Contrary to popular belief, it is actually possible to have a great time in Dubai without forking over an armload of cash – or in fact, anything at all! We’ve found thirty of the best things to do in Dubai, from a day spent chasing the fishes or even a cheeky ladies night just for mama and her gal pals. Check out our list below!
Bike at the bike track near Nad Al Sheba
This wonderful cycle park is a lovely place to bike for all ages – there’s an 850 metre children’s proficiency course and track for children aged 4-14 with street signs, speed bumps and roundabouts to teach your littles all about road safety. The children’s playground and views across Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa are the icing on the cake.
Switch off the TV, get out of the house and head over to the Pyramids Rooftop Gardens at Wafi Mall for a spot of outdoor cinema. With humongous beanbags for all cinemagoers, this one does run a little late starting at 8:30pm.
The Dubai Mall is home to the largest dancing fountain in the world and with afternoon as well as evening shows every day of the week, it’s practically a travesty to live in Dubai and not have seen it. Designed by the same team behind the famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, over 22,00 gallons of water shoot up to about 500 feet all to the beat of a range of local and international music. The kiddos are gonna go pretty wild for this one.
Show times are every half an hour starting at 6pm to 11pm, with two afternoon shows at 1pm and 1:30 every day aside from Friday, which runs at 1:30pm and 2pm.
We’re big fans of free entertainment here at Sassy Mama and befittingly, we’re including Wafi’s spectacular Return of the Pharaohs lightshow. Held every night at 9:30pm (a little late for the young uns), this Egyptian themed show projects shapes and special effects onto the Pyramids as well as Wafi Mall’s other buildings. Your aspiring Indiana Jones’ are sure to be thrilled.
Dubai Mall Aquarium
We know what you’re thinking, the Aquarium isn’t free – but you don’t actually have to go in for the kids to get a fantastic fishy experience. The main tank is visible from the ground floor in the centre of the mall –mesmerizing for the minis who were happy to stand and watch. Take the escalator in between the Gap and the Rainforest Café up to the 1st floor and turn right towards H&M to enjoy an entire Aquarium wall far from the crowds – where the kids can get up close and personal with fish, sharks and rays separated from them by only a few inches of glass.
Dubai Mall Dinosaur
If you arrive at Dubai Mall early (the doors open at 8am while the shops remain closed until 10am – perfect for avoiding the crowds) and head straight to the souk area to see a a genuine female Diplodocus skeleton standing proud. The kids will have great fun following the dinosaur ‘footprints’ on the ground to where the skeleton stands. Super informative screens show a simple animation that’s easy for littles to understand and really friendly and helpful dino staff are on hand to explain that the Mrs D (or DubaiDino as she’s officially known) is as ‘heavy as five elephants and as long as five taxis’ as well as other fun facts for the kids to soak up. Discovered in Wyoming and recently flown to Dubai – this free exhibit is a must for any Paleontologists in the making!
Enjoy Songs & Stories at The Change Initiative
Grab the car keys and head to The Change Initiative to take part in a friendly meet-up of mums and babies every Tuesday morning at 10 and 10.30am! It’s not completely free unfortunately, you pay AED 20 for the session but that also scores you a coffee which sounds like a pretty slick deal to us. It involves singing and stories to keep little ones gripped. It’s a great way to meet other mamas, especially with a coffee break afterwards to catch up on everything… happy baby, happy mama!
Explore the jungle-like terrain at Dubai Garden Centre
An absolute favourite with our kids, head to the Dubai Garden Centre and wander around the vast outdoor space, jam-packed with trees and plants of every kind amongst which there are hidden a variety of animal statues and very realistic looking creatures! Cross a bridge over a crocodile pond, spot monkeys swinging in trees and watch out for a dinosaur (who roars quite loudly and can frighten teenies.) Head indoors to watch pretty tropical fish and sea creatures in the aquariums and enjoy a drink and slice of homebaked cake at the Rose Leaf Café (that part’s not free but you can treat yourselves right?!).
Feed the turtles at Mina A’Salam
This amazing rehabilitation centre at Mina A’Salam hotel is a place for sickly and rescued turtles to recuperate before being released back into the wild, however they have two public enclosures where you can go and wave hello. If you head over to the Al Muna Restaurant area at 11am on a Wednesday or 1pm on a Friday, your fam will even be able to feed them.
Get your make-up done at MAC Cosmetics
The perfect mama and daughter activity, why not head on over to MAC for a free make-up trial? You don’t have to pay a dime to get all dolled up which is absolutely fabulous, but we can personally never resist a good MAC lippy. (Especially not with the new Cinderella collection coming out!)
Provided you have all the right gear, this is a great (and super wallet-friendly) way to spend a weekend with your loved ones. The wide, wide desert is out there waiting for you mama. Convinced? Why not check out our guide to the best camping spots here in Dubai…
Head over to a dhow shipyard
If you’ve got a little pirate in the family, you might want to head on over to the Jaddaf dhow shipyard to watch these local boats come to life. Located right across the way from Dubai Festival City, you’ll be able to tap into Dubai’s cultural heritage amidst the clanking of tools and focused mastery of craftsmen – it all looks like something right out of a photography exhibition.
So you’ll have to leave the tots and the men in your life at home for this one, but ladies’ night is the perfect excuse to catch up with your girlfriends. (And all for free.) Need an idea of where to go? The Gramercy gives all women four free drinks and nibbles for just AED 40, whereas you can head to the cool Cuban Malecon for unlimited free drinks every Tuesday and Wednesday.
Picnic at the polo
Pack up a picnic and treat the family to al fresco dining while watching the horses thunder past! If you don’t take a car into the grounds then no payment is required (park in Studio City and wander over to the Arabian Ranches polo Club).The kids will love divot stamping at half time. Fresh air, horses, picnics and much more- what could be better?
Play for free in Dubai’s toy stores
When your little people are over playing with their own stuff (it happens mamas) and you’re tired of clearing up the toy mess at home, head to one of the malls toy stores for demonstrations and play galore. Pottery Barn Kids on the ground floor of Dubai Mall (just opposite Carluccios) is perfect for a play session.
An area in the centre of the store is laid out with some of PB’s bestselling toys for the kids to try out- from wooden cranes to dinosaurs, shopping carts to pretend kitchen sets. The Early Learning Center stores also have play areas for kids to try before they buy (some complete with mini bouncy castle), Hamleys includes entertainment with toy demonstrators, magicians and activities galore and The Toy Store has a talking tree in the book section! While a little free play is fun, just prepare to leave far from empty handed mamas!
Play houses in Mushrif Park
Looking to get away from it all without going too far? Then a 30 min drive from Dubai (beyond Mirdif) will take you to Mushrif Park, which is the biggest park in Dubai. The main attraction, and it is a good one, is the International Village consisting of 13 kiddie-sized traditional houses from around the world, perfect for curious toddlers with active imaginations.
Play in the park
Despite being a desert city, Dubai’s chock full of amazing parks for you and the fam to explore and while you do need to pay to get into some of them, the little neighborhood green spaces are free of charge and a great place to throw a ball around with your tots. Check out our guide here for our parks list.
The team over at Gulf Photo Plus are dedicated to celebrating photography in the region and regularly hold free exhibitions at their space in Al Quoz. Their upcoming exhibition running from March 5 – April 4 features an Egyptian/British photographer named Laura El-Tantawy, who explores the strife in Egypt from a highly personal angle.
Give the animals some love over at this non-profit petting farm, made up of a number of four legged darlings who’ve either been rescued or donated by their previous owners. They do rely completely on donations so even though it’s completely free, a couple of dirhams here and there never hurt no one.
Up for a bit of bird watching, mamas? Ras Al Khor is home to a number of friendly feathers, including an almost silly number of flamingoes. Located in the urban jungle itself, this sanctuary is certainly one that your fam will be all in a twitter about.
Ride across the Creek
Okay, this one isn’t totally free mamas, but for next to nothing at all you can jump in a water taxi to take in the city in style. It’s an awesome and different way to see the city, just mind that nobody falls overboard! Once you reach the other side, stroll along the boardwalk and be sure to explore all the nooks and crannies.
Ride a scooter along the new beach track
Dubai’s fabulous new beach track spanning the length of beach from Jumeirah to Umm Suqeim offers an amazing running and cycle path – ideal for early morning scooter rides for the kids followed by breakfast and people watching – a slice of European beach life right here in Dubai.
Run down sand dunes in the desert
Now this is really only something you can do in Dubai, mamas! Head on out to the desert for a day spent rolling through the sand with the kiddos; a good disposable barbecue and a few burgers never went amiss either. Just remember to clean up afterwards!
Sit in on stories at The Old Library
In addition to offering a superb collection of books for rental, The Old Library also organise a sweet story time every week. On Sunday mornings between 10.30 – 11.15 (11am – 11.45am during July and August) a mixed age group of preschoolers gather to listen to a new tale, such a lovely activity particularly during these very hot summer months but make sure you sign up in advance mama as we’re not the only ones who’ve stumbled across this little gem!
Splash in the fountains at Marina Walk
Head to Marina Walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day, and let your toddler splash around in the dancing fountains to keep cool! We don’t blame you if you join in, so wear some waterproof footwear (and bring a change of clothes for the little one!) It’s a public area and free of charge – and if you need a caffeine injection, Starbucks is right next door!
Taste your way around Spinneys on Market Day
No Spinneys aren’t offering free shopping but if you go on Market Day the kiddos can snack their way around and taste everything from cheese samples to fruity bits – a bit of free food that makes shopping easier anyway mamas!
Tea on the beach
Grab your bestie and pack up a few sandwiches, homemade scones and a flask of tea for a spot of quintessentially British tea on the beach. What’s not to love about a pristine day catching up with a view of the effortlessly stunning Arabian Gulf? Check out some of the beaches we’ve featured here.
Visit the Heritage Village
It’s hard to think that Dubai was anything but the sprawling metropolis it is now, but you can still get a taste of the old days at the Heritage Village. Stroll through the reconstructed neighbourhood with its distinctive palm-and-mud houses and learn about Dubai’s pearl diving past with the fam, as well as take in the jewellery and pottery making demonstrations across the district.
Watch camels racing
The traditional sport of camel racing is exciting, noisy and a thrill for the minis. Scheduled during the winter months at Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack on the Dubai Al Ain Road, admission is free mams!
Wander the streets of Al Fahidi Historic District (formerly Al Bastakiya)
The perfect antithesis to malls and high-rise buildings, the charming historic creek-side area of Al Fahidi District is one of the oldest residential areas in the city of Dubai. Dating back to the 1890’s, picture narrow winding lanes, ornate sand coloured dwellings built in traditional style and beautiful wind-towers. This area transports you to the days gone by and is a great area for kids to explore, learn and adventure.
Want even more ideas and don’t mind spending a bit of cash? We’ve figured out 50 Cool Things to Do With Your Kids In and Around Dubai, see if anything there tickles your fancy!
Featured image sourced via Pinterest, image #1 sourced via The Dubai Mall, image #2 sourced via Wafi Mall, image #3 sourced via Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, image #4 sourced via Pinterest, image #5 sourced via Pinterest, image #6 sourced via Gulf Photo Plus, image #7 sourced via Ras Al Khor, image #8 sourced via Fiona Archibold, image #9 sourced via Spinneys