Visiting Dubai: Dressing for the weather

Part five of five installments

Located at 25 degrees north latitude on the shore of the Persian Gulf, it should come as no surprise that Dubai, particularly in the summer, can get extremely hot. And there are some things a visitor should know if they intend to try to cope with that heat.

I grew up in Phoenix. I thought I knew hot. But the heat in Dubai is different.

Sure, the thermometer may say something similar to Arizona and the Dubai Visitors’ Bureau bears that out. It says highs can reach high 40s Celsius, or near 120 degrees Fahrenheit. But unlike Phoenix, it is NOT “a dry heat.” Relative humidity in the coastal areas averages 50 to 60 percent. Even the water temperature in the gulf can reach near 37 degrees Celsius, about body temperature of 98.6 F.

The Persian Gulf as seen from The Atlantis Resort
During my visit in early May, locals were already bracing for the hottest months of the year that were quickly coming upon them.

One of Dubai’s rituals of summer is the annual “changing of the taps.” That occurs because there is a point when the water flowing out of the tap marked “cold” is actually hotter than the water coming from the tap marked “hot”. During the summer months, many locals turn off their water heaters and use the tank as a way to cool, however slightly, the pre-warmed water that enters their homes.

Many businesses, including the hotel at which I stayed, have chillers on their cold water inlets to keep the cold water at least cool.


At the heart of the Arab world, Dubai is a multi-cultural city. Visitors will see men dressed in the traditional garb including the white, flowing robes called jubba and head scarf called a keffiyeh secured by two black ropes called agal. Many women wear long black robes called abaya and veils called hijab that show only the eyes.

However, visitors will also see people dressed in clothing styles common in the West, as there are many ex-pats from a number of countries in Dubai. While visitors are not expected to follow many cultural customs with regard to their attire, conservative dress is more the norm and the best choice for not standing out as an obvious tourist.

Men generally wear slacks and business casual attire while conducting daily business but bear in mind that natural fibers like cotton can be a better choice than synthetics for keeping cool. Although the Dubai Visitors’ Bureau advises that shorts and lightweight shirts are fine for desert excursions, men wearing shorts were rarely seen outside of a few resort areas.

Comfortable shoes are also the order of the moment. Dress shoes, trainers, running shoes and sandals are all acceptable. One caveat, however, with regard to footwear: DO NOT SHOW THE BOTTOMS OF YOUR SHOES. The shoe is considered unclean because it touches the ground and because it is associated with the foot, the lowest part of the body. Showing it is considered rude.

Mosque and the Burj Al Arab Hotel
You may recall an incident in 2008 when an Arab reporter threw his shoe at then-President George W. Bush. Another incident visited a similar insult upon his father, George Bush. As an insult to the elder President Bush after the first Gulf war, a mosaic of his face was laid on the floor of the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. Anyone who entered the lobby would have to walk over his face to get into the hotel.

If you plan to visit a mosque – and there are many -- plan to dress even more conservatively. Both men and women should wear shirts with sleeves. Men should wear long slacks; women can wear either slacks or a skirt or dress, but there is no need for women to cover their heads.

Final thoughts

The emir has said he plans to make Dubai the world's most visited city. I see two obstacles to achieving that goal. 

One is the heat which even the emir can do only so much about. However, Dubai is building with the weather in mind. Many of the stations on the Metro line are connected to nearby destinations by air conditioned corridors, and many have moving walkways as well.

The other issue is the limited availability of alcoholic beverages. For travelers from much of the world, alcohol is part of being on vacation (or holiday) and continuing to limit its availability will affect some tourists' decision to visit the city.

Buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road
I understand and respect that the Muslim culture eschews alcohol and firmly believe that, no matter what your spiritual inclination or affiliation, one should not do something that violates their conscience. That said, if Dubai's leaders could find a way within those constraints to make adult beverages more readily available, it could result in a measurable increase in the number of visitors.

In all, Dubai is a fascinating city to visit, as much for its culture as for the view of what a modern city can be when provided with a clear direction and the political will and adequate funding to make it happen. Granted, the direction and political will are more easily defined and obtained when a single individual or small group of true leaders are in power instead of the culture that exists in much of the world where all stakeholders must be heard, then everyone has to hold hands and sings Kumbaya before deciding what time to break for lunch.

But Dubai is doing it, and doing it extremely well. Go, and see for yourself!

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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