While Dubai is known for its VIP offerings and opportunities to flash cash there are also many memorable and enjoyable activities to do in Dubai that are absolutely free. There is something for everyone.
Pristine public beaches are enjoyed by sun worshipers, families and sports enthusiasts alike while striking historical sights offer an immersion in regional traditions. The world-famous Dubai Marina attracts international crowds with its twinkling architecture while Alserkal Avenue offers a strong dose of culture. There’s much to see and do in Dubai that will keep your bank balance intact! It’s time to catch a once in a lifetime sunset at Al Qudra, weave around the winding walkways in the arabesque-style Madinat Jumeirah and discover a Dubai icon – the world-famous Palm Jumeirah. They say the best things in life are free and we promise that you won’t forget a day spent negotiating Dubai’s twinking gold souks or meeting the majestic birdlife at the Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary.
Top Spots Dubai has put together a list of the ultimate cost-free activities that cater to various tastes and age groups.
1. Downtown Dubai
Head to Downtown Dubai to discover several of Dubai’s record-breaking sights. Located within walking distance of one another you can take in the world’s tallest building – the showstopping Burj Khalifa, then walk around the perfectly manicured Burj Park which often hosts exciting pop-up events from yoga classes to markets before arriving at the Dubai fountains. There you can take in a spectacular choreographed fountain show before making your way to the world’s largest mall, The Dubai Mall. Remember – only window shopping is free! Wear comfortable shoes, there’s so much ground to cover in Downtown Dubai.
Tip: After taking in the sights make your way along Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard which curves around the Dubai Mall. These palm-lined streets have a lot of exciting offerings to explore. Souk Al Bahar is home to the newly opened all-encompassing food court, Time Out Market, while out on the streets there’s the Foundry art gallery and numerous other eateries and boutiques
2. Palm Jumeirah
Often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, the man-made Palm Jumeirah is more than just a feat of human engineering. Shaped like a palm, a trunk, 16 fronds and a surrounding crescent comprise the island that was constructed from sand dredged from the bottom of the surrounding Gulf. The island hosts a thriving community with villas and residencies, malls, chic hotels, as well as restaurants and entertainment venues, while those who want to work out with exceptional views can jog or cycle along the 11km crescent.
Paying homage to the underwater kingdom, the pink Atlantis hotel is a Dubai icon. Take a walk around, enjoy the people watching and gaze into the mesmerising floor-to-ceiling aquarium at the heart of the hotel. Step out of the hotel and a whole world of activities awaits. The newly completed Nakheel Mall is an all-encompassing shopping destination while Palm West Beach is where you go to take a stroll and take in uninterrupted Marina and JBR views.
Tip: While not entirely budget-friendly Palm West Beach is known for its buzzing atmosphere. The shoreside setting includes several chic eateries and beach clubs including Lucky Fish, Surf Club, and Koko Bay. Make your way there for a sundowner during golden hour to absorb the fun and spellbinding skyline and sea views.
3. Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim
Venice meets Arabian nights in the heart of Dubai. The picture-perfect Madinat Jumeirah comprises a cluster of sandy stone buildings connected by tranquil waterways. Within the Madinat there’s an array of eateries and coffee shops with striking waterside al fresco settings and Burj Al Arab views as well as charming retailers that are ideal for picking up a gift with a Middle Eastern accent or simply window shopping. Get around by foot or take an abra, there’s much to take in. Navigate your way through the winding corridors that speak of an ancient Arabian souk before making your way out into the open air to explore the twisting turquoise waterways. Stop on the stairway for those iconic Burj Al Arab shots before discovering the adjoining Mina Al Salam hotel which is surrounded by palm-lined pools of water populated with rehabilitated sea turtles.
Tip: Madinat Jumeirah is close to Dubai’s public beaches. Spend your morning on Kite Beach before heading over to the Madinat Jumeirah for afternoon coffee and sightseeing.
4. Gold Souk, Bur Dubai
Dubai is famous for this precious metal! Master the art of negotiation or step back and observe the age-old trade of gold and indulge in some people watching. This buzzing market is packed with glittering gold and gem retailers, some of whom have been there for four decades. They are passionate about their products and ready to tell you all about them. Prices are competitive but you can always haggle – it’s part of the experience! Combine a visit to the gold souk with some other budget-friendly sights such as the nearby spice souk and the Dubai Museum.
Tip: Those looking to up their budget can contact Top Spots Dubai for a private tour guide – it’s the best way to discover this thriving and historical part of the city.
5. Public Beaches
There’s a beach for every kind of tourist in Dubai. While private beaches are typically paid for there are many beautiful public beaches to explore, free-of-charge. JBR and La Mer are favourites among visitors thanks to their endless array of activities. Water parks and inflatable obstacle courses keep kids entertained by day while cinemas and shisha lounges on the sand are a go-to for locals in the know at night. Swim in the sea and then settle down for food and drinks at one of the many close-by eateries.
Sports fans and chilled out couples or solo travellers favour the expansive stretch of public beach that spans Jumeirah, Sunset and Kite Beach. Paddleboard, kayak or kitesurf your way across this open stretch of water or set down your mat for a sunrise yoga session. Treat yourself to a local favourite after all of your hard work, Salt on Kite beach dishes up some of Dubai’s most delicious burgers.
Tip: Kite Beach is also a favourite among families thanks to its newly established collection of beachside food trucks and open-air activities for children from trampolines to the skatepark.
6. Historical Dubai, Bur Dubai
Dubai’s historic quarter is fondly referred to by locals as “Old Dubai”. Old Dubai offers a taste of the thriving community from which this metropolis has evolved. While not entirely free a Dhow Cruise is a budget-friendly must-try experience, priced at just AED2 per person per trip. Take an abra across Dubai Creek, journey through the gold and spice souks and then step into the Dubai Museum, situated in the city’s oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort to discover the region’s rich heritage. In need of a coffee break? Make your way to the charming open-air Al Seef area. Sandy buildings that pay tribute to local heritage reveal spectacular views of the surrounding creek and enclose a selection of retailers and coffee shops.
Tip: Lovers of culture will appreciate a visit to the near-by XVA Hotel and Cafe which showcases contemporary art pieces.
7. Dubai Marina Walk
Dubai Marina’s skyline has become a global icon with its dynamic architecture, blue waters dotted with yachts and walkways that curve 8km around. Discover it all on foot or by bicycle and get in your workout while snapping those Instagram-worthy shots against a backdrop of iconic skyscrapers and some seriously impressive yachts. After all that walking there are plenty of affordable eateries located along the Marina Walk to refuel at while the Marina Mall encloses a host of entertainment and retail options including a cinema.
Tip: JBR Beach is within walking distance from Dubai Marina Walk, combine a visit to both must-see free attractions.
8. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Visitors to Dubai are regularly surprised and impressed by the UAE’s natural treasures. Escape the pace of city life and pay a visit to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. Surrounded by greenery and waterways discover an assortment of bold and beautiful bird species from kingfishers to herons and even pink flamingos! Opening hours vary according to the season so be sure to consult the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary’s website for up-to-date opening timings ahead of your visit.
Tip: Pack your binoculars and a bird guide to get the most out of your visit.
9. Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz
Alserkal Avenue is Dubai’s cultural heart. Made up of a collection of warehouses that have been converted into galleries, co-working spaces, chic eateries and homegrown retailers Alserkal Avenue offers visitors visual fuel for the soul. Art galleries and retailers which include a classic car showroom are free to enter. In Alserkal you can get a taste of the most cutting edge art from the UAE and beyond to the offerings from neighbouring countries like Iran, Pakistan as well as Europe.
Alserkal Avenue has also become a go-to destination for foodies and coffee lovers keen to try out homegrown concepts. For health food lovers there’s Wild and The Moon, a plant-based cafe with outposts in Paris and New York while Nightjar is a roastery known for its speciality coffee and Moby offers up delicious vegan sushi.
Tip: Check Alserkal’s website ahead of your visit to discover their programming. Alserkal regularly hosts special events, workshops and late-night film screenings.
10. Al Qudra
Al Qudra is a haven for Dubai’s outdoor enthusiasts in the know. Make your way there and discover the desert by bike. There’s a cycle hire centre on-site and 86km of cycling track that reveals all the splendour of the desert. For a more relaxing experience why not pack a picnic and head to Al Qudra lake, a striking lake-side setting spread over 10 hectares where the desert can be enjoyed from the comfort of your picnic blanket. Sunrises and sunsets in this magical area are spellbinding. Depending upon the traffic it should take around 40-50 minutes to reach Al Qudra from Downtown Dubai.
Tip: Al Qudra is close to Bab Al Shams Desert Resort. For an exciting al fresco desert dining experience book dinner there and enjoy a taste of Middle Eastern culture accompanied by live entertainment.