Drinks and shisha: Do's and don'ts in the UAE

Shisha in the UAE.
Shisha in the UAE. Photo: Shutterstock

While coffee remains central to life in the UAE, many Western visitors will want to know about alcohol consumption and shisha. Read on for some essential do's and don'ts in the UAE.



Alcohol is forbidden by Islam but it is tolerated for non-muslims in the right environment. In general, it is widely available across the region (in Dubai and Abu Dhabi particularly). That said, punitive taxes keep prices high and local laws mean that establishments are usually only found in top-end hotels – independent pubs and licensed restaurants remain a rarity. Many establishments model themselves on ersatz English pubs, complete with faux-British wood-panelled decor and with a stereotypical range of international tipples. There’s also a tempting selection of more stylish bars in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat, often offering superb beachside locations or highrise settings, and with an upmarket selection of cocktails and shots aimed firmly at the expat and tourist party set.


Don't try to buy alcohol from one of the off-licenses as a tourist, you need a special license that has a monthly limit in order to purchase alcohol to go. And don't overdo it, drunken disorderly behaviour is sincerly frowned upon and any lewd behaviour can land you in trouble. Lastly, don't even think about drink-driving, this one will land you in jail! 

Wine store at Dubai Duty Free at the International Airport. Photo: Shutterstock



Visitors may try shisha once they are above the legal age for smoking (in Dubai, this is 18). The traditional Arab meal concludes with shisha, an Arabian-style tobacco smoked in one of the distinctive waterpipes (hookah, narghil or 'hubblybubbly'), which can be found across the Middle East. Shisha cafés are enormously popular in the United Arab Emirates (although surprisingly rare in Oman). While many restaurants also serve shisha, the UAE’s smoking ban means that it can now only be served in outdoor venues or in separate smoking areas. Most shisha cafés will have at least 10 types of shisha to choose from (often more), including unflavoured blends alongside various fruit-scented concoctions such as apple, lemon and grape – much gentler on the throat and infinitely more aromatic than Western cigarettes. 


This one may be obvious, given the above, but don't go lighting up indoors!

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