What to Wear in Dubai: Your Dubai Packing List

By Nick Hilden
Two men walking camels down the beach in Dubai.

I’m not going to bury the lede: Dubai is hot. During its coolest months, December through February, the temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees. In the summer, the thermometer can easily soar to 110 degrees. Because of this, however, air conditioning is an essential aspect of life. You’ll often transition between extreme heat and instant cool. Accordingly, you need clothing to suit both circumstances.

At the same time, Dubai and the UAE in general are places with strong cultural values. On one hand, you’ll often see fashion models on the beach sporting bikinis. On the other, the UAE is a Muslim-majority nation that places a major emphasis on conservative, traditional dress. You need to pack and dress with these considerations in mind.

All of this might have you wondering what to wear in Dubai? You’ll find answers below.

The coastline of Dubai.

What to Expect in Dubai

Before we explain what to wear in Dubai, here are a few things you should know about the cultural landscape.

Dubai is an international hotspot. High fashion mixes with cultural heritage, and there’s a merging of cuisines and cultures of all kinds. If you’re stocking up on supplies, you’ll find British pharmacies and supermarkets alongside local options. Every mode of transportation is available: taxis, Uber, bicycles, and a clean, cool, and easy-to-follow metro system.

Traditional Dubai vs. New Dubai

There’s a difference between traditional Emirati culture and the new, cosmpopolitan Dubai.

If you were visiting a traditional local household, you’d be expected to uphold strong cultural norms, like modest dress and separation of genders.  But, unless you have a personal connection with locals, odds are that you’ll be spending your time in hotels and restaurants that would feel familiar in New York or Madrid.

Dubai is the most relaxed, least traditional city in the United Arab Emirates. If you stay in well-travelled, public places, you should expect Dubai to have the same cultural expectations as most Western metropolises.

Cultural Expectations in Dubai

The UAE is a Muslim country and more religiously conservative than many countries in Europe and North America. Expectations for men and women, as well as how they interact, are probably different than in your home country.

Homosexuality is punishable by up to ten years in prison and even the death penalty under Sharia Law. Having a sexual relationship with someone you’re not married to also has a punishment carrying jail time.

Be discrete with public displays of affection. While Dubai is a modern city, smooching and even holding hands in public might be frowned upon. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, being a culturally aware and respectful traveler takes precedence. For some travelers, this will be a health and safety issue.

Modest Dressing in Dubai

Although Dubai is a major, cosmopolitan city you should pack some modest clothing if you plan to visit the gorgeous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in nearby Abu Dhabi or other culturally-sensitive sites.

Although women aren’t required to cover their hair in the majority of places, add a scarf or pashmina when visiting mosques or other holy sites.

In Dubai, you’ll see many Muslims from the UAE and other countries dressed in traditional garb. Some women wear head-to-toe burqas, even in fancy boutiques or restaurants. As a guest, you don’t need to dress like them. But give the traditionally-minded their space.

Be a conscious and courteous traveler.

Man standing at the bottom of the stairs at SLC airport

The Best Travel Backpack for Dubai

Whenever you’re traveling, keeping your luggage to a minimum is advisable for any number of reasons (reduced time checking and retrieving bags, for example). In a hot climate like Dubai, however, carrying fewer bags can save you from heatstroke. That’s why I recommend using a carry-on-sized backpack like the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack.

The Outbreaker helps you get the most out of your carry on allowance by maximizing every square inch with superior organization. Plus, the suspension system is comfortable in the heat thanks to its breathable design and sweat-wicking material.

Beyond Dubai, I’ve carried the Outbreaker through hot climates in Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, and more. I know from personal experience how great this travel backpack is in the heat.

What to Wear in Dubai

For your Middle Eastern adventure, choose lightweight, loose-fitting, and modest clothing.

Hot and humid is the norm. Desert nights can get a bit cool, and all-seasons air-conditioning keeps most indoor establishments cool, if not outright chilly.

Your basic Dubai packing list is as follows:

  • Sunglasses 
  • 3-5 pairs of breathable, quick-dry socks
  • 5 pair underwear
  • 2 bras (1 sports bra)
  • 3-5 tops to layer and keep your shoulders covered
  • 1 set pajamas or double up a pair of leggings/shorts/tee
  • 1-2 sets workout gear that go from hike to gym
  • 1-2 pair casual pants including one pair of shorts, capris, or a skirt that covers the knees
  • 1 pair flip-flops or sandals
  • 1 cardigan, sweatshirt, or light jacket
  • 1 sarong or wrap (keep those shoulders covered)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 dressy outfit (dressing up is definitely a thing on a night on the town in Dubai)
  • 1 pair dressy shoes

Toiletries to Pack for Dubai

Packing toiletries is always challenging. Consider purchasing what you need upon arrival and keep in mind that unless what you’re craving is brand-specific, you’re bound to find it in Dubai. If you have a specific allergy or brand needs, then bring them. If not, carry what you need for the first few days and fill up any other necessities with local items. If you’re like me and have sensitive skin, bring sunscreen. The sun is no joke in the desert.

  • Tissues or baby wipes (small packs for easy travel access)
  • Moisturizer (extra moisturizer lotion for a few days in the desert)
  • Shampoo and conditioner (eco-friendly or dry is always a good idea)
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Shaving necessities
  • Contact lens solution (especially if brand specific for sensitive eyes)
  • Sanitary products of choice (the type you like might be harder to find)
  • Makeup (if you wear any – going out at night is definitely a thing in Dubai)
  • Hair products/accessories (headbands always come in handy)
  • A buff or scarf (for those desert excursions to keep the dust/sand out of your nose, eyes, and mouth)
  • Insect repellant
  • Sunscreen (especially if brand-specific – don’t forget to reapply often)
  • Baby powder (for those sticky city travel days)
  • Deodorant

Extras to Pack for Dubai

We always recommend packing light. If you can commit to packing less, you can travel with just a carry-on-sized travel backpack. Less is definitely more.

If you have a little space left, then you might add:

  • More sunscreen
  • Hats (if style is your thing, you might want one for the city and one for the beach)
  • Rain jacket, poncho, or travel-sized umbrella (December through March only)
  • Travel journal and pen
  • For your day-tripping delights: daypack, eco-friendly reusable water bottle, phone and battery pack, valuables, tiny wallet or purse

When to Visit Dubai

Set on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Dubai has exactly the weather you would expect from one of the world’s hottest regions. Summer temperatures can easily crack 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with May and October being some of the hottest months. The evening desert air can even give you a slight chill.

Although winters are far milder than in many other cities, the days can drop to 70 degrees and the nights can get as low as 50 degrees.

Some of the best times to visit are between November and March when the temperature is around 90 degrees. There will be a little rain from December through March.

Pack a light jacket to help with those cool evenings and to take off the chill when you’re in the air conditioning.

Where to Visit in Dubai

Beyond the looming skyscrapers and the sparkling lights of the city, you’ll find even more to see.

See what life was like as a trader hawking wares at the souks. Tour a local mosque or heritage site and learn about the local culture. Or spend a day out in the Arabian desert dining on traditional cuisine and experiencing entertainment with an Arabian flair.

Dubai is home to immigrants from around the world. They’ve brought their remarkable food with them. Don’t just go to fancy restaurants or cheap chain restaurants. You can eat some of the best Pakistani, Indian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern food at affordable, independent restaurants in Dubai. Do some research before you go or ask your taxi driver for his recommendation, and you’ll have some of the best meals of your life for a few dollars.

One of my favorite things about this city was that—regardless of outfit, belief system, food preferences, financial holdings, cultural heritage, or upbringing—wherever we went we saw thousands of people going about their day, interacting kindly with one another, shopping, sharing space, and doing their thing. Dubai has almost no crime, and the infrastructure of the city works better than just about anywhere else.

A line of tables at The Cheesecake Factory had people in full traditional garb, people in partial religious coverings, men and women in business attire, children decked out in outfits of all kinds, and people who had come in from a hot day outside and were cooling off in more traditional western summer attire. Life was happening, and whether a plate had avocado egg rolls, beef bacon, or a heaping helping of dessert, the world was still happily spinning, uninterrupted on its axis.

You can even spend an epic day in the mall. Sure, you won’t find the same cultural offerings as a day in the old city, but between the movies, the ice rinks, the ski slopes, the decor, the food, the people, the aquariums, and more, the mall is a fun way to take a break from the desert heat or enjoy a long evening layover. Dubai is one of the few places where the mall is a must-see destination.

Be sure to check out:

Conclusion

Gain cultural awareness, hang with a penguin, breathe in the aroma of spectacular spices, try new foods, learn about Middle Eastern architecture and varied religious beliefs, and spend your evenings in the arms of the impeccable desert night sky.

  • Pack your backpack with purpose: less is more
  • Remember: modest attire is key
  • Be open to cultural interactions
  • Reapply sunscreen
  • Enjoy Dubai—the oasis in the desert