Dubai is a luxury tourist destination that has become increasingly popular over the last 10 years. Hot sunny weather conditions year round and an abundance of tourist attractions, shopping, dining plus entertainment all contribute to Dubai’s attractiveness as a holiday destination. Although Dubai is considered to be one of the more liberal Middle East destinations that welcomes visitors from the West, it’s important to understand some of the local etiquette before visiting.
1. What to wear
If you’re a female visiting Dubai, clothing that covers your shoulders and your legs from your knees should be worn whilst visiting public places like shopping malls. Beachwear is perfectly fine at the public beaches and at hotels and resorts. If you’re dining out or going to beach clubs or nightclubs, it’s recommended to cover your shoulders to and from the venue. This will help prevent any unwanted attention, or cause offence. It’s a good idea to keep a pashmina with you at all times, as it can be cold in many air-conditioned venues.
Mosque, source: Flickr/Florian Martys
2. Speaking Arabic is not necessary
Dubai is a melting pot with a large expat population. If you’re visiting Dubai as a Western tourist and you’re staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel, all of the staff will speak English. Many 5 star hotels employ Russian, German, Chinese and Arabic speaking staff to accommodate those who don’t speak English. If you ask expats who reside in Dubai if they speak Arabic, most of them will say no as it’s not a necessity.
Tipping your waiter, hotel staff, taxi driver and car valet for good service is common in Dubai. However, be sure to check your bill in restaurants as some of the high-end dining establishments add 10% gratuity to the bill automatically. A 10% tip is the norm and cash (instead of adding a tip on your credit card receipt) is greatly appreciated.
4. Getting around
Taxis are readily available across Dubai and are inexpensive compared to most Western cities. A trip from Dubai International Airport to Dubai Marina is approximately 40km and it will cost you around AED 80 -100 which is around 20 euros. Some taxis are equipped with a credit card payment system, however to avoid the risk, it’s best to carry cash. You can tell a taxi is available if the green ‘Vacant’ sign on top of the vehicle is lit. If you’d prefer a more luxurious form of transportation, Uber is available through the Uber mobile app, however you’ll need data on your mobile phone as Uber drivers always call to confirm. Alternatively, you can hire chauffeur from most 5 star hotels. If you plan on staying in Dubai for longer than a month, it’s worth renting a car, especially during hotter months.
Off-road outside Dubai, source: Flickr/BasharAlaeddin
5. The best time to visit
The best time of the year to visit Dubai is between October and May. During this period the weather is pleasant with sunshine and warm, comfortable temperatures. Avoid visiting during the summer months (June–September) as temperatures can reach up to 48°C in July and August with high levels of humidity. January and February are the coolest months where temperatures can reach below 12°C in the evening with even a few days of rain. Before booking your holiday, check when Ramadan starts and finishes. It begins 10 days earlier each year and lasts for 30 days. Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and Dubai tends to be very quiet. Businesses have shorter working hours and there are laws against eating and drinking in public to respect those who are fasting. This is also the period where the majority of expats take their annual leave.
6. Make sure to book ahead
Dubai is a busy city with a fantastic restaurant scene. Weekends are especially busy in the evenings and Friday brunch. In areas like the financial district (DIFC), restaurants tend to be busy weekdays with after work and business dinners. During the peak season, it can be a challenge to get a table at a trendy restaurant without making a reservation 1 – 2 weeks in advance. Hotspots like Zuma, Coya, La Petite Maison, La Serre and Yuan rarely have free tables on weekends. You can book before you travel to ensure your place, or if you’re a small group you can always go to the bar first and wait to see if a table becomes available.
Night in Dubai, source: Flickr/*Crazy Diamond*
7. Sunglasses are a must
Take this opportunity to show off your latest pair of Linda Farrow shades. Going without can be painful for your eyes, especially if you plan on taking up outdoor activities. If you happen to forget them, Boutique 1 located in JBR and in Mall of the Emirates has a great selection of on trend sunglasses.
8. Drinking alcohol
Alcohol can be purchased in restaurants, bars and nightclubs that are affiliated with a hotel. Many food and beverage venues have sommelier service and talented mixologist that create fantastic concoctions. However, it’s forbidden to consume alcohol in public and doing so could land you a hefty fine or even a night in jail if you’re found to be intoxicated in public. Buying bottles of alcohol from a store is not easily available unless you’re a resident with a license to buy alcohol. If you’d like to have bottles of alcohol to consume, you can purchase bottles from Dubai Duty Free at the airport once you’ve collected your baggage.
Mosque Dome, source: Flickr/Sy Clark
9. No PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection)
Public displays of affection are not permitted in Dubai. Holding hands is tolerated, but anything more than that may be offensive to locals and could get you into trouble with the law. The police do not patrol the city looking for people who are kissing in public, however if someone reports it or if a police officer happens to see you there will be a consequence.
Before planning a holiday to Dubai, you should find out what events are happening around the time you plan on visiting. Dubai plays host to many different events from shopping festivals, concerts and sporting events. You never know, you might find something of interest that will be a great experience. Many tourists flock to Dubai to celebrate New Year’s Eve due to the extravagant fireworks display from many of the hotels and the Burj Khalifa. The World Cup horse racing in March and the Formula One in November are also popular. Dubai Calendar is a great source for finding out about the latest events.
New Year's Eve 2015 in Dubai, source: Flickr/HISHAM BINSUWAIF