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 get a taste of it on a quick stopover, consider these free (or almost free) things to do in Dubai.
Note: Not all of these ideas are dog-friendly.
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.
However, considering admission is only 3 Dirham (about 82c in USD) and the air-conditioned interiors offer 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. Alternatively, head to the Jumeirah Beach Park . Entry is 5 Dirham (about $1.36 USD), and the beach 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 Dubai Fountains play just outside the Dubai Mall, near the Burg Khalifa. The fountains are a mesmerising display, synchronised to a musical soundtrack.
The display runs for around 3-4 minutes, every half an hour between 6pm and 11pm. Be sure to arrive early for a good vantage point, as this is one of the most popular free things to do in Dubai.
7. Sneak a Peak at the Dubai Aquarium
Paying to enter inside the Dubai Aquarium isn’t cheap. However, you can still view the main tank, a very impressive sight, entirely for free.
Just head to the aquarium’s entrance in Dubai Mall and stay outside. With the world’s single largest acrylic panel (at least at the time of construction), measuring a whooping 32.88m by 8.3m (and luckily 75cm thick), this is one massive fish tank!
Running out of things to do in Dubai? Check out what to do in Abu Dhabi
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