Visiting the desert city of Dubai

In 2017, Dubai welcomed nearly 16 million visitors. It is a modern metropolis, with an incredibly diverse mix of faiths and cultures. We spoke with Julie King, Director, Dubai Tourism, Australia and New Zealand who has represented Dubai in the Australian market for 8 years and lived in the destination for 14 years prior to that, to better understand the local culture in Dubai and what a visitor to this wonderful destination can experience.


How much skin coverage is recommended in order to be respectful?

Given the array of cultures and religious faiths in Dubai, many forms of attire are generally considered acceptable. For both men and women, shorts and t-shirts are suitable attire in many places, including hotels, the desert, beaches and malls. However, in the more historical quarters of the city, dressing conservatively is appreciated: nothing too short or revealing. Trousers or longer skirts and dresses are preferable and shoulders covered.

In restaurants and shopping malls, it is often best for ladies to carry a pashmina, as these are air-conditioned environments. Also in malls where there are larger populations of locals and visitors from the Middle East, it is advised to refrain from wearing anything too short or revealing.

Are head coverings necessary in any indoor or outdoor settings?

Head coverings are only a requirement when visiting mosques and will be provided to ladies prior to entering this cultural experience.

Are bikinis, board shorts and other bathers allowed at resorts?

Swimwear is permissible on all beaches, as well as hotel pool and spa areas.

People admiring sea life in aquarium

Social etiquette

Are two people allowed to hold hands or show other signs of physical affection in public?

Holding hands is acceptable, however visitors are recommended to keep public displays of affection to a minimum.

Is there a customary greeting or way to demonstrate gratitude to locals that visitors should use?

When greeting a member of the opposite gender who is Muslim, it is important not to offer to shake hands unless they extend their hand first – both men and women may prefer not to shake hands with the opposite gender due to religious reasons.

Additionally, some everyday phrases with English translations which may be helpful can be found here.

Two men with camels in Dubai

Food & drink

Is alcohol served outside of resorts?

Alcohol is served in licensed establishments throughout Dubai such as hotels, restaurants and bars, attractions such as Dubai Opera and some Desert Safari experiences provided by Ground Operators to those over 21 years of age.  

Visitors to Dubai may find the following establishments will not be licensed: cafes/restaurants/food outlets/cinemas in shopping malls with the exception of some restaurants in Souk Al Bahar and Souk Madinat, street cafes and independent Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants in parts of old Dubai and historical locations, as well as and some street-side Downtown Dubai restaurants and food trucks.

Are there any customs or rules during meals that might surprise an Australian visitor?

Dubai is a very cosmopolitan destination and as such visitors can expect to experience dining in restaurants as they would in Australia.

Drinks at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai

Drinks at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai


Is tipping recommended for taxi drivers, hotel staff, waiters, or anyone else?

Tipping is not compulsory, but it is common. If service charge is included on restaurant bills, it is up to individual guests if they wish to leave tips for service over and above this. It is standard practice to tip service staff between 10 to 20 percent, including but not limited to: drivers, tour guides, bell boys, wait-staff, spa therapists etc.

Is there anything else that you would recommend our readers to learn, observe, to do in Dubai to be the consummate respectful visitor?

Refrain from taking pictures of locals without permission, in particular women and children.

Swearing in public is not permitted.

Drunk and disorderly behavior in public is also not tolerated.