The United Arab Emirates is in the heart of the Middle East, along the Arabian Gulf. Sitting near the Tropic of Cancer, the country has a desert climate with sunshine almost year-round.
This basically leads to long, hot summers and mild winters. But how bearable is the heat?
Most visitors prefer to come during the cooler months of late October through to April, but there are still plenty of good reasons to visit the UAE at off-peak times too.
We talk you through what to expect throughout the year, both in terms of weather, holidays and events to be aware of.
UAE weather in the summer
Peak temperatures can be as high as 50c (122F), so life really moves indoors and into the evenings to deal with the unbearable daytime temperatures outside.
It really depends on your tolerance for heat. June and July tend to be quite a dry heat; then, as you get into August and September, there is humidity to contend with as well.
Be mindful of not only the extreme air temperature but also ocean temperatures in the summer can rise to 32-35c – which basically feels like spa water! You will definitely want to seek out accommodation with a chilled pool in you fancy taking a dip in the summer.
Thinking of driving in the UAE? Check out our guide to desert driving in the heat.
UAE weather in the winter
Winter in the UAE is an extremely pleasant time to visit, making it an ideal sunny escape, especially for those living in Europe. The big cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi jump to life with a vast array of festivals and activities, joining a huge lineup of year-round tourist attractions. Look out particularly for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of November and National Day in early December.
Daytime temperatures really start to fall back to the low 30’s by the end of October and to around the low 20’s by December/January. These pleasant conditions last until around the end of April, by May, things really heat up again to 40c+
The middle of winter is NOT the best time for visiting the beach as water temperatures dip below 20c – though those coming from much colder climates might argue it’s still lovely and refreshing! Most resorts will have temperature-controlled pools to make sure it’s pleasant for visitors year-round.
Winter is the perfect time to head outside though and enjoy the vast array of nature and outdoor experiences in the UAE. We have a bumper list of winter activities to try across the Emirates here.
Does it rain in Dubai?
Yes! It might take you by surprise, but rain is possible over the cooler winter months (or it could stay completely dry!) Over the last ten years, it has rained on average five days of the year.
No need to pack an umbrella just in case. If it does rain, it’s best just to stay put if you can until it passes. It’s unlikely to go on for hours, and during peak rains, the roads can flash flood, and driving becomes chaotic.
Fog in the UAE!
The other thing to be conscious of and a much more common occurrence is fog. This can play havoc in the winter months with the major airports. There’s no way of predicting it in advance, but one of those things you might need to factor into your travel plans if it occurs during your visit. Normally it burns off by late morning but it can make overnight and early morning driving hazardous (more so than usual!) and delay planes.
Does Dubai get sandstorms?
Yes! Dust or sand storms are a common occurrence in the UAE. Maybe not the extreme that you see in the movies (looking at you, Mission Impossible!) But nonetheless, there can be a lot of dust in the air. In fact, Dubai often has a permanent hanging layer of dust spoiling the skyline. You experience this less so in Abu Dhabi and the other Emirates.
The problem in most of the UAE is the fine layer of dust that develops pretty much year-round. A hazard of being in the middle of the desert, you will discover pretty quickly why most people don’t hang their washing outside!
Those with severe asthma and other respiratory conditions should keep abreast of the AQI if it’s dusty out.
Public holidays and school holidays in the UAE
Although the country follows the Gregorian calendar (January through December), the Hijri calendar is observed for religious occasions.
The main observances are:
- The holy month of Ramadan
- Eid al-Fitr
- Arafat Day & Eid al-Adha
- Hijri New Year
- Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif – the Prophet’s birthday
Note these dates move forward roughly ten days each year compared to the Gregorian calendar. Actual dates are not confirmed until the moon is sighted, and the Government may move the actual dates that the public holiday is observed.
The UAE also celebrates:
- New Year’s Day on 1 January
- Commemoration Day on 1 December (previously called Martyrs Day on 30 November)
- National Day on 2-3 December
For this reason, early December can be one of the busiest local staycation weekends in the UAE!
School holidays in the UAE
School holidays can vary slightly between the Emirates and school curriculums, but generally speaking, most schools operate on three terms. They take a long summer break over July and August (when it’s not unusual to see many local and expat families leave the country for up to 8 weeks).
There is also a term break of 2-3 weeks taken over the end of December and early January (coincidental Christmas time, though Christmas Day, 25 December, is NOT a marked public holiday. You will see a decidedly festive feel throughout shopping malls and hotels).
There is also a term break held around late March/Early April. This is a very popular time for both local families staycationing in the Emirates and overseas visitors coming to enjoy the gloriously warm spring weather.
If you visit at any of the peak school holiday times, expect hotel accommodation to cost more and attractions to be MUCH busier.
Also, note that the weekend is Friday afternoon through Sunday, making these days much busier than during the week, Monday through Thursday.
What to expect during Ramadan
It’s important to note as a visitor when the Holy Month of Ramadan will occur as slight modifications in behaviour are required. The 9th month in the Hijri calendar is a period of deep religious reflection for Muslims and is strictly observed.
Ramadan in 2023 will start approximately 22 March and end 21 April.
The most important thing to observe is fasting, with no eating or drinking in public permitted. There should also be no public displays of affection and ensure you are dressed modestly – more so than usual.
You may also observe that many businesses and attractions are closed during the day and only open in the evening. That said, most tourist attractions are now keeping normal operating hours during the holy month. It is more so local businesses, government offices and schools that are impacted by the change in hours.
There is no reason not to visit during Ramadan. Daytime cafes and food courts are far more widely available than they used to be during the holy month (in fact, in recent years, cafes, restaurants and food courts have been completely open to the public, without even curtains or blackout screens being erected).
Ramadan can also be a great time to enjoy the local culture, join in with a traditional Iftar (the evening breaking of the fast) and overnight festivities that last well into the night, especially on weekends.