Free Things to Do in Dubai and More Budget Tips
Do you plan a trip to Dubai on a budget with many free things to do and cheap places to stay?
If you plan a trip to Dubai, you should know that it will not be overly cheap. There is no real “budget” traveling to Dubai. Accommodations are pretty expensive and also, Dubai is not a small city where you would walk or ride a bike to explore everything. but saving money in Dubai IS POSSIBLE.
There are many great free things to do in Dubai and cheap holidays to Dubai is possible. You just have to know how to find the good, free things in Dubai that don’t break the bank.
Dubai on a Budget
After naming my favorite free things to do, I also give more budget tips for Dubai – how to travel to Dubai on a budget for accommodation, food, public transportation and so on.
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Free Things to do in Dubai
Let´s start with things to do for (almost) free in Dubai.
Watch the Water Fountain Show at Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is an attraction by itself. Even if you aren’t a big shopper, you should visit Dubai Mall at least once. Though I have visited the mall numerous times, I cannot remember having done any shopping at all -however, I still visit each time.
Whether you stroll the fancy Fashion Avenue (the luxury section with some interesting architectural elements) or just walking the mall – it is an interesting fun and free activity. Perfect for each first-time Dubai visitor.
After some time at Dubai Mall, you can head to the water fountain just in front of the mall. Click here for the show times.
The show comes with music and though it is not the most spectacular water show I have seen, it is a fun thing to see in Dubai for free (the water fountain shows is not throughout the day, so check times before heading there. The best time to see it as in the evening, where it is shown twice a day.
Also, there is the free LED show at Burj Khalifa which normally will take place in the evening and which are free to watch.
Dubai Aquarium at Dubai Mall
The Dubai Aquarium is free, too. Okay, you cannot go really in for free but since it is located in Dubai Mall you can still see many fish and other animals through the glasses – if you are with smaller kids they will still enjoy and you do have not to spend a dime on it.
I have visited the aquarium twice (meaning being inside) because tickets were included in my hop-on and hop-off buses but seriosuly, I would mostl likely have regretted it if I had paid full price. Looking at it from far is good enough.
Explore the Souks
Exploring souks (market) is actually one of my favorite free activities in Dubai.
They are free, and still fun and it is a bit more “authentic” than the skyscrapers.
If you shop you might spend a fortune – especially at the Gold Souk in Deira (Old Dubai) but you can get wonderfully lost even without spending a lot. And if you shop – haggle, haggle and haggle.
Souvenirs and clothes are cheaper than at the malls (and gold probably as well, though I have not even checked the prices).
Also, food is much cheaper here than in the restaurants in Dubai Downtown or Marina.
Get Lost in Madinat Jumeirah
Madinat Jumeirah is a great area in Dubai that is a recreation of ancient Arabia – it has nice views of Burj al-Arab and is a beautiful place to go for a stroll.
Restaurants and accommodations are very expensive in this area – but the good news is that you don’t have to spend money to have a good time. There are also nice souks – and as mentioned, the views come for free.
Marina is without a doubt one of my favorite areas in Dubai – pretty and overwhelming. While strolling along the water you can admire the skyscrapers and enjoy the incredible architecture in Dubai. It is great to visit at day- or nighttime.
Admittedly, restaurants and accommodations aren’t cheap in Dubai Marina, but marveling at the skyscrapers and the man-made Marina is fun even if you do stay there overnight.
Swim at Jumeirah Beach (with Views of Al-Arab)
A lot of beaches are not open to the public- many belong to (luxury) hotels so this is one of the best places to relax and hop into the water. Despite the fact that the beaches are free, they are clean, not overly crowded and pretty.
Watch the Dubai Light and Sound Show
During my first trip, I somehow ended up at the Wafi Mall (Egyptian themed mall). It was not bad and in the evening you have a light show – a different kind of activity and nice to have seen once. It is free.
Visit Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims and you can see the beautiful interior. If you cannot make it the Grand Mosque off Abu Dhabi, a masterpiece, then this is your place to get a good insight into a mosque of the UAE.
You have (free) guided tours of the mosque once a day at 10 am (except for Fridays).
See Street Art
Dubai has even some street art – it is not as crazy nor spiked with messages as in some other cities but it sis quite cute to see (e.g. at JBR Walk and even more in Dubai La Mer). Kids will love them but even as an adults it is fun to look at them.
More Budget Tips for Dubai
Here are some more tips for activities that do not cost a fortune or are totally worth the money and make it possible to have cheap holidays to Dubai.
Cheap Things to do in Dubai
There are few cheap things to do in Dubai that are awesome – check them out.
Rent a bike on Palm Jumeirah
Renting a bike on Palm Jumeirah and riding the new streets and exploring the Palm this way is fun and quite inexpensive.
Visit Burj Khalifa and Admire it
You don’t have to go to the top to get some great pictures with it. If you still want a visit the top get a ticket for level 124. It’s much cheaper than for level 148. Read about my experiences here.
Abra riding in Deira (old town) is very cheap and costs less than 0,25€ (but not so in Madinat Jumeirah or at the Dubai Fountain.
Go on a Desert Safari
If you do a desert safari in the evening you can actually save some money as it often includes delicious dinner – if you see it like that the desert safari is not that expensive anymore and costs only a few $$§.
Best Places to Stay in Dubai on a Budget
If you are wondering “where to stay in Dubai on a budget” you have Dubai budget tips for your accommodation here.
If you are on a budget, I would recommend saving on accommodations first. The hotel standard is pretty high in Dubai.
The only thing I would not compromise on (especially as a solo female traveler) is the location of the hotel.
I do NOT recommend some streets in Deira, the old town of Dubai – at least not as a solo female traveler. There are some nice hotels in Deira though but please avoid the side streets. Though it is not dangerous per se, I guess most solo travelers will feel uncomfortable.
Some places are incredibly expensive – like Marina, the Palm, or Jumeirah Beach. So, I recently stayed at the Ibis Al Barsha (click here to find their best rates) and had a wonderful time. The metro station is a bit further down, but still easy to walk to.
If you stay longer, rent an apartment. I was staying for one night at Jennah Place Marina on my last trip. It is located in Marina and there was a kitchen and a washing machine (though I did not use them).
Airbnb has also become more popular in Dubai now and you can check out apartments and prices here.
Eating and Drinking in Dubai on a Budget
Cooking can be much cheaper than eating out. There are supermarkets everywhere in Dubai to buy what you need to cook your own meals.
Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables are extremely expensive in Dubai, so it will not be a super bargain. However, if you are traveling in a group it might make sense.
Otherwise, I recommend not dining at the touristy areas around Dubai Mall, or Marina, though you find cheaper fast food restaurants in the malls itself.
If you like to save even more on food, you can eat in Deira (Gold and Spice Souk), the old town e.g.
If you really want to save money then drink water. Almost all hotels provide complimentary bottles of water.
Ladies Night: Check out ladies night for free entry into many bars and clubs.
Happy Hour: Since I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t mind the expensive prices for alcoholic beverages. If you want to save money here, check out the generous happy hour times at almost all restaurants and bars.
Luxury on a Budget
Here are some tips on how to budget but while enjoying some luxurious moments in Dubai.
Day Passes for Luxury Hotel in Dubai
Want to spend a day at a gorgeous pool or beach? You can get beach and pool access for a day at many of the luxury hotels and resorts in Dubai. For a comparatively small amount of money, you can “check in” to one of the most luxurious hotels and enjoy the facilities. Often, you do not even need a day pass, you only have to spend a food and beverage minimum.
How to Get Around in Dubai on a Budget
Choose accommodation close to a metro station.
Dubai is not very walkable. First of all, most sights are far from one another and, second, the weather is hot most of the year. If you decide to stay in one area each day, it will already be saving you some money. If you are short on time and want to be more mobile, you can choose between the following transportation means: Public transportation, taxis, and the hop-on and hop-off buses.
How to Get Around in Dubai on a budget: Taxis are quite cheap (compared to many other expensive travel destinations). You pay around 0.50€ for 1 kilometer (min. charge is about 4€). If you are a group of four, a taxi might be the cheapest option. Uber is available in Dubai (I have never used Uber, so I have no idea how that works, but that is a bit cheaper.
If you travel solo or in a smaller group, public transportation might be cheaper. Dubai Metro tickets must be purchased in the form of a Nol card (which you can top up easily)– which you can use for the bus, tram and taxi, too.
The metro is comparably cheap (considering the rest of the prices in Dubai, one way is about 1€). However, since the metro stops are pretty spread out, I am not the biggest fan. I never really understood the bus system and did not really like it. But you can buy day tickets and if you do not mind a bit of walking, public transportation is the cheapest and the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
A ticket for a hop-on and hop-off bus might be cheaper if you take one for several days. Review of my hop-on and hop-off bus tour in Dubai here. This will also give you free entry to many museums and attractions (like the Lost Chambers at Atlantis Resort). The ticket includes also a desert safari ticket though it might not be as great as other desert safaris.
Spa and Beauty on a Budget in Dubai
If you are into spa treatments and don’t want to miss out, don’t book a treatment in a hotel. Rather, book an appointment at a salon like NStyle Beauty Salons. I liked their services and had several treatments. I was very happy with the results. However, I recommend asking for the final price when it says “starting from.“ I think they charged too much for my blow dry. I had not asked before about the price but, for Dubai, the prices were good.
More about Dubai:
For more on Dubai, read the Offbeat Dubai Travel Guide.