12 things to do in Dubai that are free (or cost next to nothing)

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From films and fitness to fun days out and drinks that won’t cost you a dirham, we’ve rounded up some of the best free activities in Dubai…

1. Watch a free movie

Did you know there are a few places around the city that offer free movie screenings? It’s perfect for a cheap date (especially if you BYO popcorn). The brilliant Cinema Akil shows interesting arthouse flicks and documentaries all year round – check the schedule here. And during the cooler months, you can check out free pop-up outdoor cinemas all over the city. We’ll let you know of the details as soon as the season starts up again.

2. Visit a museum

Dubai is full of unique (and at times just plain quirky) museums that you can enter free of charge or for very little. We love the Dubai Coffee Museum in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, where you can admire centuries-old grinders, roasters and pots from all over the world. There’s a Coin Museum in the same area, which is worth a wander even if you’re not a serious numismatist. Or if words are more your thing, you can check out a museum dedicated to the poet Al Oqaili, located in the Al Ras area in Deira – it’s housed in one of the most beautiful heritage houses in Dubai. Of course, there’s also the excellent Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort, which costs just Dhs3 to enter.

3. Wander around an art gallery

Who said Dubai has no culture? You’ll find plenty of it within the walls of the city’s many wonderful (and often free) art galleries. The best place to start is Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz, which is a hotbed of creative talent. There’s always a plethora of exhibitions, workshops, lectures and screenings – just keep an eye on their website. Another good place for art connoisseurs on a budget is the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, which is home to the lovely Majlis Gallery, as well as the XVA Gallery (which doubles as a boutique hotel).

4. Take an abra ride across the Creek

We’re convinced this is the best cruise in the city, and it costs just Dhs1. The Creek is the historic heart of Dubai, which once divided the city into two areas: Deira and Bur Dubai. Until the construction of Al Maktoum Bridge in 1963 – the first bridge in Dubai – the only way to get from one side to the other was in a rickety little wooden boat called an abra. It’s still undoubtedly the most fun (and affordable) way across.

5. Hit the beach

Unlike the fancy pay-to-enter hotel beaches, they might not offer a Balearic soundtrack or complimentary sunglasses-cleaning, but Dubai still has some pretty great public beaches to enjoy. The Beach at JBR is a perennial favourite – though be sure to get there early to nab the best patch of sand, as it gets really busy. Kite Beach is another goodie, named for the kite surfers that frequent it. But if you want to avoid the crowds, try Al Sufouh (or ‘Black Palace’) Beach – this spot is a bit trickier to find, but you’ll be rewarded with peaceful waters and beautiful views.

6. Watch the dancing fountains

It’s a classic, and for good reason. The Dubai Fountain is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system, performing mesmerizing watery routines to the likes of Whitney Houston, Enrique Iglesias and Celine Dion. The shows take place every half hour in the evenings starting from 6pm to 11pm (and until 11.30pm on weekends). Here’s a little tip: the Apple store in the Dubai Mall has a massive balcony which offers some of the best views of the fountain (don’t worry – no iPhone purchase necessary).

7. Have some free fun in the desert

Forget those expensive desert safari packages – you can have your own fun out in the sand. We love the Al Qudra area, which is just a 30-minute drive from the city. You can bring your bike and go for a leisurely cycle around the Al Qudra Cycle Track, or grab a sandboard and carve some dunes. Keep an eye out for the friendly wild oryx and gazelle, too.

8. Go bird-watching for free

Why pay money to visit a zoo when there’s some incredible wildlife right on your doorstep? We are, of course, talking about the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, located at the mouth of Dubai Creek. While more than 20,000 birds of 67 species inhabit the sanctuary, it’s perhaps most famous for its magnificent flock of flamingos. To see them, all you have to do is rock up to one of three viewing hides dotted around the perimeter of the sanctuary. These are open from 9am to 4pm Saturday to Thursday, and entrance is free (there are binoculars available to borrow, too).

9. Enjoy a free ladies’ day

If you’re lucky enough to be a lady, you can get free access to some of Dubai’s best pools on certain days of the week. For example, every Sunday and Monday you can head down to Barasti between 10am and 6pm and enjoy free pool access, a free towel, and unlimited Frose, as well as 50 per cent off the food and beverage menu. Click here for more great ladies’ day deals in Dubai.

10. Or a ladies’ night

There are so many ladies’ nights in Dubai that you could quite easily sip your way through the whole week without spending a single dirham. One of our favourites is Miss Independent at Ramusake in the DoubleTree by Hilton at JBR, where on Wednesdays you get unlimited wine from 7pm to midnight. A word of warning – this stylish spot has become so popular that reservations are essential to guarantee entry, and the place often books up several weeks in advance. Click here for loads more ladies’ night deals in Dubai.

11. There’s something for the boys, too

That’s right, the freebies aren’t just for ladies – try heading along to a gents’ night. Qwerty in Media One Hotel offers guys two free drinks every Monday between 6pm and 8pm. Not too shabby…

12. Get free stuff on your birthday

Did you know there are a bunch of restaurants, bars and attractions around Dubai that want to treat you on your birthday, with great discounts, deals… and even freebies? For example, you can register your date of birth on the Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark website and get a free day pass to the epic waterpark. Click here for even more brilliant birthday deals in Dubai

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