Winter in Dubai is wonderful. It’s undoubtedly the best time of year to visit Dubai. During the day it’s still warm enough to lie in the sun and swim, but best of all you can walk – something you can’t do in Dubai for much of the year.
When you think of Dubai as a holiday spot, sun and sand are probably what first come to mind. You picture yourself working on your tan on the beach all day, punctuated by dips in the Arabian Sea. Yet summer in Dubai, indeed, right across the Arabian Peninsula, in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, is unbearably hot and humid. You’ll feel like you’re baking in an oven.
Winter, by contrast, is bliss. Winter in Dubai – from December through to March (technically, although things are starting to warm up in March) – is the best time to visit this cosmopolitan Middle East destination and here’s why. And when you’re looking for accommodation, see our guide to the best hotels to stay in Dubai in winter.
Winter in Dubai – Why Winter is the Best Time of Year to Visit Dubai
Winter is Dubai is Warm
While the UK, Europe and parts of North America are experiencing freezing temperatures right now, in winter in Dubai there is a balmy daily average of around 25˚C while the nights might drop to a cool 15˚C. You can still bask in the sun on the beautiful beaches of Dubai – as well as neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Ajman, and the resorts that dot the dramatic east coast at Fujairah and Khor Fakkhan – without turning into burnt toast.
If you’re not staying at a beach resort, there are plenty of pristine, sandy public beaches, including Open Beach, also known as Russian Beach, Kite Beach and Umm Suqeim at Jumeirah in Dubai. Elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), beaches skirt most of the coastline. Ajman has loads of lovely creamy sand beaches and Khor Fakkhan’s main beach is backed by a grassy park with good facilities.
You can hire a car and head for the east coast beaches or drive along the north coast and do a road trip from Dubai to the Musandam Peninsula, Oman, or do a tour including a full-day dhow cruise with snorkelling and swimming with dolphins when you get there.
Abu Dhabi, our first home when we moved to the UAE, is also lovely with stunning stretches of sand. If you’re driving, you can also do an Abu Dhabi to Al Ain road trip through some dramatic desert scenery.
In Winter in Dubai the City is Walkable
For much of the year it’s impossible to walk anywhere in the UAE – let’s just say it’s akin to being in a fan force oven – but in winter in Dubai the city is walkable. In fact, all of the UAE’s cities are fabulous for walking at this time of year. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Khor Fakkhan all have stunning Corniches or seaside promenades, where locals like to stroll, jog and rollerblade, and in the evening and on weekends they really buzz.
In Old Dubai you can walk right along Dubai Creek. Start at Al Seef Road Park in Bur Dubai, meander the labyrinthine lanes of the artsy Bastakiya quarter, then mosey through the textile souk all the way to historic Shindagha; backtrack to the abra station and take one of the small wooden boats across the Creek where you can wander along the fascinating dhow docks.
See our Old Dubai walking tour for more details. This is a route we used to take regularly from our home in Bur Dubai. Or sign up for a guided walking tour of Old Dubai that takes in many of these spots.
You’ll also find some of the world’s most audacious architecture in Dubai. Click through for our guide to the iconic buildings, old and new, the buildings we loved to gawk at. Or consider an architecture tour with an expert guide.
Sharjah also has a wharf where the dhows anchor that is interesting to amble, and the pedestrianised heritage and arts precincts that are much more pleasant to saunter in winter. In Al Ain, the shady paths of the date plantations are infinitely more pleasurable to meander at this time of the year. See our Al Ain guide for walks and other things to do.
There’s More to Do in Winter in Dubai
November to April is the best time to visit Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can admire Dubai’s 3000-plus, pretty, pink flamingo population that flocks here in winter months; binoculars can be borrowed at the viewing hides.
If you’re on a Dubai stopover and in a hurry to see the city, or you doing Dubai on a budget, you could do worse than take the open-top, hop-on hop-off double-decker bus tour of Dubai – riding in the breeze at other times of the year will leave your skin red as a beet.
Sometimes pointlessly derided as ‘fake’ by those who don’t know how to have fun, an organised ‘desert safari’ offers the opportunity to get out and tick off a bunch of must-do Dubai boxes: exhilarating desert driving called ‘dune bashing’ (only in approved areas, of course), a camel ride, sandboarding, puffing on sheesha, feasting on Middle Eastern food, bellydancing, henna tattoos, and, of course, gawking at the gobsmacking desert sunset.
Not your sort of thing? Then try a romantic luxury desert dining experience or go all out and check into one of Dubai’s dreamy desert escapes for a couple of nights. Winter is definitely the best time for a desert experience by far. We think it’s worth it alone for the sublime sunset over the sand dunes.
In Dubai in Winter the Parks are Packed with Locals
Winter in Dubai is barbecue season! When winter arrives it means it’s time to get the barbecue out for most locals and expats. On weekends and weeknights Dubai’s parks are packed with families and friends picnicking and grilling smoky kebabs on their portable barbecues.
Barbecues will be followed by coffee and sheesha and a game of something – for the Indians and expats from Commonwealth countries it’s cricket season, and for everyone else it will be some other kind of ball sport or a more sedate game of backgammon or chess on a fold-up table.
We recommend you join them. Grab some picnic supplies (tubs of olives, cheeses, cold cuts etc) from the deli counter of a supermarket or get take-away hummus, muttabal, fattoush, and shish taouk (garlicky chicken) from a Lebanese restaurant, and sweets from an Arabic Bakery. See our guide street food and traditional fare for more details.
Head for palm-shaded Dubai Creekside Park with manicured lawns stretching from Al Garhoud Bridge all the way to Al Maktoum Bridge, kiosks, a cable car and gorgeous city views. Or you can try 51-hectare park Za’abeel Park, Dubai’s answer to New York’s Central Park, which has lakes and ponds, sports facilities, cafés, and jaw-dropping views of Sheikh Zayed Road’s skyline at sunset.
At Jumeirah Beach Park on Jumeirah Rd, palm trees shade barbecues and picnic tables set on lush lawns overlooking a lovely long stretch of beach. In Abu Dhabi, landscaped parks are dotted all along the Corniche, while Khor Fakkhan has one long stretch of leafy green along its beach.
In Winter in Dubai the Heritage Village Comes Alive
Dubai’s Heritage and Diving Village on Dubai Creek at Shindagha is the site of the early pearling and fishing settlement, which was little more than a large village of barasti (palm frond) huts. Very quiet during the hottest months, it really comes alive on winter nights.
There’s no denying this recreation of a traditional Bedouin coastal village is touristy, but in winter you’ll find more Emiratis here than foreigners, when there are traditional song and dance performances, including the mesmerising Liwa dance, where Emirati men in crisp white dishdashas stand in rows facing each other and sway back and forth with their canes.
There are also re-enactments of different styles of Bedouin weddings by heritage groups from around the Arabian Gulf, and other traditional activities, such as rifle throwing competitions, which are broadcast on local television. The heritage villages in Hatta and Abu Dhabi also host similar cultural performances
In Dubai in Winter the Shopping is More Fun
Every UAE city has a lively souk (market) of some kind, although Dubai’s souks are the best. Gaping at the dazzling displays of gold, haggling for fine Persian carpets, or browsing stalls crammed with sacks of frankincense and spices are a must no matter what time of year you visit.
But it’s much more fun to haggle with the stall-holders for bargains during winter in Dubai – when the perspiration is not dripping from your brow, your clothes are not drenched with sweat, and you don’t feel the need to retreat to an air-conditioned shopping mall every few minutes.
The most lively and interesting souks are in Dubai, but Sharjah, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Um Al Quwein have souks too. Abu Dhabi has an interesting Iranian souk at the mina (port) although it’s mainly household goods.
In winter, you’ll also get to discover markets and fairs that are only held during the cooler months. In Dubai, there is a weekend arts and crafts market at Dubai Marina, a flea market at Safa Park, and an art fair in the Bastakiya quarter. In Fujairah, you’ll find a colourful market right along the waterfront.
In Winter in Dubai You Can Dine Outside
Dubai has countless cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating that are impossible to enjoy most of the year, but in winter lunching in the sun overlooking the aquamarine sea or dining under the stars is sublime.
The Arabian Tea House, located in the leafy courtyard of a traditional windtower building in the Bastakiya, is one of the most atmospheric places for lunch. In the evenings, an Arabic meal and sheesha (water pipe) at creekside Kan Zaman at Al Shindagha is an enchanting spot to watch the nightly parade of illuminated party boats on the Creek.
For a romantic meal, Pier Chic, a seafood restaurant on a wharf offshore from Al Qasr Hotel has magical views of Madinat Jumeirah. Chinese restaurant Zheng He’s nearby at Mina A’Salam Hotel has breathtaking vistas of the Burj Al Arab. Alluring Eauzone, at the One&Only Royal Mirage hotel, is accessed across a low-list boardwalk and surrounded by tranquil ponds and a swimming pool. Maya, a chic Mexican restaurant at Le Royal Méridien Hotel, has alfresco dining tables as well as a rooftop bar with sea views.
Some of the cheap shawarma stands and simple Lebanese and Indian restaurants have outdoor seating where you can watch the world go by. See our guide to eating street food for the best eat streets and neighbourhoods for traditional food from the Middle East. Al Mateena Rd, Deira, has a palm-filled median and dozens of Iraqi and Persian kebab restaurants. Ashwaq Cafeteria, one block from the Gold Souk has tiny tables and stools you can perch while you people-watch.
Elsewhere in the UAE, the backstreets of Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Fujairah are filled with similar places.
In Dubai in Winter You Can Drink in the Breeze
Evenings in winter in Dubai are heavenly. They’re like spring nights elsewhere. There are some fantastic outdoor bars where you can down some drinks with friends while enjoying the salty sea breeze.
You can watch the boats bobbing on the water with a glass of bubbly at The Terrace at the Park Hyatt Dubai’s waterfront vodka and champagne bar. You can drink Guinness on the grass as you watch a live band at the Irish Village at Al Garhoud. Or you can sip a glass of crisp white wine as you enjoy the Burj Al Arab light show from the wooden veranda of colonial-style Bahri Bar at Mina A’ Salam at Madinat Jumeirah.
You can inhale aromatic sheesha reclining on cushions surrounded by palm trees illuminated with fairy lights at the Sheesha Courtyard at the One&Only Royal Mirage Hotel. Or you can enjoy cocktails to the beat of a DJ overlooking the Arabian Sea at funky rooftop bar 360 degrees at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
Dubai in Winter is Festival Time
Given the country’s preoccupation with shopping, we’ll start with the festival that helped put Dubai on the map, the Dubai Shopping Festival (26 December to 28 January, 2017). It’s a month of credit-card-busting bargains, raffles best explored at Dubai’s mega-malls such as Mall of the Emirates and The Dubai Mall.
From the start of November until early April, Dubai is home to the Global Village, with an array of cultures and countries from around the world represented, with plenty of entertainment and, of course, shopping. Once part of Dubai Shopping Festival, Global Village is now a standalone attraction running for five months (1 November 2016 to 8 April 2017), however, it’s much more pleasant to wander around during winter in Dubai when the nights are cooler.
Attracting acts from all over the world is the 15th Dubai Jazz Festival in February (22-24 February 2017), with a more eclectic program than the name would suggest. The Dubai International Film Festival also takes place in December (6-13 December 2017), with a focus on the best of Arab Cinema this year.
Spectator Sports Galore During Winter in Dubai
The cooler months sees Dubai’s sporting calendar move into top gear. Starting it off was the 3-day Dubai Rugby 7s held in December – a big set of dates on Dubai’s social calendar for expats, so much so that they had to construct a purpose-built venue for the event.
For those who prefer to participate in an international sporting event, the Dubai Marathon is held late-January (20 January 2017) and features a full marathon, 10km road race and 3km fun run. Dubai is so flat you might just record your best time ever.
Back to watching the worlds’ best: the action heats up with The Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament end of January to early February (30 January to 5 February 2017) featuring some of the best players in the world, followed later in the month by the 25th Dubai Tennis Championships (19 February to 4 March 2017), which attracts the world’s best women’s players followed by the men’s tournament a week later.
While horse racing is on all winter, late March sees the end of the sports season marked by the Dubai World Cup (25 March 2017) and the Dubai World Cup Carnival leading up to the big day. The world’s richest horse racing programme, this year there’s a total purse prize of over US$10 million. While there’s no gambling in Dubai, there manages to be an awful lot of unintentionally appalling fashion, which is often more entertaining as the races themselves.
And You Can Ski Dubai
If, after all this, you’re starting to get anxious over the white winter that you’re missing back home in Europe or North America, while you’re here you can still hit the slopes at Ski Dubai, Dubai’s indoor ski resort and snow park.
It’s the real deal, with a quad lift and a drag lift, a ‘black’ run, and a kid’s snowpark. All the equipment is included in the price, you just need to bring gloves. There’s even a café where you can have a hot chocolate on the snow – and you won’t need to de-ice the rental car to get home.
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