Dubai is a great place to visit with kids. There is so much to do that is geared towards families and even lots of fun things to do for free! Still, while you might be happily planning your trip or stopover, there are a number of things that you need to know before visiting Dubai with kids. Some might surprise – and even concern – you.
1.COVID restrictions and precautions
With things the way they are at the moment with the global COVID-19 pandemic, it almost goes without saying that you will have to check the travel restrictions and precautions before you visit Dubai. These seem to be changing almost weekly, and are different for each country.
Luckily, checking what hygiene and safety precautions have been implemented by hotels is a little easier. Booking.com has introduced information in their hotel descriptions precisely about these measures. And we can testify to the specials you can find – we booked our last three Dubai stays through the search engine.
Make your booking here:
2. Visit in winter
Ever wondered why hotels in Dubai seem to be cheeper in July and August? It’s the weather – one of the things you need to know before visiting Dubai with kids (and booking your trip!).
Dubai is built on the edge of the desert. It has two seasons: hot and hotter. October to April is known as the ‘winter season’ and boasts blue skies and perfect beach weather. It is THE time to go to Dubai.
Although it is also the rainy season, rain showers typically don’t last long. Though on our last trip, it rained for more than 12 hours straight (overnight) and there were various floods (the amount of rain was unusual and the city’s drains were not built to cope with it). Our flight was delayed because the catering truck could not get to the airport due to flooded and closed roads.
The summer months are very hot. The thermometer regularly reaches over 45°c during the day. The average temperatures from May to September are 38°c or higher. Unless you want to spend all of your time at the malls and use copious amounts of sunscreen and sunglasses, you might want to avoid the summer months. You know it is extreme when there is a large sign at the metro near the fish market forbidding people from taking fish on the metro…
3. Late nights are normal
Dubai tends to be quiet in the mornings and afternoons and comes alive in the evenings. This is partly because of the extreme heat, so that Emerati people will often stay home until the sun has set. When you are leaving one of the sites at 8pm with a child who has finally crashed (jet lag!), it is not uncommon to see other families with young children just getting there for their outings.
Malls and the metro are even open until midnight, or even 1 am on Thursdays and Fridays.
Go early – when the attractions first open – to avoid the heat and the crowds.
4. Dubai is very safe
Dubai is very safe compared with other large cities across the globe. In fact, the United Arab Emirates is the second safest country in the world according to the World Economic Forum, probably because of the harsh penalties.
Street crime is rare. It is safe to take taxis at night and you should be fine walking around in most areas during the day. The biggest danger is crossing the street – many motorists ignore pedestrian crossings and tend to drive rather recklessly.
In fact, you are more likely to get in trouble for kissing or holding hands with your significant other. PDAs are considered very offensive in the UAE and many visitors have been arrested and even imprisoned for PDAs.
5. Friday is holy day
The UAE is a muslim country. In this respect, there are a few things that you should know and understand before you visit Dubai with kids.
First, the weekend is on Friday and Saturday and most Muslims gather for congregational prayers on Fridays.
Dubai Metro is closed between 1am and 10am on Fridays. Schools are closed and many private enterprises are closed too. Some attractions will not open until Friday midday. If you are visiting one of the big attractions, such as an amusement park, you will notice a significant increase in the number of visitors early Friday afternoon.
Friday is also a great day to go to brunch with some of the most amazing spreads for budgets of all sizes. You will need to book for a table for most.
You should also be aware that Friday nights are very busy, generally. Popular destinations, such as The Beach can be more difficult to navigate with a large pram or pusher and there is a higher chance that a small child might get lost. Plan accordingly (and write your phone number or hotel number on a bracelet or even on your child’s arm, so that they can be easily located if they do get lost).
While we are on the topic…
6. Ahdan (Call to prayer)
If you have not been to a Muslim country before, you are probably unfamiliar with the Adhan, or call to prayer. Five times a day, the Adhan is called, alerting followers that it is time for prayer.
This will happen when you are near any of the mosques, but you might also hear it happening in one of the shopping malls.
What should you do? If you are not going to pray, just continue doing what you were doing. You might note that restaurants or shops cease music or that any entertainment takes a break. Smaller shops may also close briefly. However, prayer time will not normally make much difference to you.
Due to Corona restrictions, ‘come to prayer’ should often now be understood as ‘pray at home’ or ‘pray where you are’.
7. Public holidays
There are public holidays in Dubai for all major events on the Islamic calendar. These vary each year (compared to the Gregorian (western) calendar) and depend on the moon phases. Check the calendar to see if any fall within your visit.
In addition, Dubai celebrates Commemoration Day (1 December) and National Day (2-3 December), commemorating the formation of the UAE as a nation in 1971.
Public holidays mean that banks, schools and some museums will be closed. Shopping malls and major attractions are normally open, but may have different opening hours and are likely to be fuller than usual.
During Ramadan, Muslims will normally practice fasting. Out of respect (and just good manners), you should not eat, smoke or drink in public in front of any Muslims between sunrise and sunset for the month of Ramadan. It is okay to go to a restaurant to eat, but walking around a mall or the old town with an ice cream is rude.
8. Dress modestly
You might be surprised to learn that you do not have to wear a burka or even a head covering when visiting Dubai. Still, it is not uncommon to see someone in black wearing a hijab and gloves so that only their eyes are showing at the same time as you see someone in a short skirt and a t-shirt. Some consideration of others and of local customs is necessary.
You can wear a bikini (even a skimpy one) at the beach or by the pool. However, if you leave the beach to go and get an ice cream, for example, you will need to cover up. Men will also need to put on a shirt (and shorts).
Security at a mall can turn you away, for example, if your shoulders are bare and ask you to put on something more appropriate.
When packing for your trip, you should therefore be mindful of the local customs and try not to pack anything that is too tight, short, transparent or revealing as such clothes would be considered indecent. If that is your normal style, save these clothes for when you visit a club (if you do visit a club when you’re traveling with kids).
When you are visiting a mosque, you will be required to cover up. Knees and shoulders must be covered – for everyone – and women must wear long sleeves and a headscarf. If you don’t have any with you, you can normally borrow them at the mosque.
9. You can eat very well
One thing you might not know about Dubai is that it is a great place for food – to the extent that Michelin is looking to launch a guide to Dubai in the near future. There is everything from budget-friendly traditional cuisine and all main international chains to fine dining and molecular gastronomy (though that is probably not what you will be looking for if you are travelling with kids).
This also means that there is a huge range of things for kids to eat. Even picky eaters (like Miss M) will find options. Even the room service and in-house restaurants at your hotel are likely to have a range of children’s options.
We have also always found the hotel breakfast buffets to be quite delicious and great for picky eaters and recommend booking breakfast with your room. (Some hotels have moved away from buffets due to health restrictions, but the variety of food on offer is still top notch).
Tipping isn’t really expected in Dubai, but it is common practice. Rounding up is good form. Restaurants may add a tip to your bill (it depends on the restaurant). Taxis will not expect to receive a tip, but appreciate it when you round up. Porters, for example, will normally expect a small tip and apparently so will supermarket staff who help you bag your goods and carry them to your car.
11. Care options are available
Most big name household products – nappies, wipes, creams – are available in Dubai (though the name may be a little different). If your suitcases get lost on your way to Dubai, you can find all the ‘supplies’ you need in Dubai. Most times it will even be exactly the same product, though it may be a little more expensive.
12. Ditto clothing brands
Again, if your suitcase is lost, you will be able to find most ‘western’ clothing brands in Dubai – even GAP, which does not have a brick-and-mortar store in Germany.
I did not have to try this one – by the time we went to Dubai as a family of three (not just flying through), Miss M was drinking bottles. Still, if you are breastfeeding your little one, this is something you need to know before you visit Dubai with kids.
UAE health authorities encourage breastfeeding, however you will rarely see a woman breastfeeding in public. I have never seen one, even a non-Muslim woman.
Most large malls now have parenting rooms with changing tables and an area for women to breastfeed their infants. Men are often not welcome – the rooms may even only be accessible through the Ladies washrooms.
If you are not in a mall and need to feed, I have heard that you can sit in the female prayer room at a mosque. Women that have experienced this report that they have felt very welcomed, if they have even seen anyone in there. I assume that you would need to have arms and legs covered and wear a headscarf to access the prayer room.
If you are in Dubai and try this, please let us know!
14. Car seats
As a parent, this is one things you must know before visiting Dubai with kids. It is also one area that most parents will find most difficult to deal with.
In 2017, the UAE introduced the “holistic seat belt law” (Ministerial Resolution No. 178 of 2017) requiring all backseat passengers to wear a seatbelt – one person per seat belt. Children below the age of 10 and under 145 cm must sit in the back of the car. The law also demands that children under the age of four have proper child restraints, including child safety seats.
Seriously, before this law entered into force, it was not uncommon to see too many people in the back of the car for the number of seatbelts and to see children crawling around on the back seat, not restrained at all.
If you are planning on visiting Dubai with an infant, you will probably take your rear-facing car seat (Group 0 or 0+) with you – and you should. Most systems now work with a stroller, which you will also probably appreciate having with you.
The difficulty comes if your child is too big for the infant carrier, but still needs a seat (especially Group 1 seats). These are often too cumbersome to carry around. If you take one with you, you will have it to drive from the airport to your hotel, but I doubt you will want to carry your seat around you all day while sightsee.
All taxis are supposed to carry one. However, when we were there the taxi companies only had a limited number (two was mentioned) to share between all of their cars and no one knew who had them last (and this was in January 2020!). Our options were limited.
What can you do?
- Make sure you book a hotel that is close to a metro stop. Most of the places you will want to visit are close to the metro, so that you can use that as your main mode of transport and thus circumvent the issue. You can even get to and from the airport with the metro – or take yours just for those 2 trips.
- You can ‘risk it’. You child will still have a seatbelt, but not the booster. I should add that taxi drivers tend to drive very quickly and somewhat erratically. We had to take this approach on our visit – we had read online that car seats were mandatory and that taxis carried them, only to get to Dubai and discover the real situation.
- Get a travel backpack for your car seat. One with strong padded straps. Make sure you get one that is padded, too, as it is likely that you will be carrying it around quite a lot.
- Try a Boostapak or other car seat that doubles as a backpack. This is great for slightly larger children but does not have the side impact protection that some children should still have.
Personally, I would be going with option No. 1.
15. Ask permission before taking photos
It should go without saying, but don’t take a photo of a stranger without their permission. Never take a photo of a Muslim woman without her permission. Taking photos o government buildings, airports and military installations might also land you in hot water.
Arabic is the official language of the UAE. However, it does not matter if you can’t speak or read the language as everything is written in English as well. All signs are in both languages, menus will be available in English.
When you go out to eat or even to one of the big attractions, it is highly likely that you will be served by someone who is not an Emirati, all of whom speak English. Still, it is nice to learn a few words of Arabic in preparation for your trip and the few times it would be courteous.
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17. There is a rich culture beyond the stereotypes and skyscrapers and the Emiratis are proud of it
If you look beyond the long list of superlatives, Dubai has a rich cultural heritage. Visit the Dubai Museum, the Ethiad Museum or the Dubai Frame and find out how Dubai went from pearl fishing being the biggest industry to becoming a thriving metropolis and innovative powerhouse in just a few decades.
The transformation is amazing. The contrast is even jarring.
While you are at the museums, you might notice that many of the staff members are Emirati – you may even see some females.
Emirati families are very well looked after in the UAE. They receive various family bonuses and free health care. It was explained to us that in many cases, the wife will not need to work. Instead it is more about prestige, with only certain jobs deemed appropriate. These include positions in banks and working as guides in the museums.
18. Dubai is constantly changing
We don’t get to go to Dubai every year, but each time we have, it has been significantly different to the time before.
Whole parts of the city spring up in just a short period of time. There are new metro stations and attractions every time we go. I know it will not be long before I have to update my posts on what to do in Dubai.
The government is also supporting efforts to develop innovative products of the future: self-driving cars, drone taxis and 3D organ printing, for example. If successful, these developments will impact the whole world, and not just the small Emirate of Dubai.
Now that you know the 18 things you need to know before visiting Dubai with kids…
Dubai is a wonderful Emirate to visit with kids. It is safe, family friendly and there is so much to see and do. Now that you are aware of the few surprises and know the things you need to know before visiting Dubai with kids, you relax and enjoy your trip!