Whether you’re aiming to get on the property ladder, saving for a holiday or are just being frugal (it’s January, who isn’t?) then we’ve got you covered with a whole host of fun things to do across Dubai, from sightseeing to sunbathing, and none of it will cost you a dirham.
Make like a tourist
Catch a race at Meydan
Fancy at day at the gee-gees without forking out a fortune? Dubai Racing Club offers free general admission to a limited section within the Meydan Grandstand with a large number of seats available – and with great views too. If you’re after food or drink you’ll have to visit the purpose-built food court on the mezzanine area, but if you’re just after a sit down to watch some world-class equine athletes in action, this is a great chance.
Thu 6.30pm & Sat 4pm until Sat Mar 31. Meydan Racecourse, Nad Al Sheba, www.dubairacingclub.com (04 327 2110).
Gaze at The Dubai Fountain
One of Dubai’s most famous and most popular attractions, The Dubai Fountain is well worth a visit. Set underneath the Burj Khalifa, its captivating and totally social media-worthy dance routine that pumps out frequently throughout the day is a must-see. The world’s largest choreographed fountain is a freebie worth making a journey to, whether you’ve got visitors in town or not.
Daily 1pm & 1.30pm (Fri 1.30pm & 2pm); every half an hour from 6pm-11pm. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai.
Get some culture at Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Take a trip up to Bur Dubai and spend an afternoon learning about the history of this wonderful city – there’s an awful lot to discover and it will hardly cost you a thing. While entry to the Dubai Museum is Dhs3 for adults and Dhs1 for kids, getting through the doors of the Dubai Coin Museum won’t see you handing over any money. Learn about the currencies of years gone by from across the region, with special and interactive displays.
Sun-Thu 8am-2pm. Al Shindagha area, Bur Dubai, www.dubaiculture.gov.ae.
Go Camel racing at Al Marmoum Racetrack
You’re in the desert, why not try something different and watch some camel racing? And best of all, you can experience this traditional sport for free. Head to Al Marmoum to see these animals taking to the track, complete with robot jockeys. Cheer on your favourite at a unique – and free – evening out.
Call for times. Dubai Camel Racing Club, Al Marmoum Racetrack, Dubai-Al Ain Road, www.dcrc.ae (04 832 6526).
Look through Dubai Frame
This eye-catching landmark opened at the start of the year, after being in development for the best part of five years, but it’s worth the wait. You’ve likely spotted the Dubai Frame already, but now it’s complete you can capture the perfect picture of either Downtown Dubai or Old Dubai through it. You can head up into the 150-metre-high structure, albeit for a slight fee.
Dhs50 (adults), Dhs20 (kids). Zabeel Park, www.thedubaiframe.com.
Grab your 4x4 and hit the dunes
This one presupposes the availability of a 4x4, but if you do have one then you’ll quickly realise why dune bashing is such a popular pastime in this part of the world. Whether you’re in a massive car or hitting the desert on a quad bike, smashing through the sand is one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll find this side of Skydive Dubai. If you don’t own a suitable vehicle yourself, hopefully you have a friend who does (and who can be bribed with your excellent picnic-making skills).
Marvel at Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
There’s nothing more relaxing than gazing at some fish serenely swimming around. And if you’re on the skint side, you don’t actually have to go into Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo to see them – you’ll get a pretty decent view from inside The Dubai Mall. Marvel at the sharks and don’t miss a sighting of the rare endangered sawfish. Educational, fun and free. Winning.
Open Sun-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 448 5200).
Spend Ladies’ Day at Le Petit Belge
With a second branch in Business Bay imminent, and a third location due to open in Motor City in March, Le Petit Belge burst onto the Dubai nightlife scene in 2017 and gained a strong following in its JLT home. Popular due to its top happy hours, the best of its deals has to be its epic ladies’ day offer. Every Wednesday, ladies can take advantage of a super generous deal, including free house beverages from noon through until 2am. Yes, really.
Wed noon-2am. Ongoing. Pullman Jumeirah Lakes Towers Hotel & Residence, Cluster T, JLT (04 242 7794).
Try and get all of Burj Khalifa into a picture
It’s no easy feat, but that hasn’t stopped millions of people from trying. On any given day, in the grounds of The Dubai Mall, with a stunning upwards view of the world’s tallest tower, you’ll find tonnes of tourists and residents alike contorting themselves into all sorts of bent-out-of-shape positions trying to get the entirety of the Burj Khalifa into frame. Manage it though, and you’ll have a very Instagram-worthy image to show off.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai.
Watch imaGINE at Dubai Festival City
There are lasers, lights, fountains, epic video displays and a huge sound system to go alongside it. IMAGINE at Dubai Festival City is one of the top free attractions in the city running regularly throughout the week, and pops up with some pretty mega performance on special occasions too. Whether it’s the Game of Thrones spectacular it ran last summer ahead of the seventh season of the show, or the original production A Child’s Dream it also put on, you’re bound to spot something sensational here.
Walk around a dhow yard
To some, the unsanitised setting would not be fit to pay for. But for us, it is a priceless location. Boats from little abras to ocean-crossing dhows are built and repaired in the Al Jaddaf dhow-building yard and it is fascinating to explore and take great photos of.
Off Al Khail Road, turn off just before Business Bay Crossing, Oud Metha.
Free movies with Du
Du mobile customers will get a free cinema ticket at Vox Cinemas with its "du Tuesdays" deal. All customers have to do is purchase a ticket at full price and another will be handed over absolutely free. With a year of amazing releases lined up already, you'll be delighted with the saving. Text "MOVIE" to 9979 from a du mobile.
And with Etisalat
Not to be outdone by its rival, Etisalat is also handing out two-for-one deals on cinema tickets, this time at Reel Cinemas. All customers have to do is download the Etisalat Marketplace app and browse the deals including buy-one-get-one-free cinema at "Etisalat Wednesdays".
Head to The Beach (or a park)
Have a pool day at Barasti
Somewhat bucking the trend of beach clubs in the city, Barasti went big and bold with the opening of its new pool on the lower floor, by proudly declaring it to be totally free. That means you’ve got to get down there early to stand a chance of getting a bed or a decent spot for catching a few rays, but it’s worth it to have a fun-filled day out at one of Dubai’s most established beach clubs.
Open Sat-Wed 11am-1.30am, Thu-Fri 11am-3am. Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street (04 318 1313).
Laze on the lawn in JLT Park
When was the last time you stretched out, faced the sky and just let the world pass you by? There’s a lot to be said for deliberately slowing down the pace of life and just chilling out. In JLT, behind clusters P, Q and R, sits JLT Park, a grassy expanse (bouncy running track included) where you’ll find al fresco yogis, kids playing and families with dogs. It’s laid-back, relaxing and it’s totally worth whiling away a few hours on a weekend and just watching the (occasional) cloud glide by.
Cluster P-R, Jumeirah Lakes Towers.
Spend the day at Kite Beach
Spend the day chilling out at one of Dubai’s most popular public beaches. Chill out with views of the Burj Al Arab. Take a book and watch the hours fly by. Alternatively head the waves with a range of awesome watersports available too (for a fee). If you’re feeling flush we’d recommend splashing out on a burger from SALT (from Dhs30).
Just off Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim.
Visit The Beach
Are there many better ways of relaxing in the afternoon and watching the world go by than by heading The Beach? Pack your towel, suncream and picnic basket and head to this JBR beach for the day. Whether you’re with friends or family it’s a top place for a free day out. Sit back and watch the camel riders head up and down the sandy stretch. Alternatively, just catch some rays upon the shore and let time just drift away. Plus every Thursday and Friday night during Dubai Shopping Festival (until Saturday January 27) you’ll be treated to a free massive fireworks display.
Fireworks 9.30pm Thu 18 & Fri 19 Jan; 9.30pm Thu 25 & Fri 26 Jan. The Beach opposite JBR, www.thebeach.ae.
Fitness for Free
Free Yoga at Marasi Business Bay
At Marasi Business Bay, yogis can fill their boots with yoga fun in the great outdoors for some sunrise (or sunset) sessions. The Marasi Yoga Hub is the first of its kind in the area, and offers a great space for some al fresco yoga in the heart of Downtown Dubai, so it’s a great place to practise your asanas without handing over a membership fee. Classes are available from 7pm-9pm every day from Sunday to Wednesday, advanced booking is required though so email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Abraj Street, Business Bay, email@example.com.
Free fitness classes at Mall of the Emirates
Following on from the roaring success that was the Dubai Fitness Challenge in late 2017, the MOE Active programme at Mall of the Emirates continues to help keep us Dubaians moving. Head to the mall between Sunday and Wednesday and enjoy one of four completely free classes, including FlyWheel and FlyBarre spinning and weights training. Registration is open from 8am, classes start at 8.30am, and you’re well on your way to a healthy day.
Sun-Wed, 8am. Ongoing. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha, moe-active.malloftheemirates.com.
Hit the road on two wheels at Al Qudra
In the latter half of the year, you’re likely to find swathes of cyclists training for the epic 92km-long Spinneys challenge that takes place in December. The rest of the year round Al Qudra is still popular, thanks to its desert-traversing roads which also scoot on round some lovely picturesque lakes. Grab your bike (or borrow a mate’s), hit the road and burn calories – but not your cash.
Trek along the Palm Boardwalk
In late 2016 an 11km-long boardwalk opened up, circumnavigating the Palm’s Crescent and providing a pedestrianised path leading from the eastern side to the west. If you’ve got a couple of hours, take a lazy meander along this idyllic route and take in some rather magnificent views of mainland Dubai from the huge artificial archipelago.
Surf the wave of free wi-fi
If you ever see any of the Smart Palms at destinations around Dubai (Zabeel Park and Umm Suqeim Beach to name but two), you will probably see us huddled underneath checking our emails and updating our Facebook page. They're one of the greater initiatives that can charge mobile phones and provide free wi-fi at same time.
Various locations including Zabeel Park, www.smart-palm.com (056 692 0764).
Markets to browse
Free stuff on Dubizzle
That’s right, the classified section of the online marketplace has an entire page dedicated exclusively to free swag. Next time you’re moving house, or if you’ve just arrived in the city and need to fill an apartment, and fast, then you could do a lot worse than heading to Dubizzle. At the time of writing the site has 350 adverts under the “Free Stuff” section – including books, a sofa set, tables, a baby stroller, an unused mattress, a cupboard, a king-size bed and even a free foot and ankle brace. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here.
Get green fingers at Garden Souq
The Garden Souq at Dubai Garden Centre opened in time for the start of the winter season and will be open every Saturday until the end of March. It’s free to peruse and, if you’re in the market to part with some cash, you may find an utter bargain from a range of local vendors and artists all selling their wares. As well as household pots and plants, you can also expect to find a unique collection of clothes, jewellery, shoes, fashion accessories, home décor products, handmade items and many other artisanal products. There’s also live music and cooking demonstrations, so we’re on board.
Sat 10am-2.30pm. Until Sat Mar 31. Dubai Garden Centre, Al Quoz (04 590 4333).
Head to the sunrise market in Business Bay
Get up early and make the most of your Saturdays this winter by heading to Business Bay’s Sunrise Market. It’s hosted in part by friendly neighbourhood café The Sum Of Us, and the Sunrise Market dishes up fresh, artisanal breakfast dishes as well as hot-from-the-oven baked treats (provided by Rise&Dawn Bakehouse). But it’s not just about the food, there are tonnes of local arts and crafts vendors too, with Dubai Garden Centre joining up with a range of boutique brands. So meandering the market is free, purchases come in a little extra, but even if you’re not buying, it’s a worth gander on a lazy weekend morning. There’s even a free fitness class every Saturday morning at 7am to get you out of bed on time.
Sat Nov 11 8am-11am (fitness classes at 7am). Ongoing. Burj Al Salam Tower, Downtown Dubai.
There’s something so very chill about picking some fresh fruit and veggies on a relaxing Friday morning. Every week of the winter you’ll be able to head along to Ripe Outdoor Market at Zabeel Park and Al Barsha Pond Park, where there’ll be fresh, organic, locally sourced fruit and vegetables from this al fresco shopping hub. Of course, what you want to buy isn’t free, but heading along to this winter market with local businesses and a range of fun activities is. Everything is geared towards healthy living, so expect boot camps and parent and child sports classes as well.
Fri, timings vary. Until April 2018. Various locations including Zabeel Park and Al Barsha Pond Park, www.ripeme.com.
Wander the old souks
If this list wasn’t alphabetised we’d put this right at the top, probably. The Gold, Spice and Textiles Souks in Deira are brilliant for many a reason, but chiefly because they offer a window into yesteryear without demanding a dirham. Located north and south of the Dubai Creek, you can explore the hundreds of merchants offering authentic gold jewellery or silk pashminas. Better yet, breathe in the scents of fresh herbal tea, spices, which smell amazing. They’re some of the loveliest places this city has to offer, and you haven’t visited Dubai properly until you’ve seen them. Splurge on an abra journey across the Creek for Dhs1 and you’ll get the full experience.
Gold and Spice Souks found near Deira Old Souk Water Taxi Station. Textiles Souk found near Bur Dubai Abra Station.