Are you travelling to Dubai in 2021? Do it on a budget. If you did not know about this before, Dubai is one of the most expensive cities in the world and the least backpacker-friendly. That the emirate is expensive happens with enough reason – the rulers of Dubai want it to become the ‘numero uno’ destination for luxury tourism. In short, it is easy for any tourist to spend all their savings here.
Any activity in Dubai is expensive; so are food and alcohol. Public transportation is not common and many a time you are forced to take taxis and they do not come cheap. There are unfortunately no cheaper alternatives to anything in Dubai. You just have to pay exorbitant sums for every single thing!
However, this blog is all about how you can have a lot of fun and have a fabulous holiday in Dubai by spending less money. There are a lot of free activities that you can do in Dubai without breaking the bank and still have the time of your life.
Before the start of the journey
Make sure that you have your travel insurance is in place and is valid. This is because health care is private and an expensive proposition in Dubai. Go for an insurance policy that provides a large or unlimited cover.
Ensure that your passport is valid at least for the next six months. Have your Dubai visa and return ticket ready before travel.
To get the best deals, it is a good idea to seek help from the Entertainer, a 2-for-1 discount app that lists all the awesome offers (for a whole year) at high-quality bars, spas, restaurants and other entertainment zones. Download and keep it handy on your mobile. This is most beneficial if you are travelling with your family/friends and planning to stay for longer in Dubai.
If you planning budget tours, the best place to get them would be at Desert Safari Dubai website. They offer tours and other deals at the lowest prices in Dubai. Generally, social events in Dubai are very expensive, but you may able to spot the cheap events if you refer TimeOut Dubai regularly.
Free places that you can visit in Dubai
Deira Gold Souk
This is perhaps the place where you can get yourself the cheapest gold jewelry. If you do not want to buy anything, it is still a great place where you can take some good pictures. One of the stores here displays the biggest ring in the world and there is always quite a crowd waiting to take pictures.
Meydan Horse Racing
If you have wondered whether there was a place where horse racing comes free, it is in Dubai. Popular as the national sport, horse race on Thursdays at 7 pm (November-March) is fully free. The race is spectacular and so are the people that come to watch the race. You are sure to have a fun time.
As the world’s biggest shopping mall (a whopping 50 soccer fields put together) by total area, the entrance fee to this shopping arcade is zero. You can satisfy your window shopping needs, examine the dinosaur skeleton and observe a slice of the aquarium from the outside.
As the oldest district of Dubai, this is the heritage quarter of Dubai. It is best explored on foot. The fee is a mere 3 AED and on some days the ticket charge is 0.0 AED. It is a popular spot visited by the experience seekers, history buffs and photo fanatics. Narrow lanes, historic buildings and the old wind tower, old-world charm takes over when you visit here.
Built-in the 21st-century style, Souq Madinat is a place where you can walk around freely and hang out in the evening times. To get cheaper deals at the many fancy bars and restaurants there, it is a good idea to go out there with discount deals ready in your pocket.
The Camel Museum at Dubai is a place you can visit any day between Sunday and Thursday. The entry is free of charge. It traces the history of the animal in the local land and details about camel racing and the anatomy of the animal. The timing is between 8 am and 2 pm.
The 8-km long marina has fancy yachts moored along the shores and is a sight to behold. There is a mosque at one end of the marina and is worth a visit. The skyscrapers nearby are glitzy and is a good sight to watch.
JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence)
The area next to the Dubai Marina is referred to as the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR). It is a promenade with clean toilets, wi-fi, camels and a beach. It is a great place to spend time peacefully.
Crossing the Dubai Creek on an abra (a traditional water taxi) has its thrill quotient. The ride costs only 1.0 AED from Bur Dubai across to Deira.
Visiting the Jumeirah mosque, observing the Burj Khalifa along the fountain-side at the bottom of the skyscraper, etc., are other fun activities that you can do for free.
Best Accommodation for Budget Travellers in Dubai
Hotel accommodation is not very cheap in Dubai as real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent times in the Emirate. The summer sees a dip in accommodation prices as it is an off-season for the tourists. Though it is cheaper to travel during the summer, it may not be comfortable considering the high temperatures.
Hostels in Dubai offer much more than just a place to stay. It is a place where you can hit it off with people like yourself and find new friends. They have shared kitchens and game rooms and offer free Wi-Fi for backpackers from all over the world. There are different categories of hostel accommodation available: from budget crash pads to 5-star backpacker accommodation. A majority of the backpacker hostels offer the bed-and-breakfast option, meaning you get your morning meal free of cost if you hire a bed. Look out for these deals.
If you are travelling as a family you can check in at Panorama Grand Hotel at Bur Dubai or Sew View located amid shopping and entertainment centers. They offer a range of amenities at fair prices.
How to cut down expenses on your Food
Dubai restaurants do not have standard-priced menus, and this means the prices vary widely across the city’s restaurants. However, there are some things you can avoid to keep your food expenditure to a minimum.
Do not visit restaurants that serve alcohol. If you order a beer, you end up paying nearly double. In some night pubs, burgers can cost about USD 25 per piece. An ordinary dinner with beer would cost about USD 35. Food courts at malls are a good option. You end up eating a reasonable meal for AED 25 (about USD 8). You can take your pick of Indian, Lebanese or Chinese food. With a reasonable population of expats, many Dubai restaurants offer a good deal.
- Maharaeb (Arab, 30-60 AED)
- Dampa (Philipino, 25-40 AED)
- Wakha (Pakistani, 50-60 AED)
- Gazebo (North Indian, 30-50 AED)
- Paragon (Kerala, 20-30 AED)
- Eat and Drink restaurant (05-20 AED)
There are many other downtown restaurants and some near JBR that offer good food at reasonable prices. If your accommodation permits and you are staying long enough, you can cook by buying off some groceries from the Carrefour or Lulu supermarkets. There are branches located in different areas of Dubai. You can visit the one closest to you. This would surely be the cheapest option for you.
About beverages, you can probably get the best deals during ‘happy hours’. These generally last between 5 – 8 pm on all days between Sunday and Thursday, some of them being Barasti (Westin) and Garden 7 (at Media One). Westin offers all-night sops for the ladies on Tuesdays at the China Grill restaurant. A brunch on a Friday (12 noon to 4 pm) is a good idea where you can eat and drink all that you want. However, this can cost you anywhere between 200 and 800 AED.
How to cut down transportation costs
The 40 x 40 km city is not one you can cover by foot because distances are large. If you cannot use the metro to any place, you have to rent a car. The NOL metro card can get you some extra credits with the longest distances being charged at 8 AED. If you are more in number, a car is perhaps the best way to go. The public bus route No. 8 is an interesting one because it goes parallel to the metro from the Marina to Bur Dubai by the sea.
With most of the aspects being covered, a day’s expense at Dubai (accommodation, food, transport) would roughly come to USD 70-80 provided you enjoy only the free activities.
Happy Dubai Holidays!