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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

Dubai is attracting all sorts these days. No longer is it just a place for business suits. Backpackers too are finding their way to this incredible city but how much is there to do here if you’re restricted by a budget? The answer is: plenty.

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In a city where wealth and luxury abound, it’s hard to imagine backpackers and budget travellers surviving in Dubai without breaking the bank. If you leave the indulgence behind, there is plenty to see and do here that costs nothing, or close to it. Here are just a few of our recommendations while on holidays in Dubai.

dubai

City landmarks

Dubai Museum

You can definitely spare 50p if you’ve travelled all this way to explore Dubai’s main museum. The exhibitions follow the city’s history from its early pearl trading days in the 1930s to how it transformed into a major shipping hub in the 1960s. It is housed in a remarkable fort that dates back to 1789, without a doubt one of the oldest buildings in the city.

Admission: 3 dirhams (50p)

Dubai Camel Museum

You’ll find this unique museum behind Sheikh Maktoum’s palace and is a true testament to the Emiratis love for their camels, the so-called ships of the desert. Camels have many uses, including medicinal. In traditional society, camel urine is used to cure everything from ulcers to alopecia. Camel faeces cures nose bleeds while the fat from the humps relieves haemorrhoid aches and pains.

Admission: Free

camels

Bastakiya Quarter

It’s hard to believe Dubai might have a historic quarter at first glance but hiding amidst the towering glass and steel structures is the Bastakiya Quarter. Persian traders settled here in the 19th century and built quite magnificent mansions to live in, many of which house art galleries today. Visit the area anytime of day but the evenings are usually quite lively.

Shopping

Gold and Spice Souks

Dubai is a city for trading which is why its souks are popular places to finding lots of rare and valuable items. The city’s traditional souks and bazaars will transport you back through time. The gold souk, along the Dubai Creek’s south bank, is one of the most famous jewellery trading centres in the world seeing 20% of the world’s gold pass through its stalls. On the opposite side of the Creek is the spice souk where you can find rare varieties of spices like cinnamon, chile and ginger. Also saffron is at a steal of a price here, so stock up.

souk

Dubai Mall

Do we need to say more than: this is the largest shopping mall in the world. You can easily spend an entire day here with 1,000+ stores and 160+ restaurants and cafes. On top of the shopping experience, there is an ice rink, cinema and the mall is also home to the impressive Dubai Aquarium (not free).

Experiencing the city like a local

Take a ride on one of Dubai’s traditional dhow trading boats, called an agra. Rides cost 1 dirham (17p) and are by far the most exciting way to cross the Dubai Creek. It’s a bumpy ride as the small wooden boat zips across, powered by a small diesel motor, but the view of the skyline from the water is worth it.

For a look at ancient cultural traditions, it’s worth checking out a pehlwani wrestling match, sometimes known as kushti wrestling. Every Friday at 5pm hundreds of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani labourers gather in a circle in the sandlot behind the fish market to watch men fight to victory by knocking their opponents to the sandy ground using their bodyweight. Visitors should not take pictures and women should dress modestly.

Have you been to Dubai? What other free things are there to do? 

Like to travel for free? We’ve created dozens of free city guides on the Traveller’s Blog from Venice to Vancouver, Paris to Hong Kong.

Imgs: steve brownd50, abzisse, nelson ebelt / Flickr cc.

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