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 dress 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 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 locals 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 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
What should women wear in 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 Cress 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, 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. 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 kneee 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 it’s 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 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 in the peak of summr 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.
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: