Whether you like fast cars or fast camels, our guide to the best festivals in the United Arab Emirates has something to keep everyone entertained.
The UAE is a land of excitement and cultural contrast. And if you’re moving there, what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture than by visiting a festival? From dune buggy racing to jazz music, and camel beauty pageants to shopping, the country has an eclectic array of events for the whole family. Just check out these colorful festivals throughout the year.
Dubai Shopping Festival
Move over Paris and Milan – these days Dubai has fully established itself as one of the world’s fashion capitals. And if you can think of nothing better than a little retail therapy in your new home, then why not take it up a level by hitting the Dubai Shopping Festival? Since 1996, the festival has been the go-to event for shoppers looking for some great bargains. And that’s not all, because there are also concerts, food, and other entertainment for the whole family. Just remember to pace yourself, because the festival runs for over a month, so take your time – your credit card will thank you later.
Eid Al Fitr
Eid Al Fitr (often simply referred to as Eid) celebrates the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. It’s one of the most important religious festivals in the Islamic world, and in the UAE the whole country comes together to mark the occasion. Wherever you happen to be, you will find plenty of events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, from department store discounts to spectacular firework displays. And the fun isn’t over, because there are two Eid holidays a year; with Eid Al Adha following the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj and taking place a few months after Eid Al Fitr.
UAE National Day
National Day is one of the most important days in the UAE calendar. Taking place on 2 December, it marks the anniversary of the UAE’s formal independence from the UK and the union of the country’s seven emirates. Locals take to the streets in the colors of the national flag, heading to a wide range of celebrations including dance shows, concerts, and more. The focal point of the celebrations is the Zayed Stadium. Here, innovative performances tell the story of UAE’s history and culture, from military fly-pasts to breathtaking dance displays. If you’re looking for a taste of UAE culture, you will definitely find it here.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Since 2009, the UAE has hosted the thrilling climax to the Formula 1 world championship. Under the lights of the impressive Yas Marina Circuit, the fastest drivers in the world battle it out on the track to take the coveted checkered flag. During race weekend, the whole city comes alive with unmistakable Formula 1 buzz. If you can’t get tickets for the race itself, practice sessions are available and there’s plenty of off-track entertainment to enjoy. And if you can’t wait until Grand Prix weekend, there’s always the high-speed thrills and spills available at Yas Island’s Ferrari World theme park.
Al Dhafra is one of the world’s biggest celebrations of the local Bedouin culture. Held near the Empty Quarter, the festival showcases a range of Emirati traditions, from falconry and camel racing to handicrafts and music performances. There is also plenty for the kids at the children’s village, including art workshops, cooking classes, and more. However, the whole family will enjoy the famous Mazayna, the festival’s main event. Essentially a camel beauty pageant, this is a big deal for locals. And who can blame them with prize money on offer of around $15million USD? Yes, you read that right. This is one beauty contest you won’t want to miss.
Dubai International Film Festival
If you’re a film fanatic, make sure the Dubai International Film Festival is firmly penciled in your diary. The festival sees some of Hollywood’s biggest stars descend on the city to screen and discuss their latest projects with fans and commentators. However, for many the festival’s biggest draw is the platform it gives local filmmakers. After all, it is one of the leading promoters of Arabic films, having screened over 5,000 locally-produced movies since 2004. So, if you want to see a different side of your new home, make sure to check this one out.
Dubai International Jazz Festival
Since it started back in 2003, the Dubai International Jazz Festival has become one of the most popular music festivals in the Middle East. As well as attracting the world’s top jazz musicians, the event has also hosted award-winning international stars like Ricky Martin and Alicia Keys. So, whether you’re a jazz connoisseur or a pop goddess, the Dubai International Jazz Festival has something for you. The festival takes place in the Media City amphitheater, so book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Need to escape the city? Then why not head north and take in the popular Awafi Festival. Every spring, thousands of locals descend on the dunes of the Ras al-Khaimah desert to take part in the event; which celebrates the ethnic and cultural heritage of this northernmost emirate. Alongside other cultural offerings such as theater performances and local handicraft workshops, you will also find a heritage village and traditional souk market. Furthermore, thrill-seekers can rejoice as hundreds of locals take part in dramatic car and dune buggy races across the tough desert terrain.
Abu Dhabi Festival in the Park
Held in the lush surroundings of Umm Al Emarat Park, Abu Dhabi’s Festival in the Park is a celebration of art and culture from around the seven emirates. A truly family-friendly event, the event includes performances and workshops in both Arabic and English. From kids’ crafts sessions and drumming workshops to stand-up comedy and Arabic film screenings, there’s something for all ages. There’s even a market where you can pick up a range of locally-crafted products. The ticketed festival takes place over one action-packed weekend in spring. So, plan your visit ahead of time and make sure you don’t miss out on the fun.
One of the most important dates in the Islamic calendar is the Prophet’s Birthday. The day celebrates the life of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed. Locals often mark the occasion with parades showing their respect and love for him. These celebrations traditionally conclude with sharing a meal (and birthday cake) with friends and family. However, be aware that the Prophet’s Birthday is observed as a ‘dry day’; which means that bars and restaurants across the country restrict sales of alcohol.