Gay Dubai Guide 2019: safety tips, bars, clubs & hotels – LGBT travel Dubai
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 visited Dubai several times, mainly to visit some of our gay friends living there. Before visiting for our first time, 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.
Gay rights in Dubai
Being gay in Dubai is not easy. It is a massive taboo for society and not accepted. Homosexuality is illegal across the entire United Arab Emirates, punishable by death. As a slight silver lining, each Emirate also has its own legal system running alongside the UAE Federal law, and Dubai's are generally less severe. For example, in Dubai you will “only” be punished with imprisonment (and fine) instead of death.
We're not going to lie, being openly gay in Dubai is dangerous, whether you're a local or a foreigner. But for gay tourists to Dubai, 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.
Gay travel to Dubai
Whilst gay life in Dubai is hard, it shouldn't stop you visiting. It's a fascinating place, with 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
- invest in a good VPN service so you can use the internet and the gay dating apps safely and anonymously
Gay 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.
Gay 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.
Note that gay apps are blocked in Dubai, as are any blogs/websites that depict “immoral” things(!). You can however get around this by getting a VPN which allows you use the apps anonymously. We used ExpressVPN, a reliable and inexpensive service which was easy to install and use.
Gay hotels 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:
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.
- Romantic and gay friendly
- Lagoon style swimming pool
- Friendly staff
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to connect and meet with gay locals in Dubai and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € off your first booking.
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”.
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.
- Trendy and affordable
- Excellent location
- Live music with DJ by the pool
So…is Dubai safe for gay travellers?
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 what it's like travelling in Asia as a gay couple, and advice for gay travellers to 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 you 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!
With all this in mind, we think that Dubai is safe for gay travellers, but obviously with basic common sense being applied at all times. Also, ensure you have a VPN set up on your phone beforehand so you can use Grindr/Scruff to connect with locals without problems.
Gay travel advice to Dubai
A VPN is your friend: we cannot stress the importance of using a VPN for your phone/laptop in Dubai as anything LGBTQ related is otherwise blocked, particularly the gay dating apps. We used ExpressVPN which we found to be reliable, very easy to use and cost effective.
Sim card / Wifi: Dubai has public wifi hotspots pretty much everywhere. However, public networks are never secure and they are an open door to hackers and viruses. The best solution is to rent a portable wifi device which allows you to share a secure connection between several devices and works in any country. The alternative is to buy a local SIM card for your smartphone.
Travel insurance: Whether you go for shopping, hiking or just lay on Jumeirah Beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Flights: To find our flights to Dubai, we used Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and always finds the best deals in seconds. It also allows you to search for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online. But as mentioned above, call/email ahead to check they're ok with two men sharing a bed.
General tips: we've put together all our safety tips from our years of travel experience in our article about how to stay safe when travelling.