The cost of living in the UAE is comparable to the likes of NYC and London. Housing, cars, eating out and entertainment can cost a pretty penny. But not everything that’s fun has to be expensive, that’s why I have put together the list of 15 free activities to do in the UAE.
Stare in awe at the UAE’s natural beauty as you drive, cycle (or perhaps, if you have the strength, walk up) to the top of UAE’s second highest peak. A lot of people the UAE is just a pile of desert and only see the beauty of Dubai. But that’s not the case, there are some fascinating things to see and do.
Overlooking the Oman border and the beauty of Al Ain, explore the many forts, museums and tombs in the surrounding tourist paradise while you’re at it.
Location: Al Ain; Cost: Free; Timings: Head up there anytime you want
Want to find yourself in the middle of a windows-wallpaper-worthy backdrop? Look no further than good-old Hatta. The drive’s worth it as you wade feet-first into the pristine green-blue waters that form the center-piece of the gritty rocks around them.
Do make sure to carry your Emirates ID and other verification documents with you since the pools are technically in Oman. Explore the rich, well-preserved culture of Hatta on the way too, by visiting the Heritage Village if it’s open.
Location: Hatta; Cost: Free; Timings: There are no particular restrictions
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Walk the streets and experience old Dubai just across the Metro Station which proves Dubai’s prowess as a modern city. Al Fahidi retains its 20th Century architecture and quaint little ways; in the process, transporting you back to a way of life centred around the creek and community.
Location: Bur Dubai, Dubai; Cost: Free Timings, Al Fahidi’s always open to visit but make sure you pick a time which enables you to visit the nearby shops and museum; Contact: 04 515 5000
Sharjah Arts Museum
Art admirers, this is your place to be over the weekend. Sharjah’s Art Museum features not just a permanent gallery of paintings by famous artists from the Middle East but hosts a variety of workshops on a regular basis as well.
Location: Al Shuwaihiyeen, near Al Corniche post office, Sharjah; Cost: Free; Timings: Saturday to Thursday 8am to 8pm, Friday 4pm to 8pm; Contact: 06 568 8222
Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque
One of few mosques of its scale that welcomes non-worshippers, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands testament to the vision of the man it is named after, a vision of both splendor and majesty. One of Abu Dhabi’s cultural landmarks, the mosque is a must-visit for anyone who’s every stepped foot in the UAE.
Location: Between Maqta, Mussafah and Shaikh Zayed bridges; Cost: Free; Timings: Saturday to Thursday 9am to 10pm, Friday 4:30 pm to 10pm; Contact: +971 2 419 1919
When you walk into the streets of the Gold Souk – Dubai, all that glitters probably is gold or maybe a precious stone. If you’re afraid you haven’t tested out your haggling skills yet (the good-humored kind, don’t become the despicable customer), this is the perfect place to do so.
Location: Deira, Dubai; Cost: It’s free until you start buying; Timings: Saturday to Thursday 10 am to 10pm, Friday 4pm to 10pm
Dubai Water Canal Boardwalk
Take your time along the beautifully illuminated walkways and pedestrian bridges that overlook the Dubai water canal and enjoy the sight of the mechanical waterfall. It’s a perfect place to take photos and just enjoy any cool evening. The Wi-Fi is really good too.
Location: Near Business Bay Metro Station; Cost: Free; Timings: Between 8pm and 10pm are the most recommended, but otherwise, it’s always open.
The city of the future’s…already present? Masdar is custom-built to advance sustainable development and its centre-piece is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Open to all visitors throughout the day, your journey there will begin in a pod-like unmanned vehicle; the PRT. Enjoy as you explore a city by science, of science and for science – the city of the future.
Location: Near Abu Dhabi International Airport; Cost: Free; Timings: Sunday to Thursday 8am to 11pm, Friday and Saturday 10am to 10pm; Contact: 02 653 3333
Shaikh Zayed Bridge
A marvel of both engineering and architecture, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge makes for a better visit by foot than by car. Enjoy the sight of subtle coloured lights illuminating the bridge with a design intended to evoke the image of undulating waves and sand-dunes. The signatures of the UAE.
Location: Abu Dhabi; Cost: Dh 0; Timings: None
This former film pop-up’s popularity has swelled as swiftly as a Hollywood studio’s coffers after another blockbuster. And that’s thanks to its unwavering support of world cinema – and although the current travel series comes in at Dhs105 a film, the cinema sometimes puts on free screenings so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Discover incredible directors and actors who would’ve probably otherwise passed you by…
Timings vary. Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, cinemaakil.com.
Jameel Arts Centre
This thoroughly funky building on the Jaddaf Waterfront is original in its programming and forward-thinking in its research. Fiercely independent, it supports artists from the MENA region like few other establishments. And you can too by popping along and immersing yourself in this cracking creative centre.
Open Sat-Mon 10am-6pm, Wed-Thu 10am-6pm, Fri noon-8pm. Jaddaf Waterfront, jameelartscentre.org (04 873 9800).
Despite being a complete misnomer (it’s not a museum, more of a bizarre bazaar), this vast network of narrow passages is filled to the brim with antiques and knick-knacks from Asia and the Middle East. Just browsing through the mind-boggling array of goods is great fun, and it’s all free to do – you’ll just have to hold back from buying that antique sideboard that would look perfect in your sitting room…
Open daily 9am-8.30pm. Al Quoz, fakihcollections.com (04 347 9935).
Museum of the Poet Al Oqaili
The vision of a pioneering poet, this structure remains an homage to the great man himself and gives visitors a real taste for what inspired his work. Some of his original, handwritten collections (oh, how we’d love to ditch the keyboard) can be discovered here, along with his writing desk and the pens he so perfectly put to paper.
Open Mon-Thu 8am-3pm, Fri 8am-11.30am. Al Ras, Deira, dubaiculture.gov.ae (04 515 5000).
Unless you spend your time walking around the city blindfolded, you’d know there is street art around plenty of corners, all of which you can admire absolutely free. From JBR to Karama, City Walk to Satwa and La Mer to Jumeirah Beach Road, the city is awash with colourful creations from some truly great artists.
Various locations across Dubai.
Across the Dubai Creek from its Gold and Spice sisters is the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai, home to a myriad traders selling wonderfully colourful fabrics along with all the accessories a fashion designer could want. You might not be Alexander McQueen but don’t rule out an afternoon’s browsing for free in Dubai here.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-2pm and 4pm-8pm. Ali Bin Abi Talib Street, Bur Dubai.