Ramadan Kareem fellow travelers!

Traveling to places where Ramadan is observed can be an enriching and interesting experience, especially when you know what to expect. Here's our guide to visiting Muslim-majority countries during the month of Ramadan.

What is Ramadan and why do people observe it?

Ramadan is a month where Muslim people are encouraged to become more spiritual by focusing on charity, prayers and reading the Quran (the holy book of Islam). To focus on the spiritual side, people observing Ramadan must abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. They also abstain from sex and smoking during the period of fasting, and reject anything that can break their fast, such as cursing and any harmful behavior. Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam so it is obligatory for practicing Muslims that are of age to observe it, with some exceptions.

A woman kneels on a carpet in a mosque and holds her hands in front of her in prayer
Ramadan is a time for prayer and a focus on spirituality for Muslims around the world © rudi_suardi / Getty Images

How do I know if I am traveling during Ramadan?

Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Dates shift by about 11 days each year, so the date that Ramadan starts is different each year on the Gregorian calendar. An easy way to know whether you will be traveling during Ramadan is to do a quick online search of "Ramadan" plus the year.

Do I have to fast as a traveler visiting a Muslim country?

Locals will not expect you to fast, but some countries have laws that do not allow eating in public places during Ramadan. Remember that smoking will also not be allowed in public either. It is best to do some research on the laws of the country you are visiting during Ramadan. It can also differ from city to city, for example, Dubai is a very heavily touristed city with a large population of expats, so the laws there allow public eating during Ramadan and the restaurants are open during the day. However, the rest of the cities in the UAE do not allow public eating during the day. If you're visiting the Maldives, check the meal schedule with your hotel, just in case there are any changes. If you're planning to eat at a restaurant at the time of iftar (the breaking of the fast after sundown), make a reservation, as pre-booking is sometimes required during Ramadan.

Does everything close in the day during the month of Ramadan?

Things can slow down a bit in the daytime during Ramadan and opening hours usually change to ensure that people can break their fast when it's time for iftar. In countries where public eating is not allowed during the day, restaurants do not open until noon to begin preparing for iftar, and during this time you can order food to takeaway. You won't be able to dine in until iftar time.

Tourist sites might have different opening and closing hours in some places, but in others, they will remain the same. Markets and shops usually close during iftar and then open again later in the evening. Some countries make sure that the opening and closing times of their tourist sites and businesses are updated during Ramadan to make it easier for visitors. Ask at your hotel or a local tour agency for more information. 

Men sit at a communal table in a square in India awaiting the breaking of the fast
In some countries, people will gather together in public places to break the fast © Manish Jaisi / Shutterstock

How can I be culturally sensitive when traveling during Ramadan?

When traveling during Ramadan, it is culturally sensitive to abstain from eating, drinking and smoking in front of those who are fasting. If you're not able to do that, you can ask a person if it is okay for you to drink or eat in front of them. Dress modestly, which could mean different things depending on where you are. Clothing that covers shoulders and knees is recommended and, in some places, covering the legs entirely is more appropriate. Always avoid public displays of affection during Ramadan.

Greet locals with phrases like “Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem”. These are general Arabic greetings meaning "have a blessed Ramadan" and "Ramadan is generous". If you're not in an Arabic-speaking country, ask what the Ramadan greeting is locally – people will be glad that you know it is Ramadan and you are making the effort to connect with them.

How can I experience Ramadan like a local?

If you are feeling adventurous you can try fasting for a day and breaking your fast with locals. In many countries, there will be collective iftars where you will find people in the streets gathering together to break their fast, and everyone is welcome to join.

In Egypt you can find long tables in the middle of roads in some neighborhoods for iftar. The neighbors gather their food and all go down to eat together and any guests are welcome. In northern Sudan, often the men break their fast together in the streets, and anyone who passes by during iftar time is invited to join them – they do not take no for an answer! In some countries, people also have Ramadan tents where they either give out iftars or host collective iftars, and everyone is welcome. 

If you choose to travel in a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, expect to be welcomed by the locals. It is a month of giving and generosity, so you will find that people are going the extra mile to offer a helping hand to each other and to visitors.

This article was first published Jun 27, 2014 and updated Mar 4, 2024.

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