Dubai on a budget: 11 things to see, do and eat

Visiting Dubai on a budget needn’t be an impossible dream. Here are my tips for experiencing Dubai when you’re not on a Sheikh’s salary.

Since I got back from my trip to Dubai in February, one question has kept coming up – was it expensive? It’s true that Dubai can be a really expensive city but there are lots of things to do and loads of ways to make the most of your trip even when you’re trying not to spend much money. Here are 11 tried and tested things to see and do in Dubai on a budget.

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1. Understand the history of Dubai

Visit the old town and experience the history of this fascinating city. Call in at Dubai Museum (AED 3) to see Dubai’s oldest building and to see how the inhabitants lived in the days before the malls.

The Dubai Museum is housed in the Al Fahidi Fort – Dubai’s oldest building

2. Take to the water

Skip the expensive boat tours and take an abra across the Creek for 1 AED (about 20p) for an authentic and budget Dubai experience.

The Abra Station in Bur Dubai

3. Do some window shopping in Dubai’s souks

Wander through the Gold, Perfume and Spice Souks in Deira for a full-on and free sensory experience.

One of the shop windows in the Gold Souk
Bags full of fragrant spices in the Spice Souk

4. See the flamingos and get back in touch with nature

Get a taste of nature by visiting the flamingos at Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary.

A group of flamingos stretching their wings as they prepare to take off

5. Rooftop views on a budget

For the price of a drink, get a bird’s eye view of futuristic Sheikh Zayed Road’s skyscrapers at the Level 43 bar on top of the Sheraton Four Points hotel. Happy hour is 6-8 every day with Ladies Night on Tuesdays.

Sheikh Zayed Road just after sunset from the rooftop bar at the Four Points hotel

6. Visit Abu Dhabi and see another Emirate

Take the bus from Al Ghubbiba bus station in Dubai to Abu Dhabi for a free guided tour of the incredible Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – one of the biggest in the world.

The huge courtyard at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

7. Go way up high at the Burj Khalifa

For dramatic Burj Khalifa photos without the premium sunset pricing, book a visit at sunrise. The early start (available on winter Fridays and Saturdays only) gets you amazing views as the city wakes up, plus a bonus breakfast for AED 125.

The sunrise reflecting off the Dubai Creek

8. Hit Dubai’s malls

For free entertainment, hit the malls, especially the world’s biggest, Dubai Mall. Here you’ll be able to watch the famous dancing fountains, see into the Aquarium without paying the entry fee, watch ice skating, get up close to a dinosaur, sit by amazing indoor waterfalls and enjoy some of the world’s best people watching. The mall food courts are also a convenient, if noisy, place to fill your belly at low prices.

The huge waterfall at Dubai Mall celebrating Dubai’s pearl diving history
The famous Dubai Fountains are just outside the Dubai Mall and completely free

Other mall attractions include an indoor ski slope at Mall of the Emirates, a nightly sound and light show and free rooftop movies at Wafi Mall and a journey through the countries visited by a Moroccan explorer at Ibn Battuta Mall. Most of the major malls are well-served by public transport.

The fanciest Starbucks ever at Ibn Battuta Mall

9. Beach life on a budget

Hit the beach without staying at a glitzy hotel and get free views of the magnificent Burj al Arab at the Jumeirah public beach – the perfect beach day in Dubai on a budget. Alternatively, visit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah for great views plus happy hours in the many bars and restaurants.

See the Burj Al Arab from the bridges of the watery Souk Madinat Jumeirah

10. Monorail!

Take the monorail to the top of the Palm to see the iconic Atlantis hotel and walk the new Boardwalk with its food trucks.

Travelling on the monorail to Atlantis at the head of the Palm

11. Cruise Dubai on a budget

Take the 11am water bus from Al Ghubbiba marine station in Bur Dubai to enjoy a low-cost Gulf cruise past the Burj al Arab and the Palm, ending at the Marina.

The spaceship-like water bus arriving at Dubai Marina

Have you visited Dubai on a budget?

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