Dubai is regarded as the Vegas of the Middle East. Just like Las Vegas, it's a loud, glitzy, super touristic and very modern city, with plenty of things to do. It's also a major transport hub, making it the perfect stopover to break up long trips.
We've been to Dubai several times, mainly to visit some of our gay friends living there. Before we went for our first trip, we had serious concerns about our safety because of the harsh anti-gay laws. Despite this, we've always had a great time in Dubai, albeit taking extra care to avoid all public displays of affection.
In this article, we set out our practical tips for gay travellers to Dubai, as well as information about the (underground) gay scene, best places to stay and things to do. We are by no means promoting the destination as a gay friendly haven! This is simply an honest account based on our first hand experiences travelling to Dubai.
Gay dating apps in Dubai
Gay dating apps such as Grindr or Scruff are illegal and blocked in Dubai. We found the best way to get around this is to use a VPN which will give you full access to the dating apps and will allow you to surf the Net anonymously.
Gay rights in Dubai
Homosexuality is illegal across the entire United Arab Emirates, punishable by death! However, each Emirate has its own legal system, with Dubai the least severe, whereby homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine instead of death. Like in many Arabic countries, homosexuality is a massive taboo and is not accepted by society.
Being openly gay in Dubai is therefore dangerous! Whether you're a local or a foreigner. The reality for gay tourists who wish to visit Dubai is that you are unlikely to encounter any problems as long as you avoid all public displays of affection with the same sex. Previous arrests of gay tourists in Dubai happened as a result of public occurrences. For example, in 2008, a Lebanese/Bulgarian lesbian couple were arrested for kissing on a public beach. They were sentenced to 1 month imprisonment and subsequently deported. Therefore, if you are happy to accept going back into the closet, you will be fine in Dubai.
More recently, in March 2019, Little Mix performed in Dubai under a giant rainbow flag for one of their songs without any problems. In a country where being gay is illegal, this is a big deal! Compare this to the Mashrou' Leila's 2017 concert in Cairo, Egypt (where being gay is also very illegal) when fans waved rainbow flags, the police ended up arresting 70 people!
Must do in Dubai: visit the Miracle Garden
150 million flowers are arranged to form incredible displays including a castle, giant teddy bear and an Emirates A380 aeroplane at the Dubai Miracle Garden. You can easily visit on a tour that will also take you to the Dubai Butterfly Garden.
Is Dubai safe for gay travellers?
If you do choose to visit a place like Dubai, you have to be aware that homosexuality here is a crime, punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine. Despite this, it has a large gay population living here who mainly work in the big airlines like Emirates. As long as you stay in the closet, you'll be safe in Dubai.
Despite the harsh LGBTQ laws, you will find Dubai is a fascinating place. It has one of the largest malls in the world, the highest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa), many excellent beaches, exciting busy traditional souks and even a 7 star hotel. It's also extremely safe with very low levels of crime. As a major transport hub, it's also a useful stop over for breaking up long trips.
Dubai has a reputation in the Arab world for being a liberal urban haven, largely because there is a large international expat population. For example, out of the total 9.5 million population, almost 8 million are expats mainly from South Asia, North America and Europe.
There are however, a few practical safety precautions that gay travellers to Dubai should take into account:
- avoid all public displays of affection with people of the same sex
- unless staying in a hotel you know welcomes gay travellers, book a room with 2 single beds (whether it is 2 queen beds or one king bed and a twin)
- be careful with who you hang out with, especially when meeting people on Grindr
- take care with what you post online before and during your trip, perhaps consider setting your social media channels to private if posting anything obviously gay
See Dubai from above in a helicopter!
For the most incredible experience why not splurge on a scenic helicopter ride over the city of Dubai? You can book a surprisingly affordable flight over the Persian Gulf Coast for unforgettable views and memories.
Where to stay in Dubai?
Due to the harsh anti-gay laws of the UAE, you will not find any outright gay hotels in Dubai as you would in Fort Lauderdale or Key West for example! In Dubai, some hotels may even require two men sharing a room to have an extra mattress added, or they will only allow you to book a room with twin beds.
Yes it's sad that in this day and age there exists places where you can't be yourself and sleep with your partner in the same bed. However, the large international brands are more likely to allow gay couples to share a double bed, in particular the following:
We've listed our 3 favourite gay friendly places to stay in Dubai. If you're looking for more inspiration, be sure to check out our article about the top gay friendly hotels to stay in Dubai.
The Sofitel Dubai Palm Resort & Spa
Why we love it
- Romantic and gay friendly
- Lagoon style swimming pool
- Friendly staff
- Luxurious spa
Our favourite hotel to stay in Dubai. Overlooking the Persian Gulf, the Sofitel Palm Resort and Spa is ideal hotel for couples looking for a romantic hideaway in Dubai.
Built in a Polynesian style, the hotel features low rise constructions and villas set amongst lush tropical gardens. The staff treated us with the upmost respect, without questioning our choice of a double bed.
The resort is also home to 6 different restaurants as well as 4 bars and lounges. There's a high-tech fitness centre and 6 swimming pools so you'll be able to work off the calories from all the amazing food! You can also enjoy many relaxing treatments in the So Spa which has 28 treatment rooms, seawater pool, sauna and massage rooms.
Get up to $55 off your next Airbnb booking
We've used Airbnb extensively during our travels because you can rent an entire home which usually works out a lot cheaper than a hotel room. It also allows you to have your own space with a kitchen, a living room and more. You can easily find places close to the gay scene by using the map function. If you've never used Airbnb before, simply click the button below to get up to $55 discount off your first booking.
The Hilton Dubai Jumeirah
Why we love it
- Private beach
- Direct access to “The Walk”
- Sky Lounge with stunning views
- Affordable luxury
The Hilton is an international American chain, which is used to hosting gay travellers.
The Hilton Jumeirah is a convenient and sophisticated hotel, located in the heart of “The Walk” shopping street, alongside Jumeirah Beach. The complex offers a private beach area, 15 on-site restaurants and bars, including the award winning Italian restaurant, “BiCE”.
We particularly love the Sky Lounge; one of the best rooftop bars in Dubai and perfect for a romantic sunset cocktail. The Hilton Jumeirah is in an ideal location if you are looking to “shop 'til you drop” as it's right in the heart of Dubai's main shopping street; The Walk. You'll also be able to relax in the spa and health club if you're tired and sore from all that shopping!
Don't miss the Dubai Lake fountain show
When visiting the Burj Khalifa make sure you stop to enjoy the Dubai Lake fountain show featuring water, music and lights. For a truly breathtaking experience, you can even see it from the deck of a traditional “abra” water taxi.
Why we love it
- Trendy and affordable
- Excellent location
- Live music with DJ by the pool
- Airport shuttle service
Aloft is an Urban-inspired design hotel, bringing high comfort and high tech at an affordable price, ideal for the Millennial traveller.
The rooms are spacious, offering a choice of different pillows and very comfortable beds. The pool is a great place to relax, with live DJs playing music every Monday and Thursday.
The Aloft Me'aisam is the ideal place for gay travellers to Dubai who are looking for a more affordable option without sacrificing comfort. Aloft is a young, chic and
Must do in Dubai: the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, and you can enjoy stunning views over Dubai from the observation deck. Make sure you book ahead to skip the queues and then relax in the lounge at sunset.
Gay friendly bars in Dubai
Whilst homosexuality is a crime in Dubai, there still exists an active underground gay scene thanks to the large expat population. Remember, this is where over 20,000 flight attendants call home, so you know there's going to be a few raucous gay parties taking place somewhere…our advice is to use Grindr or Scruff to connect with locals/expats to find out exactly where!
In terms of outright gay bars in Dubai, there are none! There are however a handful of places which are liberal-minded, attract an international crowd and can therefore be regarded as being “gay friendly”:
- Level 43 Sky Lounge: this was our favourite bar in Dubai. It's a large, trendy, blue-lit rooftop lounge. It is located 155m in the air on the 43rd floor of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel. The 360 degree views across the big city below are spectacular. It's the sort of place we felt comfortable to visit as a gay couple for a romantic cocktail, obviously cautious of avoiding public displays of affection!
- Bar 44: really elegant and classy lounge, located on the top floor of the Grosvenor House. We love their cocktails and thought they are one of the best in Dubai. It gets busy around sunset, attracting quite a chic crowd.
- Gold on 27: grab your wallet and all your bling and come hang out at this opulent gem! We discovered Gold on 27 after visiting the Burj Khalifa. It's located on the 27th floor of Dubai's star attraction (so that's around 200m high). People dress up and come here to be seen!
- 101 Lounge and Bar: high end lounge bar with gorgeous views of the Dubai Marina. They do good tapas and cocktails here, which are a bit on the pricey side! We recommend their ceviche and fois gras, which are delicious! To reach the 101 Lounge, you need to take a short boat ride from the the Jetty Lounge.
- Pure Sky Lounge: one of our favourite bars in Dubai for brunch on weekends. It is located on the 35th floor of the Hilton Dubai The Walk Hotel, with impressive views over the Palm Jumeirah and the Arabian Gulf. Sunset is the best time to come, not only for the views, but also for the daily 6-8pm Happy Hour.
Experience a romantic desert safari
You can't go to Dubai and not experience a camel ride in the desert, perhaps combined with an incredible Arabian meal and music under the stars. Get to know traditional Arabian culture on a desert safari.
Gay friendly clubs in Dubai
Gay parties in Dubai are usually only publicised via social media and word of mouth. Grindr is your best starting point for researching them. The following are the main gay clubs in Dubai to check out, which may either host a gay event during the week, or will have a relaxed and liberal atmosphere. Just remember, always avoid public displays of affection to be on the safe side!
- Barcode Dubai: one of the most famous unofficial gay clubs in Dubai. Every Friday or Saturday it has a Mykonos or Ibiza night which attracts a large LGBTQ crowd. It takes place at a different location each week, usually in one of the large international hotels. For the latest information, check out their Instagram profile.
- Fantasia Dubai: another notorious unofficial gay party in Dubai, taking place at different locations every Friday. Put it this way, when Britney and Beyonce came to perform in Dubai, it was at Fantasia! Check out their Facebook page for more information.
- White Dubai: is one of the most the most famous clubs in the world and certainly one of the most popular in Dubai. It's super trendy, set on an outdoor rooftop. Whilst this is not a gay club, it will always attract a large LGBTQ crowd. Check out their Events Calendar for the latest information.
Gay dating apps in Dubai are illegal and blocked. You can get around this by getting a VPN which allows you use the apps anonymously. Note that using a VPN in Dubai for “immoral purposes” is also illegal. However, if you decide to get one, we recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and inexpensive service, very easy to set up.
Our favourite restaurants in Dubai
There is no lack of options when it comes to fine dining in Dubai. Unfortunately, you will not find any restaurants in Dubai proudly hanging a rainbow flag. However, the huge expat population means there are many different types of cuisine to be found, from French patisseries to modern fusion, and everything in between. We have enjoyed trying out some traditional Arabian cuisine during our time in Dubai, as well as experiencing romance in decadent restaurants with stunning views. Here are our five favourite restaurants in Dubai.
Al Hadheerah (traditional with a show)
For the ultimate experience in Arabian dining and entertainment, you have to go to one of Dubai's desert restaurants, of which there are quite a few to choose from. We loved Al Hadheerah, where you will enjoy a traditional feast of Arabic mezzah foods while watching belly dancers and listening to traditional instruments. They also have horse, camel and falconry shows as well as fireworks displays on Thursday and Friday nights.
TOMO (rooftop, modern Japanese)
If you're looking for something more modern, check out TOMO. Serving up authentic Japanese dishes with stunning views over Dubai creek, this is a great spot to go for a delicious dinner or even just sunset cocktails. Try the wagyu sukiyaki and watch it cooked beside your table. Don't forget to try a sweet dessert like their matcha green tea cake! TOMO is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle while still enjoying the twinkling lights from all those skyscrapers.
Pierchic (really fine dining, views, seafood)
Located at the end of the pier at Al Qasr Hotel, Pierchic is a Mediterranean seafood restaurant with captivating views across the Arabian Gulf. This is the epitome of romantic fine dining. The high-end seafood dishes include such delicacies as seared king scallops with foie gras or gin-and-tonic cured salmon! Of course, with this level of decadence you can expect an equally impressive bill, but you can also feel good knowing that all the seafood is sustainably sourced and delivered fresh daily.
Arabian Tea House (traditional Emirati cuisine, Martha Stewart has been!)
Another one of our favourite places to have authentic Emirati cuisine is the Arabian Tea House, a cafe and restaurant that strives to showcase traditional Arabic hospitality. The building used to be home to a pearl merchant but now gives off a secret garden vibe with cute wicker furniture in the leafy courtyard. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but don't serve alcohol. Instead, sample some of their many loose-leaf teas or a refreshing smoothie along with the Emirati meal platters.
Life'n One (vegan food and wellness combined)
Technically a cafe, not a restaurant, we love Life'n One because it is such an eclectic mix of wellness centre/garden oasis/vegan cafe. This urban retreat located on Jumeirah Beach Road offers classes for yoga and meditation, naturopathic wellness treatments, reiki or even aura and chakra readings. This is truly the place to come to find balance, peace and healing. While you're there you can also relax in the rustic garden and eat some delicious vegan food! Come here to feel well, inside and out.
Best things to do in Dubai for gay travelers
There are so many amazing things to do in Dubai that you could easily spend weeks having the time of your life. These are our top ten favourite most romantic, exciting and can't miss experiences for gay travelers in Dubai.
Helicopter Tour in Dubai
Can you think of anything more exciting and romantic than taking a helicopter ride over an amazing city like Dubai? There are so many stunning things to see in Dubai anyway, but seeing it from the sky on your own private helicopter ride is even better! It’s also surprisingly affordable to book your own short ride along the Persian Gulf Coast, taking in views of the Burj Al Arab, the Palm Islands and more. This is definitely an unforgettable experience that will make you feel like a rockstar!
You can’t visit Dubai without experiencing a desert safari, especially if you go at night! Experience ‘dune-bashing’ in 4WD vehicles and/or camel-riding and even sandboarding depending on which company you use. This is also a great way to become acquainted with Arabian culture through food and dance. We recommend this safari since it includes everything mentioned above as well as pick-up and drop-off from your accommodation, a makeover and photo with a falcon, and possibly even quad-biking!
The Burj Khalifa is one of the most amazing and famous skyscrapers in the world, and a must-visit when exploring Dubai. It’s the tallest building in the world so of course, the views are incredible. We think it's a good idea to book a tour which skips the lines so you can enjoy your time on the observation deck and learning about the history of the Burj Khalifa.
Dubai Fountain Show
When visiting the Burj Khalifa make sure to stop and experience the breathtaking fountain show that is located in the Dubai Lake. This is the largest choreographed fountain show in the world, with lights and water shooting up to 500 feet into the air. The show is accompanied by a mix of classical, contemporary and Arabian music. There are performances at 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. during the day, and every 30 minutes at night. You can even watch the fountain show from a boat on the lake!
Next to the Burj Khalifa and surrounding park (as well as the fountain) is the massive Dubai mall complex. This is the second-largest shopping mall in the world and definitely a must-visit if only to marvel at the shops and attractions. Of course, with over 1,200 shops you could also do some serious retail therapy. The Dubai Mall is also home to cinemas, an indoor theme park, a haunted house, aquarium and lots of cafés and restaurants.
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
If you do visit the Dubai Mall you definitely need to explore the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. There are over 300 marine animals on display, including sharks, a massive Australian crocodile and manta rays. As well as being able to walk through tunnels and see shark and ray feedings, you can even go diving with the sharks! Or perhaps you might prefer to simply feed them and have a behind-the-scenes tour with this day-pass.
Dubai Miracle Garden
If you are visiting Dubai between November and May then the amazing floral creations of Dubai Miracle Garden are another not-to-be-missed attraction. You may have seen photos on Instagram of this stunning garden, but nothing can prepare you for seeing (and smelling!) its 150 million flowers arranged in fantastic displays. Highlights include a floral castle, an Emirates A380 aeroplane and lots of figures such as Mickey Mouse and a giant teddy bear; all made from flowers!
You could easily spend a whole day exploring the Palm Jumeirah; the artificial archipelago built in the shape of a palm tree. This island is home to many hotels and resorts such as the famous Atlantis the Palm, and also houses a boardwalk, mall, clubs and lots of restaurants. Even if you’re not staying there, you can visit Atlantis the Palm to swim with dolphins, eat at Nobu restaurant or just enjoy the huge Aquaventure Waterpark!
Aquaventure Waterpark is one of the most popular attractions in Dubai, and it’s easy to see why. This massive waterpark has some thrilling water-slides and activities for adults. One of the slides even goes through a shark tank, but you can just relax on the beach if you’re not a thrill-seeker! You can also purchase combined tickets to explore the Lost Chambers adventure, which is based on the story of the city of Atlantis.
Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
Since it’s less than two hours away, you should also visit Abu Dhabi for a day while you’re staying in Dubai. This beautiful city is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and home to some stunning sights; such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace and the Etihad Towers. If you’d like to visit the capital city without worrying about public transport, book this day-trip and learn about the history of the UAE as you explore! Check out our travel guide to Abu Dhabi for more inspiration.
Before you go
We've put together our best travel tips to help you plan your vacation in Dubai. This is everything the gay traveller should know before going to Dubai:
How to get there: Most visitors fly to Dubai and land at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest aiport by passenger traffic. From the airport, you can reach downtown Dubai on public transport (the metro or bus) or by private shuttle, taxi or Uber. The most convenient way to reach the city is to organise a private transfer with Welcome Pickups. They are reliable, on time and you get a big car all to yourself with an English speaking local driver who points out the most important points of the city.
Visa requirements: Passport holders from parts of Europe, North America and Australia can get a 30-day visa upon arrival at the airport in Dubai. Citizens from some other countries can get a 90-day multiple entry visa. Go here for more information about visa requirements for travel to Dubai.
Travel insurance: we recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.
Safety and Security: All travelers (gay or not) can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or terrorist attacks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.
Currency: The United Arab Emirates Dirham, or just dirham, is the official currency and is abbreviated to AED. €1 converts to around 4.14 AED and $1 is about 3.67 AED.
Tipping culture: The level of service in Dubai is well-known, however, you don't have to tip unless you want to. Restaurants usually include taxes and service charges in the bill but you can tip if you enjoyed the service. For things such as taxis (which are quite cheap), it's always appreciated if you give a little tip, such as rounding up to the nearest note.
Internet access: Dubai is very modern and this is reflected by the fact that there is now free Wifi throughout much of the city, including on public transport. You will get enough kilobytes to access social media or use WhatsApp for free, but not enough for watching videos etc. Most cafés and restaurants will also have Wifi available, you may need to ask for the password. You might also like to pre-order a local SIM card when you arrive, or a portable Wifi device if you know you will be requiring a lot of bandwidth.
Online privacy: remember that you will not be able to use gay dating apps like Grindr or Scruff unless you are using a VPN to ensure your privacy. We like to use ExpressVPN when travelling, it's reliable, affordable and protects your privacy.
Accommodation: Dubai has a vast range of accommodation options. We love using Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.
Sightseeing and adventure: Dubai has something to offer for everyone. Our favorite place to look for cool activities to do in Dubai is GetYourGuide because they provide a ery user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.
Should you boycott Dubai?
Let's call a spade a spade…it's illegal to be gay in Dubai, so any public displays of affection between same sex couples, even accidental ones, are likely to get you into trouble. As a general rule, we don't avoid visiting a destination just because it has anti-gay laws as we believe boycotting such places is counter-productive. We wrote about this at length in our article about gay travel in Iran.
Having said that, thousands of LGBTQ travellers visit Dubai every day, whilst others reside here without any problems at all. Obviously this is not in any way like San Francisco or Madrid, but if you don't flaunt your sexuality in public and take care with who you hang out with, and where, you'll be absolutely fine. It goes without saying you should be astute and aware at all times, and stay in the closet when in public for your own safety!
Gay map of Dubai
This is our gay map to Dubai to show you where everything we've mentioned in this article is located. Use it to find out where all the best