Talk to anyone who’s been to Dubai and they’ll tell you that it’s an expensive city. I personally have travelled there and can confirm that it’s one of the more expensive destinations I’ve been to. In my how much does it cost to go to Dubai guide, I estimate you’ll need to budget $2,850 for a 5-night trip, but I do believe Dubai on a budget is possible.
The key thing is to set expectations. While Dubai has some over the top hotels and attractions, there are plenty of budget accommodations and free (or almost free) things to do. Generally speaking, to keep your costs down, you’re going to need to spend more time using public transportation. That will eat into your days which may not be ideal if you’re there for a short time. That said, here’s how to save money when visiting Dubai.
Dubai on a budget – Transportation
Unless you live in the Middle East, getting to Dubai will likely be expensive. If you’re trying to keep your costs down, it’s best to do Dubai when you’re doing a bigger trip in the region as you can swing over for a few days. There aren’t many cheap airlines that fly here so you’re going to pay what you have to pay.
June, July, and August are considered the slow months in Dubai since the heat can get crazy hot. Fewer visitors come at this time so hotel prices tend to drop. That said, for airfare, the summer is also when airlines tend to raise their prices, so you may not come out ahead.
Once you’re on the ground, you have plenty of transportation options, but these will be your best choices if you want to keep your costs down.
The Dubai Metro currently has two lines with the third one under construction. There are 7 zones and you pay by distance travelled. To get on the system, you’ll need a preloaded card which can be bought at any metro station. The Red Ticket is what most tourists use where it costs 4/6/8.50 AED to travel 1, 2, 3+ zones respectively. For reference that’s equivalent to US 54 cents, $1.08, and $2.31 respectively. Transfers are allowed. Note that you can buy a Gold Class Red Ticket which gives you access to the Gold Class trains, but it’s really no different from the standard ones.
If you’re in the Marina area, you’ll likely see the tram. This mode of public transportation essentially links the Dubai Metro to the Palm Monorail. While it’ll save you some time, the odds are you’ll just end up walking around the area and exploring so there’s no real reason to use it unless you’re going from the palm to the Dubai Mall via public transportation. You can use your Red Ticket to pay for the tram.
Palm Jumeirah Monorail
The Palm Jumeirah Monorail is sort of useless unless you’re riding it for the novelty and views. Sure, it’ll get you to the Atlantis hotel, but it costs 20 AED for a one-way ticket or 30 AED return (US $5.45/.$8.17). While that’s not terrible, it’s just not something you’ll be using regularly.
Abra water boat
An Abra is a classic mode of transportation in Dubai to cross the creek. It’ll take you from Al Fahidi or Al Seef to Deira for 2 AED. You take this journey at least once just for the novelty of it. Tickets are 2 AED and are purchased at the departing docks
Uber / Careem
Rideshares are the easiest way to get around Dubai and it’ll cost you about US 75 cents per minute. Uber is common here, while the local version of Uber is called Careem. If you’re on a budget, this will be the most expensive option, but there’s no denying the convenience. Generally speaking, it won’t take you more than 25 minutes to get anywhere in the city whereas taking the metro from a downtown Dubai hotel to the Marina could take 3 times as long.
Dubai on a budget – Accommodations
It’s possible to find hotels for around US $55 a night but you likely won’t find anything much lower than that. If you decide to book something cheap, you’ll need to stay in Deira, Al Kabeer, or Al Barsha which aren’t the most convenient locations. That said, if you plan on taking public transportation the entire time you’re in Dubai, you may not care. Here are your best options if you want to keep your costs down in Dubai.
Hostels aren’t really a thing in Dubai. I’ve only listed them here because they are technically the cheapest option when it comes to accommodations, but I really don’t recommend them. The hostels in Dubai are converted condos, so you’ll find 4-6 bunk beds in a room. Think of it more as a dorm than a hostel. Prices are around US $40 a night. Again, I would advise against hostels, but if you insist, here are some that are worth mentioning.
There are plenty of 2 to 3-star hotels to be found in the city. You’re not going to find budget hotels located in popular areas such as the marina or downtown, but at least there are options. These hotels will give you a clean place to stay, I just wouldn’t expect much more. Here are some budget hotel recommendations:
For those looking for slightly more space or a kitchen while they’re in Dubai, getting an apartment hotel is worth it. These are really no different from regular hotels but you’ll have access to a small kitchen. The price per night is often similar to budget hotels or a little more. Check out these options:
Dubai accommodations during the off-season can be pretty reasonable via Airbnb. Private rooms go for as low as $30 while entire apartments start at $55. Obviously, you’ll pay more for the more popular areas such as Downtown Dubai or the Marina.
Dubai on a budget – Attractions
I’m going to assume that you’re trying to spend as little money as possible while in Dubai. That will eliminate many of the top attractions, but you’ll still be able to do a lot. Instead of going up the Burj Khalifa, you can see it from the bottom which is just as impressive. The fountain show at the bottom is also fun to watch. A walk through the Marina is a must. Paying for a Marina cruise is inexpensive and worth it.
Right where the Abras depart is the Al Fahidi district. This area has textile souks which are fun to browse. This is also the historical area where you can see what homes in Dubai used to look like. Many of these homes are now cafes, art galleries, and museums, so it’s worth checking out. Right beside this area is Al Seef, which is a modern version of Al Fahidi which is really for tourists, but it’s pretty to look at. Try to start at Al Seef and make your way west to Al Fahidi. Then take the Abra to Deira where you can explore the gold souq (just don’t buy as it’s way overpriced).
Although Dubai is full of beaches, not all of them are free. Kite Beach is famous for kite surfers and is the perfect place to people watch. Parts of Al Mamzar Beach are free and are popular for tourists and locals due to the sandy beach and great facilities. Jumeirah Beach Park is also popular since you can get a great view of the Burj Al Arab. Keep in mind that most paid beaches only charge 5 AED and give you access to change rooms.
Jumeirah Mosque is the city’s largest mosque. Daily tours (except Fridays) take place at 10am for free, run by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The tours run for 75 minutes and visitors are encouraged to ask any questions they might have about Islam and Emirati culture. There are some lovely cafes nearby. Modest dress (e.g. covering knees and shoulders) is required inside the mosque.
Dubai on a budget – Food
Food in Dubai is not cheap. The city is full of international and local restaurants, so you can choose any cuisine from around the world. Many people in Dubai don’t even bother cooking at home since food delivery is so convenient. I personally recommend not trying to cheap out on food since there are so many great options. That said, if you really want to keep your costs down, the following are some meals you can get for less than US $8.
A middle-eastern staple, shawarma is available at many restaurants throughout the city. Getting just a chicken or beef wrap won’t cost you much, but you could also get a shawarma plate that comes with fries, rice, and vegetables.
Most people are familiar with falafel, but if you’re not, it’s ground-up chickpeas that are then formed into a ball and deep fried. Falafel is found in any middle eastern restaurant and there are restaurants that specialize in it such as Operation Falafel. This is likely the cheapest meal you’ll fund.
With a heavy Indian population, there are plenty of Indian restaurants that cater to this crowd. The cheapest Indian meals are vegetable curries and dosa. The cheapest and arguably best Indian restaurants are found in Deira which is also where many budget hotels are found.
There are bakeries to be found throughout the city which you’ll want to keep an eye out for. There are traditional bakeries where you’ll find croissants and danishes, but you want to look for bakeries that specialize in a type of cuisine. For example, Lebanese bakeries have manakeesh which is similar to pizza but middle eastern flavours
Just about every international fast food chain will be found in Dubai. While it may seem odd to eat fast food when travelling, there’s no denying how cheap it is. Also, this is actually an opportunity for you to try chains that you don’t have available at home.
Dubai on a budget is possible, but you may regret not spending more money while visiting. When I was there, I didn’t want to pay the price to go up the Burj Khalifa, but the odds of me coming back were unlikely. I decided to pay it so I could say I had been up the tallest building in the world. Save your money back home and spend it when you’re travelling. For more inspiration, check out my Japan on a budget and Bali on a budget guides.