When many travelers think of Dubai, they see dollar signs. Home to some of the world’s wealthiest people, you’ll see plenty of signs of affluence here – luxury shopping, incredible real estate, and cars worth more than homes aren’t hard to find. And if you’re planning a vacation in the city, you’ve probably planned your budget accordingly. After all, a flight to Dubai from most places in the world isn’t cheap, and once you get there, it’s hard to avoid splurging on the world-class dining options and exhilarating attractions you’ll find.
Still, saving a bit of cash is never a bad thing. If there are ways to enjoy Dubai without spending an arm and a leg, why not take advantage of them? Many travelers are surprised to learn that some of the city’s most well-loved attractions are, in fact, completely free to experience. With a little effort, you can find quite a few ways to have a great time in Dubai without blowing your budget.
Not sure what kind of cheap or free things you can do in Dubai? Here are a few you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary:
THE DUBAI MALL
You can’t visit Dubai without stopping by the Dubai Mall. Neighboring the Burj Khalifa building – the tallest in the world – it offers an excellent opportunity to escape the heat of Dubai and do some exploring indoors. This famous mall is home to a massive movie theater, a hotel, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, a virtual reality amusement park, and over one thousand shops – more than you could hope to visit during a single trip.
While there are plenty of ways to spend money within the mall, you’ll also find it’s one of Dubai’s best free attractions. Aside from some world-class window shopping, it’s a prime people-watching destination, filled with some of the world’s wealthiest travelers and shoppers. And while you’ll need to pay a fee to truly tour the Dubai Aquarium, you can admire one of its largest tanks for free.
EXPERIENCE AN ABRA RIDE
The Dubai Creek is a waterway that snakes through Dubai, dividing the heart of the city. While you can book a dinner cruise or formal boat tour, you may want to save your money! There’s a better, cheaper way to enjoy this aspect of Dubai.
Each day, thousands of locals cross the waterway by abra – little water-borne taxis that shuttle small groups across for a small fare of just 1AED. For a fun and affordable way to get a new perspective of the city, board one yourself and cross the creek! There are two different routes to take, each lasting roughly five minutes, and both are well worth the ride.
CHECK OUT THE DUBAI COFFEE MUSEUM
Caffeine lovers won’t want to miss a stop at the Dubai Coffee Museum. There, you can learn about the history behind one of the world’s favorite beverages, check out artifacts and antiques used to make some of the earliest cups of coffee, and see how it has influenced various cultures from around the globe. Naturally, the Dubai Coffee Museum is also home to some of the best coffee in the city, so if you’re craving a cup, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge here.
VISIT THE KARAMA MARKET
For a different taste of Dubai, head to the Karama Market. This market is located in a busy but older part of town which, like most areas of Dubai, is home to thousands of immigrants from other nations. You’ll find hundreds of shops here – many inside people’s homes – selling a variety of goods at a fraction of the price you’ll find them for in other areas of town. Keep your eyes peeled for fake luxury goods – you’ll find loads of them here.
If you’re planning to pay this market a visit, be ready to bargain! Haggling is the name of the game here, and with a little effort, you can score clothes, shoes, and souvenirs for a great deal.
ADMIRE THE DUBAI FOUNTAIN
For a fountain show that rivals that of the Bellagio in Vegas, you’ll want to spend an evening by the Burj Khalifa Lake. There, you’ll find one of the world’s most incredible choreographed fountains. The fountain’s shows run every half hour during the evenings and feature water soaring nearly 500 feet into the sky, and the best part? It’s timed to music, including hits from Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and Christopher Tin. When we visited, it was choreographed to Enrique Iglesias’ Hero.
There are plenty of spots that offer an excellent view of the show. Grab a dinner reservation at a restaurant overlooking the fountain for a sure-fire way to catch the performance without an obstructed view. If you’d rather not splurge on dinner, or you’re willing to claim your spot early, you can enjoy a great view from the bridge that runs from the Dubai Mall to Souk Al Bahar.
STROLL ALONG THE BEACH
Take advantage of Dubai’s location along the water and spend some time soaking up the sun – as long as it isn’t too warm! Lay down a towel and catch up on your latest read, or burn some calories and admire the views as you stroll along the waterfront for a couple of hours. And if you’re looking to capture memories while you’re here, you’ll find some of the city’s best photo opps and selfie spots. The bright blue water and stunning skyscraper views make a great combination.
While there are quite a few free beaches to choose from in the area, the Beach by JBR is arguably the most popular free beach in Dubai for locals and tourists alike. With easy access to lots of restaurants and lots of options for waterfront recreation, it’s a great place to explore if you’ve got kiddos in tow.
Dubai is a true gem of a city, offering a vastly different – yet strangely similar – experience to major metropolitan areas around the world. Take advantage of the many cheap or free things to do while you’re there, and who knows – you may save enough cash to fund your family’s next adventure!