Dubai on a budget may sound like an impossible task but the city can be done for a reasonable price. Staying at five-star hotels won’t be an option and you probably won’t be having any fine dining, however, that doesn’t mean you won’t have an awesome experience.
Dubai Creek splits the city in two, regardless of which side you’re on, you can experience what the “City of Gold” has to offer for free or next to nothing. Although spending as little money may be your goal, I always recommend spending on at least one experience. Here are some tips on how to do Dubai on a budget.
Flights to Dubai
Flights to Dubai aren’t cheap. The average price is closer to $1,100 but on sale, you can get them as low as $800. Admittedly, this is rare so it’s worth keeping an eye on the Emirates offers page for sales.
The key to finding cheap flights to Dubai is to be fully flexible. If you don’t have fixed dates, you can simply just search for the cheapest month via Skyscanner or Google flights. I’m currently writing a detailed post on how to find cheap flights which will teach you how to find “deals” to any destination. Once pubished, I’ll update this piece with the link.
Dubai accommodations during the off-season can be pretty reasonable via Airbnb. Private rooms go for as low as $45 while entire apartments start at $75. Airbnb rentals tend to be cheapest around the Dubai Marina District and Downtown Dubai. Use my Airbnb referral link now to get $40 off your first stay.
Hostels in Dubai are suspect and it’s best to avoid them. Some of them have nice websites but when you start to do more research, you’ll realize that these aren’t real hostels like the ones in Europe. Some of them are just apartments with multiple bunk beds and limited facilities.
Cheap hotels in Dubai are available if you’re willing to stay just outside of the Dubai proper. Just factor in transportation costs to figure out if it’s worth your trouble.
Free things to do in Dubai
Bastakia Quarter – Between Dubai Creek and Bur Dubai is the Bastakia Quarter which will give you a glimpse of what Dubai used to feel like when it was just a simple fishing village. Many of the traditional buildings are now cafes, art galleries, and restaurants. Plus, the open courtyards are a welcome contrast to the towering skyscrapers that the city is famous for.
Beaches – Although Dubai is full of beaches, not all of them are free. Here are the most popular ones that won’t cost you anything. 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. Sunset Beach 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 which is less than $2 Canadian.
Shopping – Dubai on a budget can be hard if you have a shopping problem but shopping is an actual attraction in the city. Souks (Traditional Arabian markets) are located all over the city with the most popular ones being the gold, perfume, textile, and spice souks. Despite their specialities, you can buy just about anything at any of the souks. The more modern Souk Al Bahar, and Souk Madinat are also worth a visiting but make sure to check out the Souk inside the Dubai Mall which is the largest mall in the world. The Mall of the Emirates is also impressive especially with its indoor ski hills.
Jumeirah Mosque – 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 (ie covering knees and shoulders) is required inside the mosque. **Thanks to reader John Hryniuk for this tip
Dubai Fountains – Located on Burj Lake, the Dubai Fountains put on daily shows where water shoots as high as 450ft to various songs. If you’re picturing the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, you’re on the right track – they’re designed by the same firm. The show will also give you a great view of the Burj Khalifa (not that you can’t see it from just about anywhere in the city).
City views – Strolling down the marina promenade (especially at night) will give you some of the best views of the city. Skyscrapers may surround you but that’s what the city is all about. Alternatively, for a view from the top of the city, you can head to the observatory on the floor 52nd of the Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel. The lounge is open daily from noon and you’ll get a clear view of the Palm Jumeirah.
Almost free things to do in Dubai
Dubai Creek boat ride – You can cross the Dubai Creek for 1 AED on a 20 seat abras (water taxi). With two routes, Abras rides are one of the longest running types of transportation in the city. Route 1 will take you from Deira Old Souk Abra Station to Bur Dubai Abra Station while Route 2 runs from Sabkha Abra Station to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station. Even if you don’t need to cross the creek, it’s still worth the ride just for the experience.
Cheap eats – There’s no better way to do Dubai on a budget than by eating at Al Dhiyafah Road. This cheap eat street is where locals come to get their fix of traditional foods from all over the world. Diners literally spill out onto the street while enjoying their kebabs, falafel, fish, and anything else you can imagine. One of the most popular spots is Ravi restaurant where the Pakistani curry is a local legend.
Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort – Built in 1787, the Al Fahidi Fort has served as a fortress, weapons storage, and jail but is now home to the Dubai Museum. The museum displays the life and history of Dubai but the sections on how the city evolved from a fishing village to mega-city are what will interest most people. Although relatively small, the interactive exhibits will keep you entertained. Admission price is just 3 AED!
Desert Safari – Okay, Dubai desert safari’s aren’t almost free, they’re not even budget-friendly but they’re an experience worth splurging. For about $100 via Viator, you’ll get a guide that’ll take you on 4×4 tour of the desert dunes. Ride a camel, go sandboarding and enjoy a BBQ under the stars while watching a live folk and belly-dancing show. It may sound like the touristy thing to do but that’s what makes it fun!
You can even go all-out and splurge on the luxury desert experience where you’ll spot desert wildlife, relax at a Bedouin-inspired camp, learn how to make bread and coffee, watch a falconry show and enjoy dinner with entertainment. Okay maybe Dubai on a budget won’t work with this experience but hey, you only live once right?