When we originally booked our trip to Dubai in May I hadn’t realised that we were going to be there during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. One quick google later and I convinced myself that perhaps it wasn’t the greatest time to go to Dubai, that perhaps we should rebook as we weren’t going to see the very best that Dubai had to offer if we went during this period. I also was a little concerned about what it would mean in terms of eating and drinking with the children. However we decided to go ahead with our original plans and I am so incredibly glad we did. I can honestly say it didn’t affect the fun we had in the slightest, in fact it some ways it made even more so. Dubai is a hugely popular tourist destination and is more liberal than some of it’s neighbours, so after talking to people who live there it seems that every year they are becoming more relaxed as they want to keep up the tourist trade all year round. Visiting Dubai during Ramadan is very different to how it would be at any other time of the year but we wouldn’t hesitate to go again, and I wanted to write this post to give my hints and tips, plus some useful information if you are planning on holidaying during the holy month.
First up, what is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and according to Islamic belief, it is observed by Muslims by fasting and prayer to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Mohammed. It isn’t on the same dates each year, it depends on lunar sightings, so you can never be completely sure when it is actually going to fall. A typical day for a Muslim observing Ramadan will start at dawn, with the call to morning prayer and the early Suhoor meal. Then for the remainder of the day, they will fast. This means that they are required to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or having bad thoughts, or actions between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Fasting is considered to be a reminder to remember those who are less fortunate and suffering, and indeed our tour guide during our Arabian Adventures desert safari was telling us that nearly all Muslims will give a lot to charity during the holy month.
There are people who aren’t expected to fast, including pregnant women, breastfeeding women, children and those who are of ill health. According to our guide, if you fall ill during Ramadan you are expected to make up the days that you break fast at another time.
What does this mean for tourists and eating/drinking?
I must admit to being a little nervous about the implications Ramadan would have on us as tourists, as I read that a lot of places were shut during this period. Tourists aren’t used to the heat (almost 40 degrees at some stages) so I was worried about the implications of not being able to drink while out and about. However the main thing is that you just need to respectful. Ramadan requests non-Muslims to pay respect to those fasting and refrain from eating (even chewing gum), drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan as well. I was a little nervous about this, however I can honestly say we didn’t find this a problem in the slightest. In the first hotel we stayed in, the Anantara Hotel on the Palm it was business as usual with all restaurants open and with you being able to eat and drink by the pool. In the second hotel we stayed in, the Lapita Hotel, you weren’t allowed to eat or drink by the pool or in any public hotel spaces, but you were fine within the restaurants.
You honestly don’t need to worry about going hungry–many restaurants stay open during daylight hours to serve visitors and non-observers and just pull down the blinds or use a makeshift curtain so that people dining will be hidden from view. You won’t have too much trouble finding a place to eat. We visited Atlantis for the day and many of the restaurants were open but you had to eat behind screens (this isn’t as strange as it sounds- many of the restaurants had black plastic over the windows but inside it was completely normal). You could eat and drink as normal in the water park, because there wouldn’t be Muslims in there during this time anyway while Ramadan is happening .When we visited the Dubai Mall a lot of the restaurants and fast food places were shut, but again some were open but behind screens. If you wanted a drink of water when you were out and about, then you can just pop to a toilet and have a sip, but it honestly didn’t hinder us in anyway. In the hotels you wouldn’t even know that Ramadan was on (bar the amazing Iftar celebrations which I will talk about in a bit), it didn’t affect our holiday in any way. We also went on a desert safari with Arabian Adventures and I was surprised and grateful to see that our tour guide had given us some water for the car and while we were watching the show. We were careful to make sure our girls stuck to the rules as well and only drank in designated places, even though they didn’t have to observe it legally, I just wanted to make sure that we were respectful.
Ramadan and clothing?
Women and men should cover their shoulders and their legs at least down to the knees in public. Failing to be respectful of Ramadan etiquette, even as a non-observant visitor can result in legal consequences such as a fine. I bought a lot of maxi dresses with me and I bought a cover up to wear when we were out and about in public spaces. In the hotels, especially on The Palm it is business as usual and you can wear beachwear or whatever you want. I made sure if we were getting a taxi that I would have my cover up in my bag. Basically it is just about using your common sense and being respectful to those who are observing. In the hotels they are very much aware that they need to cater for tourists, but out and about in the malls and the tourist attractions you should dress respectively. That being said I did see a few tourists in shorts in the malls and it didn’t seem that anyone particularly cared, but again it is about being respectful and following the culture and laws of the country you are in.
Were places open during Ramadan?
Again I had been a little worried about this before we went but every place we wanted to visit was open. The Burj Khalifa was open, just slightly later than normal, all restaurants were open in the hotels we stayed in and Atlantis had the majority of it’s restaurants open, the mall shops were open, and attractions like Legoland were also open, but again slightly later opening hours. Most of the open food stands in the mall and things were shut, and the mall wasn’t playing music, but again this didn’t bother us. Nightclubs aren’t open but with three children that was the furthest thing from our mind! The one thing though that actually made the trip for us was how quiet everywhere was. And by quiet I mean QUIET. I can’t even explain how quiet some places were, for example we went to Legoland and we walked around the park and only saw about ten other people and I am not even exaggerating. It was similar for the Legoland water park although there were slightly more people there, and at Motionland, one of the other Dubai Parks theme parks. The malls were so empty on the day that we visited as well, we honestly couldn’t believe how quiet it was. Also the malls do a lot of Ramadan sales as well which is great. And again in our hotel it seemed quiet too. Dubai visitors drop off during the summer months anyway due to the extreme heat, so coupled with Ramadan beginning at the start of the off peak season, that was why it was so quiet. We asked a few people who said that it was definitely a lot quieter during Ramadan. I can honestly say that it being Ramadan didn’t stop us from being able to do the things we wanted to do, in fact it made for a more amazing experience as we got to do things with hardly anyone around- it was like being VIP’s in the theme parks! The only thing that wasn’t on that we missed out on was seeing the fountains at the Dubai mall, as often during Ramadan there is no music or entertainment during the day. However the place literally comes alive at night.
Nighttime during Ramadan?
Nighttime during Ramadan is a sight to behold. After sunset Muslims attend evening prayer and then enjoy ‘iftar’ with their families – a traditional Arabian buffet which breaks the fast. The city becomes alive with hotels, restaurants and special Bedouin-style iftar tents offering public and private dining options. We had an iftar buffet one night in both the hotels we stayed in and it really was such a lovely evening. The food was delicious, with Turkish, Lebanese and Middle Eastern specialities, and there was such a sense of family spirit and fun in the air, with lots of Muslim guests eating with lots of members of their family. Indeed that is what Ramadan is all about, spending time with your family and being thankful for what you have got. We loved getting ready each evening and heading out to see the city come alive.
Ramadan is such a special time to visit the city
Would we go back to Dubai during Ramadan again? Absolutely. Like I have said previously I have been to Dubai over Christmas (over eleven years ago now!) which was equally amazing as the hotels put on such an amazing experience for their guests, but it was so busy. Visiting during Ramadan is very different, it is quiet and you do have to be respectful. But it is a chance to really learn more about the culture of the Emirates, especially if you have got children. Mads had been learning about Ramadan at school so she was so excited to go home and tell her friends and teachers all about it. Plus another thing we realised is that a lot of the hotels and flight companies do massive discounts during Ramadan. By chance our friends happened to be staying at The Atlantis during the week we were there, and they were saying they got an absolutely amazing deal. So it is a good time to come if you are wanting to grab a bargain holiday to this incredible place.
We had a lot of special moments during our trip that were in part because of Ramadan. Highlights include going on a sunset desert safari with Arabian Adventures and watching our tour guide and his friends (the other tour guides) break fast in the sunset, they sat on a dune and prayed together, and then he kindly came back and offered us some left over dates. There was such a sense of happiness and camaraderie in the air. It was also really great learning more about Ramadan from some of the people we chatted to, about how it is a time for family, for thankfulness and about becoming a better person. I really loved listening to people talking about it.
If you are thinking about going to Dubai during Ramadan, then I honestly wouldn’t hesitate. It is such an incredible city and such a magical time to visit. There are of course things you need to be aware of, but as long as you are respectful then I can promise you that you will have the best time.
Check out my other Dubai posts-
A stay at the Anantara Resort The Palm
NB: Thanks to Emirates Holidays for working with us on this amazing trip to Dubai, we had the best time. All words, photos, videos and opinions are entirely my own. Emirates Holidays is the tour operator of the internationally renowned Emirates airline. Specialising in Dubai, Indian Ocean, South East Asia and South Africa, they provide premium, tailor-made holidays to a wide range of amazing long haul destinations all wrapped up with flights on award-winning Emirates. Stay tuned for lots more Dubai posts coming up.