If you’re planning a trip to Dubai between the months of March and August, chances are that your Dubai holiday might coincide with the Holy Month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month of religious significance for Muslims in Dubai and around the world, that ends with the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr. In 2021, Ramadan is expected to begin on April 12.
While the exact month might change depending on the dates in the lunar Islamic calendar (where it’s always the ninth month), it’s worth making note of how traveling in Dubai during Ramadan can be different from visiting Dubai at other times of the year.
If you haven’t heard of the Holy Month of Ramadan before, I don’t blame you; most people know of Dubai’s impressive cityscape- the world’s tallest skyscrapers, plush hotels, and town-sized shopping malls, but know little else about the culture.
“Is there any culture in Dubai?” I’m often asked, and my usual answer is an attempt to explain that of course, just like in every big city in the world, there is culture in Dubai, if you understand culture for what it is- a fluid ever changing, ever evolving concept that is often made rich by various influences over time.
Dubai is home to a large number of expats and residents belonging to other nationalities and religions. As such, the importance of being aware and knowing how to show respect for local culture cannot be stressed enough.
If you’re visiting Dubai during Ramadan, you must have a basic understanding of appropriate behavior and the spoken and unspoken rules in Dubai during Ramadan- which is why I’ve written up this guide to help you understand what to expect, whether you’re a tourist or moving to Dubai.
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What is the Holy Month of Ramadan?
One of the Five Acts of Worship in Islam, the Holy Month of Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims, that serves to help in spiritual growth through practicing self-control, abstinence, prayer, discipline, patience and gratitude.
Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking from sunrise to sunset and practice controlling their desires and bad habits in order to reflect on life’s gifts, appreciate them, and find balance.
The act of fasting (siyam) itself is one part of a bigger exercise in improving one’s character through cleansing the body, mind, and soul, and learning how to let go of grudges, arrogance, vanity, and other poor traits. There is an emphasis on charity, benevolence, compassion, and kindness.
Muslims rise before sunrise to pray and have a small meal called Suhoor before the morning prayer (Fajr) that begins the fasting day. The fast is broken at sunset during Iftar, with family, friends and loved ones, and is a festive affair.
The month of Ramadan is immediately followed by the grand celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr, during which the entire city wears a festive look.
Dubai During Ramadan: What to Expect
Dubai during Ramadan, can feel slower than usual, as work timings typically change to accommodate fasting hours. Fasting isn’t easy, considering the unforgiving summer temperatures in Dubai.
If you’re coming for business and will be working in Dubai during Ramadan, you should know that shorter working hours and mid-day breaks are common. It’s best to schedule your meetings in the late mornings or early afternoons accordingly, as many offices aren’t working after 4pm.
For most fasting Muslims, it’s a time of prayer and spending time with family.
Come evening and when the sun sets, you can hear the cannons go off around Dubai to announce the end of the fasting day and the beginning of Iftar.
There are Iftars (the evening meal when the fast is broken) hosted by most hotels, restaurants, companies, and some cultural organizations like the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).
From all you can eat buffets and set menus offering a variety of cuisines to more traditional ones, these vary in ambience and price.
Food & Drink during Ramadan in Dubai
During the day, up until sunset when the fast is broken, it is prohibited to eat, drink, or smoke in public places in Dubai during Ramadan. Doing so can result in a hefty fine of up to AED 2000.
We’re talking not even chewing gum, and not even a sip of water while walking around a shopping mall or when you’re out and about in the city. The rules apply to ALL public spaces such as the metro stations, buses, old Dubai, or one of the swanky new promenades in Dubai.
You do have to be mindful, as there are no exceptions- not even when it’s very hot during summer in Dubai. If you need a sip of water, you can drink it in a private, closed space- such as the toilet in a metro station or an operational food court in a shopping mall.
But this does not mean that as a tourist you will go hungry in Dubai during Ramadan. So, are restaurants open in Dubai during Ramadan? The short answer is yes.
Can you eat in Dubai during Ramadan?
While eating, drinking, and smoking in public spaces is prohibited, you can most definitely find restaurants and cafés around Dubai that serve meals during the day. While previously they did it indoors behind covered windows or drawn curtains or blinds, and needed special licenses to serve food during fasting hours, that is no longer the case- since 2021, it’s business as usual for restaurants and cafes.
Food courts, cafes and restaurants, whether stand alone, or in shopping malls, retail districts, or hotels will be serving meals during the day.
Cinemas in Dubai have also started serving food to non-fasting cinema-goers at the snack bar. If you’re visiting a theme park, there will definitely be restaurants that are serving food during the day.
Iftar in Dubai during Ramadan
The tradition of Iftar during Ramadan in Dubai is one that is worth experiencing. Around the city, traditional tents are set up and lavish buffet feasts are on offer for everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re a fasting Muslim. Fasting Muslims will usually break their fast with a sip of water and dates, before going for the rest of the meal.
After sunset, pretty much every restaurant, regardless of which cuisine it serves, will have a great Iftar deal. Iftar is usually a buffet spread of appetizers, sides, mains, and dessert- all at a good, value-for-money price.
It’s common to receive invitations for Iftar from friends, neighbors or colleagues. Be polite and accept when you can. After all, this is a great way to learn about an important local tradition. If you attend an Iftar, be sure to dress modestly.
Can you drink alcohol in Dubai during Ramadan?
In recent years, Dubai has become even more liberal with respect to the rules for non-fasting residents and tourists during Ramadan. When I was growing up in Dubai, you couldn’t find any bars in Dubai that were open during the month of Ramadan.
But that has changed today.
Are bars open in Dubai during Ramadan? Again, the short answer is yes.
There are quite a few bars that do serve alcohol in the evenings, post sunset, in Dubai so it is possible to go out during Ramadan. These are usually found in the hotels, as they’ve got the special licenses needed to operate during the month.
But you won’t find any loud music or live bands or resident DJs playing, as you would the rest of the year. And definitely no brunches- that boozy Dubai weekend tradition. So forget about partying in Dubai during Ramadan.
Nightlife in Dubai during Ramadan
The nightlife in Dubai during Ramadan is much quieter, and you won’t find any parties, ladies nights, or nightclubs in action.
However, that does not mean that Dubai goes to bed early during Ramadan- far from it. The city takes on a celebratory mood past sunset, after the fast is broken, and you’ll find people at night markets and shopping malls around the city.
After iftar, fasting Muslims and the other nationalities that live in Dubai are found wandering the night markets, drinking tea, snacks, shopping, and more. It’s a great excuse to see a different kind of nightlife in Dubai.
Many shopping malls also work for extended hours later into the night, so this is a great opportunity to get some shopping done.
How to Dress in Dubai During Ramadan
Ramadan in Dubai is a time of prayer and humility. Dressing conservatively and respectfully is appreciated and will earn you the respect of locals.
It’s advised for both men and women to cover their shoulders and knees in public spaces such as malls, offices, cinemas, and parks. If you’re wearing sleeveless clothing or tank tops, wear a jacket or scarf on top. Maxi skirts and dresses, and trousers are a better choice than knee-length clothing and shorts during this month.
To understand the Dubai dress code that is appropriate, read my post on what to wear in Dubai for men and women.
By the way, you can also join my Dubai Travel Planning Group on Facebook where you’ll find plenty of free resources, practical information and insider tips about cool restaurants, cafes, instagrammable spots, attractions and things to do in and around Dubai. Click on the image below to join.
Working Hours in Dubai during Ramadan
Ramadan in Dubai sees reduced or changed working hours in offices, shopping malls, restaurants, and tourist attractions such as museums and theme parks.
For offices, the working day usually begins later in the morning by an hour or two and finishes by mid-afternoon. This is done to allow Muslims (and others) to have more time for family and prayers.
As such, you might find a certain place that you want to visit is shut in the afternoon, a certain attraction opens later than usual, or a certain office is working in the mornings only.
Plan your visit accordingly and check working hours before you go, either on the official website or on the phone.
Most malls and retail stores are open later than usual, well after midnight. Some attractions such as the Burj Khalifa might also be open till later than usual, until as late as 1am.
If you plan to get around Dubai by public transportation during Ramadan, it’s a good idea to make note of the amended hours of operation by checking the official RTA website.
Tourist Sights & Attractions- What to Do in Dubai During Ramadan
Other than the usual sights and attractions, here are some unique things to do in Dubai specifically during Ramadan.
Experience an Iftar in Dubai During Ramadan
An Iftar in Dubai is more than just a cultural tradition of feasting after sunset. While it’s a great way to learn about the customs of Ramadan, and sample some delicious local dishes, in modern day, cosmopolitan Dubai, an iftar is also a reflection of how different cultures live and flourish in a city like Dubai.
For me, it’s a beautiful thing to see Emiratis, Jordanians, Indians, Americans, Germans, and Filipinos breaking bread together at an Iftar table, whether they’re friends or colleagues. This camaraderie around a tradition that might not even be from their culture, fills my heart with pride about my hometown.
For a traditional experience, sign up for an iftar at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
For a more international experience, choose from one of the many iftar tents around Dubai such as the Ramadan tent at Khaymat Al Bahar at the grand Jumeirah Al Qasr.
Take a Guided Iftar Walk in Old Dubai
To see a different side of Dubai during Ramadan, take a guided Iftar walk in old Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures. Believe me when I say, this food tour company, run by two sisters, will show you a side of Dubai that is beyond your imagination.
You get to see what the oldest neighborhoods in Dubai look like in the hours leading up to Iftar, be part of a communal Iftar where hundreds of Dubai residents gather to pray and then break their fast under the open sky. Afterwards, you’ll visit an Indian street stall, an Afghani bakery, and wander in narrow backstreets you would not otherwise see in Dubai.
Visit a Mosque in Dubai
The beautiful Jumeirah Mosque is one of two mosques in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims during set times. Take a guided tour of Jumeirah Mosque to learn more about the culture and Emirati traditions.
Should You Travel to Dubai During Ramadan?
While many Dubai residents travel out of Dubai during Ramadan (mostly because it’s a quieter time, so it’s easy to get time off from work, and to escape the summer temperatures), Ramadan is a good time to visit Dubai if you like the idea of less crowds and discounted hotel rates.
Ramadan is usually in the summer, and as this isn’t exactly the best time to visit Dubai, it’s low-tourist season. This means that you’ll find cheap flights to Dubai, significantly discounted hotels in Dubai, as well as discounted rates to theme parks such as Legoland Dubai, Bollywood Parks, and Dubai Parks & Resorts, and other tourist attractions. These savings can add up nicely.
Dubai is a much calmer city in Ramadan if you like that sort of vibe. The advantage is that you’ll see lesser crowds at popular and otherwise crowded attractions such as the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa.
Who doesn’t like shopping and sightseeing a bit more peacefully? Plus there are some amazing sales and discounts up for grabs.
If one of the main things you’re looking to do in Dubai is to enjoy the nightlife, then Ramadan is not the right time for you to come.
Do’s & Don’ts in Dubai During Ramadan
- DO greet others, especially those who are fasting with ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’.
- DO be patient and considerate of the fact that fasting for an entire month in summer is not easy. There’s a reason why summer is not the best time to visit Dubai. Productivity might be low and people may take longer than usual to respond to requests. They may not be as cheery as usual, as energy levels are generally low.
- DO participate in various charitable community-led initiatives during Ramadan that require people to contribute their time or efforts. Zakat or charity is one of the pillars of Islam and the city is at its most generous during Ramadan. These are a great way to participate in the spirit of compassion prevalent in the city.
- DO make reservations if you want to enjoy iftar at a restaurant, as restaurants are usually full during this time.
- DO expect traffic on the roads just before Iftar when people are returning from the mosques, trying to get home or to communal iftars or out to restaurants in time to break the fast. People are hungry and tired; be patient or leave early.
- DON’T blast loud music in your car or at home. Music is generally turned off in public spaces during Ramadan. Listening to your music on your phone or iPod using your headphones is okay as long as it isn’t audible to anyone else.
- DON’T engage in public displays of affection- Ramadan or otherwise, these are frowned upon in Dubai. No hugs, kisses or pecks. Holding hands is okay.
- DON’T wear anything skimpy- no plunging necklines, thigh-grazing shorts, mini-skirts, or tank tops. Cover up.
- DON’T engage in drunken behavior publicly- this will NOT be tolerated in Dubai anyway, least of all during Ramadan.
- DON’T photograph iftar traditions without permission. Photographing people in Dubai requires their permission in advance.
Eid-Al-Fitr in Dubai
The end of Ramadan in Dubai is marked by the joyous celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr. This is a time when the entire city is celebrating at festive markets, enjoying fireworks, shopping at the malls, and feasting around the city. There are some amazing sales, events and live entertainment during this public holiday, and it is both lively and crowded everywhere in Dubai.
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Have you ever visited an Islamic country during the Holy Month of Ramadan? How was your experience and what did you learn about the local culture?