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New Year's Day

New Year's Day 2018 and 2019

While there is also an Islamic New Year observed in the United Arab Emirates, January 1st is also a public holiday – with New Year’s Eve celebrations welcoming in the Gregorian-calendar New Year with great fanfare every year.

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Although many holidays based on the Islamic calendar are moved when they fall on a weekend, for obvious reasons, this is not done with New Year’s Day. Both public and private sector workers in UAE will often be given a paid day off to free them up to celebrate.

Most citizens of UAE are Muslim, while most foreign workers and tourists are not, but everyone in UAE joins in to celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day regardless. Even though based on the Western calendar, it is viewed as religiously and culturally “neutral ground.”

The main events specifically celebrating the arrival of the New Year are parties that culminate at the stroke of midnight, parades, and above all, huge fireworks displays. In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the celebrations are gigantic, and every part of town is bustling with celebrants. Hotels, restaurants, malls, markets, and the very streets are alive through the whole evening of December 31st.

In 2014, Dubai had the world’s largest and longest recorded fireworks event, and every year since, they strive to break their own record. There are many great locations to see the “air show” from, both on land and water.

Many also throw house parties, and it is not too hard to get yourself invited to one. Many groups of tourists even organise their own parties, where every guest brings a dish to pass, creating a sizable feast. Some watch the fireworks on TV at their party, but others manage to both hold a party and rush out to see the fireworks in person. A third option is to eat out a local restaurant, frequently inside a hotel or resort.

Should you find yourself in UAE to welcome in the new year, here are some events and activities to take part in:

  • In Dubai, see the main fireworks display at Burj Khalifa, a gigantic skyscraper around which the fireworks colourfully explode. It is located in Dubai’s downtown and will be extremely crowded, so you need to get there early if you want a prime vantage point from which to see the show.
  • See the Dubai fireworks from an “alternative” angle. You can watch the lights show while on Burj al Arab Beach, where many others will be camped out for the event. From the water, many watch the fireworks while at yacht parties. Others get a view from the water by taking a water taxi, ferry, water bus, or traditional wooden boat called an “abra” out into the bay.
  • In Abu Dhabi, the biggest and best party to attend is at the Emirates Palace Hotel, which has live musical performances by top artists. Another prime option is the party held at the Mafraq Hotel, which has an ambiance more in line with local UAE cultural traditions.
  • Dine in Abu Dhabi on New Year’s Eve. There are not only many authentic Arabic restaurants to choose from, but you will find an abundance of Indian, East Asian, Italian, and other international cuisine of the highest caliber. Many establishments will hold “food festivals” at this time, so you will have no trouble getting plenty to eat.

Those touring UAE for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will find an abundance of activities and amazing fireworks displays. It is wise to book hotels and flights early, however, as UAE is a popular New Year’s destination.