With an increasing number of flights stopping over in the tourist and commercial hub of Dubai, it would be a shame not to stay for a couple of days in this shimmering desert Oasis. That’s what I did on a recent long haul flight.
There is one problem though – With a reputation for opulence, most things in this luxurious Sheikdom come with a high price tag. However, if you’re a budget traveller like me, there’s plenty of things for you to do and see without spending a fortune.
Visit the beach
Dubai is blessed with huge stretches of sand that you can bathe on for absolutely nothing. Although many people splash out on beach clubs or resorts, there are plenty of spots that can be enjoyed at no cost whatsoever.
One of the most popular beaches with both residents and tourists is JBR beach. Here you can make the most of the free showers and toilets as well as make the most of it’s proximity to ‘The Walk’ – an area of juice bars, cafes and restaurants with a sea view.
My favourite free spot to while away an hour was Umm Suqeim Park Beach, also known as Sunset Beach. It certainly earns it’s nickname as you can sit and watch the sun go down behind the iconic Burj al Arab. It’s located Off Al Thanya Street, next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, opposite Umm Suqeim Park (follow the sign for the park).
Hop on a boat at an Abra Station
Okay, this is technically not free but it may as well be at just 1AED (20p) for a ride from Bur Dubai over to the older neighbourhood of Deira. The small motorised boats, or abras, can squeeze in around 20 people and are a popular way of navigating the river for both locals and tourists. It’s a great way to see another side to the city as from the creek you can take in the contrast between old and new Dubai, the glittering skyscrapers mixed in with the minarets and coral-and-gypsum houses.
Rides last around 5 minutes with boats departing every few minutes or when they are full. Abras on route 1 operate from 5am to midnight with boats on route 2 running a 24 hour service.
Wander the Souks
Just across the creek from Bur Dubai are the numerous souks of the Deira district. Although shopping here is obviously not free, window shopping is. As a complete contrast to modern dubai, this is the closest you will come in dubai to stepping back in time. The spice souk is a maze of aromatic spices such as saffron, frankincense and medicinal herbs, with baskets and bags full to the brim with perfumes and powders.
The gold souk is world famous for it’s gold merchants selling glittering and ornate jewellery. The prices may be high here but it is worth wandering through just to gawp at the riches on display.
The Deira Fish Market
For some reason, no matter where I visit, I always seem to go for a peek at the local fish market. It’s true that once you have seen one fish market, you’ve seen them all but with the intense smells, frenzied bartering and shouting salesmen, the fish market in Deira is the perfect place to get a feel for local life in Dubai.
Just to the south of the creek you will find Al Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, the fort was reopened to the public in 1971 as an official museum that displays the history of Dubai and its heritage. Although not free to enter, at only 3 Dihrams it may as well be.
Walk around Historic Bastakiya
Just past the Dubai museum is a real taste of old Dubai, the Bastakiya district. Settled by Iranian traders in the 19th century, this is one of Dubai’s oldest areas and is a stark contrast to the surround glass and steel structures of the new city. Recently renovated, the area is in great shape and loses some old world charm as it looks almost like a themepark vision of what the old town was like.
It may be worth spending 10 minutes wandering around if you’re in the area (I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit) as a calm respite from the city. Plus, a few of the old buildings now house art galleries, cafes and cultural institutions, including the Majlis Gallery, which showcases Middle Eastern art.
Located next to the iconic Burj Khalifa, you can’t miss the Dubai fountain as crowds gather around each night to take in the 5 minute show. The fountain consists of 5 circles of jets that shoot water up to 150 metres in the air, all in time to the simultaneous music and light show.
Performances are held daily, starting at 6pm and running every half an hour until 11pm. To get a good view it is well worth getting in to position around 15 minutes before the performance starts as thousands of people will spill out of the mall on to the promenade as the show begins.
Seeing what Dubai has to offer is possible even on the tightest backpacker budget. If you ever find yourself passing through the U.A.E and are curious to see what Dubai is all about then why not leave the airport and check out the freebies on offer.
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