5 ways to enjoy Dubai on a Budget

5 ways to enjoy Dubai on a Budget

12 June 2011 | By Lavanya

Topics: Places, Travel Advice, UAE


I earlier wrote a post about how Dubai isn’t designed for budget travelers, however on the odd transit flight via here you might find yourself thinking: Heck why not see what the hype is all about! and staying for a day or two.

And if you do choose to do so, don’t let my cynicism drive you away. The city has a lot to offer catered specifically towards tourists.

Let’s start with the obvious one:

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

1. The Tallest building in the World, Burj Khalifa: previously known as Burj Dubai. The word ‘burj’ means ‘tower’ in Arabic so you’ll find that its quite often tossed around while naming landmark buildings. Well no points for creativity there, but who’s counting right?

“No visit to Dubai is complete without a visit to this iconic building, tallest in the world”screamed out a travel magazine on one of my recent flights for work. Although tags such as tallest/biggest/oldest when associated with sights makes you want to list it down on your travel to-do list, I think you could give riding up the elevator of this sight a miss.The viewing tower is too high to really see anything and offers the same view you would get on the flight here.

But then again I also skipped the ride up the Eiffel Tower when in Paris and chose to go for the Tour Montparnasse instead (much better view which includes the magnificent Tower in it).

However for those of you who’d like to ignore my advice :) here goes:

Rich tourist Luxury Traveller way: Show up at ‘At the Top’ counter at Dubai Mall pay 100$ per head and off you go.

OR you could also book a day and time at least 48 hours ahead online and pay only 1/3rd the price. [Tip: Book a slot around sunset for slightly better view]

Budget Traveler way: Skip the ride up all together and buy delicious gelato from Dubai mall for 5$, sit outside by the musical fountains with a great view of the Burj Khalifa, take some pictures and enjoy the fountain show where the water goes up as high as 500ft! [Tip: bring a tripod along if you have one]

2. Beaches: The long beautiful coastline of Dubai offers up many options for all kinds of tourists that come here.

The iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel

The iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel

Luxury Traveller way: Head over to Atlantis, at the heart of Palm Jumeirah the palm shaped man-made island that features on all those travel brochures. For a 250$ day pass you have access to the dolphin bay area where you can swim (and even play if you believe those magazine pictures) with the dolphins for an hour!

Budget Traveler way: For those of us without the dolphins for company, head over to Jumeirah beach park. For a little over 1$ you can have access to a clean park and beach area and shower stalls. No dolphins around but on a clear day you’ll be able to take a good picture of the Burj Al Arab for your photo album.

There’s also an open beach nearby if you want it gratis, but for the minimum greenery and lesser crowds offered at the beach park, you’ll want to cough up the odd dollar.


Dune bashing

Dune bashing

3. Desert Safari: Although falling on the higher end of a traveler’s budget, it is still worth the money and offers enough to occupy nearly a whole day. I’d recommend doing this on the first/second day of your visit as it serves as a good ‘welcome to Dubai’ treat.

Includes dune bashing, drive through the desert, belly dancing, barbeque dinner, sheesha (water pipes) all the good cliched images of the desert. Would set you back by 80$ to 100$. [Tip: book it for a week day if you can, costs less than on a weekend]

[Another tip: weekends here are Friday & Saturday :) ]

Belly Dancing at the Desert Safari

Belly Dancing at the Desert Safari

Budget Traveler way: If you don’t have the time or money to spend a day on a desert safari, reserve an evening for the ‘Dhow Cruise’. Dinner on a dhow, along the creek of Dubai a buffet dinner, drinks (alcoholic drinks are not always served so do check in advance). Would cost you about 50$ – 70$. They usually have a belly dancer or a magic show or some other sort of cheesy entertainment on board. Could be fun if you’re in the mood for it.

4. Movie: When you’re traveling, the last thing on your list of things to do is to catch a movie. That’s what the multiplexes back home are for, right? Well how often can you watch a movie at a rooftop garden for free?

Movie under the stars‘ watch a movie (usually a random pick from the previous decade) on comfortable beanbags scattered on the roof of Wafi Mall. If you find yourself with nothing else to do on a Sunday night, head over to Wafi Rooftop. From 8.00 pm to midnight, understandably this is only available between the months of October to May. You do NOT want to spend time outdoors during the rest of the months even at night.

5. Food: the favourite part of the trip for many like me. Although Dubai doesn’t disappoint at all with its variety of different cuisines, it has very little to offer on the street food front for the budget traveler that is if you don’t count cafeterias with shawarma stalls.

Spices at the Deira Souq

Spices at the Deira Souq

If you’re continuing your travel in the region outside of UAE, then don’t be disappointed. You can find better if not at least as good Arabic food at nearly a third of the price of what you would pay at a restaurant here.

Luxury Traveller way: You’ll be spoilt for choice – From Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Verre’ to ‘Nobu’ the Japanese restaurant at the Atlantis popular for its sashimi. You will be truly spoilt for choice.

Budget Traveler way: The best hummus in all of UAE can be had at “Al Hallab” restaurant (located at Dubai Mall) for those who haven’t yet found a liking for this chick peas paste, do give it a try here. The kebabs, moutabel and manakeesh are all equally and mouth-wateringly delicious!

Well there you have it.  There are of course many different things to do and try in Dubai but if on a budget you’ll often find your choices are limited. Hope this helps you plan your next visit. Also let me know if you have any other suggestions for budget activities in Dubai. Happy travels!


Photo Credit (For Burj Khalifa pic): marshallstraba

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