31 cool things to do around Dubai that won’t cost you a single dirham
Cultural activities Be challenged by cinema
Walk the passageways of cultural hub Alserkal Avenue and poke your head around the doors of the galleries, which host many exhibitions to view for free. And there’s Cinema Akil, which until the end of March, features weekly outdoor film screenings at The Yard. Those showcased strike a balance between accessibility and challenging, and many are designed to provoke conversation. You’ll get to meet other enthusiasts and discuss the movie afterwards. Fri from 7pm. A4 Space, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, www.alserkalavenue.ae (050 556 9797). Catch a blockbuster from a beanbag
Can we call a night of free film screenings an institution? Because that is exactly what Movies Under the Stars feels like. For years, we’ve been sitting up and watching films on the rooftop of the Wafi complex on Sundays, and with Nights in Rodanthe (January 15), If I Stay (January 22) and Seven Pounds (January 29) coming up, we expect to add a few more appearances to our record. Sun from 8.30pm. Wafi Pyramids Rooftop Gardens, Oud Metha, www.pyramidsrestaurantsatwafi.com (04 324 4100).
Experience culture and heritage The Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is a haven of free fun. Ditch your expensive plans for a walk among the galleries, museums and heritage attractions. The whole district is primed for people-watching and reflection on older architecture and a sedate way of life. Majlis and XVA Gallery often have the most accessible art exhibitions in the city and although the free museums were being renovated on our last visit, just walking among the historic and renovated buildings of this Creekside neighbourhood is an enjoyable activity in itself. If you feel like splashing out a single Dhs5 note, you could probably get into the Dubai Museum, a shawarma and an abra ride while you are here. Almost. Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai, www.xvagallery.com; www.dubaiculture.gov.ae.
Rove around Deira Hotel brand Rove has launched a new series of walking explorations, “Rove Around The City”. The first in this series is the one-off Discover Deira tour, which takes place on Saturday February 18 and is absolutely free. It will give participants the opportunity to discover the highlights of old Dubai, including the Gold Souk, Naif and the fish market, with hosts Saleh Al Tamimi and Shaima Al Tamimi, cultural explorers and avid photographers. Don’t forget to take your camera. You’ll get some top tips and be able to take some fantastic snaps of the area, too. Email email@example.com to reserve your spot. Sat Feb 18, 2pm-6pm. Meet at Rove City Centre, Deira, www.rovehotels.com.
On the last Wednesday of every month, something quite special happens at Cucina, the Italian Restaurant in the JW Marriott hotel in Deira. The chefs fling open kitchen doors and give a guided tour on a particular ingredient used in Italian cooking. A guided tour means a free meal as well as expert culinary advice from the chefs. This month (on January 25), the topic is fresh cheeses, Saturday February 22 looks at why artichokes are important, Wednesday March 29 is all about the Mediterranean caviar, bottarga, and there is a vegetable special coming on April 26. Last Wed of the month. Cucina, JW Marriott Hotel Dubai, Abu Baker Al Siddique Road, Deira (04 607 7977). Fitness & wellbeing Do yoga on the beach
Regular yoga sessions can be a pain in the bank manager’s neck. Free yoga, however, we have a lot of time for. Down on the sands at 7am you can participate in all the stretches, lunges and sunrise serenity you want. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, devoted yogis (devogis?) enjoy free sessions. Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat from 7am. The Beach, JBR, www.thebeach.ae (800 637227).
Keep fit somewhere fancy for free Wet Deck at the W Dubai Habtoor City is a trendy hangout. It’s best known for hosting cool pool parties from house music collective audio tonic and for being a shisha lounge in a flash new part of town. Turn up early on Friday mornings for the Flex sessions and you can join poolside yoga alongside the cabanas. Fri 9am-10am. Wet Deck, W Dubai Al Habtoor City, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dubaialhabtoorcity.com (04 436 6666).
Meditate without money worries If you’re the kind who gets so neurotic over the cost of a meditation session that you end up more stressed after the meditation than before it began, holistic therapy centre Illuminations in JLT is one for you. It has one of the busiest event calendars of any Dubai institution. Browse carefully and you can easily discover energy healing, meditation and various therapy classes completely free of charge. We feel more relaxed already. Illuminations, Fortune Executive Towers, Cluster T, JLT, www.illuminations.ae (04 448 7043).
Sporting events All-day motorsports
Forget Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the real racing thrills take place on the Dubai Autodrome for the Hankook 24 H. Cars race for 24 hours in this annual endurance challenge. There’s also classic car collections, a kids’ zone and a few food trucks, too. Jan 12-14, 2pm-2pm. Dubai Autodrome, Motor City, www.dubaiautodrome.com (04 357 8700).
Go to the camel races
Watching a camel run is one of the great joys of the natural world. There’s much fun to be had at Al Marmoum camel racetrack without handing over a small coin purse for it. It’s off the smiles per hour scale, as far as we’re concerned. Dubai Camel Racing Club, Al Marmoum Racetrack, Dubai-Al Ain Road, www.dcrc.ae (04 832 6526).
Put on your game face
Playing sports doesn’t have to cost a thing and can be the most enjoyable thing to do. Take a Frisbee along to the beach, kick a ball around in the park (where permitted) or just challenge a friend to a race around a running track. There’s even the chance you can find a pick-up basketball game in many of the outdoor courts. Free sports are as enjoyable as any gym membership, and are just as effective. Various locations including Al Barsha Pond Park; JLT Park, Cluster O, JLT; Al Sufouh Park, off Abdullah Omran Taryam Street.
Watch the Dubai Tour
Some of the biggest names in world cycling are back in the UAE for the Dubai Tour at the end of January. Watch the peddlers racing and enjoy the accompanying festivities without worrying about pedlars demanding your coins. Locations nationwide with a daily start from the Dubai International Marine Club, Dubai Marina, www.dubaitour.com.
The great outdoors Experience The Dubai Fountain
Joy, sadness, wonder, surprise, mild embarrassment at crying in public over what is basically a few hose pipes, some torches and a radio turned up loud. The range of emotions experienced when we witness The Dubai Fountain always take the same route and invariably end with sheer amazement and unrestrained admiration of Dubai’s best free attraction. We’ll never get tired of bringing visitors here. Downtown Dubai.
Free beach club vibes
You may not get the comfy lounger, “free” refreshing lollies or chilled Ibiza-style soundtrack, but a trip to a public beach gives you the same sea, sun and sand you’d get at a swanky beach club. Kite Beach, for instance, has a warm community feel, excellent entertainment in the form of kitesurfing and increasingly good facilities. Take a picnic and it’s hard to beat. Umm Suqeim.
Spot some flamingos
The quiet, protected sanctuary that is the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is home to thousands of birds and it’s beautiful. No two ways about it. Flamingos are the stars, although more than 60 species can be seen here. For a moment of peace in nature, this spot in hard to beat. Open Sat-Thu 9am-4pm. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, Ras Al Khor Road, www.facebook.com/wildlife.ae.
Surf the net outside
The internet is, of course, the greatest educational tool ever dreamt up by man. And there’s a video of a sneezing panda that has kept us in giggles for more than a decade now. Free wi-fi is spreading across the city like a viral video and we can now browse, share and surf for free in taxis, malls, parks and on the beach, with more free wi-fi hotspots coming all the time. WiFi UAE aims to have 90 percent coverage of Dubai by the end of the year. Visit www.wifiuae.ae for details.
Visit a theme park
This is a free activity that you might actually want to take a little money along to – just in case. The astonishing Dubai Parks And Resorts is an attraction packed with rides and many things to do. While you have to pay to get to the roller coasters, you can get a taste of what the complex has to offer by exploring the ticketless and totally free Riverland Dubai. Walk along the centrepiece waterway and you’ll be able to see the distinct zones, as well as catch some of the planned free street theatre. Riverland Dubai, Dubai Parks And Resorts, Sheikh Zayed Road, opposite Palm Jebel Ali, www.riverlanddubai.com (04 820 0000).
Walk by the Canal Dubai is often criticised for its lack of walking space. However, the Dhs2.7 billion project that is the Dubai Water Canal has added more than 3.2km of promenade from JW Marriott Marquis Dubai to the Arabian Gulf. This breathtaking addition to the city gives you never-seen-before views of the Creek and the city’s skyline as well as boats to take a little trip on, waterfalls to marvel at and a meandering waterway to stroll. Dubai Water Canal, connecting the Creek and the Arabian Gulf, www.meydan.ae.
Volunteering with animals Feed a turtle What can you add to a hotel that already has everything? A 150 sq m outdoor turtle rehabilitation lagoon, of course. The all-new Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel has done exactly that and is committed to protecting the endangered hawksbill species. Education, research and rehabilitation are key aims of Dubai’s Turtle Rehabilitation Project. Access Turtle Island through the main lobby of the property to take part in a fun and useful turtle-feeding session. Wed 11am. Jumeirah Al Naseem, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim, www.jumeirah.com (04 366 8888).
Take a dog for a walk Owning a pet can be expensive business, but helping out at an animal sanctuary is free, rewarding and could improve your physical and mental health. Animal rehoming specialist K9 Friends has a dog-walking programme, which benefits both man and beast. For more information visit www.k9friends.com (04 887 8739).
Window shopping Shop without money The Dubai Shopping Festival, as all experienced Dubaians know, is not just about spending your savings and splashing the cash. Malls become a haven for free fun at this time. Expect make-up samples and demonstrations at The Dubai Mall and fashion shows in Mall of the Emirates. Until January 28. Various locations across Dubai, www.visitdubai.com/dsf.
Stroll, browse and stretch
The various Ripe Market stalls at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi every Wednesday, Zabeel Park every Friday and Al Barsha Pond Park every Saturday, have a cool, farmers’ market and craft fair vibe to them. As well as just walking around the set-up and listening to the live music, there are usually free yoga sessions for visitors to take part in, too. Ripe Market, Wed 2pm-9pm, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street; Fri 9pm-3pm, Zabeel Park; Sat 3pm-9pm, Al Barsha Pond Park, www.ripeme.com (04 380 7602).
Free nights out A night out with friends need not cost the earth. Catch up with your pals for free at these top nights
Asia Asia Free is all well and good, but you want it to be fancy, too. Enter Pier 7’s Go Geisha ladies’ night at Asia Asia. There are three free drinks every Tuesday, alongside great views and a fine atmosphere. Tue 6pm-1am. Pier 7, Dubai Marina, www.asia-asia.com (04 276 5900).
Billionaire Mansion Do you ever stop and think how much a billionaire spends most weeks? We reckon they must go through at least a few thousand on glitter baths. Ladies can get four free drinks and a hint of the big time at this opulent Taj Dubai bar. Fri 8pm-12.30am. Taj Dubai, Business Bay, www.billionairemansiondubai.com (04 510 3100).
China Grill Let us make this easy for you. The Westin Dubai’s China-meets-New York lounge has one of the best ladies’ nights in Dubai. There, we said it. Free drinks all night for ladies, half-price food and even discounts for mixed groups make the Madame Butterfly night a freebie favourite. Tue 6.30-11.30pm. China Grill, Westin Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.chinagrilldubai.com (04 511 7333).
Cocktail Kitchen We've called this bar a game-changer for JLT residents before and we think it could be the same for freebie-hunters. Its ladies’ nights every Tuesday offer a generous four drinks and 50 percent off food. It’s spectacular for neighbourhood residents and also worth crossing town for. Tue 8pm-11.30pm. Cocktail Kitchen, Armada BlueBay Hotel, Cluster P, JLT, www.cocktail-kitchen.com (056 828 0727).
Copper Dog There will come a time when we stop mentioning that Kate Moss is a huge fan of the original Copper Dog in Scotland. This is not that time. We’re too enamoured with the image of the supermodel dropping by JBR to join us and the crowds for bottomless grape and 20 percent off food for ladies. We hope Moss would appreciate the live music from Jamie Wrecs, too. Tue 8pm-11pm. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR, www.copperdog.ae (04 559 5355).
McGettigan’s DWTC Think it is only ladies enjoying free stuff in Dubai? Step forward Irish powerhouse and man cave extraordinaire McGettigan’s DWTC. Tuesday evenings offer up three free mixed drinks for men, free games of pool all night long and discount foods as well. What a time to be alive. Tue 7pm-11pm. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.mcgettigans.com (04 378 0800).
Ramusake We’re super-impressed by this stylish Japanese lounge in the DoubleTree by Hilton, and the free-flowing grape offered at its Miss Independent ladies’ night is only partly to thank for the buzz around it. Wed 8pm-midnight. DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR, www.ramusake.ae (04 559 5300).
Tr!beca Kitchen + Bar
Highly Commended at the 2016Time Out Dubai Music & Nightlife Awards, ladies’ night at this New York-style lounge has plenty going for it, not least a cheerful vibe, chilled ambience and three free drinks for gals. Tue 9pm-3am. JA Ocean View Hotel, The Walk, JBR, www.tribeca.ae (050 345 6067).
The Rose & Crown Why ever be bored on a Wednesday night again? Make your way to this British-style pub in Al Habtoor City where on Wednesdays, ladies get four drinks on the house. It’s an excellent introduction to one of last year’s finest new openings. Wed 6pm-2am. The Atrium, Al Habtoor City, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.roseandcrowndubai.com (04 437 0022).