Would you like to have a private boat ride through Madinat Jumeirah to see the Burj al Arab but simply cannot afford to pay to rent a whole boat out? On my most recent trip to Dubai I discovered how you can get a whole boat all to yourself to take you around the canals and to get a stunning view of the Burj al Arab for as little as 50 dirhams (£10!).
Madinat Jumeirah is a large resort in Dubai situated in a fabulous location next to the Burj al Arab. It has 3 upscale hotels, over 50 restaurants and bars, a large bazaar and much, much more. The complex was built to recreate Ancient Arabia and it is surrounded by over 3km of artificial canals and waterways. A common activity for both tourists and locals to do is to take an abra (traditional wooden boat) ride through the canals of Madinat Jumeirah to admire the traditional Arabian architecture that has been replicated at the resort. On the boat ride you will also get to see the stunningly modern architecture of the Burj al Arab.
If you are staying at the Madinat Jumeirah hotels you can enjoy an abra ride around the resort for free. If you are not staying there you will have to pay for the boat ride, which lasts about 20 minutes. The boat rides run from 10am-11pm every day and depart every 10 minutes. Up to 10 people can fit on each boat, and as it is a popular activity to do in Dubai, this often means sharing the boat with lots of other people. However, it is definitely possible to get the boat to yourself if you time it right like I did!
How to increase your chances of getting a boat to yourself?
The secret is to get there when it is not busy, so if you are the only person there the man will have to take you alone on the boat, and you will get a private ride but without the hefty price tag! (By the way, to pay for a private ride costs 850 dirhams – that’s $230 USD, yikes!!!).
Try and time your trip for:
- week days (Sunday – Thursday in UAE)
- off season (outdoor activities in UAE are quietest during the hot summer months from June – August)
- first thing in the morning (when there are less tourists around).
When I got there:
I actually arrived at around 10.30am one Saturday morning in the middle of July and as there were no other tourists who wanted to go on the boat ride, I had it all to myself. Now, whilst I went during the weekend, Dubai is really hot during the summer, so there are far fewer tourists around than during the winter months. Going during the summer certainly made it easier for me to get a private boat as there are a lot less people out and about due to the heat (the residents don’t even tend to do many things outside in the summer in Dubai, that’s how hot it is!). Even though I arrived on the weekend, I made sure I arrived early as it does get busier later on, even during the hot summer months.
But definitely if you will be visiting during the cooler winter months make sure to avoid weekends (Friday and Saturday) during this time as Madinat Jumeiah gets very crowded then! And do your best to get there as close to 10am as possible when it opens. If there are many people waiting for the first boat, you can always chance your luck and wait for the next boat, when there are possibly less people.
How much does the abra boat ride cost?
For tourists the ride is 100 dirhams for adults and 50 dirhams for children. However, I managed to get my ride for only 50 dirhams as I was living in the UAE at the time: UAE residents get to enjoy the ride for only 50 dirhams as opposed to 100 dirhams for regular tourists – they just need to present their UAE residency card (Emirates ID) to avail of the discount.
You can also get the abra boat ride for free if you have a reservation in one of the restaurants here at Madinat Jumeirah, however the ride will be a lot shorter the the full abra ride.
What do you see along the ride?
The ride along the canal is very pleasant and the water is a lovely turquoise water. Riding through the resort you will see lots of traditional Arabian architecture in the form of wind cooling towers. Wind cooling towers have been used in The Middle East for centuries to combat the hot weather. Their purpose is to keep the inside of the building very cool and ventilated (so it was like the first air-con!).
The best part of the ride is near the end though, when you will get a stunning view of the iconic sail-shaped Burj al Arab – the most luxurious hotel in the world. The abra boat will stop here for a couple of minutes so you can get some nice photos.
The man steering the boat for me was giving me lots of information about the architecture, the hotels and the local area during the ride, and he was even so kind as to take some photos for me.
How to get to the abra boats?
To reach the abra station, walk through the souq Madinat Jumeirah (souq is the name for a Middle Eastern bazaar or marketplace). Then look for the souq abra station, near Trattoria Toscana. CLICK HERE to see the location on Google maps. Boats depart and return at the same station, and you can just go and buy tickets for the next available boat, no need to book online before!
Bear in mind if you don’t get there first thing and you arrive during a busy period when there are a lot of people waiting, they may tell you to come back when they have a free space on the next available boat. Therefore it’s best to come early when it is quiet so you aren’t waiting around!
What else is there to do here?
Spend some time strolling around Souq Madinat Jumeirah if you wish to purchase any souvenirs. You need to walk through here anyway to get to the abra station. It is a little bit too touristy, and of course it is not an original souq – it is only a recreation of one, but it is still nice to walk around. The vendors don’t hassle you as much at this souq I found, which was really nice.
Whilst the abra ride, the canals and the souq here at Madinat Jumeirah have been created for tourism (as with many things in Dubai), you can experience going on a real abra boat on Dubai creek for just 1 dirham! This is where you will see the real Old Dubai, and there are some really good and authentic souqs right near where you take the abra rides on the creek too.
For a full guide to other Instagrammable places in Dubai, click here!
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