Dubai is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It’s famed for being the epitome of luxury with the world’s highest buildings, gold galore and shopping malls that are like cities themselves. It’s definitely out of this world, that’s for sure!
But for regular people with regular budgets like you and me, Dubai can be a bit of a kick in the metaphorical knackers. But I’m a big believer that anywhere can be affordable, no matter what.
Tom and I spent 3 days in Dubai and managed to do it on an average of £89 spending money per day for both of us in total, without missing out on ANY of the must-dos. So here’s how I did it!
Where to stay in Dubai
The fabulous Ibis Styles Dubai Jumeria is the perfect place to stay. It’s located just a short drive from the old town where you will find the gold and spice souks, and it’s also close to a metro station which is perfect for getting everywhere in the city. From just £35 a night for a standard double with breakfast included, you really can’t go wrong. And don’t expect it to be a basic type of Ibis either. It definitely gives you that bit of pizzazz you want in Dubai.
How to get around
Despite most other things being known for costing a bomb, catching transport is surprisingly cheap. We used taxis and the metro during our stay and both were great.
Taxis – you will find them everywhere and the drivers are usually incredibly friendly. We had heard some stories about some drivers taking people the ‘scenic’ route so we followed on Google maps to make sure we weren’t being ripped off. The meter starts on 5 AED (a little over £1) and will be a minimum of 12 AED. From the Etihad bus terminal to the Ibis Styles it’s a 21km ride and we paid 37AED (£8).
Metro – There is a green and a red line and then an orange line that goes towards the palms. The trains run every few minutes and each station only has 2 platforms. There are stops for all the major sites like the malls so it’s the perfect way to get around. An unlimited day pass that can be used until midnight costs just 22AED.
Abra – Across the creek by the souks you will find loads of boats. Some of them are paid tour boats but there are also Abras that cost just 1AED. Make sure you do one for the fun of it at least!
Bus – There are bus routes all over the city and also out to Abu Dhabi. We didn’t use one (unfortunately due to illness) but they are cheap and the metro card can be used on them also. The bus stops even have air con so you won’t die while you’re waiting.
Start your day by stocking up on the delicious selection at the breakfast buffet in the hotel and then catch a taxi to old town and head over to the Gold and Spice Souks. They are outside so make sure you take plenty of water with you. Take in the sights and the smells of the place and admire the Arabic gold in all its glory. It’s a pretty awesome sight but be prepared to get asked 100 times whether you want any fake handbags/jewellery/watches. Once you’re finished, catch an Abra back across the creek and catch a taxi back to the hotel to cool off. You’re gonna need it!
Book onto a desert safari tour. We used a company called Dubai Desert Safari and opted for the Gold package with included door to door pick up and drop off in the 4x4s and quad biking on the dunes. The evening is fantastic and includes dune bashing (lunatic driving on the dunes), camel rides, sand skiing and a BBQ dinner with entertainment. You will be knackered by the end of the night, that’s for sure.
Taxi to Souks – 17AED from Ibis Styles
Abra – 1AED pp
Taxi back to hotel 12AED
Desert Safari – starts from 50AED pp but the gold tour we opted for was 170AED pp
Total = 371AED (£78) for both of us
As before, make the most of the breakfast buffet selection and make sure you drink plenty of water. The heat here is out of this world and you can easily dehydrate.
Catch a taxi to the nearby World Trade Centre metro which is on the red line and buy yourself a day pass. Jump on the train towards UAE Exchange and head to the Mall of the Emirates. As you would expect with any mall in Dubai, it’s huge and has everything you could imagine. There is also a Coles supermarket inside to pick up some cheap snacks and water for on the go later. The crazy aspect of this mall comes in the shape of an indoor ski slope complete with a ski lift. If you fancy it then you can book in to go but it’s pretty fun to just look in any way.
Day 2 for us was a Friday and Dubai is famed for its Friday Brunch. There are tonnes of places to go for lunch with pretty much every restaurant offering a special brunch menu that either includes soft drinks or alcohol.
We found a fantastic Indian restaurant in Time Out Dubai called Carnival by Tresind and it was out of this world. it involved 12 courses, lots of theatre, dry ice, fantastic nonalcoholic cocktails (we chose this option to keep the cost down) and a great story of Indian street food behind it. You won’t need anything else to eat for the rest of the day, that’s for sure!
If you fancy walking off some of your indulgences then jump in a taxi and go to Sunset beach. Here you will have great views of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and of course get the chance to feel the unbelievably warm sea. Some people spend all day at the beach here but for me, it was way too hot!
Once you’ve finished on Sunset Beach, jump back on the metro and carry on to the Dubai Mall. Inside here you will see many of the famous sites Dubai is known for including the aquarium, the Diplodocus skeleton, the waterfall with the falling people and the amazing Dubai dancing fountains outside. The fountains perform every 30 minutes and it can get crazy busy outside so make sure you get there in time to get a good spot. It’s a great thing to watch at night.
If you’re wanting more of the city skyline, or just wanting to walk off the mega brunch then catch the metro to the Dubai Marina and enjoy the views over the water. There are loads of bars in the area so make sure you grab something to drink, especially as it’s still well over 30 degrees at night.
Taxi to metro – 12AED
Metro day pass – 22AED
Brunch at Carnival – 190AED (non-alcohol package)
Taxi from metro to hotel – 12~AED
Sightseeing around the malls and Marina – Free!
Total – 448AED (£95) for both of us
Now it had been our full intention to do what I’m about to suggest but unfortunately, neither of us were feeling great (the heat had broken us) and we didn’t manage it. But a trip to the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is an absolute must, so here’s how to visit it.
Get a taxi to the Al Ghubaiba bus station and jump on one of the nice coaches to Abu Dhabi bus station. They leave every 20 minutes and cost 25AED to get to Abu Dhabi and 15AED back to Dubai. A return isn’t available as the route is run by a Dubai company going out and an Abu Dhabi company coming back. The journey takes about an hour and a half.
From Abu Dhabi bus station, the quickest way to get to the mosque is to nab a taxi. Rome2Rio estimates this to cost around 55AED and just take 15 minutes. However, if you’re saving the pennies then you can catch the 054 bus which costs around a tiny 3AED but takes 40 minutes. I think if Tom and I had gone we would have probably opted to get a taxi to save time. There are a few free tours run daily so I would recommend making sure you’re there for one of those. The timetable can be found here.
It’s important to remember that there is a strict dress code at the Mosque so make sure you read the FAQs here and dress accordingly. Women have to have their ankles and wrists covered in loose clothing as well as their hair and men are not permitted to wear shorts.
After spending the day walking around the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in awe, catch the bus back to Dubai and head over to the Dubai Mall. Grab a quick and cheap bite to eat from one of the restaurants in the food court and, hopefully, if the weather is good, it will be the perfect time to go up the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa.
Tickets need to be booked in advance and you will need to choose a time to go up there. There are 2 types of tickets – one takes you to the 124/125 floor and one to levels 124,125 and 148. Unsurprisingly, the second ticket costs (a lot) more and the ticket price also depends on the time of the day. Sunset is peak time so you will pay more. I went up just after sunset and as you can stay for as long as you like, I was up there until it was dark. Make sure you take lots of photos and I would recommend a GoPro if you have one as the gap in the glass is too small to get a camera through. Take your time, share the space and enjoy seeing this unique city from above.
Taxi to bus station – approx 17AED
Bus to and from Abu Dhabi – 40AED
Dinner in Dubai Mall – approx 50AED
Tickets to Burj Khalifa (non-prime hours) – 125AED
Total – 447AED (£94) for both of us
So there you have it! At an average of £89 or 425AED per day for 2 people, Dubai can be more affordable than you think. Here’s a summary of my top tips in general and to help you keep costs down:
- Choose a hotel with breakfast included
- Go on tours where a meal is included
- Book tickets to the Burj Khalifa for the non-prime hours
- Catch the metro around the city
- Make the most of brunch
- Don’t drink alcohol as it costs a bomb in Dubai
- Download an offline Google map of Dubai while over wifi to make sure a taxi isn’t ripping you off. If this does happen, make sure you say something as a complaint could result in him losing his licence so you probably won’t have to pay the extra fare
- Dress respectfully here. This is a Muslim country and to be honest, I would have felt uncomfortable if I hadn’t