Dubai is the playground of sheikhs and the super-rich. Even the police drive Lamborghinis and McLarens. A bathtub once sold here for 1.74 million dollars. It’s fair to say that it doesn’t have a reputation for being cheap and cheerful.

That said, holidays to this United Arab Emirate don’t have to break the bank. There are alternatives to booking the penthouse suite at The Palm and ordering thousand dollar cocktails every night. Start by finding a cheap flight (on, where else?) and then take a look and these cheap and free things to do in Dubai…

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Pop to the shops

Yes, you could max-out your credit cards on visits to Dubai’s two biggest malls – Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. However, you can have a great time at both of these locations without even opening your purse. If you’ve got the willpower, just go window shopping. The shopping centres boast more than 1,600 shops between them. While you’re at Dubai Mall, nip outside to see the Dubai Fountain. Every lunchtime, and around every half hour after 6pm, the fountain is animated by a light, music and water show that’s thought to be the second biggest in the world.

Go on a skyscraper safari

At Dubai Marina, you can trace your way around eight kilometres of public walkways in order to take in views of some of the country’s most impressive skyscrapers. The marina is home to Princess Tower, which at 400 metres tall is one of the tallest residential blocks in the world. You can also see buildings like the 350-metre Torch, the needle-like DAMAC Residence and the twisting Cayan Tower.

Hit the beach

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Dubai Marina is an area called Jumeirah Beach Residence, where there’s a public beach with changing rooms. The sand is a milky white and the water is safe to swim in. If you’ve got a bit of wiggle room in your budget, you can hire a sun lounger and a parasol and get involved with some water sports.

Visit for your birthday

Aquaventure Waterpark is located at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, and features 17 hectares of rides, flumes and shoots. One of the slides is almost vertical and shoots you through a tunnel surrounded by sharks. Normally, entry tickets cost about £50 per person. However, if you register your birthday on the park’s website in advance, you can get in for free on one day in the week of your birthday.

Take advantage of ladies’ nights

If you’re lucky enough to have been born with two X chromosomes you can indulge in Dubai’s ladies nights. Throughout the week bars, beach clubs and nightclubs run special events where women get three or four free cocktails and discounts on food. Men have to pay their way, but if you go Dutch on the bill with the men in your party everyone gets a cheaper night out. Check out Time Out Dubai for the latest deals.

Hit up the happy hours

Bars across Dubai run happy hours where cocktails cost as little as £5. Some of the most popular include happy hour at the Observatory – the restaurant on the 52nd floor of Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel and Suites – and happy hour at folly, where the signature drink is the prosecco pop – a glass of fizz served with an ice lolly inside.

Weave around the Gold Souk

Deira Gold Souk is home to a phalanx of gold shops. Walking around is free. The window displays will make your eyes squint. Bracelets, gold chains, rings, earring and necklaces longer and wider than chain mail fill the displays. If you did want to buy something you can haggle and get up to 30 percent off the price tags.

Go online

Internet deal sites like Groupon offer discounts of as much as 70 percent on tickets to popular Dubai attractions. There are regular deals on destinations like Dubai Aquarium and experiences like dune safaris in the desert. Discounts on spa treatments, beach club admission and meals are also common.

Visit Dubai Museum

Entrance to Dubai Museum will set you back less than a pound. It’s located inside Al Fahidi Fort, which is thought to be Dubai’s oldest building. In the museum, the history of Dubai is brought to life by dioramas, films and artefacts. There are displays on Bedouin life, the importance of the sea, and archaeology.

Looking to book a break in Dubai? Then head onto and start searching for flights, hotels and car hire.

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About the author

Sarah HoltSarah has been a travel writer for the best part of a decade. Her travels have taken her from the peaks of the Swiss Alps to the depths of the Bolivian silver mines. She’s also a published author. She recently left the 9-5 to do life her own way. Follow along her adventures on her blog Backpacks and Yoga Mats.

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