When to visit Dubai

Find the best time for your Dubai visit

Sweltering in the summer, while wistfully wonderful in the winter, no matter when you land in this city of riches there is plenty that will have you talking long after the holiday is over.

Melinda HealyJournalist and travel writer
15 September 2022

Although a tourist mecca all year round, Dubai has two very distinct seasons - winter and summer, and not much in between. Those who have been to this region will tell you that the optimal time to visit what is the UAE’s liveliest city is during the cooler months, which extend from November through April. Not only is it more temperate at this time - we’re talking maximums of 75.2 Fahrenheit - there are plenty of seasonal celebrations and festivals on the calendar. This is a time when everyone seems to lift the lid on long summer days indoors, coming out of hibernation with a pep in their step. From April onward the heat begins to creep in, eventually becoming unbearable and, in some cases, exhausting. Increasing humidity and sweltering temperatures make activities like sunbathing, evening walks, and desert hiking difficult, so you'll need to head indoors for a reprieve. And while we know that shopping and dining can be enjoyed anytime, malls and restaurants/cafes definitely come into their own during the hottest times, and, as a bonus, they're air-conditioned of course!

The best time to venture into the desert

Most of us will have seen the UAE’s iconic rolling sand dunes in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster films. It is a whole other thing to experience the dunes-for-miles desert landscape for yourself – it really is like another world.

Pack for the cold

Despite the relatively mild temperatures at this time of year, the desert does get cold in the evenings and overnight, so be sure to pack your thermals, warm jackets and, of course, plenty of blankets and some matches for the fire.

It’s best to do this between November and March, as the scorching summer has passed by then and the temperatures, fluctuating between 64-73℉, are more conducive to being outside.

Whether camping, traversing the dunes on foot, or living it up at one of the desert resorts, it is a safer bet during the winter months and you can get the full experience. Short-term camping is permitted in most desert areas, but make sure you do your research in advance if you’re planning on going it alone. Al Qudra is the most popular camping spot as it is less than an hour’s drive from Dubai and has plenty of free camping spots, not to mention lakes and cycle paths, to enjoy when you’re not sandboarding, climbing dunes or taking photographs.

Expect plenty of locals and tourist activity at this time of the year, particularly on weekends, as camping and desert day-tripping are favoured winter activities in these parts. It’s all about leaving the bright lights of the emirate behind, sitting by the campfire among friends and family, looking up at the uninterrupted sky and feeling like the only people on the planet.

For a unique desert experience, Starlight Camp at Hatta offers bubble tent accommodation, which is a whole other way to stargaze. You’ll find it a 45-minute drive from the city, and for two people it will cost AED 1,800 a night. The Starlight team provides a barbecue to cook on or there are pre-arranged dinner options available to you on request.

The best time for avoiding the crowds

Despite being the most extime time weather wise, the summer months (May to August) are best if your MO is to avoid the crowds. It is during this time that many expatriate families and plenty of the locals escape the heat and head to Europe for the lengthy end of year school break.

Keep your cool

Remember to dress lightly; drink plenty of water, and try not to underestimate the effect the oppressive heat can have. It is possible to succumb to heat stroke within 10 minutes if you’re not prepared and properly hydrated.

For those tourists from much cooler climates, the sky-high temperatures are something you’ll need to prepare for. Weigh it up and decide if it’s too hot to even venture outside, and ask yourself: are you content with focusing on the indoor attractions Dubai has to offer, things like shopping, skiing, aquarium visits, eating and so on? If you are, then you’ll find it is definitely less crowded and easier to book into the attractions that usually require consideration months in advance during peak periods.

Aside from the summer months, the Holy Month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month on the lunar calendar, also sees tourist numbers drop whenever it falls. While cafes, hotels and restaurants are open to those who aren’t fasting, they are less busy, especially during the day, as many Muslims sleep the days away, celebrating instead through the night – beginning at Iftar, the meal that breaks their fast.

Dubai’s low season (May to August) and its two shoulder seasons (September to November / March to May) are kinder to the budget if you’re looking to get more holiday bang for your hard-earned bucks. Not as many tourists are inclined to visit, as many of them instead opting for more temperate European vacations. This also means there is less demand for accommodation, the major tourist attractions are easier to access and a little bit more affordable than when tourist numbers peak at the end of the year.

Often, in order to entice tourists to the region, special deals are offered with theme parks, restaurants and retailers applying discounts to their standard rates so as to ease the pain of what one might call ‘weather-induced restrictions’. The annual Dubai Summer Surprises shopping festival is one such incentive, it runs for 10 weeks from July and affords residents and tourists huge discounts on a variety of goods, including popular tech devices.

If you’re budget conscious, travel during the Christmas holiday period is a no-go zone financially, in fact any time during the ooler months, since this is when prices are at their highest, with availability or lack thereof reflecting demand.

The best time for a beach holiday

For those intent on spending time frolicking in the Arabian Sea while in the Middle East, water temperatures are at their most enjoyable between April and May, when they generally sit somewhere between 75 and 82℉. It’s at this time, too, that the sand isn’t quite burning your feet, laying out on a sunlounger is bearable and tanning more enjoyable.

There are plenty of beach clubs and resorts across the emirate that celebrate their seaside position as much as they do their extravagance and tourist appeal. It is here that it becomes a case of sunbathe, cool-off in the ocean, towel off, sip and repeat. Many properties have beach staff to tend to your every need – cold bottled water, a new towel, snacks, drinks, etc – all you need to do is sit back and relax. While it can be busy at this time of year by the beach, it’s certainly not too outrageous, and there are quite a few to choose from.

The best time for families

The short answer is when it’s cooler: shoulder season (April-May, September-October) or during the UAE winter (November-March) are best given temperatures are at a more comfortable level at these times. Shoulder season generally means less crowds and more affordable pricing too.

Although a lot of Dubai’s family-friendly attractions are indoors – ice-skating, aquariums, Ski Dubai, bounce trampoline parks, etc – many of the most popular offerings are outside, including Dubai Garden Glow and its neighboring Dinosaur Park, Global Village, Miracle Garden, Legoland (the rides at least), outdoor cinemas, and of course, water parks and mini-golf. Now, from my own experience, I’m telling you that if you’ve got little ones in tow and the conditions are not comfortable for them, your usually loveable rugrats will turn into whinging monsters, and that is something no one wants, especially if you’re hot and bothered yourself! Of course, there are ways to turn things around: ice cream does wonders to cool things down, souvenirs are also a great idea, and before you know it, smiles are back on their little faces.

The best time for celebration

The UAE sure knows how to celebrate, and there are plenty of opportunities to do just that. With many of Dubai’s residents hailing from 200 different global destinations, it’s not surprising that the celebrations are many and varied.

The biggest of them are on the winter calendar between November and February. National Day, a nod to the unification of the UAE (December 2) and Christmas/New Year’s are two of the biggies, renowned for their spectacular fireworks displays and elaborate city-wide decorations.

Culturally, Ramadan is the most important month on the local calendar. As mentioned earlier, it falls on the ninth month on the lunar calendar and the dates change annually according to the moon. A celebration of the creation of the Quran, this month of fasting and prayer culminates in a breaking of the fast festival, known as Eid al-Fitr, which is marked by a long weekend across the Emirates. Traditionally, it is a time for new clothing, sweet treats and family gatherings.

This is not the only annual Eid celebration though: Eid Al Adha is acknowledged during Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. It’s the month where Muslims make their pilgrimage to Mecca (known as Hajj). Emiratis and fellow Muslims celebrate it by sacrificing a cow, sheep or a lamb, and exchanging gifts, and it is also acknowledged with a public holiday.

Aside from the aforementioned, there are other times throughout the year when the country celebrates everything from food to shopping, music and sport.

Taste of Dubai, which is held in early February at Dubai Media City’s Amphitheatre, is a one-stop food destination. If you love your retail therapy, as so many in these parts do, then you’ll want to be here during the Dubai Shopping Festival, which runs for six weeks from mid-December; and for sport and music/art enthusiasts, there are celebrations for you too.

About the author

Melinda HealyAlthough born in PNG, Mel is an Aussie-made journo who's always been more interested in passport stamps than possessions. A whiz with words, Mel spent a number of years living and working in the United Arab Emirates, it was here that she shared insight into Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the world. Mel believes travel is a privilege and an educator.