The best time to visit Dubai is in the cooler months when the days are breezy and invigorating and nights are fresh and nippy. During this time your Dubai itinerary will overflow with things to do and places to see without the fear of heatstroke or dehydration.
The United Arab Emirates with Dubai as it’s glamorous poster child, has always been at the forefront of innovation in architectural marvels, improvement of it’s infrastructure and the standard of living for the benefit of it’s residents. In one generation Dubai has gone from a sleepy fishing village with pearl diving, weaving and regional trading as it’s main sources of income, to the City of Gold where everything is bigger, better and shinier and expats come to fulfill their dreams.
Nothing can prepare visitors coming to Dubai for short breaks or a Dubai layover for the beauty, prosperity, modernity and goodwill that they will encounter during their Dubai visit. In this city of convenience, comfort and exceptional customer service there is so much to see and do that you may regret not staying longer than a 96 hour stopover.
Whether you are a solo traveler, newly weds on a Dubai honeymoon or coming on Dubai family holidays, the Dubai weather in December makes it the best time to visit. Dubai excursions are more enjoyable and there are so many things to do in Dubai with kids outside of the malls. This essential insiders Dubai vacation travel guide includes everything you need to know to plan your city break in Dubai.
The best time to visit Dubai for outdoor activities
When friends and relatives ask what is the best time to go to Dubai for a vacation or stopover, I always recommend visiting between November and March. By November the heat starts abating and cooler temperatures prevail with occasional rain showers. This also coincides with the peak season when accommodation is in demand and prices can be higher in popular areas.
- Dubai weather in December, January and February is ideal for outdoor activities in the city’s many parks, beach and creek side recreation areas. Barbecues and picnics are very popular in the beach parks at this time.
- The weather is mild and the temperature seldom goes above 28-30 degrees Celsius making it possible to walk around outside without fear of a heatstroke or dehydration.
- The more temperate weather makes sunbathing and water sports like kayaking, canoeing, fly boarding as well as recreational fishing more bearable.
- Christmas in Dubai is an awesome time to visit because the city goes all out to make non-Muslim residents and visitors feel at home during the holiday season. Malls have beautifully decorated Christmas trees and hotels have special events for non-Muslim children to experience the holidays.
- This is also the best time to visit Dubai because it coincides with the annual Dubai Shopping festival (DSF), the Dubai International Film Festival, the Commemoration Day and UAE National Day celebrations.
- Many seasonal attractions that are mostly outdoors like Global Village, Dubai Garden Glow and Dubai Miracle Garden are only open during the cooler months.
- Schools and colleges have their year-end vacation and many families take the opportunity to visit their home countries to spend the festive season with family.
- Many visitors from the Northern hemisphere visit Dubai to escape the cold in December, and it is advisable to book everything from hotel accommodation to tickets for the Dubai Opera or even dinner reservations in advance.
Summer in Dubai
Nothing will prepare you for the extreme heat and humidity during the summer months in Dubai. When I arrived for the very first time in October 2006, it was still quite warm and my first breath outside the confines of the air conditioned airport caught in my throat because it was so humid.
- Summers in Dubai are very hot and most residents take the opportunity to enjoy the summer Dubai holidays in cooler climates in other parts of the world. A decade ago Dubai was practically deserted during the summer months from June to August. That has changed since the emirates have been promoted as a haven for sun-seekers, and cheap holidays to Dubai are advertised in foreign markets.
- During summer in Dubai the hot and dry desert winds, known as shamal, blow sand and dust from Iraq and Turkey down through the gulf states for 3-5 days at a time. This results in huge sandstorms carrying very fine dust that settles onto everything and significantly reduces visibility on urban and desert roads. People may suffer from respiratory distress if they breathe in the fine dust and it is advisable to refrain from outdoor pursuits during this time. There are many indoor activities at malls, museums and other places of entertainment.
- The best time to visit Dubai for low prices is between June – August when it is high summer and average day time temperatures reach 40 Celcius and higher.
- Cheap holiday packages to Dubai are usually offered by travel agents during the hottest summer months and may include the cost of visas, flights, airport transfers and accommodation. It should be noted however, that the high humidity and temperatures often make any Dubai excursions and outdoor pursuits very exhausting.
Things to know before visiting Dubai
My Dubai vacation travel guide will assist you in choosing the best time to visit Dubai while making the most of your Dubai short breaks. Whether it is taking Dubai day tours, fun activities or finding the best places to visit in Dubai. It should be noted that Dubai is one of the safest solo female travel destinations and also one of the best places to travel alone as female.
Read more: Top Solo Female Travel Destinations
- Modesty – Always be respectful and maintain your modesty and personal space in public, especially when visiting places of worship.
- Sun protection – Remember to carry a sunhat and wear sunblock in summer months and also during the winter months when it is still very warm.
- Malls – Many activities are indoors inside malls to enable residents to enjoy it year round. This includes ski slopes, aquariums, cinemas, jungles, ice skating rinks.
- Bargain hunt – Visit and haggle in the markets and souks to secure a discount. Most Mall stores have fixed prices unless discounted during sales. Steer clear of sellers of counterfeit clothing, handbags and perfume in souks as their prices are ridiculous.
- History and culture – Venture outside of your hotel and the well known tourist attractions to learn more about the history of the emirate and how it’s location has shaped the economy and culture of the people.
- Transportation – There are taxis, uber, busses, metro and tram lines to get you around the city. There are even air-conditioned bus stops so you don’t have to break into an unnecessary sweat.
- Alcohol – This is not available outside of licensed hotels, pubs, clubs and restaurants and their license covers Non-muslim patrons. It is not advisable to be in public in a drunken state as this may result in arrest or prosecution under the UAE Penal code. Tourists may now obtain a free alcohol license for legal purchases of alcohol and consumption outside of the licensed hotels, pubs and clubs. Click here for more information.
- Eve teasing / sexual harassment – This is prohibited by the UAE Penal code and carries a maximum fine of AED 10,000 or one year imprisonment, if convicted of molesting a woman by words or actions in a public or frequented place.
- Public displays of affection – Many visitors to the United Arab Emirates overlook the fact that it is essentially a Muslim majority country and that they should also observe modesty in behavior when out in public places. Visitors should not offend the cultural sensibilities of local residents by engaging in indecent public displays of affection. Kissing and other overt sexual behaviors are frowned upon especially in public places frequented by families. Complaints may result in arrest or prosecution under the UAE Penal code. This includes shopping malls, supermarkets, cinemas, theaters, outdoor markets, parks, tourist attractions, the public areas of hotels and government offices and institutions.
- A number of new rules that you should know about have been implemented and you can click here for more information.
For information for your Dubai vacation I recommend that you familiarize yourself with general information about Dubai before visiting.
Read more: Pros and Cons of Expat Life in Dubai
How to apply for a Dubai transit visa or tourist visa
- Travelers who are not eligible for visa free entry or a Dubai visa on arrival must apply for a tourist visa or transit visa by completing a Dubai visa application form.
- Transit and Tourist visas may be applied for online through Emirates Airlines, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia and Etihad Airways when booking onward flights with those carriers. Click here for more information on visa types, prices and duration of the visas obtained through Emirates.
- Tourists may also apply for a Dubai visa through local licensed travel agents and hotels who will require that you make your travel booking or hotel reservation with them.
- The visa validity may be 96 hours (transit visa), 30 days or 90 days and you can check the Dubai visa price here.
- Passports must be valid for six months from the date of travel to Dubai and must be machine readable.
How to travel to Dubai for the first time
Dubai has two international airports welcoming visitors coming for their Dubai vacation or stopover.
- The oldest and busiest is Dubai International airport which is the main airport with it’s three terminals located between Umm Ramool and Al Qusais in the city limits. This is the main hub for Emirates Airlines.
- The newer airport is Al Maktoum International airport located in Jebel Ali, approximately 37 km south of Dubai city center. This airport is used by many regional carriers and low cost airlines.
- Etihad Airways flies into Abu Dhabi International Airport and provides complimentary inter-emirate shuttle coach services for economy class passengers from the Abu Dhabi International airport to Mazaya Centre in Downtown Dubai. First and business class passengers may avail of complimentary chauffeur services.
- Air Arabia flights come into Sharjah International and Ras Al Khaimah International Airports. There are metered taxis from these airports into the city of Dubai. There are also coach services between Sharjah and Al Ghurair Centre in Dubai (AED 20 / US$ 5.45).
Finding free wi-fi in Dubai
- When you arrive at Terminal 1 or Terminal 3 at Dubai Airport you will see signs with instructions on how to connect to the free wi-fi service within the terminal buildings.
- There are also free wi-fi services on the metro as well as in the Dubai Metro stations. This map of the wi-fi hotspots will be helpful.
- Many of the city malls have free wi-fi that is available after registration on their site.
- A number of cafes and quick service restaurants like Costa and Mugg and Bean offer 30 minutes or more of free wi-fi with every order.
Best time to visit Dubai and how to get around
- Airport taxis are available at designated areas in the arrivals terminals and charge a higher starting rate of AED 25 plus a per km rate for all trips originating from the airport.
- Metered taxis operate throughout all areas of the city and can be hailed or ordered via the Dubai Taxi service operator.
- Commuters using public transportation in Dubai use a NOL smart card that allows the holder to utilise all the public transportation modes operated by the Roads and Transportation Authority (busses, metro, tram and marine services).
- The red and green metro lines connect all areas in the city and the Dubai International Airport may be reached via the red line.
- Car rental companies operate at Dubai International Airport and various locations in the city. Rental car bookings can be made online in many cases or in person. They will require an international driver’s license as well as a passport and valid visa to issue the vehicle.
- There are also Uber and Careem e-hailing services that can be ordered via their apps. These services may now access the airport terminals as well as the malls throughout the city.
Read more: How to get around in Dubai public transport
Best time to visit Dubai and what to wear
- Dubai has very hot summers and mild temperate winters that sometimes require a cardigan or light shawl in the early mornings or evenings during the cooler months.
- Flowy dresses or wide leg / loose fit trousers with tops are the most comfortable in summer and the cooler months. Cotton, linen and other natural fabrics are preferable in the heat as they are lightweight and breathable and less clingy than synthetic fabrics.
- Shorts, culottes and capri pants are also comfortable as long as it is not too short (hot pants).
- Always pack a hat and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from the harsh sunlight, even in the cooler months.
- Sunblock or a high sun protection factor sunscreen is essential throughout the year to prevent sunburn and sun damage.
- If you suffer from dust allergies it may be advisable to carry a mask or fabric respirator during a summer visit when there may be sandstorm conditions.
Where to stay in Dubai
Every neighborhood in Dubai has it’s own charms and there are countless options for visitors who want to experience the best cultural activities, resorts, restaurants and leisure facilities.
- Dubai four and five star hotels are some of the best in the world in terms of value for money, comfort, spaciousness and customer service.
- There are however also many cheap hotels in Dubai suitable for all budgets and comfort levels, especially in the older historic areas of the city like Deira and Bur Dubai. During the summer months this area is very crowded and the humidity can be unpleasant to experience.
- Although the premier hotels can cost an arm and a leg there are many that are located near to the main attractions for a more reasonable rate. You can read more about that next week in my article on where to stay in Dubai.
Read more: Where to stay in Dubai for all budgets
Best time to visit Dubai for a food experience
Dubai is a multi-cultural melting pot with residents from all over the world who have come to make their fortune and their home. This makes the city abundant with exotic cuisines that can be found in road side cafes, independent restaurants, mall eateries and fine dining hotel restaurants.
- One of the most common complaints I always hear from friends and relatives on their Dubai visit is that they did not expect the food to be so affordable. I suspect that because the city has the reputation for luxury, glamour and excess, travelers automatically assume that everything is expensive. Although that may be true for highly regarded hotel restaurants fronted by celebrity chefs, there are many establishments that cater for the average man on the street.
- The best time to visit to Dubai and get amazing deals from the best restaurants is during the annual Dubai Food Festival held during February and March every year.
- The farmer’s markets operate between October – April and offer a wide variety of locally grown produce from the farms in Dubai and the neighboring emirates. This is the time to reduce our carbon footprint and buy local because fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful and bounteous.
To read about where to eat in Dubai please stay tuned for my resident’s guide to the best Dubai restaurants and cafes.
A few of my favorites are on the blog:
- Social by Heinz Beck – Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
- Mezzerie – Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
- Ultra Brasserie – Marina Plaza, Dubai Marina
- Fume eatery – Pier 7, Dubai Marina
Read more: Dubai Food Festival
Places to visit in Dubai for free
- The Dubai Aquarium – located in Dubai Mall, you can view the tank directly in the mall without buying a ticket. The only additional benefit from buying a ticket to enter the aquarium would be to see the staff feeding the fish and penguins.
- The Dubai Mall fountains display – entrance to the mall is free and the fountain show is a synchronised dancing fountain show during the evening.
- Fossil Rock – Located in Maleha and accessed via Al Awir on the Dubai Hatta Road, this pristine dessert area has fossils that are millions of years old and is best seen during the day.
- The Dubai Festival City music and light show – This takes place at the Festival City Mall promenade and uses 30 fountains for a fantastic display of artistry with lights, water and fire.
- The Coffee Museum – Located in Villa 44 in the Al Fahidi Historical district it showcases coffee roasting and brewing techniques from various regions via live demonstrations. This is near Al Seef, an instagrammer’s delight.
- The Camel Museum – located in Al Shindagha historical district, the museum is dedicated to camels and their impact on life and economy of the UAE and the Arabian people. They offer free guided tours and free entry.
- The Horse Museum – located in Al Shindagha historical district, the museum is dedicated to the history of Arabian horses and famous breeds. They offer free guided tours and free entry.
The best time to visit Dubai for shopping and where to go
The annual Dubai Shopping Festival, a five week extravaganza takes place from end December to the end of January. It includes raffles, weekend deals, flash sales and more, with between 25-90 % discounts in many stores. During the sales there are also frequently offers like ‘buy two, get one free’ and they may run concurrently with a deep discount.
For those who choose to brave out the summer in Dubai, the city puts on the Dubai Summer Surprises, a two month shopping experience that rivals the year end shopping festival. It also includes flash sales, weekend deals and discounts of between 25-90 % in participating stores.
BEST MALLS IN DUBAI
There is no shortage of mega malls and these have a wide variety of leisure activities, retail as well as dining and entertainment options. A number of them are accessible via metro / tram as well as taxis, uber, Careem and self-driving. My favorite mall by far is the Mall of the Emirates as it has user-friendly parking, valet parking, as well as awesome bargains throughout the year.
- Mall of the Emirates (metro) – Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Barsha 1, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- Dubai Marina Mall (metro and tram) – Al Marsa Street, Dubai Marina, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- Dubai Mall (metro) – Financial Center Road, Downtown, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- Gold and Diamond Park (metro) – Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Quoz, Dubai. Self Parking available.
- City Walk – Al Safa Street, Satwa. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- City Center Mirdiff – Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, Mirdiff, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- City Center Deira – 8th Street, Deira, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- Ibn Battuta Mall (metro) – Sheikh Zayed Road, Discovery Gardens, Dubai. Self Parking and Valet parking available.
- Dragon Mart – Al Awir Road, International City, Dubai. Self Parking available.
- Dubai Outlet Mall – Dubai Al-Ain Road, Dubai. Self Parking available.
DUBAI SOUKS AND MARKETS
The inner city souks in Deira and Bur Dubai seldom have available parking nearby and visitors are recommended to use taxis, uber, Careem, the metro or busses to reach those areas.
- Spice Souk – Baniyas Street, Al Ras, Deira, Dubai
- Deira Covered Souk – Al Ras, Deira, Dubai
- Gold Souk – Al Khor Street, Deira, Dubai
- Perfume Souk – Sikkat Al Khail Road, Deira, Dubai
- Naif Souk – Deira Street, Naif, Dubai
- Meena Bazaar – This Indian bazaar district is located between Mankhool, Al Fahidi and Al Ghubaiba Streets in Bur Dubai.
- Textile Souk – 57 Ali Bin Abi Talib St, Bur Dubai
- Deira Waterfront market – Al Khaleej Road, Deira Corniche. Self Parking available.
- Souk Al Bahar – Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Downtown Dubai. Self Parking available. This is a premium price recreation of a traditional souk and most things can be bought elsewhere for cheaper. It has excellent eateries, many with views over the Dubai Fountains.
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah – Al Sufuoh Road, Al Sufouh. This is another recreation of a traditional souk with views of Burj Al Arab. Self Parking and Valet Parking available.
- The Market at The Beach – JBR, Dubai Marina. Self Parking available.
- Farmer’s Market on the Terrace – Bay Avenue Towers, Downtown, Dubai (operates from October through April only). Self Parking available.
- Ripe Market – Dubai Police Academy Park , Umm Suqeim Street (in cooler months); Dubai Festival City Mall; Springs Souk. Self Parking available.
Best time to visit Dubai for Events and Festivals
NEW YEARS EVE IN DUBAI
The highlight of the annual calendar is New Years Eve, when residents come out in droves to witness the spectacular fireworks displays across the city to usher in the new Gregorian calendar year. The fireworks displays are usually held at Atlantis the Palm, Burj al Arab, Burj Khalifah, Dubai Festival City and Dubai Creek. You should note that the roads to and from the high traffic areas are closed from 5 or 6pm until after midnight and many revellers either use public transport or park their cars and take a taxi or walk to the nearest vantage point.
Restaurants and cafes with a view of the fireworks charge premium prices for a meal and a seat for a few hours until after midnight.
- Eateries around the Dubai Mall Fountains charged from AED 1500 per person for unlimited food (burgers, hotdogs, french fries, milkshakes or sodas) for window seats or outside seating with a view of Burj Khalifa.
- Karma Kafe Dubai had a few packages with the lowest starting at AED 499 for an open bar.
- Hurricanes Grill offered a five course meal with soft drinks for AED 795 (indoor, limited view) and AED 995 on the terrace.
This seasonal multicultural shopping complex and festival park opens between October – April of the following year. There are exhibitors from all over the world as well as international food, entertainment and cultural experiences.
DUBAI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
This celebration of Arabic cinema takes place annually in December and draws talent from across the Arabic speaking world as well as international celebrities.
OMEGA DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC
The 4 day golf tournament is held in Dubai at the Majlis course of the Emirates Golf Club. It is held in January every year since 1989 and is a big draw card for top ranking international golf champions.
DUBAI JAZZ FESTIVAL
The Dubai Jazz Festival has been held every year since 2003 and is one of the premier events on the Dubai annual events calendar. It features jazz artists from all over the world, attracting tens of thousands of fans every year and usually takes place in February.
DUBAI DUTY FREE TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
This annual event is held over two weeks February every year since 1993 and draws the world’s top tennis players to the city. Previous winners include tennis champions Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Venus Williams.
DUBAI FOOD FESTIVAL
The Dubai Food Festival is a city wide extravaganza of the best food the city has to offer. It includes Taste of Dubai and Dubai Restaurant Week and takes place in February and March.
- Taste of Dubai is held in the Du Arena in Dubai Media City over a weekend and many of the city’s best restaurants take up concession stands to offer their unique delights to the public. There are also cooking shows and demonstrations by world renowned chefs, celebrity tv chefs and producers.
- During Dubai Restaurant Week the city’s top restaurants offer a three course menu at a fixed price to discerning diners via online booking. My favorite restaurant Social by Heinz Beck is the one to book during this time.
DUBAI SHOPPING FESTIVAL
This shopping extravaganza takes place across the Emirate and is marked by radical discounts and offers in all the big malls. It usually runs from December through January. Many malls put on entertainment as well as special prizes to woo customers.
DUBAI SUMMER SURPRISES
Like it’s Winter sibling, the Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) is a shopping extravaganza during the summer months and usually lasts for about six weeks. There are great deals on entertainment and shopping between late June and early August. Some of the best deals combine 3 for 2 offers with 30-70% discounts.
RAMADHAN IN DUBAI
Those planning a Dubai vacation during Ramadhan may be in for a surprise. Though public consumption of food and drink is prohibited during fasting hours, the city becomes very festive with residents and visitors alike eagerly anticipating the iftars and suhoors on offer at restaurants and hotels throughout the city.
Ramadhan is a month of spiritual significance for Muslims and visitors to the country during this period should maintain the utmost respect and decorum in dress and behavior. During Ramadhan it is prohibited for adults to consume food, beverages or tobacco products in public during fasting hours and failure to observe the prohibition may result in fines or jail time if caught in the act.
Many restaurants and cafes continue to operate during the month of Ramadhan and are licensed for delivery and take-out services, even though they may not be licensed to serve food to the public during business hours. The fully licensed hospitality operators are obliged to cover their windows to ensure that their day time customers may enjoy their meals undisturbed.
EID IN DUBAI
For 2019 and 2020 the government has announced four (4) day holidays for Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha. It is still during the summer months and there are usually good offers on flights and hotels, as many of the expatriate residents exit to their home countries for Ramadhan and Eid.
During this time a number of malls in Dubai may be licensed to operate for 24 hour shopping and there are offers and bargains galore.
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