it a visit in the cold season and you’ll find your answer.
During winter, you’ll get to see the most appealing face of Dubai’s climate. The temperature seldom drops below 12 degrees Celsius and rainy days wouldn’t last long. If you want to travel to Dubai, do so between October and April; the ideal season for outdoor activities and enjoying the gorgeous metropolis to the fullest.
Stay Ahead of Time When Booking a Flight to Dubai
Although the perfect season for visiting Dubai starts from October, the best time to browse the flights is actually 6 months sooner. You can usually find tickets with lowest prices 6 months prior to departure, since airlines offer their cheapest seats during this time period. It’s not necessary, however, to buy tickets that soon but we advise you to check out the available options and if you’re sure of the timing of your trip, book a flight ahead of time with a fair price. Overall, it is better to purchase tickets at least one month ahead of time.
Book a Hotel in Advance When Planning a Visit to Dubai
Almost half of the fun of a vacation comes from the place you choose to spend your staycation in. This means if you find yourself a convenient hotel, your vacation in Dubai can get even more rejuvenating. Fortunately, Dubai features myriad gorgeous hotels and resorts. However, during the high season, which is between October and April, the beautiful city will be swarmed by tourists and you might not be able to find a room in the hotel you have been dreaming about spending your vacation in.
If you don’t want to witness all your dreams fade away, we suggest you book a hotel prior to your arrival. The best time for making a hotel reservation in Dubai is at least two to three months ahead of your vacation.
Pack Your Clothing According to the Month of Your Visit to Dubai
Now that everything is set for going on a vacation in Dubai, let’s discuss the wardrobe. Keep in mind that you are traveling to a country with a dry climate, so don’t pack heavy clothing. Summers get really hot in the UAE and if you’re planning to travel during summer, make sure to bring comfortable clothes. It gets a bit chilly at the end of the fall and in the winter, though a light jacket is all you need to repel the cold.
Do Stick to the Dress Code When in Dubai
The United Arab Emirates is an Islamic country and the Emirati etiquette demands you to dress modestly and respect the Muslim culture. This does not mean that you have to wear traditional clothing that locals wear. On the contrary, you can wear whatever you want as long as your clothes are modest!
The dress code is not strict in hotels and resorts and you are free to wear anything you want. In crowded, public areas, however, refrain from revealing and flashy clothes. For women, clothing that is too short, too tight, or transparent are considered indecent. Moreover, men are not allowed to appear in public places topless.
Beaches, too, are among the places where the Emirati dress code is not strict. There are, however, several rules you should keep in mind. If you want to wear swimwear, make sure you do so only on private beaches and in private swimming pools. Topless sunbathing is also prohibited since it is considered offensive. Cross-dressing is not allowed either.
Respect the Islamic Traditions During Ramadan
Ramadan, the 9th month of the 12-month Islamic lunar calendar, is a holy month to muslims. During this month, muslims go on fasting from dawn till dusk and refrain from eating or drinking anything. Since the years of the lunar calendar are shorter than the years of the Gregorian calendar, the Ramadan month moves every year, so make sure to check out whether your vacation falls on this month.
During Ramadan, eating, drinking, and smoking in public in front of muslims is prohibited. Shops don’t sell alcoholic drinks and restaurants usually close between sunrise and sunset. After the sunset, however, everything returns to the way it was before Ramadan.
Embrace Dubai’s Local Traditions During Your Visit
The Emirati culture has deep connections with the religion of Islam and this has given rise to a wide range of local traditions. As a foreigner, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the local traditions so that you can establish better interactions with the Emiratis.
People of Dubai will show you more hospitality when they see your respect towards their traditions and will appreciate your effort in embracing their culture. For a start, wear a friendly smile and greet someone with the Islamic hello “Assalamu Alaikum” or just a simple “Salam”, and you’ll find them treating you hospitably as if you are one of their acquaintances. If you’re curious to learn more, we have gathered a list of basic Arabic words and phrases you must learn in Dubai in another article.
Do Go Shopping!
Opulent resorts, ultramodern urban architecture, and one-of-a-kind fun activities are not the only signature traits of Dubai. This beautiful city is home to some of the most extensive shopping centers of the whole world!
If you are planning a vacation in Dubai, make sure you include a visit to the Dubai Mall in your to-do list. This enormous shopping center is in downtown Dubai and you can find in it literally anything you can think of; from jewelry and a vast array of clothing and perfume brands to house decor, electronics, and more. You can stay an entire day in the Dubai Mall and still not have enough of it. Besides, it is located in the proximity of several other attractions such as the Dubai Aquarium’s Underwater Zoo.
Take the Metro for Transportation When in Dubai
Dubai is a big city and if you don’t choose a reasonable means for transportation, you’ll end up spending a huge chunk of your budget on getting from one point to another! Most first-timers make this mistake. If you want to cut back on transportation expenses, one of the best things to do is taking the metro. It’s the most inexpensive means of public transport for going around the town.
Cabs are also available in plenty and are among the most common means of transportation amid the tourists, but they cost more than metro, not to mention the amount of time you’ll get stuck in traffic on the busy streets of Dubai. Taking the metro, therefore, helps you save both time and money.
There are several things you should know about Dubai’s metro. As a tourist, you can buy a silver card or a red ticket for paying the metro fare. A red ticket expires after 90 days while a silver card remains valid for up to five years. Keep in mind though that the fares are charged differently in different districts. Also, you don’t need a ticket for children under the age of 5 since they can travel free of charge.
Bring Your Prescriptions
Dubai has a set of strict rules regarding the use of drugs and has a zero-tolerance policy for it. Not only the use of recreational drugs, but also the use of prescription medications is tightly regulated. If you are caught carrying any medicine that the authorities don’t approve of, you could easily get into trouble. If you take any specific medication, make sure to check the guidelines prior to your arrival to learn about its status. Also, it is imperative that you carry your prescriptions with you. Your prescription actually serves as a warrant for carrying the medication you take.
Be Mindful of the Timings
Dubai has plenty of beautiful places to visit. For example, you can find some of the UAE’s best parks in Dubai. You can also visit the temples in Bur Dubai or indulge yourself in the many things you can do at Al Qudra. A critical factor here, however, is the timing. Make sure you check the open hours of the touristic spots you want to visit so that you don’t land behind closed doors. Another thing you should keep in mind is that in Dubai, the weekend is on Fridays and Saturdays.
Visit Dubai’s Beautiful Deserts
The futuristic city of Dubai is a spot of civilization on a bed of sand. In fact, you don’t need to get far from the city to reach the desert; just a 40-minute drive away from downtown Dubai and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tall dunes. Dubai has some of the finest desert camping spots in all of the UAE where you can spend a night stargazing and basking in the serenity of the sandy terrain. You can also fly over Dubai’s beautiful deserts in a hot-air balloon or embark on a desert safari in a 4×4.
Visit Dubai’s Landmarks
Dubai is full of architectural masterpieces that you can gaze upon in awe. Take, for example, Burj Khalifa, the most iconic skyscraper in the world. There is also the gorgeous tree-shaped artificial island of Palm Jumeirah which is home to myriad opulent resorts and hotels such as Burj Al Arab, global opulent restaurants, exuberant nightclubs, and soothing spas. Moreover, entry to Palm Jumeirah is free which makes visiting this wonderful island one of the best free things to do in Dubai. These, however, are a few of the many wonders you can find in Dubai, so make sure to enjoy this beautiful metropolis to the fullest.
Bring Your Driver’s License
Are you a car enthusiast dreaming of getting behind the wheels of the world’s most superb cars? Does the roaring of engines make your heart beat faster? If so, then Dubai is your paradise! This gorgeous metropolis will give you the time of your life by allowing you to rent and drive a wide range of magnificent cars; from Lamborghini to Rolls-Royce. Keep in mind though that if you intend to drive a rental, you are obliged to bring your international driver’s license with yourself.
Give Your Taxi Driver a Detailed Address
When hopping on a taxi, it’s better not to just give the driver a simple address and stop at that. You might assume that your taxi driver knows every corner of the city but that’s not true. Many taxi drivers are expatriates and they might not know the city as well as you assume they do, so make sure you give them a thorough address of where you want to go. You don’t want to pay a fee and end up somewhere other than where you wanted to go. It’s better to give the driver references to prominent landmarks of the city.
You might be wondering whether you should tip when you visit a restaurant or receive a service in Dubai. The fact is, tipping might not be as common in Dubai as it is in your hometown. If you eat at a restaurant, a tip will mostly be added to the bill and you are not expected to tip separately. Same applies to the taxi drivers. However, tipping is not a rare practice and you can tip anyone whenever you feel like it. Bellhops and supermarket baggers are usually given a small tip for their services.
Don’ts of Visiting Dubai
If you are planning a vacation in Dubai, there are certain things you should be aware of so that you don’t get into trouble. The UAE is an Islamic country and a number of the “don’ts” we have listed below involve repeating religious practices. This, however, does not mean that Dubai is a conservative Emirate. In fact, expatriates constitute most of Dubai’s population and the gorgeous city attracts many tourists each year, so no need to worry since these don’ts will not hinder you at all from having fun. Our not-to-do list comprises mostly acts that are usually considered rude internationally, regardless of where you are.
Don’t Show Aggressive Behavior When in Dubai
Make sure you refrain from aggression when spending your vacation in Dubai. Starting fights, engaging in aggressive arguments, and verbal abuse are punished with heavy fines. You could even face jail time or get deported, so it’s best to remain calm and enjoy the fun and the beauty of the city in peace!
Don’t Display Affection in Public
Public display of affection (PDA) is considered offensive and, therefore, is not tolerated in Dubai. It’s alright to hold hands or hug in a friendly way, but anything beyond that is a no-no. Kissing or any other display of affection in public can result in a fine or even arrest! Furthermore, if you and your loved one are unmarried, it’s better to book separate accommodations.
Don’t Drink in Public
Dubai has a distinct set of rules regarding alcohol consumption. Although the UAE is an Islamic country, alcohol is completely legal in Dubai. Your hotel can serve you a wide range of alcoholic drinks; from a simple beer to elegant champagne. Drinking is also allowed in bars and most of the restaurants except during the Ramadan month.
With all this being said, drinking in public is prohibited in Dubai and appearing in public places when intoxicated can result in deportation or even arrest. If you ever find yourself losing count of your shots, it’s better to hail a cab and return to the hotel or resort you’re staying at.
Moreover, buying drinks from stores requires a license which you have to purchase from official establishments. These licenses are usually expensive though, so we advise you to buy your favorite drinks from a free shop at the airport upon your arrival. Free shops are less expensive and do not require a license from you, but you can only purchase a limited amount of drinks.
Mind Your Driving in Dubai
Did you know that Dubai is considered one of the safest cities in the world? That’s right; you will quite rarely witness any crime in this gorgeous city. This, however, means that the law is enforced strictly and you wouldn’t want to end up facing the wrong edge of the sword of justice.
If you are a law-abiding visitor, then you will have nothing to worry about. However, if you get the temptation to bend the law on a frequent basis, you might get into trouble. When driving a car in Dubai, speeding, racing, and reckless driving will be punished with heavy fines. There are cameras everywhere, so you’ll definitely be recorded. Using your phone while driving will also lead to monetary punishments. Needless to say, drunk driving too is extremely prohibited and follows a zero-tolerance policy.
Don’t Take Photographs Without Permission
The gorgeous city of Dubai is full of iconic landmarks and astonishing landscapes that make the temptation to take photographs irresistible. You can take as many selfies as you like or capture the picturesque scenery all you want, but it is offensive to photograph locals and specific buildings in Dubai. You should avoid taking photographs of airports, police stations, ports, royal palaces, and military buildings. Furthermore, if you want to photograph people, it’s better to ask for their permission first.
Mind Your Clothing When Visiting Houses and Mosques in Dubai
As a city in which the Sharia law is observed, Dubai has many mosques. Muslims gather at mosques for their religious practices, though these holy buildings are not just for saying prayers. Visitors are allowed to enjoy the finest presentations of Islamic architecture in mosques. However, if you plan to visit a mosque, you are required to stick to certain dress codes.
If you are visiting a mosque, you should dress modestly. It’s best to wear loose-fitting, full-length clothing. Women are also advised to follow the tradition of muslims and wear a scarf to cover their hair. Furthermore, you should take off your shoes before entering a mosque or a local household because wearing footwear in such places is considered offensive.
Don’t Eat in Public
It is considered rude to eat in public places, especially public transportation, although there is no law enforcing not to eat. Sure, you can eat in restaurants or street stands selling food but it’s better to finish your food there and don’t carry it around while strolling the streets. Moreover, make sure you don’t litter around since you’ll be charged with heavy fines.
Don’t Shake Hands With the Opposite Sex
When greeting an individual of the opposite sex, it’s better not to shake hands unless they offer to do so first, because in Islamic tradition, shaking hands with the opposite sex is considered indecent and rude. Just a simple nod while wearing a friendly smile would suffice.
Don’t Miss Out on All the Fun Dubai Has to Offer
The exuberant city of Dubai greets its visitors with never-ending fun and joy. Aside from iconic landmarks and gorgeous, world-class resorts, there are a plethora of unique, adrenaline-boosting activities that can satisfy your inner adventurer. You can book a skydiving session at Skydive Dubai, ride the world’s longest urban zipline XLine Dubai Marina, explore the wonders of Expo 2020, visit the Museum of the Future, stroll Dubai’s old town, indulge in the UAE’s delicious cuisine, and a lot more.
Each of these memorable activities can give you the time of your life when you’re in Dubai, so make sure you don’t miss out on any of them. Besides, Dubai’s nature is not all about sandy dunes. There are many gorgeous beaches and seaside resorts you can enjoy; all making Dubai one of the world’s best holiday destinations.
This concludes our list of Dos and Don’ts of visiting Dubai. Every nation has their own unique culture and traditions and the United Arab Emirates is no exception. The UAE’s hub for tourism and trade, Dubai, attracts many visitors from all around the globe each year and is one of the most popular holiday destinations among tourists. Aside from conventional social norms, certain religious traditions are also observed in Dubai from which a set of unspoken rules is derived. If you want a trouble-free, memorable vacation, it’s best to familiarize yourself with Dubai’s cultural and traditional norms prior to your visit.