Everything tourists need to know about visiting the UAE during Ramadan

From dress codes to fasting, here's the lowdown on travelling to Dubai and other emirates in the holy month

Tourists visiting the UAE during Ramadan can attend Ramadan markets, enjoy iftar and embrace the holy season. Photo: Dubai Malls
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Ramadan is upon us and with it comes a month of fasting, reflection and togetherness.

This year, the holy month coincides with peak tourism season for the UAE and for many travellers heading to the country, it will be their first experience of Ramadan in a Muslim country.

Just a few years ago, the UAE marked Ramadan in a very different fashion – with only a few restaurants open during fasting hours, and even then diners were seated behind curtains. There was no background music and many bars and clubs were closed for the month.

Fast forward to 2024 and rules during the holy month have changed. Most cafes and restaurants can operate normally, and many extend their hours to be open from morning until midnight.

“The rules have relaxed a lot and I think it is a testament to the UAE’s understanding of its population and tourists visiting the UAE increasingly more and more throughout the years,” Ruqaya Al Hameeri, operations manager at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding, tells The National.

While there are no rules in place for tourists visiting the UAE, there are several points visitors should be aware of during Ramadan. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your visit.

Can travellers drink water throughout the day during the holy month?

Yes, travellers can drink water at any time during the day, but it is best to do so discreetly.

Can tourists eat during Ramadan fasting hours?

Tourists do not need to fast during Ramadan and most restaurants and cafes are open as normal. However, visitors should be discreet when eating and drinking in public during the holy month.

“There aren’t any major laws during the fasting hours of Ramadan, but instead we have some etiquettes that are expected from non-Muslims. Some of these etiquettes are no eating, drinking, nor smoking in public areas,” says Al Hameeri.

Are bars open during Ramadan?

Yes, most bars, pubs and clubs continue to open during the holy month, although they follow some restrictions to live and loud music.

Can you smoke in public during Ramadan?

It is advisable not to smoke in public places during the holy month. This applies to vaping too.

Do tourists need to cover up during Ramadan?

Ramadan is a good time to be considerate, opting for more modest outfits to respect those observing Ramadan.

“The recommended dress code to fit in with the Ramadan vibes is to dress more modestly by wearing something that covers the shoulders and something long enough to cover the knees,” says Al Hameeri.

When you go to the mall or out in public don’t wear anything too tight and perhaps have a light jacket, cardigan or scarf to cover your shoulders if you’re wearing a sleeveless top. Embrace the season by wearing colourful abayas, kaftans or hand-tailored kandoora which can be purchased at souqs, markets and shops across the country, then take it home as a souvenir. There’s no need for women to cover their hair unless they plan to visit a mosque.

That being said, if you’re at the beach, by the pool or at a waterpark – beachwear is acceptable, even in Ramadan. Just cover up when you leave the waterside.

Are mosques open to tourists during Ramadan?

“Jumeriah Mosque is open to all throughout the year and especially during the month of Ramadan,” says Al Hameeri. One of only a handful of mosques open to non-Muslims, the place of worship has two daily sessions that visitors can attend, one at 10am and one at 2pm, every day except Friday.

In Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque welcomes tourists daily, although it closes each evening for iftar before reopening until 1am. If you’re in the area, you’ll likely hear the iftar cannon firing, which signals the end of the day's fasting and the start of maghrib prayers. In the final ten days of Ramadan, which will be from March 31, the mosque will be closed to non-worshipers after sundown.

Do children need to observe any rules?

Children are not required to fast or follow any set rules during Ramadan. Non-Muslim and Muslim children are exempt from fasting, as Islamic law states that children do not need to fast until they reach adulthood. However, many local children choose to join in by fasting with their families.

How can tourists take part in Ramadan?

Go to an iftar

A key part of Ramadan is the daily fast, with Muslims abstaining from food and drinks during daylight hours. Iftar, the meal to break the fast each day, begins once the Sun has set and many hotels and restaurants offer special iftar menus throughout the holy month. Go to at least one to soak in the spirit of the month.

At the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, the cultural iftar experience is a fascinating way to connect with the local culture. Participants can try traditional food, learn more about the meaning behind fasting and Ramadan, have a guided tour of the mosque plus the chance to ask questions they may have to the knowledgeable Emirati guides.

Visit a night market

A long-running tradition in the UAE is the country's Ramadan night markets, when stalls are set up at spots around the cities to serve shoppers from sunset until the small hours. Shop for dates, Arabic lanterns, kaftans, oud and henna. Many vendors are local businesses or artisans, and the market is a place to showcase and sell their products. Hai Ramadan is taking place at Expo City Dubai this year, or head to Ramadan District at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Plaza Terrace where visitors can shop, snack and unwind in the shadow of Museum of the Future.

Try to fast

“Trying to fast during the holy month will really immerse tourists in the experience,” says Al Hameeri. To really embrace the holy month, try fasting even if it's just for a day or two.

Wish others 'Ramadan kareem'

While Ramadan kareem is the most widely used greeting during the holy month, travellers who want to embrace the season have a few other options.

“My favourite is mubarak alykom al shahr – it means congratulations on the month. But another easy one is Ramadan mubarak, which means Ramadan is a blessing,” says Al Hameeri.

Updated: March 21, 2024, 11:31 AM