For me, packing is the worst part of travel. Especially as a solo female traveller who wants to be respectful but also look and feel good as I explore and, of course, take photos. Some destinations are harder to pack for than others and I struggled when trying to figure out what to wear in Dubai, UAE. After all, social media feeds show that anything goes but when talking to friends who actually live and work there, that’s not quite the case. Sure, you can get away with booty shorts and a bikini top at a beach club but that’s not really appropriate to walk around the streets in. After all, Dubai is a Muslim city in an Arabic nation.
I spent five days in Dubai and, after some helpful advice from my friend Liam and his wife Naomi who live in Dubai, I was pretty happy with my choices. I did my best to balance staying respectfully covered while choosing clothing that would help keep me cool and comfortable. Of course, with it being Dubai, I also tried my best to choose outfits that looked a little nicer and more dressed up for some days. So, for any other women out there wondering what to wear in Dubai, here are my tips and suggestions to help you figure out your Dubai packing list.
What is the Weather like in Dubai?
First off, we need to talk about the weather in Dubai. Dubai is HOT. Even during the so-called winter months temperatures in Dubai are similar to summer temperatures in parts of North America. I visited in late November/early December and every day was above 25C with a of couple days hitting 30C. While that is definitely cooler for the locals who experience temperatures closer to 50C in the summer, as a tourist, you will no doubt find it warm.
With that in mind think about lightweight clothing with quick-dry fabrics or flowy materials that allow some airflow. Evenings can be a bit cooler though so bring light jacket, cardigan, or sweater that you can layer over your other clothing if needed.
Is There a Dubai Dress Code?
One of the biggest questions about what to wear in Dubai is; does Dubai have a dress code? Overall? No. You can technically wear whatever you want in the streets of Dubai. So yes, if you really want, you can pull on a pair of booty shorts and bikini top to walk around downtown Dubai without worry of being arrested. However, as safe as Dubai is, you will still get a lot of looks and perhaps some comments and you might be denied entry. It’s not necessarily that you can’t wear certain things, but more that you shouldn’t. I firmly believe that being respectful of the local culture is one of the most important parts of being a tourist and a big part of that means dressing appropriately.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to cover your hair or wear a burqa or abaya like the local women. Nobody expects you to do that. But please avoid mini skirts/dresses/shorts, something the reveals too much cleavage, crop tops, see-through items or anything with rude/sexual slogans. Modesty is the local norm here so it is not the time or place for these types of outfits.
While there isn’t a general dress code for visiting Dubai you will find dress codes in some important cultural and religious spaces (such as mosques) as well as at restaurants and nightclubs. I’ll talk more about that in the sections below.
What to Wear in Dubai for City Exploring
So, what can you wear out exploring Dubai? Pretty much whatever you want as long as it works with the guidelines above.
If you plan on spending some time at the shopping malls, then be mindful of the air conditioning because they blast it inside. On days when I was exploring indoor things I chose to wear jeans (skinny jeans) and a t-shirt so I didn’t get too cold. Depending on how cold you get, you might even want to bring a light sweater with you.
When I was exploring outside I chose outfits that were lighter and could keep me cooler in the heat. Think looser pants, a sundress or skirt, or even a jumpsuit. I chose dresses (knee length or maxi skirt length) and a jumpsuit for my city exploring adventures. My jumpsuit is one of my favourite outfits because it’s so airy and comfortable. However, while the pants had a wide leg the top does have a lower neckline and it is sleeveless. It was ok while at some touristic sites, such as the Miracle Gardens, but I did bring a light wrap with me to cover up when I went into Old Dubai to explore. A usual with hot places, materials like linen and cotton will be the most comfortable.
If you are looking for a light cover-up perfect for travel, I highly recommend the butterfly wrap (pictured above) and mariposa kaftan from Diane Kroe. These lightweight pieces are also convertible and are perfect for covering up in the city or over a swimsuit at the pool and beach. If you decide to order anything from Diane Kroe make sure to use the promo code HANNAH10 for 10% off your total purchase!
What to Wear in Dubai for Brunches, Bars, and Nightlife
If you are planning a famous boozy Friday brunch or night out in Dubai then you are going to want to dress up. In fact, it’s more like you have to dress up because many places in Dubai do have dress codes and if you don’t cut it then the bouncer is not going to let you in.
Of course, dressing up can mean a lot of things for different people. Going to a club doesn’t mean that you have to wear a tight sparkly dress (although, you definitely can). However, you can also wear a nice pair of pants and an elegant top if that’s more your style. The key to going out to any of the big clubs in Dubai is, for women, the shoes. Most upscale bars and clubs want to see women wearing high heels so keep that in mind.
As for restaurants and hotels where brunches are served, you can be more casual chic. Again, be mindful of keeping covered (you don’t want to turn someone more conservative off their food) and again, watch the footwear. You don’t need heels for brunch but don’t expect to get in barefoot or with a cheap pair of flipflops either.
Moral of the story: pack nice shoes and sandals for Dubai.
What to Wear in Dubai for a Beach or Pool Day
When it comes to going to the pool or beach in Dubai you have three options. The first is to use the pool or beach access at your hotel (assuming your hotel offers either). The second is to go to one of the beach or pool clubs, of which there are many. Finally, you can visit one of the public beaches.
Of course, at the beach and pool, you want to wear a swimsuit. I have read a couple of articles that suggested you wear more conservative swimsuits at the public beaches, however, I went to a public beach and didn’t notice this at all. I saw everything from burkinis to string thong bikinis and everything in-between. I wore a bikini to the public beach as well and didn’t have any issues or notice any weird behaviour. Again though, while wearing a bikini or swimwear on the beach is fine, I suggest you do cover up while getting to/from the beach. In this case I wore shorts and a t-shirt since I just went from my hotel to an uber direct to the beach.
If you want to go to one of Dubai’s beach clubs, then you will need to up your beach outfit game. They want ‘beach chic’ so opt for cute cover-ups and sundresses rather than shorts and t-shirt type combo. Also, this is the place to bring out your cute or sexy swimsuits rather than a sporty one.
Remember, in Dubai, beachwear is only for the beach/pool.
What to Wear in Dubai for Day Trips
If you are doing a day trip from Dubai chances are you are either headed to the desert or Abu Dhabi for a day.
While I did not go to the desert in Dubai, I have been to the desert in Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel which are all pretty similar. For Dubai desert safari experiences you will definitely want closed toe shoes (like running shoes). Climbing sand dunes is tricky though without trying to it in flip-flops and, unsurprisingly, the sand will get everywhere so even walking sandals can be a pain if the sand gets between the straps and rubs against your skin. PS: for travel running shoes I recommend Vessi. They are lightweight, comfortable, and waterproof!
I also recommend long trousers or pants over shorts and, if you choose to wear a t-shirt or sleeveless top, bring a long scarf or wrap just in case. The sun in the desert can be crazy strong and you will burn really easily (so pack the sunscreen too!).
As for a day trip to Abu Dhabi (I did this one), again think similar to what you would wear while exploring Dubai. If you are visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (which you absolutely should!) then you do need to completely cover up. If you take a group tour from Dubai like I did, they provide you with a scarf for your hair and abaya for over your outfit. However, if you choose, you can wear your own clothing as long as everything (and I do mean everything) is covered. If you like, you can buy your own abaya in Dubai. There are some beautiful ones in bright colours sold at the souks in Old Dubai. Just make sure it is long enough to cover your ankles and feet!
My Must-Pack Items for Dubai
Hopefully, the advice above has given you some ideas for what to pack for Dubai based on your current wardrobe. But, if you think you maybe need to do a bit of shopping beforehand here are a few of my must-pack items for Dubai.
- Butterfly wrap or Mariposa wrap: I mentioned these Diane Kroe designs above and they are SO perfect for Dubai. Lightweight, classy, and perfect for covering up in the city or on the beach. Remember, if you buy anything from Diane Kroe, use promo code HANNAH10 for 10% off.
- Maxi dresses: Dubai is perfect for long flowy dresses that can make you feel pretty and appropriate while also keeping you cool. I get most of my dresses from City Chic.
- Wide Leg pants: I have a pair of the pocket pants from Diane Kroe which I absolutely love. They feel a little dressier but are lightweight and pack so easily (plus they have pockets!) You can see them here (don’t forget promo code HANNAH10!) You can also fine some on amazon. This pair has really good reviews and comes in several colours.
- The evolve top from encircled: This tshirt is my favourite travel tshirt. Yes, it’s pricey but I’ve had mine since 2016 and it’s still going strong! The reason I love it so much is because it’s multi-wear. I can have short or long sleeves and a high or lower neckline and all ways look flattering. I also wore this shirt in Morocco and Jordan. I think it’s the perfect comfortable t-shirt for a more conservative country. Check out encircled here.
- Body Glide: My thighs touch. A lot. So if I’m somewhere hot and wearing dresses and swimsuits the risk of chub rub is very high. I swear by bodyglide to keep it at bay. (body glide can also be used to help avoid blisters from shoes too). Grab some body glide here.
- Scarf: I always had a scarf in my bag in Dubai. Sometimes I had to use it to cover my shoulders/chest to get into more conservative places. Other times it just came in handy to wrap around me as an extra layer of warmth in the cold air conditioning. You can find some pretty ones here, or, shop when you get to souks in Dubai.
- Insulated water bottle: Dubai is HOT and you will want to make sure you have water with you. I use an insulated water bottle when I travel because I love cold water and in Dubai, you can be any non-insulated bottles get really warm really fast. Mine is similar to this one and fits easily in a bag.
- Quick dry towel if you are going to any of the free public beaches
Final Tips on What to Wear in Dubai
Packing for Dubai can be tricky in terms of being respectful but also looking nice. After all, Dubai has a reputation of being a luxury destination and many people here to dress to impress. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to have designer clothing. Classic pieces that you feel good in will go a long way and don’t forget to accessorize! Having some nice jewelry and accessories will go a long way in helping glam up any outfit. I went with earrings, necklace, bangle bracelets and ended up buying this gold belt from amazon to add a little something to a plain black dress I brought with me.
Worst case? If you arrive and feel like you are missing something, then you can always shop in Dubai. There’s certainly no shortage of malls!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Dubai
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.