Lady looking at the view across the water in Abu Dhbai to Etihad Towers and Emirates Palace

What to Wear in Abu Dhabi: Demystifying The Abu Dhabi Dress Code

A major concern many tourists have when planning their first trip to the UAE is around the dress code in Abu Dhabi.

As you no doubt already know, Abu Dhabi is the capital of 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, such as Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, it pays to get acquainted with what is legal and socially acceptable regarding how to dress in Abu Dhabi.

The standard of dress in Abu Dhabi varies considerably depending on your setting. As long-term, non-Muslim Abu Dhabi residents, we will run you through several different locations and scenarios below in a Q&A.

Whilst it’s important to dress for the climate, always bear your setting in mind and display cultural sensitivity when deciding what to wear in Abu Dhabi.

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Dressing for Religion and the Heat in Abu Dhabi

Although daytime average 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. You can dress for the extreme heat of the summer months while remaining respectful with your outfit choices.

There are a few basic rules of thumb tourists should look to observe:

  • Aim to cover shoulders and knees
  • Avoid showing midriffs and excessive cleavage
  • Avoid transparent clothing or anything overly clingy
  • Stick with breathable materials like cottons and linens

If someone does ask you to cover up – do so without protest

Yes, you will undoubtedly see someone wearing less than you or claiming they wore whatever they wanted 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 typical wardrobe choices.

And it’s indeed a little more conservative in Abu Dhabi than Dubai (or more so, there are fewer tourists and more expatriates, so you will see the dress code in Abu Dhabi is better adhered to).

You can learn more about religion, laws and customs in Abu Dhabi here

Local Dress in Abu Dhabi

Most locals in Abu Dhabi dress in traditional clothing. For Emirati men, this is:

Emirati men in traditional clothing for the Middle East region

Traditional dress for local women in Abu Dhabi consists of:

  • A long black abaya
  • Black Shayla (head covering)
  • You will occasionally see some Emirati women with a metal burqa, but this is uncommon these days. Full niqabs or burkhas are extremely uncommon.

Many expat ladies from other Muslim countries will dress in a similar conservative manner, wearing a long-sleeved shirt or dress, loose trousers or an ankle-length skirt/dress and a headscarf – though they will branch away from the traditional black to an often more bright and colourful hijad.

What to Wear in Abu Dhabi As A Woman

The Abu Dhabi women’s dress code for female tourists and expats can be tricky to navigate, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Non-Muslim females in the UAE are not required to have their heads covered – though 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.

Long pants are better than short shorts, but there’s no hard and fast rule about length. After over a decade of living here, our best advice is to see it as a series of compromises! If you are wearing sleeveless tops, wear a longer maxi skirt or vice versa with a short dress, have your shoulders covered.

Women may also like to wear leggings under a dress or short skirts if they feel they’re too short, but as a general rule, just avoid anything too tight, clingy, or transparent clothes.

See more of our FAQs below for when you may want to dress conservatively – and conversely, when wearing more Western-style summer clothing in high temperatures is perfectly fine.

a woman in conservative tourist clothing looking at the skyline view of Abu Dhabi
A woman wearing acceptable dress code for tourists in Abu Dhabi | Depositphotos

What Should Men Wear in Abu Dhabi?

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 you are in public places, or if you go with shorts, try to keep them knee-length. Avoid tank tops and sloganned t-shirts 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.

Comprehensive Abu Dhabi Packing List

To help you prepare for your Abu Dhabi trip, you can download a complete packing list for Abu Dhabi, including clothing advice and all the extra documents, electronics and toiletry items you might want to pack.

Dress Code in Abu Dhabi – FAQs and Different Settings to Consider When Deciding What to Wear in Abu Dhabi

Now let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions about the dress code in Abu Dhabi and what to wear in Abu Dhabi in some different situations you may find yourself in:

What should I wear to the beach in Abu Dhabi?

You will no doubt see everything from tiny bikinis to full-length burkinis worn by women at public beaches in Abu Dhabi.

Some beaches are more conservative than others, particularly if they’re considered a family beach, such as on the Corniche, you will be pulled up by security for exposing too much skin (e.g. wearing non-existent butt floss bikinis).

It’s up to your personal style, but something that is more modest and doesn’t disappear up your bottom is considered more respectful in Muslim countries. Topless bathing is considered a strict no-no (in fact, it’s 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 the beach, but cover up when you enter public areas away from the beach.

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 or adults only. 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 Abu Dhabi, worse than the original clothing infringement.

Beach front Jumeriah at Saadiyat

What should I wear to Yas Waterworld?

Again, you will see a wide variety of outfits, from bikinis to burkinis, at Yas Waterworld or any water parks in the Middle East. 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 flop 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 better NOT to wear your skimpy speedos and wear shorts. Local lads will probably have T-shirts and knee-length or three-quarter shorts, but tourists will be OK with shorter shorts and topless.

What should I wear to the Grand Mosque?

This popular tourist attraction – along with any religious or Government buildings in the UAE – has its own set of strict 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 a traditional abaya and Shayla for your visit to the Grand Mosque (NB since COVID restrictions, you can no longer borrow this abaya for free, they will direct you to the nearby strip of shops to buy something appropriate).

If you don’t want to buy anything specifically for this trip, we recommend a full-length maxi skirt for ladies and a non-clingy blouse that covers wrist to neck. Finish this off with a head scarf fully covering the hair.

This dress code is expected from teenagers visiting Abu Dhabi, too (or those who have reached puberty).

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.

Here is a more detailed guide on what to wear for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

What is the Qast Al Watan dress code?

The Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi (Qasr al Watan) does not have as strict a dress code as the Grand Mosque, requiring women to be fully covered from ankle to wrist. There’s no need for a head covering as it’s not a religious building.

Visitors are, however, asked to dress in a modest manner – so follow the guidance on covered shoulders and knees as a minimum and skip anything that could be mistaken for beachwear – we cover the dress code for Qasr Al Watan in more detail here.

What do I wear on a desert safari?

If you are headed into the desert on a popular Abu Dhabi desert safari, it is sensible to wear closed-toe shoes if you’ll be participating in sand sports like sandboarding. Sand will inevitably get everywhere, but it is safer than wearing your flip flops!

You will also want something to tie back long hair, a sunhat, and sunglasses for during daylight hours. In the middle of winter, it can be chilly overnight so we suggest you also pack a sweater.

You can find further advice for packing for an Abu Dhabi desert safari here.

What is the Yas Mall dress code?

At Yas Mall, or any shopping mall in the UAE, you should dress appropriately for a public place. This is more covered up than at the beach but not as conservative as the mosque or a museum, etc. You will have no problem wearing shorts and a T-shirt to shopping malls, but be mindful that nothing shows too much skin or is too revealing.

Often, despite dress standards stated at mall entrances, you’ll see people fairly scantily clad. Security is well within their right, though, to refuse entry if you’re not wearing appropriate clothing.

What are children expected to wear in Abu Dhabi?

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.

Do I need a Hijab in Abu Dhabi?

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.

Can I wear a bikini in Abu Dhabi?

As we covered above, yes, wearing a bikini in Abu Dhabi is acceptable in the right poolside or beach setting. In a family setting such as a public family beach frequented by locals, it would be appropriate to wear something less revealing.

Can I wear shorts in Abu Dhabi?

Yes, it is absolutely fine for women and men to wear shorts in Abu Dhabi in most settings. You may feel more comfortable in longer shorts to your knees, but mid-thigh is OK in most situations.

What sort of footwear is suitable in Abu Dhabi?

Anything from flip-flops to trainers is perfectly acceptable in Abu Dhabi. Locally, men tend to wear sandals with their kanduras and sandals, or slip-on leather shoes are pretty standard casual wear.

For women, sandals, high heels, flip flops take your choice; while there’s a bit to think about covering your upper body, pretty much anything goes on your feet.

The only settings you may need to really think about are dining out and nightlife. Some venues won’t let you in with flip flops or shoes considered ‘beach wear’ or trainers, men and women.

If you are hitting the theme parks, walking the museums or taking a desert safari, think comfort first.

Is the dress code different in Dubai?

The dress code for Dubai is the same as for 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 from what you can get away with wearing at some beaches or in a private beach resort.

You can find our complete dress code advice for Dubai here.

Is it more conservative during Ramadan?

It used to be the case that during the Holy Month of Ramadan, a much stricter dress code was required from everyone. Personally, as long-term expats, we still dress more conservatively and modify our behaviours in line with local customs at this time of year. However, in recent years, we’ve seen very little modification in dress behaviour.

If you head over here we have a complete guide to everything you need to pack for Abu Dhabi, plus a downloadable packing list so you don’t forget any essential items.

Before you go… Important things to consider when planning a trip to Abu Dhabi

Take me back to Abu Dhabi Essential Planning Information

Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.

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