A major concern many tourists have when planning their first trip to Abu Dhabi and the UAE is around the dress code.
As you no doubt already know, Abu Dhabi is in a Muslim country, and as such, a degree of modesty is needed in the way you dress, and the way you behave.
The United Arab Emirates as a whole is nowhere near as conservative when it comes to dressing standards as other parts of the Gulf, but nonetheless, it pays to get yourself acquainted with what is legal, and socially acceptable in Abu Dhabi.
The standard of dress varies considerably depending on your setting, so we will run you through several different locations and scenarios below. Whilst it’s important to dress for the climate, always bear your setting in mind and display cultural sensitivity.
Dressing for religion and the heat in Abu Dhabi
Although daytime temperatures throughout the year range from mild to scorching in the peak of summer, you must remember at all times you are in a Muslim country. It is possible to dress in a conservative manner in Abu Dhabi that deals with the weather but remains respectful.
There are a few basic rules tourists should look to observe:
- Aim to cover shoulders and knees
- Avoid showing midriffs and cleavage
- Avoid anything transparent or overly clingy
- If someone does ask you to cover up – do so without protest
Yes, you will undoubtedly see someone who is wearing less than you or someone who claims they wore whatever they want when they were in Abu Dhabi. Don’t be THAT tourist. It doesn’t take much to show a little respect even if it’s slightly beyond your normal wardrobe choices.
Local dress in Abu Dhabi
Most local’s in Abu Dhabi dress in a traditional regional outfit. For men this is:
- A long white kandora or dishdasha (you can see all the regional variations explained here!)
- Ghutrah (headpiece) secured by a black igal (agal/egal as you please!)
Traditional Emirati dress for women in Abu Dhabi is:
- A long black abaya
- Black Shayla (head covering)
- Very occasionally you will still see some women with a metal burqa but this is uncommon. Full niqabs or burkhas are extremely uncommon these days in the UAE.
What should women wear visiting Abu Dhabi?
Non-Muslim female tourists and expats in the UAE are not required to have their head covered. For women, carrying a shawl or pashmina with you is always a good idea to cover up if you feel awkward – and for a bit of sun and dust protection! – but not essential.
Women may like to wear leggings under a dress if they feel it is too short, but as a general rule avoid anything too tight, clingy, transparent or revealing.
What should Men wear in Dubai?
For men, you will find that despite the heat nearly all gents wear full-length trousers. Male tourists are not expected to do the same all the time. It might be an idea to pack some light chinos when your in public places, or if you go with the shorts, try and keep them knee length. Avoid singlet tops and sloganned tshirts that may be in any way offensive.
The best thing to bear in mind is “am I dressed with modesty?” If in doubt, a helpful hotel concierge may be able to guide you.
Abu Dhabi Dress Code Questions
Now let’s take a look at some frequently asked Abu Dhabi dress code questions and some different situations you may find yourself in:
You will no doubt see everything from itsy bitsy bikinis to full-length burkinis worn by women at the beach in Abu Dhabi. Some beaches are more conservative than others, particularly if they’re considered a family beach, such as on the Corniche.
It’s up to your personal style but something that is more modest and doesn’t disappear up your bottom is considered more respectful. Topless bathing is considered a strict no-no (it against the law).
For men at the beach in Abu Dhabi, long shorts are better than speedos. It’s OK to have your top off.
At a resort beach and pool, the dress standard is a little more relaxed, you will see mostly skimpy swimwear, especially if there is a pool bar. This is absolutely fine, just make sure you bring something appropriate to cover yourself when moving through the public areas of the resort or if heading into a restaurant for a meal.
If you are asked by security to cover up a little, do so without argument. Security officers are well within their right to call the police if you do not cooperate or become abusive – remember this is a big no-no in Dubai.
Again, you will see a wide variety of outfits from bikinis to burkinis at Yas Waterworld. Given the activities, you will be undertaking, and being out in the sun all day it really is sensible for women to wear something more comfortable.
We would suggest a rashie top is a good idea for a waterpark, or at the very least once-piece bathers that won’t come flopping off on any of the rides. If you’ll be hanging out by the kiddy pool a nice kaftan pullover is sensible (you can see a few more ideas over on our Abu Dhabi packing list page)
For men, as per the beach, it’s really better NOT to wear your skimpy speedos and wear shorts. Local lads will probably have T-shirts on as well as knee-length or three-quarter shorts, but tourists will be OK with shorter shorts and topless.
This popular tourist attraction – along with any religious or Government building in the UAE – has its own set of unique rules that are far more conservative and must be abided by at all times.
For women, unless you have all parts of your skin covered from ankles to the wrist, and a head covering you will be asked to borrow an abaya and Shayla for your visit. They supply different variations that cover your whole body, head only or body only if you brought your own scarf. This dress code is expected from teenagers upwards.
For men, long trousers and covered shoulders are required. If you do not have trouser legs down to your ankles, then they will request you wear a kandura (it’s OK to purposefully wear shorts so you can have the opportunity to play dress up!)
The dress standard for pre-pubescent children is much less stringent than for adults. Children should feel free to dress to the weather conditions.
You will find Muslim boys and girls on the whole dress a lot more conservatively – even at the peak of summer they will still be in long trousers and long sleeves on many occasions. There is no obligation for your children to follow suit. If you have active little girls, then leggings under dresses may be sensible but otherwise, dress as they please.
Non-muslim women do not need to cover their hair in Abu Dhabi. Only if you enter a religious building this will be required, and one can be provided for you if you did not pack one.
As we covered above, yes this is acceptable in the right poolside or beach setting.
The dress code for Dubai is the same as Abu Dhabi. Although you will find there are more tourists in Dubai and the rules are stretched more often, the core principles are the same.
Dress for the heat but try to remain modest and consider your surroundings at all times in Dubai; What you wear to the Mall or Souqs is quite different to what you can get away with wearing at some beaches or in a private resort.
You can find our complete dress code advice for Dubai here.
Before you go… Important things to consider planning a trip to Abu Dhabi
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Abu Dhabi, a handy guide on what to pack as well as top tips for first-timers on the dos and don’ts, laws, and customs in the UAE.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!
- Discover the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here: