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City slickers

Free things to do in Dubai

Clive Wedderburn February 9, 2017

Dubai has a well-deserved reputation for opulent hotels, designer shopping and breathtaking city views. However, it’s always worth remembering that not everything has to involve a hefty price tag. 

Free things to do in Dubai

  1. Dubai Mall
  2. Dubai Aquarium
  3. Ripe foods and craft market
  4. Souks
  5. Water taxis
  6. Bastakiya District
  7. Jumeirah Beach
  8. Dubai Fountains
  9. Architectural tour
  10. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
  11. Free wifi and charging points
  12. Dubai Fireworks
  13. Aquaventure Waterpark

So if you’re planning a visit to the United Arab Emirates, here’s a list of free (or almost free) things to do in Dubai. 

1. Dubai Mall

Featuring some of the best window shopping in the Middle East, the Dubai Mall is worth visiting for the air-conditioning alone.  Situated in Downtown Dubai close to the Burj Khalifa, after taking some astonishing pictures of the world’s tallest free-standing structure, dive into the Dubai Mall to browse the global brands including Valentino, Gucci and Chanel. A more appropriate term for the Dubai Mall would be a ‘shopping resort’ especially as it houses so many family-friendly attractions including an indoor skating rink and cinema complex. Pick up a map on the way in because this place is vast.

2. Dubai Aquarium

The other breathtaking attraction at the Dubai Mall is the world’s largest indoor aquarium, which also happens to be free, to a point. You don’t have to pay admission to stand outside and view the tank– you’re free to spend as much time as you wish gazing at the massive acrylic glass panel behind which contains 10 million litres and over 33,000 aquatic animals. Of course, if you want to fully experience this world-class aquarium, you can pay an entry fee; it would definitely keep the kids happy.

3. Ripe food and craft market

A welcome addition to the local Dubai scene, this farm-to-table market is a great place to meander among Dubai’s artisanal community. Every Wednesday between 2pm – 9pm there are live cooking demonstrations for handy hints and recipe tips, plus fitness workshops, children’s activities and entertainments. Head to Zabeel Park to discover a diverse crowd of expats and tourists enjoying the fine selection of seasonal organic fruit and veg, among the food truck and the free yoga

4. Souks

If you like to bag a bargain or two, then a visit to the Gold and Spice Souks of Dubai is a must. Engage with the locals while haggling for jewellery or something to liven up your cooking back home, or settle down to a refreshing mint tea in a local café for a spot of people-watching in Deira, the old commercial heart of the city. To encounter another Middle Eastern marketplace, pop across the Dubai Creek to the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai.

5. Water taxis across the Creek

The Dubai Creek is a wide seawater inlet that divides Bur Dubai to the south and Deira to the north. For the best way to arrive at the souks of Deira and Bur Dubai use the water taxis, traditional wooden dhows (abra). They hold about twenty people, operate every day from 5am until midnight and are by far the best and cheapest way to see the Creek. A quick 5 minute jaunt on an abra provides the perfect vantage point for taking photographs and getting an authentic and inexpensive feel for Dubai.

6. The Bastakiya District

The Bastakiya District is Dubai’s historic quarter and was constructed in the 19th century by Persian merchants. This enchanting area contrasts with the ultramodern skyscrapers of Dubai. A stroll through its picturesque alleyways will reveal authentic buildings featuring iconic ‘wind towers’. You’ll find the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding here, and the Dubai Museum located in Al Fahidi Fort, plus the Arabian Tea House, an oasis of tranquillity and a welcome haven of shade.

7. Jumeirah Beach

Perhaps Dubai’s greatest attribute is the miles of sand that adorn its golden coastline.  The spot we love the most is Jumeirah Beach – flanked by the Persian Gulf on one side and a glinting skyline on the other. Meanwhile, behind the beach you’ll find the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), a 1.7 kilometre waterfront promenade featuring stylish boutiques, gelaterias, juice bars and al fresco restaurants to soak up that sunshine. And of course, the beach is free, meaning a refreshing dip in the ocean in sight of the Burj Al Arab won’t cost you a dirham.

8. Dubai Fountains

Dubai is an incredibly imaginative city in so many respects, challenging itself to become bigger and bolder than any other city in the world. A fine example of its urban ambition can be found on Burj Khalifa Lake. When you visit Downtown Dubai, be sure to tick off the world’s largest (and greatest) choreographed water system from your travel wish-list. This combination of installation art and music and darting jets of water will take your breath away. The fountains are surrounded by cafes and restaurants so get a seat nearby to watch 22, 000 gallons of water leap spectacularly into the air reaching heights of over 450 feet.  

9. Architecture tour  

Dubai has changed dramatically over the last half century from its humble roots as a Persian Gulf trading port. We know it today as possessing some of the bravest building designs ever to grace the planet. Therefore an architectural tour of the city’s finest creations is a completely free activity not to be missed. From the Burj Al Arab to the twisting Cayan Tower, and of course, the staggering Burj Khalifa - everywhere you turn Dubai is thrusting with architectural ambition. Don’t forget the iconic Palm Island, plus Jumeirah Beach Hotel (the world’s only seven star hotel) and the Dubai Marina complex. 

10. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a rare treat for bird lovers. This park within sight of Dubai’s impressive skyline will thrill you with flocks of pink flamingos and other exotic avian wildlife. Situated just fifteen minutes’ drive from the Dubai Mall, this is the perfect spot to escape the city and to experience these graceful birds in their natural environment; a surprising oasis that adds to the mystique of this Middle East metropolis.

11. Free wifi and charging points

There’s no doubt that Dubai has a thoroughly modern outlook, and in its drive to be the most innovative city on the planet, they’ve created a Smart City initiative to become the world’s most connected metropolis. So, while wandering along the JBR or among the souks of Deira or the Jumeirah Mosque and the Dubai Museum, keep an eye out for free charging and internet access at more than 50 ‘palm points’.

12. Dubai Fireworks

The greatest fireworks display in the world is also a free event – all you have to do is time your visit for New Year’s Eve (perhaps en route to Thailand or the Indian Ocean) and pick your spot; either the Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab or the Burj Khalifa and watch as Dubai is transformed into a city of lights and lasers

13. Aquaventure Waterpark

If you need further incentive to celebrate your special day in Dubai, free entrance to one of Dubai’s greatest attractions is it. Time your trip right and as a special birthday treat you can walk into the Aquaventure, the thrilling water park at Atlantis the Palm, free of charge. And all those watery, twisty-turny rides will be yours, just because you were born. 

If you like what you see and want to see more then visit our Dubai pages for more inspiring and exciting things to do including waterparks, desert sports, ski adventures and stunning hotels.