So, you are jetting off to Dubai, lucky you! Many people have certain misgivings about travelling to Dubai. Whether it is wondering if it is okay to hold hands with a loved one (should not be a problem, FYI) or worrying about being able to enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner (in alcohol serving places it is fine); there are many myths circulating about what you can and cannot do in Dubai. The most concerning notion about your upcoming trip may be what to wear when you get there. Whilst Dubai is generally the most tolerant of all seven Emirates, there are still some general and easy to follow rules that you should abide by if you want to dress appropriately and respectfully during your trip.
Malls and Public Buildings
There are many amazing spots to visit when going sightseeing in Dubai. There are great zoos, landmarks, and hotels that should be on your tick list of places to see. And whether you are interested in shopping or not, the malls are not to be missed. Dubai has some of the world’s biggest malls, complete with aquariums, fountains, and even indoor ski slopes to be found inside and so are a must-see for many tourists.
When visiting malls, as well as many other public buildings, there will be a courtesy policy sign at the entrances letting you know what is considered to be respectful behaviour when inside. These signs will generally all say the same thing: wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees, no overt displays of affection, no smoking, and no pets. Other than the pets and smoking (most places allow smoking indoors), the rules on clothing and public displays of affection are generally a good rule to follow when out in public in Dubai.
If you would like to wear something that is cool in the outside heat, but enough to cover up inside, we would recommend wearing a maxi dress with a pashmina to cover your shoulders. Not only is it considered respectful to cover your shoulders, however the air conditioning inside malls and public places in Dubai is often strong and can become very chilly, meaning a pashmina is a great lightweight cover up. Men should wear a lightweight shirt and full length trousers or ¾ cut offs.
Souks and Traditional Areas
If you are keen to explore the old side of Dubai such as the gold and spice souks near to the creek in Deira and Bur Dubai, then bear in mind that these areas have high South Asian populations and so women who are not appropriately dressed can attract stares in these areas. Dress conservativel, and you will be free to roam the beautiful and deeply cultural side of Dubai to your hearts extent.
Do not worry, definitely pack a bikini. Whilst sunbathing topless is illegal, wearing a bikini top and bottom definitely is not, as long as you stick to the areas that this sort of clothing is expected. If you are on the beach, do not wander off around the surrounding areas without first getting dressed. There are running tracks around the public beaches, which can act as a general guide as to the areas that swimwear is appropriate. The same goes for hotel pools or outdoor areas. Around the pool, bikinis, one-piece, or shorts for men are absolutely fine, just remember that fellow guests may also be from more conservative Gulf regions and so bring a beach cover up dress or top and shorts to walk from the pool/beach to hotel room.
Do not be afraid to dress up in Dubai! This is, after all, considered to be a glitzy place and your glad rags will definitely need to be packed if you plan on frequenting an upscale bar or restaurant. For women, shorter dresses and lower cut necklines such as those on sale here are okay, the dress code is much more relaxed. Dress to impress and generally an above knee dress and some high heeled sandals will be appropriate more or less everywhere you go. For men, full length trousers are required in more upscale venues. As well as this, men should wear closed toe shoes in bars and restaurants, depending on their how upmarket they are.
Much of the bars and clubs that sell alcohol are located within hotels, as only hotels can hold a liquor license. Remember this before you don a revealing dress that will be fine inside the club, but maybe not so much for walking through the hotel to get there.
Not many mosques in Dubai permit non-Muslim entry, although if you find one that does or you are planning a visit into Abu Dhabi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, then you should prepare your visit accordingly and dress appropriately, or it is more than likely you will not be permitted entry.
Women should wear modest, conservative, and loose fitting clothing with long sleeves and full length skirts or trousers. Basically, cover up from the neck down. Headscarves (shayla) and traditional robes (abaya) will be provided for women, and is also a great way to further experience the deep cultural significance of the beautiful Grand Mosque. Men should wear full length trousers, as shorts are not allowed. All visitors should expect to remove their shoes before entering the mosque and therefore we would recommend wearing a pair of slip-offs.
It is generally okay to dress as you please (within reason) for these desert safari experiences. Women can wear shorts and a vest top, as it is practical since you will probably be riding a camel somewhere along the way or be sitting cross legged on the floor. There will not be any Emiratis here and so shoulder and knees exposed should be okay. If you are concerned about this, you could always ask in the hotel lobby before booking or just wear some ¾ pants and a bring along a pashmina just in case. For men a t-shirt and shorts should be absolutely fine.
And that is it! The rules are not difficult to follow and as long as you are prepared, your trip should be fuss free. We would always recommend women to pack a pashmina; it is the handiest way to cover up at a moment’s notice. Men are generally free to wear what they please within reason. Enjoy, and do not forget to pack your sunscreen, as it sure gets hot out there.