Not everyone wants to afford the 5 star luxury Dubai is famed for
23 July 2013| Last updated on 14 January 2020
Whilst the posh hotels and beaches are great, there is another side to Dubai that need not cost a fortune.
Here’s our guide on purse friendly and really interesting things to do for visitors in Dubai on a budget:
Budget Travel & Public Transport in Dubai
See most of Dubai and get your bearings- yes, you guessed it- get on the Metro- a day pass will only cost you 14 AED for all zones. Sit back and beat the traffic and get to grips with the layout of Dubai. You can hop on and off where you want too. Buses are cheap too- pick your time of day though or you may get stuck in traffic!
Taxis are also not really exorbitant- they are certainly cheaper than the UK- so don’t be afraid to use them too. For example from the Sharjah border to Dubai Marina which is approx 25 km it would cost you between 100 AED - 130 AED and that is the longest trip you would probably make if at all! Just to bring it into perspective for you.
Budget Eats in Dubai
Dubai is full of really economical Indian and Pakistani restaurants- expand your taste buds with some of the delicacies on offer- if you’ve never tried a dosa ( crepe made from rice and stuffed with all sorts of delicious things- try a potato one) this is the place to do it! Try Bombay Chowpatty, Chhapan Bohg, Govinda’s, Karachi Darbar and the famous Ravi’s Chop House.
Some even have all you can eat buffets for 20 dhs- try the Golden Fork one if you get chance. There are various Lebanese bakeries around town too- try the manakeesh- glorious cheese breads that will fill you up- buy 2 as 1 is never enough and eat while hot, they cost around 10 AED!
Alternatively make up your own picnics for a day out- try Lulu Centre, Carrefour or Geant for the lowest priced groceries. A large bottle of water should cost 2 AED, small 1 AED, cans of Coke etc. 3 - 5 AED. Buy local not imported and you will always save money.
Budget Beaches in Dubai
Dubai has two beautiful, well-maintained beach parks- Jumeirah Beach Park and Al Mamzar Beach Park- they cost 5 dhs to get in to and the plus side is they have facilities such as toilets and food outlets. Mamzar Beach Park even has a huge swimming pool that is only 10 dhs to use. You’ll find drinks and ice creams are way cheaper here then your home country too- so have an ice cream break too without breaking your budget.
There are still some free open beaches too- the most popular one is to the left of the Burj Al Arab. If you really would like to go to a waterpark in Dubai, Wild Wadi reduces its rates for residents- it’s normally 235 AED but reduced upon presentation of a valid UAE ID. Aquaventure has a similar deal where they give a large discount upon the presentation of a UAE ID card where entrance is only AED120. Or if you have friends with a car take a trip to Dreamland Aquapark where it is 135 AED for adults and 85 AED for kids.
Budget Shopping in Dubai
For touristy type gifts there is one place to go- Karama! The original home of real fakes and secret rooms has more recently had a face lift and also has a lot more stores selling novelty gift items, perfect for your loved ones back home.
Top tip- buy everything from one shop and barter, barter, barter- the more you are spending the more discount you will get. Don’t waste your time going to every single shop- suss out two or three to get the idea of what things cost and start bartering in the cheapest one. If you’re not having much success start to walk out- they won’t let you leave! Make sure and have a fresh coconut drink while you are there- it’s all part of the experience.
If you need to buy basic clothes while you are here or have forgotten your flip flops Carrefour have a budget conscious clothes and accessories section. For more fashionable items go to Splash, Centre Point stores- every day fashion at every day value. Avoid the brands from abroad- they can cost you nearly double what they would in the country of origin- unless there is a spectacular sale on of course! Look for 75% discount during sale times- that’s as low as they go.
Budget Sightseeing in Dubai
Old Dubai: For a flavour of what old Dubai was like head down to the creek area and soak up the atmosphere. Walk along the creek from the British Embassy and towards the sea direction. You’ll see all the abras (wooden boats) and head into the historical souks which have been rejuvenated to preserve them.
Wander round the stalls- snack on samosas- then head for the Abra station- you can cross over to the other side of the creek for 2 AED. (If you do want to splash a bit you can get your own private abra for a tour for around 150 AED).
On the other side of the creek is the gold and spice souk- look at the gold- do not buy- remember you are on a budget! Head back over to the other side of the creek again and there is a wonderful old cafe perched over the creek- you will have seen it from the abra- have a freshly made juice there and imagine the old days.
Burj Khalifa: If you’re planning to check out the view from the top of the world’s tallest building then it definitely pays to let your fingers do the walking.... advance tickets online at AED120 per person will cost AED400 if you just turn up on the day.
Desert Safari: A desert safari is also a popular and memorable trip out- you don’t need to go on a full day tour- plump for one that starts late afternoon into the evening. That way you see the desert in the daylight and watch the sun come down and most include your evening meal. You’ll experience driving in the sand dunes which is quite roller coaster, see camels and be entertained during your evening meal.
Prices vary and make sure you choose a reputable company. Prices start from 200 AED up to 600 AED. They usually leave about 4pm and return about 11pm- so that’s a whole afternoon and evening taken care of.
Out of Town: If you’re staying with friends who have a car this is a great day out- go and visit Al Ain. (Petrol is cheap here, so no worries on that front.) Pack up a picnic and drive up the amazing Jebel Hafeet mountain (don’t worry there is an amazing road right to the top!)
Take in the views from one of the highest accessible points in the UAE- you will be in awe. Then go to Al Ain Zoo- it is one of the most responsible zoos in the Middle East and costs 15 AED for adults and 5 AED for kids. It’s big and you will spend all afternoon there.
Budget Going Out in Dubai
If you’re a lady you’re going to be very happy and you need to make sure you go out on a Tuesday night- cos Tuesday night is Ladies Night in Dubai! Nearly every bar will have some sort of deal from 2 free drinks to free all night- so stay in one place if it’s free all night or plan a route to take in the 2 free drinks in each place. Traditionally popular places are The Westin, Carters, Boudoir, Double Decker, Longs Bar and Rock Bottom.
If you’re here on a Friday most places have a Friday Brunch- they range from the ridiculously expensive 600 AED to actually very good value 150 AED. Try Certo, Double Decker, Spice Island and Channels for reasonably priced.
The best thing to do with going out is log onto www.expatwomanfood.com for the best information on dining in Dubai and why not indulge in some cracking deals whilst you're there.
Budget Kids Things to Do in Dubai
Dubai has many managed parks to visit that will keep the kids entertained- try Safa Park, Creek Park and Mushrif Park for days out. They all have additional entertainment areas, toilets, food outlets and picnic areas.
Creek Park also has a great indoor educational play area called Children’s City and costs 10 AED for kids and 15 AED for adults.
Al Nasr Leisureland is not your swanky 5 star Dubai place but it is great fun- it has go karting, ice skating, bowling and fun rides and is very economical too.
Ski Dubai, in Mall of the Emirates is also a very popular request for older kids- it could work out a little bit pricey but check The Entertainer book for vouchers and it is a once in a lifetime experience for some, so worth the splurge in the long run- it is a fab place!
Budget Discounts in Dubai
Check out ExpatWoman’s Dubai Deals for latest offers on spa treatments, dining out, hire cars and more. New offers weekly or daily... as they come in. Some are short term and some last for a month- so you can pre-book that 50% discounted massage from before you arrive!
Daily deals are a great way to optimise your Dubai spending budget. We recommend Cobone - new deals are added every day and you'll find superb savings on food and dining, spa, massage and beauty treatments, activities accross Dubai plus destination and travel deals. Take me to Cobone >>
The Entertainer series of books are chock full of discount vouchers. The books cost around AED395 but are discounted if bought online. Depending on how long you are staying, the books can soon pay for themselves; save you money and you may be able to eat out a bit more and go on a few more trips than you planned.
Other Top Tips for Seeing Dubai on a Budget
If you’re staying with friends you don’t have to go out every night. Have a meal in or a BBQ and celebrate old times.
There are certain areas in Dubai that are geared towards the more budget conscious and here you will find cheaper eateries and shopping- so keep an eye out for these names- Karama, Satwa, Bur Dubai and Deira.
- Electronics are not necessarily cheaper here than in your home country- they used to be but not so much anymore- check out prices online before you come to see if there would be a saving or not.
- Plan ahead and map out what and where you are going to go and do- that is within your budget. If you are wandering around aimlessly you may end up somewhere you have to pay 25 AED for a bottle of water so a bit of prep will save you any money worries.
- Bring sun tan lotion with you- it seems to be more expensive here for some unknown reason!
- We hope you’ve found this guide useful and you and your visitors really enjoy the trip without it breaking the bank!