Dubai. A city of some of the tallest buildings in the world, home to some of the most expensive hotels, craziest cars, prestigious shops and a tax haven in the middle of the desert, which has been successfully attracting some of the richest earthlings for the past decades. Dubai might have a reputation of being a posh travel destination, but is spending a week in this city really that expensive? Well, you can definitely spend hundreds of euros a day here, but you can also experience the city in a completely different, much cheaper, way. We did not spend a fortune in Dubai but ended up having a lovely time and got to see so many interesting sights and do many awesome things. If you are one of the bunch who thinks this is impossible to pull of in Dubai, read this post to the end and you might change your mind.
FREE ACTIVITIES AND THINGS TO SEE IN DUBAI
PUBLIC BEACHES IN DUBAI
You certainly don’t come to Dubai just for the sandy beaches and warm turquoise sea, but they are a nice plus, especially when you are traveling with children. Even if you don’t stay in a hotel with a private beach or don’t want to pay a high entrance fee for a beach club, you can easily spend some time relaxing and swimming on one of the PUBLIC BEACHES.
Here are just some of the most famous ones: JUMEIRAH OPEN BEACH, LA MER (sandy bay near many restaurants and the Laguna water park, with the backdrop of downtown skyscrapers), KITE BEACH (the best beach for kitesurfing), THE BEACH JBR (excellent beach near Dubai marina, restaurants and shops), UMM SEQEIM BEACH (also known as Sunset beach, offers one of the best views of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel), BLACK PALACE BEACH (also known as Sufouh beach – you can also see the Burj Al Arab from here) and many more other.
MARKETS AND SOUKS IN DUBAI
If you think Dubai is all about modern skyscrapers, fancy shops and expensive restaurants, you are wrong. Even in Dubai, there are more traditional neighborhoods with a more authentic Arabic touch, in which we find interesting MARKETS or SOUKS. Visiting these is, of course, completely free and very interesting for us adults as well as for children of all ages. The most famous markets in Dubai include GOLD SOUK, SPICE SOUK, MADINAT JUMEIRAH SOUK, PERFUME SOUK, AL SEEF HERITAGE SOUK and others. If you decide to buy anything, don’t forget to bargain.
DUBAI FOUNTAIN SHOW
One of the more interesting and SPECTACULAR FREE ATTRACTIONS is definitely this water show, which is held several times a day ON THE BURJ KHALIFA LAKE, between the tallest building in the world and the Dubai Mall.
The first DAILY SHOW is currently at 1:00 PM, and the second is half an hour later. The first NIGHT PERFORMANCE is at 6:00 p.m., repeats are every half hour until 10 or 11 (on weekends) in the evening. The evening show also includes a LIGHT & MUSIC SHOW and the whole thing is really interesting to see. For the best views, you have to be in the first row well in advance, preferably at the SOUK AL BAHAR BRIDGE.
INTERESTING WALKING PATHS
I didn’t think Dubai was the best place for anyone who likes to explore on foot, it’s usually more like getting out of the taxi, checking one place out and hopping back in the taxi to the next point. However, there are some areas that are perfect for long walks. Of course, the mentioned walking paths are also free for everyone.
MARINA WALK – The long promenade or walkway called Marina Walk in Dubai Marina is a great spot to stretch your legs while enjoying views of the surrounding skyscrapers and luxury yachts anchored in the marina. Also great for strollers if you’re visiting the city with babies or smaller kids.
PALM JUMEIRAH BOARDWALK – Another great boardwalk along which we find a whole bunch of food trucks and souvenir shops. The 11km long route leads along the coast behind the Atlantis on the artificially built world-famous island in the shape of a palm tree.
JUMEIRAH BEACH TRACK – This 7km long track runs right next to the sandy beaches, from the Burj Al Arab Hotel to the beach at the Four Seasons Jumeirah Hotel. During the walk, you can stop for a swim, and there is no shortage of options for a quick snack.
If most of us imagine Dubai as a huge bunch of enormous modern buildings, we may be pleasantly surprised to find out that among these areas there are also some architecturally more traditional and visually completely contrasting neighborhoods.
AL FAHIDI HISTORICAL NEIGHBORHOOD / AL BASTAKIYA – Here you can see some of the oldest buildings in the city without an entrance fee, the architecture of which reflects the traditional construction of desert homes, the historical remains of the old walls and many museums which can be found in the Al Fahidi neighborhood near Dubai Creek.
AL SEEF – Close to the above-mentioned Al Bastakiya, along the Dubai Creek water channel, there is also Al Seef, where among the architecturally older buildings we find a wonderful pedestrian zone through the sprawling market AL SEEF HERITAGE SOUK.
LA MER CENTRAL – It is also interesting to visit the hip neighborhood with the French-sounding name La Mer, where the beach of the same name is located. Apart from enjoying the beach, La Mer offers a unique architecture in the city – a sort of urban waterfront with wooden boardwalks, graffiti and murals, driftwood art, vintage vehicles, rope decorations, hammocks and attractively decorated streets with an artistic touch at every turn. I recommend visiting at sunset, when many lights are also lit and it’s really nice to walk around.
MADINAT JUMEIRAH – Although this miniature town isn’t something old, it is entirely built on the inspiration of Arab citadels and therefore visually something special. In addition to the larger souk, we also find here a lively promenade with restaurants and luxury hotels arranged along the artificial water channels along where you can also take a traditional wooden boat scenic ride. And one more photo spot tip, from the terrace of the Costa cafe there is a beautiful view of the Burj Al Arab hotel.
Even if you have no intention of spending anything, you can admire all those amazing shops while walking around one of the massive shopping centers in Dubai. The most famous are the DUBAI MALL (look for the Apple store through which you enter the outdoor terrace from where there is a nice view of Burj Park and don’t miss the entrance to the famous aquarium), MALL OF THE EMIRATES and DUBAI MARINA MALL. In addition to numerous boutiques, there are also machines with free drinking water to refill your bottles, as well as more affordable bakeries and cafes. It is also a good place to hide when it is really hot outside.
DUBAI MALL AQUARIUM
The entrance fee to this famous aquarium is of course quite high, but even if you skip the actual visit to the aquarium, you can still observe the sharks and other sea creatures from the outside for free through a really huge glass wall at the entrance to the aquarium inside the mall.
FREE MUSEUMS IN DUBAI
For all lovers of history, architecture and art, there is also a whole range of museums in Dubai. Some of them are also completely free, such as the COFFEE MUSEUM, COIN MUSEUM, CAMEL MUSEUM, TRADITIONAL ARCHITECTURE MUSEUM and some others.
PARKS AND GREEN AREAS IN DUBAI
Since you now already got the picture that Dubai is not just a concrete jungle and there are also very pleasant green parks here, let me mention some of them. Perhaps the biggest surprise will be the wonderful sanctuary for over 100 different animal species, the RAS AL KHOR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, where, among other things, you can observe the graceful flamingos completely free of charge. If you have the opportunity to take a trip to the outskirts of the city (approx. 30 minutes’ drive), you can spend a few hours in the desert by AL QUDRA LAKE, where it is also possible (and completely legal) to camp overnight for free. Otherwise, the larger or better-known parks in the city include the CREEK PARK recreation area (admission fee for adults around 1 euro), BURJ PARK, SAFA PARK, MUSHRIF PARK (admission fee for adults around 1 euro), ZABEEL PARK, DUBAI HILLS PARK and many others.
KIDS PLAYGROUNDS IN DUBAI
Did I mention that I thought Dubai was great for kids? Well, there is no shortage of children’s playgrounds here either, both indoor (entrance to them usually requires payment) and outdoor. Outdoor playgrounds are mostly located IN CITY PARKS and, with rare exceptions, are free. Check out the following locations: BURJ BEACH PARK, SAFA PARK 2, AL BARSHA POND PARK, AL ITTIHAD PARK, AL KHAZZAN PARK, AL SUFOUH PARK, BAY AVENUE PARK and others. Not far from the Downtown area, we also find very special parks – THE BLOCK and D3 PARK, with a great skatepark and many courts for volleyball, basketball and similar.
CHEAP ACTIVITIES AND THINGS TO SEE IN DUBAI
ABRABOAT RIDE OVER DUBAI CREEK
For only 0.30eur you can treat yourself to one of the most authentic experiences in the city – a short but authentic ride along the lively Dubai Creek water channel with a TRADITIONAL ABRA WOODEN BOAT. They run every few minutes and connect 4 stations in the urban areas of Deira and Bur Dubai.
An interesting mosque made of white stone, with two minarets and a central dome, can accommodate over 1000 worshipers at a time and is one of the most important mosques in Dubai. Everyone is welcome, but non-Muslims can visit it as part of a GUIDED TOUR, which costs around 6 euros.
The Global Village is a very special attraction, it is actually a small city, in which OVER 90 DIFFERENT CULTURES are united at bazaars, shows, exhibitions and at culinary vendors. It is also an interesting visit in the evening when the lights are turned on. Entrance fee around 4 euros.
MORE TIPS FOR AFFORDABLE HOLIDAY IN DUBAI
In addition to the listed beneficial activities, I am adding a few more tips. From Europe you can currently find cheap AIRLINE TICKETS with FLYDUBAI, or with TURKISH AIRLINES with a transfer in Istanbul. The CHEAPEST ACCOMMODATION can be found for around 50 euros per night for double rooms – the hotel might not be on the best location, and they probably won’t have a swimming pool or be close to a nice beach, but you will survive. Most of the budget hotels are near DXB airport and in the Deira area. I recommend searching for plane tickets and especially accommodation at least 2-3 months in advance if you want a good price.
The METRO is really cheap in Dubai (around 1 euro for 1 zone and 2 euros for 3 zones), but it is true that it does not connect all the attractions and you often have to walk a bit or take a taxi as well. TAXI is also extremely affordable. Around 5 euros for 4 km. However, the entry fee is lower if you get into a random taxi just like if you call it or book it via the app. Most TICKETS to museums, amusement parks, etc. and ORGANIZED EXCURSIONS are much cheaper if you RESERVE them in advance ONLINE. Most shopping centers, souks and similar points offer FREE WIFI without registration, and upon landing at the airport passport control you will receive a completely FREE SIM CARD WITH 1GB DATA. DRINKING WATER MACHINES are available at various points around the city, where you can fill your bottles for free. AFFORDABLE LUNCHES and SNACKS can be found, for example, in larger supermarkets, where they have their own warm kitchen – I recommend WAITROSE supermarkets (one is on the lower floor of the Dubai Mall, for example), where you can get a good meal for as little as 2-3 euros or, for example, the Waterfront Market in Deira and any small shops with Indian or oriental snacks. ALCOHOLIC DRINKS are quite expensive in Dubai (10eur for a small beer is nothing unusual), so if you don’t want to spend a fortune on that and still want to enjoy a drink or two I suggest bringing something from home or buying it in Duty Free upon arrival. Make sure to check the amount you are allowed to bring in and if your hotel allows it.
So, even in such a modern and “expensive” city as Dubai, you can see and experience a lot for free. Of course, the cost of transportation to the mentioned locations remains, but fortunately, both metro and taxi are really affordable in Dubai. If you add a couple of cheaper activities and one or two more expensive ones to the free activities, you can spend a couple of days or even a whole week in a surprisingly more affordable way than you might imagine. Soon on the blog also a longer post about everything we saw and did in Dubai, for those who are interested in more.