This glamorous city in the United Arab Emirates is best known for its modern architecture and luxury shopping. With fast cars, tall buildings and a lifestyle that seems only for the rich and the famous, it’s no wonder that Dubai has earned the reputation for being a flashy and expensive city.
But there are still some interesting things that you can do for free in Dubai without spending your dirham!
1. Take the time to visit Jumeirah Mosque
This beautiful mosque is a famous landmark in Dubai. Visiting and praying at the mosque would not require you money but according to National Geographic non-Muslims pay a minimal entrance fee of about $2.50.
If you do have some money to spare, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits to the mosque six days a week from Saturday through Thursday at 10am. The tour costs AED 20 per person and the fee entitles you to water, dates, Arabic coffee, tea, and traditional pastries. Something like a tea party at the mosque? Probably. Children under 12 enter the tour for free!
But I would say some quiet, spiritual time at the mosque worshipping God and marvelling at the architecture is more than enough when you are at the mosque ?
Address: Al Jumeirah Rd, Dubai
2. Snap photos at the Burj Khalifa
We always see foreigners taking photos at the Petronas Twin Towers and we don’t bat an eyelid because for those staying in the city like me, the Twin Towers are just… there. But when in Dubai, I suggest we apply the same principle and go photo crazy with their national pride, the Burj Khalifa! ?
At 829.8 metres, Burj Khalifa holds the record for being the tallest structure in the world (we had our run as the tallest with the Twin Towers, still proud!) and it would set you back anywhere between AED 125 to AED 500, depending on the time slot, to get to the observation deck.
Burj Khalifa was prominently featured in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where Tom Cruise did some crazy stunts at the building.
So if you don’t want to spend that much on going to the top just to see below, I’d say take out that selfie stick and start being touristy!
3. Learn about camels
There are more to camels than what we see in the TVs or movies and you can learn all about them at the Camel Museum.
The museum, also known as Beit Al Rekab, was built in the 1940s. It’s the best place to learn the relationship between the animal and man and how it contributes to the local society from its milk, wool and meat.
According to Dubai Culture, visitors will be taken on a thrilling encyclopaedic journey through the numerous wings and halls that have an exhaustive information on camel, including their history, features, facts and much more. You will leave with a better appreciation of the four-legged mammal.
Admission into this museum is free!
Address: Al Shandagha Historical District, Dubai
Opening hours: Sunday – Thursday (8am – 2pm). Closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
4. Watch the Dubai Fountain play you a song
The Dubai Fountain at the Dubai Mall shoots water as high up as 140 metres and that is the same height as a 45-storey building! The fountain was created by the same people behind the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas so you can expect the same grandeur here at Dubai Fountain.
The fountain is 275 metres long, has five circles of varying sizes and two central arcs. The lights at the Dubai Fountain can be seen over 20 miles away, hence, it would be quite the visual show to see the Dubai Fountain playing songs like Enrique Iglesias’ Hero, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
So head over to the Dubai Mall during any of the slots below and watch the fountain play you a song!
Afternoon Shows: Saturday – Thursday (1pm & 1:30pm), Friday (1:30pm & 2pm)
Evening Shows: Daily (every 30 minutes between 6pm to 11pm)
5. Be a mall rat
One thing Malaysians, Singaporeans and the Emiratis have in common is, WE LOVE OUR MALLS. The retail love is understandable because our countries have hot weather so we tend to seek refuge in the cold, chilly air-conditioned areas of our gigantic shopping malls and pretend we’re doing enough walking to come up to the 10,000 required steps a day.
You don’t need to spend when you’re doing window shopping (read: just looking at the displays at the retails stores does not cost a thing).
Dubai has some huge shopping malls. Check out Burjuman Centre, Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Mall, Dubai Outlet Mall (outlet shopping!), Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai Festival City Mall and Mercato Mall.
6. Bask in the aroma of spices at the Spice Souk
One of the more popular souks in Dubai would be the Spice Souk. Stand in the middle of the narrow passageway, close your eyes if you must, and take in the scents and sounds and you will feel like you are in a different era altogether. Discover hundreds, if not more, of spices, traditional medicine, incense and herbs at the souk and don’t forget to take photos here. It would be gorgeous.
Address: Deira, Dubai
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, from 10am to 10pm (break time between 1pm – 4pm) and on Fridays, it is open after the Friday prayers from 4pm to 10pm.
#HHWT Tip: The nearest Metro to the souk is Al-Ras station.
7. Stroll through Madinat Jumeirah
While it may not be the original thing, Madinat Jumeirah is a close representation of ancient Arabia. It is a five-star resort in Dubai designed to resemble a traditional Arabian town.
The Madinat Jumeirah is sprawled over 40 hectares of land and garden, comprising two boutique hotels which are called Al Qasr and Mina A’Salam, a courtyard of 29 summer houses known as Dar Al Masyaf and houses 40 fancy f&b establishments to boot.
The place is complete with air-conditioning and would probably be one of the most comfortable experiences you have in a souk. Madinat Jumeirah has waterways with palm trees by side, fancy eateries and an actual souk but prices are said to be steep there. It's the perfect place to spend a relaxing evening just walking around and enjoying the scenery.
Address: 6 Al Sufouh Rd, Dubai
8. Immerse yourself in old Dubai culture at Bastakiya
There is no denying Dubai’s glam power, but it would also be nice to be able to revisit the old school charm.
National Geographic calls the Bastakiya “Dubai’s most engaging neighbourhood” and it is for a very good reason especially if you are into history.
Bastakiya, or also known as the Al Fahidi Historic District, is the only place where you can admire old, traditional buildings, which is a stark contrast to the shiny, tall buildings that have made their way into Dubai’s skyline.
The place was almost completely gone back in 1980s to make way for development but a British architect who came to the place made a campaign to save the area and thank God he did because it would have been such a shame to lose a part of history.
In 2005, the Dubai Municipality restored some old buildings and lanes at Bastakiya. Visit Dubai’s most engaging neighbourhood and be prepared to be transported back into an era that is long gone.
Address: Bur Dubai
9. Take a peek into the daily life of a wealthy pearl merchant at the Heritage House
What is now a museum showcasing the lifestyle of a pearl merchant used to be a house that belonged to Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk. The two-storey courtyard house was built in 1890. It is made of coral, stone, plaster, teakwood, chandal wood, and trunks of palm trees.
At Heritage House, visitors get a chance to venture into its many rooms, including a kitchen, a bride room, a bathroom and a meeting room. Most of the rooms have audiovisual, mannequins and dioramas so you can have a sense of the traditional lifestyle in old Dubai.
Entrance to Heritage House is free and tourism guide is also available for free. Visitors are advised to take the public transport to Heritage House as it is located in a crowded commercial area.
Address: Al Khor Street, Dubai
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday (8am – 7.30pm). Fridays (2.30pm – 7.30pm)
10. Head to the beach and watch the sunset!
Sunsets at beaches are always very pretty. There’s just something magical about watching the day turns to night right before your eyes. While most hotels in Dubai have their own private beaches, there are public beaches that you can head to and it would not cost you a dime.
One of it is Umm Suqeim or Kite Beach. The name rather says it all because you can watch kite surfers do their thing with the Burj Al Arab in the background. Another beach worth checking out is the Jumeirah Beach. Take a stroll on the sandy beach, jog, sit, or do some people watching while waiting for the sun to set.
Dubai doesn’t have to be expensive, if you know what you can do for free. There are many things that you can still experience in the city without emptying your wallets. I would definitely splurge my money to try the halal international food chains in Dubai instead.
So don’t be scared of Dubai’s expensive outlook, just kick back the sand on your feet and enjoy the city with these free activities!