Nowhere else in the world is the distinction between the “have nots” and the “have yachts” so apparent as in Dubai. This was abundantly clear on our first visit to the desert oasis. Yes, you can shell out huge amounts of money to holiday in Dubai. At the same time, there are some wonderful things you can do for cheap or free in the ever-changing city. Here are our recommendations for 10 free things to do in Dubai with kids.
I will admit, not all of these things are entirely free – I misled you a little. Some might be free for kids but adults still have to pay. Even then, the amount is so small – less than $1 – that it is as good as free.
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1. Visit the malls
When you are in Dubai with kids, you definitely have to visit the malls. Not for the shopping as that would not be free (though it can be a great place to find things from the UK or US high streets that might otherwise be difficult to find). Instead, you need to go for the entertainment, most of which is free.
Entry to the malls is free, and each seems to have a specialty to draw in the crowds. It’s also a great way to avoid the heat – which unfortunately can be necessary in Dubai.
All of the malls seem to go overboard when it comes to decorations. If you are visiting Dubai near Christmas and New Years, or even during Dubai shopping week, it is worth going to the malls just to see the decorations.
Mall of the Emirates
The Mall of the Emirates is best known for its skiing. While you might not want to pay for the ski lessons (or take all your stuff with you), it is worth visiting with small kids to see the march of the penguins – for free.
The biggest mall in the world – its bigger than 50 football fields – Dubai Mall has it all when it comes to free things to do in Dubai with kids.
- See the many fountains
- Visit the Dubai Dino – a 24-meter long real diplodocus fossil within the Mall
- The wonderful fish and creatures of the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. You don’t need to pay to go in; just stand and watch the fish swim past through the huge window. However, children aged 3 years and under are free (and the Explorer pass is perfectly sufficient).
- If you like records, you can check out the largest OLED screen, too.
- You can also go ice skating for a reasonable fee (EUR 10 for kids), or just watch it from the food court above for free.
Tip: it is quite a hike from the Metro to the mall! Fortunately, it is undercover, but it is further than little legs can handle.
Ibn Battuta Mall
The world’s largest themed mall (Dubai does like its superlatives) is worth a visit for the architecture rather than the shops. The Ibn Battuta Mall has themed areas for India, China, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia and feels a little like you are visiting a cheap version of the Pergamon Museum. Again, if your child likes travelling, it is one of the fun and free things to do in Dubai with kids.
2. Feed the turtles
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project nurses injured sea turtles back to health at the Jumeirah Al Naseem. These include the endangered Hawksbill turtle, which is native to the Middle East.
You can visit them and see them in the lagoon, for free, no bookings required. On Wednesdays, be at Turtle Island at 11 am for the free turtle feedings.
The Jumeirah Al Naseem is also on “The Palm” so it is an excuse to check out this famous manmade island.
3. Go to the beach
Dubai has numerous public beaches that are popular with residents and tourists alike. Entry is free, and there are lifeguards, showers and changing rooms to help make the most of your dip in the see.
Spend a day at the beach, swim in the azure waters, build sandcastles in the gorgeous white sand and go for a walk and admire the views. They are gorgeous!
Our favourite is Umm Suqiem Beach (sunset beach, also known as Jumeirah Public Beach) with its shady palm trees and views of the nearby architectural marvels. We actually spent the first day of our honeymoon here.
You might even want to spend a little money on ice cream or drink. After all, the rest of the day counts as one of the easiest free thing to do in Dubai
Note: UAE is a Muslim country. Some beaches are only open to women and children on some days.
4. Window shop in the souks
Take some time to wander through these traditional Arab markets. soak up the atmosphere. If you stick to window shopping, its one of the free things to do in Dubai with kids. You can even pick up a bargain or an interesting souvenir.
We preferred the traditional souks on the Deira side of the Creek: the Gold Souk, Spice Souk and Perfume Souk. Miss M loved looking for the most ornate jewellery she could find, and helping me find some earrings.
She wasn’t as keen on the spice or perfume souks. They were pretty colours, but the ‘smelled’. Still, it was a nice way for her to learn about different spices, even if her pallet has not yet developed enough to enjoy them.
In contrast, Miss M loved the textile souk and spent ages choosing a beautiful scarf and some postcards. I guess our trip to the souks didn’t end up being one of the things to do in Dubai for free.
I have also heard good things about the Souk Madinat at the Madinat Jumeirah resort. We wanted to visit one evening when the souk supposedly comes alive, but jetlag got too much for us – we were having a stopover on the way home from Australia.
5. Tour the old town
While you’re wandering through the souks, take some time to tour the old town or Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood. It is totally different from the more historical parts of London, Munich or Venice.
It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city with wind towers and winding alleyways and shade. It is nice and cool during the heat of the day, when many things will close down.
We stumbled across the small coin museum, which was quite fascinating with nice cool courtyards to ward off the heat. Thankfully, it is one of the free things to do in Dubai. There is only so long that a small child can admire some coins, no matter how well done the museum is,
While technically not free, the Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort is definitely worth a visit and is so cheap, it really should count as one of the free things to do in Dubai. Entry costs just AED 3 for adults and AED 1 for children under 6 – that is less than 1 EUR each!
The fort was built in 1787 where the border of urban Dubai originally ended. It served as an armoury and prison and is now a museum with an extensive underground exhibit. It looks at various environments within the Emirate, with reconstructed markets, Boudoin tent and shipbuilding wing.
If you are looking for somewhere different to eat while in the Al Fahidi district, try the food and tea at the Arabian Tea House or the XVA Café, which serves delicious vegetarian food and mint lemonade in the traditional courtyard.
6. Take a boat ride
If you are seeing the old town and the souks in Dubai, you must take a boat ride. Not only is it one of the best-kept secrets as far as (almost) free things to do in Dubai with kids is concerned, but an Abra ride is one of the only and most convenient ways to cross the Dubai Creek.
While the trip is technically not free, it only costs AED 1 per person – the equivalent of about a quarter. To me, it is another one of the things to do in Dubai for free (or as good as). Our trip across the Creek took about 5 minutes.
There is no timetable – as soon as the boat is full, it leaves. To pay, you literally put your money in the cup that is passed around.
While it is incredibly simple, there is something about the trip – Miss M wants to go again!
Alternatively, if your child is one who likes boats (and which child doesn’t), you can take one of the public transport boats on a little tour. We took the ferry from near the souks to the Marina, stopping at Atlantis. The trip took about 90 minutes and gave us some great views from the water.
Tickets cost AED 60 in silver class and AED 75 in gold class – the gold class was definitely worth paying for. Children under 6 travel for free.
With the new Dubai-Sharjah ferry (for only AED 25), we are planning on spending a day in Sharjah on our next trip – I want to go to the rain room!
7. Ride the Metro
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to get around Dubai – and it is definitely worth doing in Dubai with kids – is to ride on the metro. Children 5 years old and younger travel for free, so it is a free thing to do in Dubai with kids, at least younger kids.
While it is not free for everyone else, it costs as little as AED 3, depending on how many zones you are crossing. You will also need to use a “Red Ticket” (NOl card) (Cost AED 2) that you top up to pay for your travel.
You can work out your route here.
Not only is the metro convenient and cheap or free for little ones, it is also fun! The Dubai metro is a fully-automated DRIVERLESS railway system, which makes riding it quite an experience. It also gives you great views of various landmarks.
8. Watch the Dubai Fountain
The Dubai Fountain is a must see when you are in Dubai – and it is yet another free thing to do in Dubai with kids.
Located at the base of the iconic Burj Khalifa and next to the Dubai Mall, it is the largest choreographed fountain system in the world.
Watch as the fountain dances to music with colourful illuminated jets that shoot up to 150 meters into the air. To give you an idea: it was made by the same company that made the fountains for the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The show takes place at 1 pm and 1.30 m (except on Fridays when it is at 1.30 pm and 2 pm). Evening shows start at 6 pm and take place every 30 minutes, with the last show at 11 pm.
Just a hint: If your child is about to crash and you don’t have a pusher, it is best if you forego the Dubai Fountain and go to the taxi stand or metro. Both are quite a walk from the fountain and not fun do to with a child who has gone into a deadweight sleep…
IMAGINE at Dubai Festival City
If you loved the Dubai fountain, check out IMAGINE at Dubai Festival City. It is another of the free things to do in Dubai with kids. This one is similar, with a combination of dancing light, fire and water. Think pyrotechnics, lasers, lights and dramatic effects. Shows are on the hour from 6 pm to 11 pm.
The Waterfall at Dubai Canal
The mechanical Waterfall at the relatively new Dubai Canal cascade in various colours from the Sheikh Zayed Road Bridge. It has motion sensors and acts as a curtain when boats pass through it. Again, jetlag prevented us from see this new attraction on our last trip.
The Canal is also a nice place to go for a run, stroll or ride a bike, with around 12 km of paths and promenades.
9. Marvel at the flamingos
This is one free thing to do in Dubai that we only just discovered, but Miss M is already itching to go, especially after having a flamingo party.
During the winter months, thousands of stunning flamingos gather at the wetlands at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. These salt flats, intertidal mudflats, mangroves and lagoons are home to many birds, but the flamingos – in number and colour – are most impressive.
There are three bird hides located close to the perimeter of the sanctuary that can be accessed for free during the day. From these vantage points, you have stunning views of the birds and all their pink plumage.
While entering these areas is free, getting to the sanctuary is not. The metro does not go to the sanctuary. The easiest way to get there is by taxi. However, if you have done your research you will know that taxis in Dubai are much cheaper than they are elsewhere.
You can decide whether this should be considered as one of the free things to do in Dubai with kids.
Note: The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is currently closed for maintenance.
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10. Have fun at the water park
You are probably wondering why this one is on the list.
There are numerous water parks in Dubai – Wild Waldi, Aquaventure, Laguna Water Park and Legoland Water Park (with Yas Waterpark in Abu Dhabi too). While each of them has their own speciality and some are better for small children and others better for teenagers, NONE of them are cheap.
So why is it a suggestion of free things to do in Dubai with kids?
When we were making arrangements for our last trip to Dubai, we booked via booking.com. We discovered, quite by accident, that when you stay in one of the Jumeirah hotels, you get access to the Wild Waldi waterpark for free.
This works for all 11 Jumeirah hotels in Dubai, not just the couple located next to the park. There are free shuttle buses if your hotel is not right next door!
With the special we found on booking.com, one night’s stay was less than the cost of 3 tickets to the waterpark.
Essentially, we had access to the waterpark for even less than free!
And they are great hotels!
Find you deal for one of the many Jumeirah hotels on booking.com!
10 things to pack to help keep your budget down
Some items really will help you make the most of your time in Dubai with kids. If you leave these home, you are likely to waste valuable time and money in Dubai trying to find them, which sort of defeats the attempt to see as much as you can in Dubai for free. If you already have these things, make sure you pack them. If you don’t, grab them before you go to make the most of the free things to do in Dubai with kids.
- We use our iPhones for a lot of our shots, even while travelling. However, if I know we will be going somewhere where the photos will matter (as a family, not as a blog), I will take my DSLR camera. I have an older version of this Canon.
- If I am going to be taking my camera, I also take the right lenses. You will not get the best photos from the Burj Khalifa or of the flamingos or even the details on some of the gold jewellery with a standard lens… Here I used my wide-angle lens and a zoom lens (which is also great for natural portrait shots).
- And if I am really planning to take some great photos, I will take my tripod too. I have two: this rainbow one, which works well with my phone and I use when I am afraid I might leave it somewhere (the colours make it harder to forget), and a standard one I purchased years ago similar to this travel tripod.
- We are encouraging Miss M to take her own photos and have given her her own camera. It is only a basic camera (also has games and photo effects), but we will improve on it as she grows.
- Of course, if your child is older, they will probably want a phone to take photos or videos for their Instagram, TikTok, etc. We use iphones, but I have been impressed with the photo quality of the Samsung S10. They may already have a phone, but might find a zoom lens kit useful for some of the pictures they will want to take.
- To stop your electronics running out of battery before you get to take all the shots you need or check the opening times for the museum or park you want to visit, take a powerbank. Make sure you pack it in your carry on and that it complies with the maximum voltage restrictions.
- If you plan on spending time outside don’t forget to pack some protection from the sun: a hat and sunscreen (spray is really useful) should be in your suitcase.
- Glare from the water or sand can be really uncomfortable. Make sure you take your sunglasses (cute ones with UV protection).
- Are you going to the beach or a waterpark? You can probably borrow the hotel towels, but it’s better to take your own. I love the bright colours of these striped beach towels. These towels are designed to be quick-drying – perfect for travel.
- Ziplock bags! To keep the sand from your swimsuit or shoes out of the rest of your bag. For the wet bathing suit. For the leaky sunscreen. Definitely take some ziplock bags!
10 things to pack to see Dubai on the cheap
Free things to do in Dubai?
Even in a city full of superlatives and some of the most expensive accommodation on the planet, we’ve still found 10 fun and free things to do in Dubai with kids. So when you’re looking to take a family holiday to Dubai, try some of these 10 free things and ensure the trip is not a total budget blowout.