Dubai – the home of gleaming skyscrapers, man-made islands, and epic waterparks. It’s a gem in the United Arab Emirates that everyone should experience. But what should you do if you are visiting the UAE during Ramadan? Here’s our essential guide to visiting Dubai during this traditional holy month.
The month of Ramadan, or ‘sawm’, is one of the five pillars of Islam where Muslims traditionally fast for 29 to 30 days, and it falls in a different month each year, depending on on the lunar calendar.
While it’s an important time for Muslims to take part in increased worship and reflection, tourists shouldn’t be put off visiting during this time. There are heaps of cultural festivals and entertainment to enjoy. Just make sure you get the lowdown on important etiquette before you go!
Eating and drinking in public is forbidden
During daylight hours, eating and drinking is strictly forbidden unless you are in a private place. Restaurants and cafes will largely close and if you are seen eating or drinking in public, you may be reprimanded or even fined by police. This includes eating chewing gum too. In rare occasions, you may find that some coffee shops go against the rules and stay open to tourists but it’s best to avoid them.
You CAN eat and drink in designated areas
Large hotels may put on a limited food service in designated areas. You may also spot cordoned off tents where food and water may be consumed. Just make sure you ask politely for advice – naturally – so as not to cause any offence. It’s a good idea to contact your hotel or ask our sales team before you fly, to check what dining facilities they will offer during this time.
Supermarkets will stay open
Supermarkets will remain open during the day, so feel free to buy food and drink, as long as you consume it in private.
Attractions may have reduced opening hours
Clubs will generally close and cinemas and local entertainment may have different opening hours during Ramadan. But don’t be put off! There are an abundance of special gallery exhibitions, museums and attractions still to explore. Just ask your hotel or Concierge for advice.
Avoid offensive behaviour
As Ramadan is a time of quiet reflection, you can expect the mood in the city to be much more low-key than normal during the day. Avoid listening to loud music without earphones, and be respectful – that means don’t swear, smoke, dance or sing in public.
Feast like a Sheik at a traditional iftar
Anyone who has visited this super-city will know that glitz, glamour and feasts big enough for a sheik are in abundance - and there’s no exception during Ramadan.
After sunset (around 7pm in summer, 5.30pm in winter) Muslims attend evening prayer and then gather with family to enjoy ‘iftar’ - a traditional Arabian buffet which breaks the fast.
Hotels, restaurants and special Bedouin-style iftar tents offering public and private dining options become alive. You’ll find live cooking stations, energising Ramadan drinks, and a smorgasbord of Middle Eastern specialties, Turkish, Lebanese and worldwide cuisine. You’ll find an array of glamorous shisha bars and traditional belly dancing too.
Enjoy Suhoor – the pre-dawn feast
The fast to feast doesn’t stop at Iftas. Muslims traditionally enjoy a pre-fasting meal before dawn known as the Suhoor. As a result, many hotels and restaurants may serve food for people to enjoy between the hours of 1am and 4am.
You can drink alcohol in certain areas
It’s strictly forbidden to drink alcohol in public in Dubai, especially during Ramadan, and it is illegal to exhibit drunken behaviour in the Middle East – it may result in a fine or even arrest. Tourists can however drink alcohol in moderation in certain hotel bars. So ask your hotel or Concierge.
Soak up some culture during Eid al Fitr
Eid al Fitr follows the month of Ramadan and literally means ‘festival of breaking of the fast’. This is also the time when cultural dancers and performances take place and Emiratis get together to exchange gifts and enjoy a two to three-day public holiday. Nightclubs mostly re-open too, so it’s a good time of year to visit Dubai.
Going to the beach
You can of course go to the beach, but remember drinking water will be forbidden. So when Ramadan falls during the summer, it might be wise to stay by the pool or within your hotel. Baking in highs of 40 degrees is not safe when you can’t drink water. Remember, once you leave the beach, it’s important to cover up and dress modestly.
Malls have super Ramadan sales
Many restaurants and shopping malls have special late opening time during Ramadan to fit around prayer times and accommodate for the breaking of the fast. Check out the Ramadan night market in the Dubai World Trade Centre where you can find fashion, cosmetics and all sorts of things to buy. There are special Ramadan ‘sales’ on in the giant shopping malls too.
Things to remember
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t visit Dubai or the UAE during Ramadan. Just as long as you follow the right etiquette and respect their beliefs, you’ll have a wonderful holiday and find a vibrant culture to explore.