I have toyed with Dubai and the United Arab Emirates a bunch of times on my journeys. I never made it a priority visit but the way connecting flights go sooner or later my backpack and wallet were going to be introduced to this colossal settlement. I have a few mates based there so it also meant I was able to catch up with friends and visit a new city/country.
After ridiculously having to turn down a part sponsored trip to the UAE in 2008, having changed my flight ideas a few times to avoid this beast and having got my passport stamped at Dubai Airport in 2012, it wasn’t until 2013 that I finally made it to the United Arab Emirates. We used Dubai as a handy stop over between Iran and Iraq.
I was also adamant that my budget backpacking girlfriend and I could crush this city’s uncertain “fake and posh image” by doing things ourselves and proving that Dubai can be done on a backpacking budget and that it doesn’t have to be a fake city. It can of course be done on the cheap, or even better for FREE. Here are my top 6 sights in Dubai all of which are entirely FREE. These are just a few, of course there are a load of free things we have left off…
1. Dubai Creek.
Dubai Creek is the old town part of Dubai. Proof that this sprawling skyscraping metropolis was once an insignificant port town (or perhaps significant – check the history). Walk along the promenade at Dubai Creek admiring the vintage boats that dart across the harbour.
If you do want to break away from a zero budget, it’s only 20 cents to get a boat cruise across the harbour anyway. There’s also a museum, a cool market and some awesome restaurants.
2. The Palm Jumeirah.
You can wander around at leisure on the famous Palm Jumeirah. It’s free to enter don’t forget – it’s basically just an over elaborate residential complex built on reclaimed land. You can walk all the way there – it is a fair walk to be honest and it’s hot, but just goes to prove you can walk it if you need to, we were sweating like mad!
One thing to note though is – as amazing as this place looks when viewed from above – you just can’t see that when you are here. It is just a load of elaborate residential blocks with a brand name hotel at the end of it! I actually mistook this swanky hotel for a Casino as it looked like it belonged in Macau! But worth checking out anyway…the Palm Jumeirah also has a free Mosque.
3. The Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s highest building. It’s entirely free to walk around its circumference on ground level. We managed to backpack our way up to the ninth floor for free as well. It’s free to get into the Armani Hotel and we get to say we’ve been inside the world’s highest building without paying a penny, entirely for free! I couldn’t believe it. There was a paying in section and we managed to get into the lift for the 9th floor and got out into some posh event. We were dressed in shorts and t-shirts and after a quick look around and a few photos, we headed back out.
Those on a ridiculously high budget may wish to pay the extortionate $30 US fee to go to “the top” (it’s not really the top by the way – it’s the 124th floor out of 163)…even worse if you don’t book that one in advance there are rumours you can pay up to $100 US on the door on the day on busy times.
Give your wallet a break and ease your mind – don’t waste the $30 on getting into a lift, when it’s free to walk around the bottom. Plus, most people fly in and out of Dubai, so you’ll not miss the view from “the top” we caught it twice from our flight. The views are amazing, but do them for free on your flight, not by giving them 30 bucks 😉
4. Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is completely free to enter and walk around. It is quite simply the world’s biggest shopping mall. I have a girlfriend with taste – she hates brand names, posh labels and ridiculously overpriced stores. I’m the same. I’ve never spent more than £60 for a single item of clothing and I don’t ever plan to.
But I did enjoy the browse and the Virgin Megastores in there was amazing. Travel books, football DVDs and they had all the latest CDs.
The Dubai Mall also has a free aquarium and a free fountain!
Mosques are the obvious one and you knew that was coming. When touring the Middle East you end up visiting a load of Mosques and it does become all a bit repetitive and commonplace. However I dived into a few to check them out. The main one is by Dubai Creek – it’s massive, but there are a few other scattered Mosques. Take your shoes off, dress appropriately and if there’s no photos inside, then respect it.
6. Burj Al-Arab
I think this is the “one where Tiger Woods fired a golf ball from the roof of”. But if it’s not, it’s sure as hell an icon of Dubai. You can head right up to the entrance for free and the security let you take your photos there. The Burj Al-Arab is the world’s only 7 Star Hotel, and while the deluxe suite for a backpacker might break the budget of a lifetime, a short dander to the front for your photo is always free!
In terms of other tips while backpacking in Dubai, we ate cheaply by buying food in the local supermarkets, and also at Dubai Mall. We walked a lot – probably too much. I did blow some luxury budget on a few beers though but mostly on happy hour – as I had been dry for over a month having just arrived from Iran so I treated myself! I also met up with my mate Neil – also from Northern Ireland and we shared a great chat and my first Guinness in about 8 weeks! Neil gave some great advice on travelling in the UAE and also about life in Dubai. There are lots more Dubai sights that can be done for free and I hope to share more on Dubai at some point.
I’ll shock you here – it’s actually quite a nice city in my opinion! A lot of people would have expected me to slag it off , but I won’t. I much preferred it to Istanbul and Tel Aviv for example. There are lots more Dubai sights of course and I will continue to write about the Middle East.
Here are a few videos from our top 6 free sights in Dubai, UAE:
22 thoughts on “Backpacking in United Arab Emirates: 6 Free Things to do in Dubai”
Thanks for the tips! I’m heading to Abu Dhabi this coming Monday and will hopefully get to Dubai too 🙂
Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted…Village Life in Lahic, Azerbaijan
Nice work Lisa – we didn’t make it to Abu Dhabi on this trip but I’ve a friend out there too so maybe next time. It’s an easy stop over! Safe travels. Jonny
I am planning to go to Dubai soon in July. By reading your post, I believe that it will be phenomenal and exciting trip ever. If you mind, I want to hear your opinion about my short journey to Dubai soon. What can I do and go in Dubai within only one day? Based on your experiences, how much money should I prepare for the short trip? I really excited to visit Burj Khalifa, Atlantis theme park and walking through the markets. Hope you mind to share some suggestion and advice.
Thank you. 🙂
Hi Asyraf. This post is as good as I can do for you. I was there two years ago. Don’t go up the Burj Khalifa as that costs minimum of $30 US for a start, you can get up the first few floors for free though. Markets are free and the Metro is cheap enough. I’d recommend staying in a hostel or the City Max but the city is not that cheap so bring your own food if you can! Safe travels. Jonny
Very good read with lots of insider info someone might not be able to find in a typical guidebook. I was interested in reading this because I just started a house sit in Bali for a couple that lives in Dubai and we were chatting a bit about the country, and I was interested in learning a bit more about it. Like you said, many on a budget might write it off automatically, and these tips are super helpful for keeping costs down.
Hi Khourshem, thanks for the comment and safe travels to Dubai. Jonny
Great list. There are indeed plenty to do on the cheap when in Dubai. For those with a little more budget, I’d absolutely recommend to visit the Musandam Peninsula, very beautiful mountainous region by the Arabian coast.
Andrew Darwitan recently posted…Top 10 Things to Do in Dubai
Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment and extra tips about the Musandam Peninsula, I have never been. Safe travels. Jonny
I’ve always heard amazing things about cruises but have never been on one. Seems like a great way to travel and have an adventure on a budget.
A very nice and simple blog to rad altogther.
Thanks for the share.
thanks for the share.
Thanks for the comment and safe travels to Dubai! Jonny
Hi Aparna, thanks for the comment. Enjoy your time in Dubai! Jonny
Great blog to read.
Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog.
Hi Ubaid, thanks for the comment and safe travels. Jonny
Thank you for posting a great article. I really loved the way you explained it here. keep posting this type of post.
Hi Navneet, thanks for the comment. I am happy that you enjoyed my post. Best wishes. Jonny
Dear Khourshem, thanks for the comment on cruises. Apologies for the delay – I have been suffering from deep depression for a few years now and wasn’t checking comments. Safe travels. Jonny