Save or splurge on… entertainment

Save or splurge on… entertainment

Dubai's Old Souq

07 June 2012

TO THE rest of the world, Dubai might seem larger than life. But beyond the opulence and luxury, the city offers a host of things to see and do all year round to keep you amused, even on a shoestring budget.

Here are cashy’s top picks for those looking to save… or splurge.

Penny counting can still be fun! Save by…

Taking an abra ride

These old school water taxis still get weary travellers across Dubai’s historic creek for just one dirham. That translates to roughly five minutes of breathtaking views chockfull of old world charm for those yearning to get away from skyscrapers and traffic.

Walking to the Diera-side abra station allows you to get an eyeful of the brightly coloured ships and dhows dotting the creek. These vessels dock all day and make their way to the sea past the floating bridge when it’s drawn at night, reviving age-old trade routes from South Asia to Northern Africa.

Some of these ships carry the strangest cargo – mass quantities of soda and imported cars with right-hand controls. Be warned, though, the people milling around these ships aren’t always friendly, so walk fast.

Haggling at the souq

Dubai may have more malls than souqs now, but real bargain hunters who miss the thrill of haggling and the intoxicating smell of spices and incense will see the merit in heading to the city’s oldest souq. Conveniently located right at the abra station on the Bur Dubai side of the creek, the Old Souq is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and makeshift stalls, selling handmade beaded shoes, pashmina scarves, signature Middle Eastern trinkets and reams of textiles. The stall vendors are usually friendly and go through the motions of good-natured haggling with gusto.

Hitting up historical sites

Heritage Village, the Dubai Museum and Bastakia are all within walking distance of the Old Souq. Although commonly dismissed as tourist traps, these historical sites provide a fascinating glimpse of what Dubai was like at the turn of the 20th century, and how the city evolved from strong marine roots in pearl diving, fishing and nautical exploring. Even if the stories are old news for Dubaiites, the dioramas in the museum are kitschy vestiges from the 70s that are still a lot of fun.

Picnicking in the park

Za’abeel, Mamzar, Al Safa, Mushrif and Creek Park, to name a few, are prime examples of good urban planning. For five dirhams, you can spend all day at the park, go paddle boating, take a long stroll, use the playground (who cares what people think!) or have a picnic. Try to squeeze in park time on the weekdays, because parks are still popular hotspots for families on Fridays.

Hanging out at the beach

Public beaches in Dubai are clean and safe for swimming, on the most part.

Cruise control

Blessed with six-lane highways and rolling desert vistas, the UAE’s interconnected roads are ideal for long drives and road trips. It’s a cost-efficient way to unwind, especially during the weekends when mall hopping can seem tedious. Petrol station food is not a strain on the wallet either.

Art exhibitions

Dubai’s art scene is hardly as underground as artists make it out to be. With art houses and galleries tucked away in Al Quoz, Downtown Burj and Jumeirah Road, there’s always an exhibition, an opening or a soft launch to attend – for free!

Away from the usual malls, movie and nightlife, splurge on…


Open-air auditoriums, pumped up crowds, world famous concert line-ups. Enough said.

Theatre performances

The performing arts are starting to gain more prominence in the UAE. The Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC) has a rotation of world famous plays and shows throughout the year, as does The First Group Theatre in Souq Madinat Jumeirah.

Stand-up comedy shows

The Laughter Factory is a well-known comedy club in the city that promotes the art of stand up, featuring top names from all over the world on rotation in key locations across Dubai.

Amusement parks

The UAE has tonnes of places that let you defy gravity in all sorts of exciting ways. Ferrari World has the world’s fastest rollercoaster to pull in the non-car lovers, Ras Al Khaimah has Iceland water park to tide people through the unrelenting summer heat, and there’s Dubai’s own Wild Wadi water park. Mall-based amusement parks like Magic Planet and Sega Republic can work just as well, if you can fight your way through hordes of children.

Horse riding

The regal appeal of horse riding isn’t lost on Dubaiites. There are many places offering ten-lesson packages for horse riding, including the Al Ahli Horse Riding Club and the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club’s Riding Academy.

Sand and sea

Getting PADI certified is roughly a three to five-day process that can bring opportunities for weekend diving expeditions. Al Boom Diving frequently organises dives in Al Aqah, Fujairah, and Musandam, Oman.

Water sports like jet skiing, kite surfing, and parasailing pick up speed in the cooler months, while deep sea diving is best done when the water isn’t bracing. Desert sports like sand boarding and dune bashing can be enjoyed frequently for those with a big budget.

One-off expenses incurred in taking lessons or getting certified can be justified in the long run. However, renting equipment can be expensive, and will definitely add up once you get hooked on doing things in the great outdoors. Ultimately, what is considered entertaining is subjective, so pinch pennies wisely!

What's your top tip for entertainment – to save or splurge?


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