We are lucky to live in a cosmopolitan city packed with five star hotels, top class restaurants and a glittering array of attractions, but living the high life can burn through your Dirhams pretty quickly. That doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself indoors and put yourself on a diet of beans on toast, though. There are plenty of ways to have a great time without even opening your wallet.
A reel good deal
If you don’t feel like splashing out on seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster (the cost of popcorn alone can be eye-popping), Cinema Space is the place for you. The independent, volunteer-led initiative shares beautifully restored classics and contemporary world cinema favourites on the big screen for free. If you are a film aficionado with an eye for a bargain, you can’t go far wrong.
Free. Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium, Saadiyat Island, www.cinemaspace-abudhabi.splashthat.com
Amble around the Corniche
Some of the best things in life really are free. Stretch your legs and enjoy the beautiful sights of the Corniche. The eight kilometre waterfront stretch is dotted with dining spots, cycling routes, children’s play areas and a pristine beach. It’s hard to spoil this walk.
Check out a library
Bury your nose in a good book at the national library. This huge resource offers free membership (the refundable Dhs400 deposit aside) and boasts books from a wealth of genres as well as ancient Arabic and Islamic manuscripts. Give your brain a boost while looking after your finances.
Al Nahyan Library, Nahyan Camp, Muroor Street (02 657 6034).
Go to an art gallery
Feel culturally enriched without spending any cash. Abu Dhabi is home to a wide variety of top class galleries, showcasing everything from traditional fine art to more radical modern works. You can happily roam free at Warehouse 421, a cool art space created from an industrial warehouse, head down to Etihad Modern Art Gallery or gaze at eye-catching exhibits from Eastern European masters. Broaden your horizons without emptying your wallet.
Head to Heritage Village
Take a trip back in time to explore this emirate’s proud past at Heritage Village. The culture spot, an impressive reconstruction of a traditional oasis on the Corniche breakwater, offers a snapshot into Emirati life from years gone by. Stop at the open museum to get up close with traditional aspects of the desert way of life, from a goat hair tent to a campfire with coffee pots. The past is also brought to life in a series of workshops where craftsman demonstrate skills such as metal work and pottery. Finish the trip at the little spice shop, where you can get a range of dried herbs.
Free. Open Sat-Thu, 9am-2pm. Corniche Breakwater, near Marina Mall (02 681 4455).
Live the green dream
Instead of spending your green, why not go green and brush up with nature? Head to one of the city’s many parks or gardens to unwind while the kids play, including Al Nayhan Garden, which is close to the Sheraton Khalidiyah on Zayed the First Street. Here you’ll find some basic play equipment and plenty of space to throw down a beach towel, open a good book and chill. You may want to venture to Capital Gardens, too. It’s usually a little busier than Al Nahyan, but it’s still enjoyable for the whole family. You’ll also find more climbing frames, swings and slides for the little ones to enjoy.
Capital Gardens is located opposite the NBAD in Al Markaziyah area.
Marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The most majestic landmark in the capital is truly a sight to behold. Resplendent in white, the stunning architectural marvel attracts thousands of worshippers and visitors every week. Recently voted the second favourite landmark in the world by TripAdvisor (ranking ahead of iconic sights such as the Taj Mahal and Sydney Opera House), it should top any cultural bucket list. Plans for the jewel in the capital’s crown were first dreamt up by the man whose name it would take on, Sheikh Zayed, back in the 1980s. The bold vision was slowly turned into a brilliant reality when construction got underway in 1996, taking a staggering 11 years to complete with more than 3,000 workers and 38 contracting companies involved. Regular guided tours are held, with staff on hand to answer questions and enlighten you on all elements of Islamic culture. Men are asked to dress conservatively (no shorts!) while ladies must also don a headscarf.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm (general tours take place at 10am and 11am). Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street (02 419 1919).
Saddle up at Yas Marina
You think there’s no such thing as a free ride? Think again. It’s not every day you get to circuit an F1 track. Actually, it is just every week. TrainYas by Daman’s Active Life sees the famous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit opened up to the public, with two wheels rather than four proving the star of the show. Cyclists of all ages and abilities are welcome to come along for the ride. You can get active every Tuesday evening by touring the full 5.5km track. Not only is entry free, but if you don’t have your own set of wheels, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi offers 400 complimentary bikes for public use each week.
Free. Every Tue, 6pm-10pm. Yas Marina Circuit, Gate 20 entrance (800 YAS 927).
Step out with Reem Island Runners
Fancy shedding some pounds without dropping any Dirhams? You can step up your fitness regime for free by joining up with the Reem Island Runners. The hardy band of striders hold a midweek run of just under 5k at 7.30pm every Wednesday, leaving from Boutik Mall.
Free. Every Wed, 7.30pm. From Boutik Mall. Visit www.meetup.com/Reem-Island-Runners for more information.
Stroll to a park
Okay, you might end up buying an ice cream when you are there, but there are plenty of luscious green spaces to amble along to for free in Abu Dhabi. Bring a book and take shade under a tree or bring along the family for a pleasant outing. Why not drop by at Khalifa Park, a massive 500,000 square metres space with the Grand Mosque providing a stunning backdrop while you relax, or pop over to Heritage Park, in Corniche East, dotted with paved pathways, the soothing sounds of fountains and eye-catching rock features.
Visit Qasr al Hosn
The symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi, Qasr al Hosn was the emirate’s first permanent structure and home to the emirate’s ruling Al Nahyan family for generations. The historic building was constructed by the Bani Yas tribe to ward off intruders when they discovered fresh water on Abu Dhabi Island. Slowly but surely, a settlement began to develop around the coral stone watchtower and Abu Dhabi was born. Visitors can learn about the site’s rich heritage by dropping in at the Qasr Al Hosn Centre, home to a permanent exhibition chronicling the story of Abu Dhabi and its people through the history of the city’s oldest building. There is also a programme of talks and workshops.
Free. Exhibition open daily from 9am-8pm. Qasr Al Hosn, www.qasralhosn.ae
Volunteer your time
You really can’t put a price on helping others. There is no shortage of opportunities to give back in Abu Dhabi. Emirates Red Crescent has an extensive public programme of initiatives available to UAE residents and nationals in areas such as education, relief work and supporting the elderly.
For more information, visit www.rcuae.gov.uk