Dubai is known to be the city of luxury and 5 star hotels, but is it possible to visit without breaking the bank? The answer is YES. Having travelled to Dubai for the past 10 years, I’ve gathered all the top-tips for you on how to do Dubai on a budget!
Staying in central Dubai or on the Palm can be very expensive, but living slightly away from the city centre is significantly kinder to your wallet. Areas like Al-Barsha, Internet City and even Al-Fahidi historical neighbourhood, offer plenty of good quality budget hotels and apartments to stay in. Deira and Bur Dubai are cheapest areas to live in and is where the most of the foreign work-force reside. Some people even go as far as living in Sharjah, however what you’d save on living is usually spent on transport back and forth to the city.
As a family or groups of friends, I would recommend apartment hotels. This will allow you to cook or at least have breakfast at home, thus cutting down costs.
AirBnB has also got some great alternatives. You can use my AirBnB link to get up to £34 off your stay by clicking here. Wherever you do decide to stay, ensure there is a Metro station nearby. On my most recent trip, I stayed in Barsha Heights at the Mercure Hotel Suites & Apartments, Internet City. It is actually close to the Palm Jumeirah on Sheikh Zayed Road. Although this is slightly away from the City Centre it is still regarded as a prime location, right next to the Internet City Metro Station. The Apartments were nicely decorated and a good size, whilst there were plenty of amenities. Sometimes you can get rooms for as little as £40! I’d recommend this place, but there are a handful of other apartment-hotels that can offer a similar experience at the same price point, some of which include: City Max Hotel , Park Regis Kris Kin Hotel and Al-Khoory Hotel Barsha.
If you’re more of a backpacker type, I’d definitely recommend the At The Top Hostel. Named as such because it’s on the 66th floor with some amazing views overlooking the Palm Jumeirah. It is located next to the Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites, a short walk from Nakheel Metro Station (the next stop out from Internet City Metro). Double/Twin private rooms here are around the £40/£45 mark with dorm beds costing around £15/20. The hostel itself is very highly rated.
Transport is probably one of the more frustrating experiences of Dubai. Whether you travel by car or public transport, the process can be very slow and time-consuming. If you’re near a station, I would travel with public transport as much as possible and use taxis when required.
Taxis and Ubers are relatively inexpensive and especially recommended if you are a group travelling together. Another option is getting a so called Silver NOL card. This allows you to travel via water taxi, metro, bus and tram. You need one per person and under 5’s travel for free. The cost for a card is 25 AED, which includes 19 AED of e-purse value. There is no cap and you are charged based on your usage. For one-off travel via public transport, single tickets can be purchased for the metro, but not for the bus usually. Gold cards are available at a more expensive rate and allows you to travel in the ‘Gold zone’ (not neccessary, if you ask me). There are also female-only carriages available. There is also an alternative to Uber called Karim. This was often more expensive than local taxi meter.
Some people opt for renting a car which can be good idea in groups, however I don’t feel that necessarily speeds up the transport process much but is handy if you plan on taking day trips outside the city.
Anything and everything is possible in Dubai – but to a price. Having said that, there are plenty of things to do for free or for very little.
Free public beaches.
The five best public beaches include: La Mer, Kite Beach (recommended for those with children), JBR beach (closest to Dubai Marina, which also has a mini-arcade nearby), Black Palace Beach (also called secret beach, as it’s difficult access with no amenities around, meaning it’s a lot quieter than most) and Sunset beach (best for surfers and best place to get a snap of yourself and Burj-Al Arab). Al-Mamzar Beach Park is an enclosed area which will close down for women and children only on Monday and Wednesday (this is subject to change to ensure you check before going). They have wee charge of between 5-10AED per person but worth it if you feel like leaving the hijab off whilst soaking in the sun.
If you are visiting Dubai for your birthday, you can get free admission to Aquaventure Waterpark in Atlantis, The Palm. You go to this website, and it will send you a birthday voucher valid on your birthday and the following six days. However, it can only be used once.
Al-Fahidi historical neighbourhood.
A must-go zone; this area showcases the life of people in UAE back in the day. Emiratis are keen to share their history with you and you’ll find yourself being invited over to plenty of stalls for photo opportunities and free chai! This is also where you’ll find the Coffee Museum Dubai. It tells the history of coffee in all its shape and forms and has free-entry. A must for coffee-lovers! For culture-lovers, Dubai Museum is also located here and entrance fee is 3 DHS (including a free tour -guide)
Whilst strolling around the bank of Al-Fahidi district, catch an Abra ride to the other side of the creek nearby Dubai Gold Souk. A boat ride only costs 1 AED and is one of the best value-for-money experiences you can get in Dubai.
Take a stroll and appreciate the artwork for free around the City Walk Jumeirah. The City Walk itself provides a family friendly environment with shops, restaurants, and a cinema. Nearby, you’ll find the Green Planet – an indoor rainforest housing over 3000 species of animals. You have to pay for entry but it is very popular especially amongst families.
Also close by is Box Park Dubai , a collection of edgy stores, many selling ethical brands and labels in a colourful shipping container mall.
For a little bit of a wild-life experience, travel to Ras Al Khor wild-life park and watch the flamingos. Entrance is free and open between 9am to 4pm Saturday through Thursday. It’s a nice activity to do with children but is a little bit out of the way. This also goes for Dubai Miracle Garden, which is a really beautiful and nice place to visit but a little bit pricey for a family in my personal opinion, especially accounting for transport.
Sticking with the wild theme for the time being, check out the Dubai Camel Racing Club to see some traditional Camel Racing for free. You’d have to be up early though as races commence between 7am and 9am. Its quite a spectacle.
As most tourist-destinations, Dubai also offers free-walking tours . Airotour hosts this event and although there’s no charge for the tour itself, a tip is a nice gesture if you feel the guide did a good job.
Experience what the luxury Hotels have to offer!
There is no shortage of beautiful hotels in Dubai. Most of the time, there is nothing stopping you from taking a stroll around its grounds or having a chai in one of their restaurants. One of my favourites is Mina A’Salam around Madinat Jumeirah. The area surrounding the hotel including the Souk, are absolutely beautiful. If you feel like splashing out a little, you can go to Shimmers located on the beach side of the hotel. This place has its own beach area and stunning views of Burj Al Arab. The restaurant has a minimum spend which can be quite pricey, but definitely worth it.
A close second is The Palace Downtown Hotel. From the pool area, you have beautiful views of the ‘dancing water fountains’ around Dubai mall, but also Burj Khalifa. The entrance of the hotel itself is breathtaking. For a nice roof-top hotel, I’d opt for 5 Palms Jumeirah, with stunning views of the Dubai skyline (and also the best sheesha I’ve ever had, but also the priciest!)
You can access the amenities of hotels by purchasing pool passes (or similar) and these are often heavily discounted on Groupon for example (see below).
One place that is only open in the winter but offers excellent value for money, is Global village. The entrance cost is 15AED, but in it, you will find multiple shows and concerts. Each part represents a country or a part of the world. Each section will often showcase their respective dances/songs and you can also purchase items or foods exclusive to that country. There is also a main-stage where big artists come to perform regularly. There’s a tiny theme park for those wanting to go on rides and an abundance of food. We really enjoyed this as a family and would highly recommend a visit.
Visit the mosques! They’re free and they’re all equally as stunning. Jumeirah Mosque is one example; beautiful and also open to non-Muslims.
Groupon, yes, Groupon in Dubai can save you bucket loads!
Search for vouchers for any activities you may want to do with Groupon. This is a secret residents like to keep to themselves. All sorts of activities are on here, from boat rides, desert safaris, dinners, hotel pool passes and even access to lounges and other excursions can be found at heavily discounted prices. I strongly recommend going through the Groupon App when planning your trip as its one destination where this comes in really handy.
Malls & Souks
Dubai is well-known for its impressive (and expensive!) malls. On a hot summer days, these places are saviours. You’ll know of Dubai Mall for its dancing fountains and beautiful views of Burj Khalifa. The evening shows begin at 6pm and continue half-hourly until 11pm. There are also day shows at 1pm and 1.30pm, but are not as pleasant to watch. All fountain shows are free. You can access the top of Burj Khalifa from here as well but for a hefty charge. It’s free however to check out the viewing platform toward the bottom of Burj Khalifa. Dubai Aquarium can is also found in this mall, but can be viewed from outside even without a ticket. However, I would NOT do any souvenir shopping here, as the prices are heavily inflated.
I briefly touched upon Souk Madinat in a section above, but it is so pretty and a lovely environment to be in, especially in the evenings.
Visiting the Gold Souk is also a unique experience, and a great place to get those Instagram shots.
Cheap Places to Buy Goods!
For budget-friendly retail therapy, I’d recommend you make your way to Bur Dubai or Dubai Creek Area. Here you will find the infamous Naif Souk. Everything and anything is sold here and haggling is a part of the whole experience. Be aware, it can be very busy and crowded.
To shop the latest items from China (and let’s face it, most things are made in China), go to Dragon Mart. This is an inside mall with hundreds of stalls, selling everything from home decor, jewellery, clothes to toys and wall-papers. Even if you’re not there to shop, it’s worth the trip just for the experience. You’ll also find nice souvenirs and gifts here. Ensure you don’t go to Dragon Mart 2 just opposite, as the prices are said to be higher. You can also haggle here to a certain extent.
Food is absolutely delicious in Dubai and the best thing is, everything is Halal. If there’s one thing you should go all out on, it’s the food! Every single chain will have a restaurant here. Five guys, Friday’s, Applebees – you name it! You won’t regret spoiling yourself with these meals, and perhaps spreading the across your trip is advised.
Whether you’re not planning on a fancy meal or not, there are a number of options to help you save money!
The Entertainer App!
The Entertainer is a great app which gives you 2×1 dining in a numerous Dubai Restaurants (including those in expensive hotels) amongst other things. You get one free redemption on Food & Drink when first registering, but you’d need to pay in order to access further discounts.
Keep and eye out for Groupon Vouchers!
I’m going to mention this again here because of the number of deals available on food. Most hotel chains will have deals on for their buffets or dinners, rendering them a lot more affordable thanks to Groupon.
Eating outside of Downtown Dubai
Remember the outskirts I mentioned under accommodation? They’re all excellent places to eat for a much cheaper price. Due to the number of ex-patriots in Dubai, especially from the subcontinent, there is an abundance of amazing food available in neighbourhoods outside of downtown Dubai were you can get a meal to feed a family of six people for 150 AED – in areas like Dubai Mall or JBR, this would barely cover the bill for one person. Pakistani and Indian restaurants tend to offer best value for money.
One such restaurant is the Afghan Ariana Restaurant, near the entrance to Naif Souk. Which had lovely food at an amazing price in a nice setting. Also check out Wakha Restaurant Barsha (Afghan/Pakistani cuisine) in Al Barsha, Gazebo Restaurant (Indian cuisine) in Internet City, Mahareb (Arab Cuisine) Al Safa.
Lulu and Carrefour are two big super-chains where you can buy anything. This includes ready-made food at their counters (or even freshly made-food!). If you’re not fussed about eating at your accommodating or on-the-go, these two places are highly recommended.
Make food at your accommodation!
I know this can be said as a way to save money for any destination, but I had to include it here. Dubai on a budget will often include apartments or airbnbs instead of hotels, and these often come with cooking facilities… but one of the beauties of being in a Muslim country is that halal is so accessible at supermarkets etc. So you can eat freely and well at home, whenever you have the time.
Whilst in Dubai, trying out some Shawarmas is a must-do! A Shawarma is a meat or chicken sandwich, equivalent to Doner (but nicer!), which can be found in many stalls or restaurants across the city and often the cheapest thing on the menu.
Hopefully, you would’ve found my ‘Dubai on a budget’ guide helpful and do let me know if you have any further questions.
I will be adding more to this blog as I experience Dubai further.
Please leave a comment with some feedback and remember to share this guide with your friends!
With Love, S
*1 Euro = 4 AED approx