Ever imagined holidaying in the world’s most luxurious city on a shoestring? (Hint – it is very possible!)
Dubai is an emirate touted as an extravagant city that boasts the best of the best, including a 7-star hotel (who knew these even existed??), a manmade island, a rose-hued seafront resort, and countless restaurants where you could easily bump into celebrities left and right.
While the city is known for its cutting-edge architecture, lavish lifestyle, colossal malls, ultra-modern transport and top-notch cuisine, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to discover the gold-dipped glamour of Dubai without burning a hole in your pocket!
The truth is, Dubai is so much more than all that over-the-top extravagance. You truly don’t have to waste your life savings to afford a trip to Dubai. So welcome to your ultimate Dubai budget travel guide!
Follow a few of my tips below and you can potentially save a lot of money while traveling and experiencing Dubai!
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Getting Around Dubai On A Budget
If you’re looking to get around Dubai on a budget, skip the cabs and the private cars. Instead, opt for public transportation.
The efficient transport system of Dubai has made traveling in the city a total breeze. Dubai has a wide variety of safe and efficient public transportation, which are all pretty budget-friendly.
You can take the Dubai Metro which will easily save you both time and money. Most of the attractions in the emirate are located a stone’s throw from the metro stations.
The metro system uses a convenient contactless card system to calculate the total fare. Nol card is the name of the rechargeable chip card. You’ll need a Nol card to travel on Dubai’s metro, buses, taxies, and trams.
There are multiple cards to choose from–the basic Red Nol card, the smart Silver Nol card, and the Gold Nol Card for the Gold class. The VIP and Gold class trains even have free WiFi.
As a visiting tourist, you can get by with just the Red Nol Ticket, which is best for occasional users of the Dubai Metro including tourists. The other cards are more so for frequent/daily commuters.
Another reliable transport option in Dubai is the bus. There are hundreds of lines running across the city to take you anywhere you want. You can get the tickets from the vending machines or bus stops.
Pro Tip: If you plan on using public transport more than once and are here to stay longer, get a Nol card. It is a rechargeable card that is valid for all RTA transport modes in Dubai (including metro, buses, and water buses). Going with a Nol card will cost you way less than buying the regular tickets.
Where to Stay In Dubai On A Budget
Dubai is a compact city that is sandwiched between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Desert. There are two sides to Dubai–one is the advanced, more technological side with opulent attractions, while the other is steeped in cultural roots where many of the historical places remain.
To explore the best of Dubai, you don’t have to stay in a fancy hotel right next to Burj Khalifa or in front of the sea. These options, while popularized by social media, are notoriously expensive!
Instead, you can choose from a range of mid-budget hotels, private rooms, dorms, and hostels that provide spacious, clean, and modern rooms with really good facilities.
Some of the best budget hotels in Dubai with stellar reviews that will cost you under 100 USD per night are:
Pro Tip: Search and book a hotel in the Old Dubai area or in another neighborhood away from the downtown, yet still close to Dubai Metro station. That way, you’ll save money on lodging expenses, and just be a short walk and a metro ride away from all the highlights of Dubai.
Looking to save even more? Consider staying in a hostel.
You can choose private rooms or shared accommodations within the city at very inexpensive rates ranging from $20-30 USD per night. For example, California Hostel Dubai Beach provides bunk beds in one of the poshest areas of the city.
Pro Tip: Did you know you can even stay for free (or nearly free) in Dubai? The Couchsurfing community is excessively active in Dubai. You can meet some new people, hang out with locals, and stay at dirt-cheap rates!
Cheap Things To Do In Dubai
From sailing on a private yacht to dining in a rooftop bar, Dubai is undoubtedly elegant and exquisite. Everything just looks like you have to pay through your nose.
But this post is dedicated to all the budget-conscious travelers out there like you and me! I recommend creating and curating your Dubai holiday package with these amazing activities and attractions that will fit your bill.
Here is a lowdown on the best things to do in Dubai on a budget–
1. Visit the Bur Dubai
For frugal travelers, Bur Dubai is the go-to place in the city. From the food to the hotels, everything in Old Dubai is as intriguing as it is affordable, without compromising on quality.
Here, it’ll be so easy to stumble upon tea stalls, Dhaba-inspired eateries, hole-in-the-wall hookah bars, and a range of souks.
Pro Tip: Take the Old Dubai walking tour or Dubai city tour that includes famous landmarks with food stops. Go for an Abra ride on Creek that cost only 1 AED.
2. Explore Dubai Marina
To taste a slice of “Las Vegas of Middle East”, you can spend a day out in the affluent neighborhood, Dubai Marina.
This district is open to the sea where you can spot migrating whales and sharks from time to time. Marvel at one of the most photographed buildings of Dubai, Cayan Tower, which rotates a full 90 degrees from base to top.
Then, swim on the beaches, unwind at the parks, and duck into the Marina Mall for a few hours of retail therapy.
3. Catch A Ride On A Hop On Hop Off Bus
Bounce between the most popular tourist attractions in Dubai on a well-planned Hop On-Hop Off bus tour.
There are red and blue routes, covering over 20 stops that you can make at your pace. You can get off at the landmark you want to explore and then hop back aboard after you are done without having to pay anything extra!
4. Go On A Customized Desert Safari
Dubai desert safaris are one of the must-try activities for adventurers in Dubai–even those on budget. You can tailor the itinerary as per your interests and budget.
Brace the wind in a hot air balloon ride, perch on a camel, or go dune bashing on the sand dunes in a 4X4 vehicle. Then, follow up your high-octane activities with some truly unforgettable cultural camping featuring a mouth-watering Arabic buffet!
5. Hike The Dubai Frame
Tucked in the Zabeel Park, Dubai Frame offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the city from a 150-meter high sky glass bridge. Dubai Frame holds the record of the largest frame in the world.
This masterpiece is easily considered a budget-friendly attraction in Dubai, clocking in at 50AED ($13-14 USD).
6. Bow At Jumeirah Mosque
One of the most beautiful mosques in Dubai and the only one to permit non-Muslims, Jumeirah Mosque boasts some of the most picturesque architecture you’ll see in the entire city.
You can admire the mosque for free, but taking an inside tour costs 10AED (around $3 USD).
Free Things To Do In Dubai
Believe it or not, there are dozens of interesting things to do in Dubai that won’t cost even a dollar. It’s the biggest irony in the glamorous city of Dubai, a city that is synonymous with pure, dripping-in-gold luxury!
Here are some of our favorite free things to do in Dubai:
1. Dubai Fountain
The best free attraction in Dubai is one of the world’s largest choreographed fountains. The dazzling Dubai Fountain, located at the foot of Burj Khalifa, sprouts water as high as 150 meters.
Don’t miss the spectacular performance of light, music, and sound from the Burj Boardwalk and dance along to the lively tunes!
2. See Some Camel Racing
Camel racing is an integral part of the UAE culture and draws tourists from all over the world. It is both thrilling and unusual to watch camels running at around 40 miles per hour.
The best place to catch this event for free is Al Marmoum Camel Racing Track.
3. Visit The Dubai Coffee Museum
Feel the ultimate caffeine kick in the Dubai Coffee Museum! Coffee has always been an important part of Arabic culture and the Coffee Museum in Dubai shares this history elegantly with anyone who is interested in learning more.
The museum is located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, hidden inside the narrow lanes of the old district.
This museum has an incredible collection of everything related to coffee, from the 300-year old coffee pot to roasting demonstrations. After your visit, you’ll have a true appreciation for the origin of coffee, dating all the way back to the legend of Kaldi, a goat herder who is believed to have discovered the coffee bean!
Best of all, entry is free!
4. The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
Next to Dubai Marina is a 1.7 km buzzing promenade to shop, dine or casually stroll. You can hang out, kick back and breathe in the fresh air by the sea without having to pay anything!
Should you wish to spend a little bit, you can peruse the various shops selling everything from fashion, home decor, and handicraft goods, and boutique items.
Don’t miss grabbing an ice cream cone in the nearby cafes!
5. Stroll Around The Al Fahidi Historical District
Discover what the historical city really looked like in Dubai (before all these tall structures popped up) by heading to the Al Fahidi Historical District.
Meander through the labyrinth of walkways from the 19th-century and marvel at the thought of how many others have passed by and lived life here over the years. The Al Fahidi District was home to traders and merchants from the pre-oil era, which is fascinating history in itself.
While these buildings still stand, they have been revamped into galleries, museums, cafes and shops.
6. Visit The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Reconnect with nature by visiting this wonderful bird sanctuary! Ras Al Khor is home to thousands of birds, including flamingos, grey herons, great egrets, osprey, sandpipers, reef herons, cormorants and many more colorful species.
The landscape here is dotted with salt flats, mangroves, lagoons, and bird hides.
Pro Tip: The best time to visit is in the morning–the feeding of the flamingos is not to be missed!
7. Have A Beach Day At Kite Beach
One of the most popular free things to do in Dubai is basking in the sun and swimming in the sea. With over 40 km of coast, Dubai has plenty of beaches for you to enjoy for free!
Kite Beach, specifically, is a total gem for a family day out in the sun. There is a kids’ playground, watersports rentals, picnic areas, food vendors, comfortable recliners for use, and a lot of other amenities to help elevate your overall experience.
8. Window Shop At Dubai Mall
This city-sized mall is the perfect place to visit with your friends and families for complete entertainment.
While shopping can cost a fortune, you can simply browse the shops (and only window shop), check out the dinosaur skeleton, admire the indoor waterfall, gaze at the giant aquarium, and eat at the food court.
The best part about Dubai Mall is getting to do all that people watching as they shop!
9. Spend A Day Outdoors At Love Lake Dubai
Feel the love in the air when you visit the urban oasis, Love Lake Dubai. One of the less-known tourist places in Dubai, this hotspot has two interlocked heart-shaped lakes.
Love Lake Dubai features picnic areas, barbecue grills, lush greenery, and plenty of Instagram-worthy spots to snap a few pictures.
10. Explore Alserkal Avenue
Calling all culture lovers and artsy people–you’re going to like this one. Alserkal Avenue is an industrial compound home to various warehouses in the industrial zone of Al Quoz in Dubai. The area has been transformed into a bustling arts and culture district for Dubai.
Since 2008, this area has been the vibrant home of contemporary art galleries, non-profit organizations, and homegrown businesses spread across 500,000 square feet.
Visit for a few hours, being sure to pop into the various art galleries that pique your interest!
Where To Eat In Dubai On A Budget
Dubai is a city famous for its gold coffee, Michelin-starred chefs, and fine dining.
But did you also know that Dubai is brimming with dining options where you can eat to your heart’s desire without breaking the bank?
Yeah, that’s right, there’s a huge variance in the types of restaurants offered in the city, with restaurant bills varying significantly from one restaurant to another.
You might pay $15 USD for one entire meal and then end up eating a sandwich for $20 USD alone. In order to avoid being trapped into eating expensive food, all you need is the right knowledge!
The reasonably priced neighborhoods are brimming with budget-friendly restaurants that don’t come with a hefty bill. Plus, your appetite will remain satisfied.
You will also have a lot of cuisine types to choose from. Thanks to Dubai’s multi-cultural expats, there is wide-ranging gastronomical options, from French and Italian to American and Lebanese cuisine.
We recommend you swing by the local restaurants instead of opting for the international restaurants that have been popularized by the media/celebs.
Pro Tip: Eat at the Indian and Lebanese restaurants in Old Dubai- Deira and Bur. So good, and so cheap!
Here are a few places to eat in Dubai at an affordable price:
- Bu Qtair: Cafe popular for fresh and hot seafood.
- Ravi Restaurant: Street food experience with mutton and chicken mugalai.
- Delhi Darbar: Cheap Indian eats indulging 10 kinds of Biryani
- Aappa Kadai: Assortment of Indian cuisine for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
- Arz Lebanon: Serves a mix of Lebanese and Syrian food, recommended for the Falafel plate.
- Al Ustad Special Kebab: 40 year old famous for barbecues and kebabs.
- Al-Mallah Dhiyafah: Shawarma to salad, gobble the delicious Lebanese food.
Other Tips On How To Save Money In Dubai
Besides the above-mentioned ideas on budget traveling in Dubai, here are a few other essential money-saving tips:
Download UAE’s money-saving apps
The ultimate idea of budget traveling in Dubai is to keep a tab on your expenses and enjoy maximum discounts.
Get the list of best deals on your palm by installing mindful apps like Nearbuy, Beam, Shop Savvy, Entertainer, U by Emaar, and Cobone. You can also download Walley or any other trip budgeting app to track your travel expenses.
Plan to travel during the summer
Dubai during the summertime can be extremely hot, but that also means it is a fairly cheap time to visit. Famous attractions like Burj Khalifa, hotels, and theme parks typically come out with jaw-dropping summer deals.
So, if you can withstand the heat, you’ll get to see Dubai at a fraction of the cost as normal, and also enjoy less crowds overall!
Book your flights early
This is a no-brainer–typically the earlier you book, the more affordable your flight price will be.
Once you have your flight booked, apply for a valid visa before arrival.
Note: During the current Covid-19 era, all travelers reaching Dubai International Airport have to hold the negative RT-PCR test. It’s best to check the Dubai tourism site beforehand to check if there are any other necessary documents you’ll need to enter.
Curb your alcohol consumption
Dubai has implemented some strict laws considering alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are exclusive to hotels and licensed shops. So what do these exclusive spots do? They jack their prices up through the roof.
So naturally, if you want to save money, you can easily do so by drinking less during your trip.
Shop at souks
The malls in Dubai are attractive and appealing — but products there can cost an arm and a leg. If you are not in Dubai during the Dubai Shopping Festival (a city-wide event that hosts blockbuster sales and deals), scour through the Arabian marketplace called souks.
Visit perfume souks, spice souk,s and textile souks for local-made, handicraft items at rock-bottom prices. Meena Bazaar is a popular shopping hub where you can haggle for pretty reasonable prices.
Plan your itinerary ahead of time
It goes without saying that when you travel on a budget, planning ahead is vital. Spontaneity can often cost a lot more than proper trip planning!
We recommend planning out your itinerary as early as possible, picking out the Dubai excursions that interest you ahead of time, and pre-booking as much as you can.
Woohoo, you’ve reached the end of our Dubai budget travel guide! As you can see, Dubai really can offer budget-conscious travelers a fulfilling experience without forcing you to sell your home or your soul.
So, grab your passports and get ready for an unforgettable trip to an unforgettable city!