Dubai is home to gold-dispensing machines, some of the world’s most opulent hotels, and even coffee topped with real gold flakes.
But it doesn’t mean that you have to have deep pockets to enjoy what the city has to offer. In fact, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can have a great time at affordable tourist attractions and enjoy places and activities that won’t cost you anything.
See old Dubai for free
For starters, get a glimpse into the real Dubai at the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood sans entry fees. Wander around the winding alleys and pathways of this key heritage site, located along the Dubai Creek, and experience life from the mid-19th century to the 1970s.
Buildings here are constructed from traditional materials like stone, teak and palm wood, and now house cultural centres, museums and artistic events.
Learn about Dubai history for less than $6
Also located at the Dubai Creek is the Al Shindagha Museum where you can learn more about the city’s history and heritage, and also stop by the Perfume House where photographs and special tools showcase how scents are closely linked with Dubai’s history. A visit here will only cost you AED15 (S$5.50) and even less if you are a student.
Commute on traditional water boats
Supercars are often spotted on Dubai’s roads, but you don’t have to splurge to get around the Dubai Creek. A very affordable (and Instagramable) mode of transport is the traditional abra, a water taxi with a wooden bench that can take about 20 passengers.
The abras run every few minutes across four stations along the creek. For only AED1 (about S$0.37), you can enjoy a quick five-minute ride to your next destination.
Go souk window-shopping
Take the abra to visit the iconic souks of Dubai. These old-school markets won’t cost you anything to window-shop though you may be tempted to pick up a few souvenirs.
The Gold Souk has many craftsmen and traders specialising in anything from raw metals to bespoke jewellery. It is near the Spice Souk, which doesn’t only sell spices. Instead, it is an eye-catching smorgasbord of herbs, rice, candied fruit and nuts, and tea.
If your nose is up for it, the Perfume Souk is up the road from the Gold and Spice ones. Here, you will be stunned by the wide array of essential oils, incense sticks, oud (also known as agarwood, and said to be the most expensive wood in the world) and the most intricately made perfume vials.
Over at the Bur Dubai side of the creek is the Textile Souk where you will be greeted by bales and bales of fabric. Pick your favourite materials and have a dress or suit made by the tailors here within days.
Watch a camel race for free
Just as souks are synonymous with Dubai, so are its camel races. The biggest track is the free-admission Al Marmoom Camel Racetrack, also the home of the Dubai Camel Racing Club. Racing season is from October to April, with races taking place from 7am to 9am on Fridays and Saturdays. A typical race will see about 60 camels — with modernised robot jockeys riding them — trotting to the finish line.
Go jogging along the beach
If you prefer to be in the thick of action yourself, Kite Beach offers many seaside activities — from beach volleyball to kitesurfing and wakeboarding.
Or you can simply lounge about or jog along the 14km track here, finishing your day with a wagyu burger and a Lotus milkshake (made with Belgian Speculoos biscuits) at the popular homegrown SALT food truck.
Bike and camp at heritage site Hatta
To get even more up close and personal with Mother Nature, plan a day trip to Hatta, a 90-minute drive from central Dubai. It is one of the oldest preserved heritage areas in the United Arab Emirates and has free mountain biking trails and camping spots that allow you to enjoy its scenic landscape.
Eat, shop and play at D3 and Dubai Mall
For those preferring to rough it out indoors, check out the hip Dubai Design Centre, also known as D3. Planned as a hub for the creative community and to showcase Middle Eastern designs, it is home to galleries, showrooms, artist studios, cafés and niche boutiques.
Alternatively, spend the entire day at the famous Dubai Mall, which has more than 1,300 shops and more than 200 food and beverage outlets. It also houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo —which has thousands of aquatic residents and a walkthrough tunnel — as well as other attractions like the Olympic-sized Dubai Ice Rink and the virtual reality VR Park.
Be awed by the world’s tallest musical fountain
The Dubai Mall also hosts the Dubai Fountain show, the world’s tallest choreographed musical fountain. Located on the manmade Burj Lake, its nozzles shoot over 22,000 gallons of water up to what is equivalent to a 50-storey building (think the Pinnacle@Duxton in Singapore).
While you can catch the show for free from different points around the lake, the best spot is the Waterfront Promenade outside the Dubai Mall.
Feast on cheap but good eats
Feeling hungry? You will be pleased to know that dining out in Dubai does not have to be an expensive, Michelin-star affair. Fill up on all kinds of omelettes at Raju Omlet, tuck into fried seafood at the Anthony Bourdain-endorsed Bu Qtair Fish Restaurant or have a sharwama (a Middle Eastern kebab) for about AED5 (about S$1.84).
With so much to see, eat and experience on next to no money, there’s no excuse not to plan your next escape to Dubai. Visit www.visitdubai.com for more inspiration.