When I decided to visit Dubai for my birthday, I searched around the World Wide Web and asked friends and family who had visited before about tips for my upcoming stay. Most gave me the basics as to where to go, what to do etc., you know, the stuff most tourists do when they visit a new city or country.
However, I was visiting during the month of Ramadan, a significant time for their citizens and a very holy month, and needed a bit more information than the basics. But once again, I was given the basics, “Don’t eat, drink or chew anything in public or you can be arrested, fined, or both,” but that’s because most people tend to NOT visit during Ramadan.
That had me rethinking my decision to visit. After all, this was a trip I’d envisioned for years, this was my birthday trip, and I didn’t want to end up in a United Arab Emirates jail because I was dying of a heat stroke and couldn’t drink a sip of water until after 6 or 7 pm.
But you see, most of them had it wrong, and if I had to revisit Dubai, I’d do it again during Ramadan, and here are my top five reasons why.
Don’t Believe the Hype About the Heat
OK, maybe I should rephrase that a little. Do believe that it gets hot, EXTREMELY HOT in Dubai, and with humidity to boot. At the time of my visit temperatures rose as high as 98°F and we were told that it could get as hot as 140°F during the summer; however, most places keep the A/C on so cold that you’d think you were in Alaska, including the bus stops which were enclosed and air-conditioned. The theme parks were also very well shaded, and there were many places where you could sit and cool down if you felt that you were getting a bit heated. Also, with the many water parks around the city, you could even consider just visiting a water park or even the beach, but I highly suggest doing the beach later in the afternoon once the weather cools down a bit, and be sure to lather on the sunscreen.
Theme Parks are Usually Empty
Speaking of theme parks… this is by far my favorite reason for visiting around Ramadan. Theme parks are generally empty, and wait times were non-existent. As a matter of fact, at Legoland Dubai, Madison was on quite a few rides all by herself. As in alone, single, no one else around alone. While there were posted wait times of 5 minutes at every attraction we went on, the most we ever waited was probably around 3 minutes, and that was long. We did, however, visit on a weekday so I couldn’t say what the weekends would be like, but the parks were all offering Ramadan specials making your entry even cheaper.
You Can Eat!
This one really had me worried, and my anxiety was going through the roof. I was really anxious that I wouldn’t be able to eat/drink and would probably pass out while on the street all because of the country’s strict rule that you couldn’t, eat, drink in public. You couldn’t even chew gum. However, restaurants (at theme parks, the mall, and stand-alone restaurants) were open, and you were allowed to eat/drink in privacy as they were all curtained (private restaurants) or blocked off (malls) to let non-muslims and children eat. So if you require a cold glass of water, simply hop into a restaurant and grab something to drink. I guess I was worried about nothing because, in reality, I never walk and eat anyway.
It’s OK to Dress Comfortably
Once again, I was extremely concerned about the dress code. I considered wearing long skirts to my ankles, head wraps, etc., but it turned out that Dubai is a bit more liberal and tolerant towards tourists than we thought. Just dress conservatively, and you’ll be OK. Tights, leggings, jeans, etc. are all OK. You’ll also be OK wearing shorts, although booty shorts and bikinis (except on the beach) might draw a bit of attention and are considered a no-no. There are however dress codes while visiting a mosque, so if a mosque isn’t on the agenda (as it wasn’t on mine), dress as you usually would while visiting Florida or Arizona during the summer.
Transit is the Way to Go
As a New Yorker, I’m very familiar with the public transit system. All I need is Google Maps, and I can find my way around anywhere. However, not only was the transit system uncomplicated, but it was also easier and cheaper to get around than using taxis/Uber. Here’s something to note, Uber was actually more expensive than taxis in Dubai, something that surprised me since they’re usually cheaper. For example, a taxi from the airport to my hotel was 52AED compared to 174AED for Uber. Be sure to purchase the silver NOL card which lasts 5 years and is refillable. BTW, that rule about eating, drinking, and chewing also relates to their transit system. There is no eating, drinking, or even chewing gum on their transit, or you’ll be fined. There were notices posted so simply follow the rules, and you’ll be fine.
* side note – If you’re traveling with family or friends, you may end up taking taxis to most of the places you want to go as only children under age 5 are allowed to enter the train/buses for free. So if you’re going somewhere where the fare will be 20AED because you’re taking multiple trains/buses, then that works out to be 40AED for two people and may be cheaper and a lot more convenient taking a taxi. I ended up using taxis for most of the places we visited while in Dubai. Credit and debit cards are accepted in taxis so no need to walk around with cash.
So there you have it. My top 5 reasons for visiting Dubai during Ramadan. While many may still have their arguments for not going around that time, here’s something else to note, airfare is also cheaper around this time as well. So win-win all around! Here’s hoping your own trip to Dubai turns out as fabulous as mine did.