When you think of Dubai, you probably think of the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, luxurious 7 star hotels, and improbably activities like skiing in the desert. It’s easy to spend up big in Dubai, on everything from dining out to luxury fashion. But if you’re wanting to experience another side of this city or just want to get a taste of this city on a quick stopover, consider these free (or almost free) things to do in Dubai.
1. Wander through the Gold and Spice Souks
Located on the northern side of the Dubai Creek near the Ras Metro Station 1, wander through these old-style bazaars to get an idea of what Dubai used to be like before the modern boom in construction. It’s reported that 20% of the world’s gold passes through the Gold Souk, whilst the Spice Souk specialises in ultra-expensive saffron. There’s no need to buy, but if you do, don’t forget to haggle.
2. Take an Abra across Dubai Creek
The authentic way of crossing Dubai Creek is on a traditional wooden boat, known as an abra. There are two main routes, with one of them starting just outside the Spice Souk at Deira Old Souk Abra Station. Boats depart every few minutes, with the 5 minute crossing costing just 1 Dirham (about 27c in USD) – almost free!
3. Visit the Dubai Museum
Not far across the Creek from the Spice Souk is Al Fahidi Fort, housing the Dubai Museum. With life size dioramas and galleries that cover the history of Dubai and what traditional life was like here, it’s rather low tech and could do with an update. But at only 3 Dirham (about 82c in USD) and a welcome reprieve from the heat, it’s a worthwhile stop.
4. Visit the Beach
The prospect of going to the beach seems odd in a city like Dubai, but there are some wonderful stretches of sand with wonderfully warm water, and yes bikinis are allowed on the beach. Many of the beaches are private and cost to visit. Two cheaper options are the free Jumeirah Beach Corniche, next to the Dubai Marine Beach Resort, with 800 metres of beach front, showers, children’s play areas and shaded picnic tables, or the Jumeirah Beach Park with its 5 Dirham entry fee (about $1.36 USD), which also has lifeguards and kiosks.
5. Have a Cheap Meal
Whilst many restaurants in Dubai are extravagant, there are also areas with cheap food where local workers eat, such as Al Dhiyafah Road (now known as 2nd of December), just off Jumeirah Road in Satwa. With many Lebanese, Iranian and Indian restaurants and eateries, take your pick from grilled meat (especially lamb), couscous and salads. Don’t forget to take cash.
6. Watch the Dubai Fountains
Every night (plus twice during the afternoon) the the Dubai Fountains play just outside the Dubai Mall. They’re a beautiful display synchronised to a musical soundtrack. Running for 3-4 minutes every half an hour, be sure to get in early for a good spot, as this is one of the most popular free things to do in Dubai.
7. Sneak a Peak at the Dubai Aquarium
Even if you don’t go inside the Dubai Aquarium (which isn’t cheap, at 100 Dirham for adults), you can still view the main tank for free. Just head to its entrance in Dubai Mall and stay outside. With the world’s single largest acrylic panel, measuring 32.88 by 8.3 metres and 75cm thick, this is one massive aquarium.
8. Catch a Movie Under the Stars
Every Sunday night at the Pyramids Rooftop Gardens, part of the Wafi complex, a different movie is screened for free. Starting at 8:30pm and with no need to book, check out what movie is currently playing on the website. Then lounge back on the beanbags and feast on popcorn and hotdogs in the desert warmth.
9. Take a Free Yoga Class
With five locations around Dubai, keep up your fitness routine with a free yoga class from Friends of Yoga. Classes are held daily at Deira Creek, BurDubai Creek, Zabeel Park, JLT Park and Internet City, at both 5:30am and 7:30pm and last 1 hour.
Run out of things to do in Dubai? Check out what to do in Abu Dhabi