Dubai is known as a playground for the rich and famous, so it’s no surprise that it’s also perceived as hugely expensive. While Dubai definitely can be hard on your pocket, it doesn’t have to be. If you’ve got a stopover in Dubai and you’re looking for cheap things to see and do, this is the post for you. Whether you’re looking for culture, food, entertainment or nightlife options that won’t break the bank, I’ve got you covered.
TAKE AN ABRA RIDE ACROSS THE DUBAI CREEK (COST AED3/ US$0.82)
That’s right – it costs less than a dollar cross the Dubai Creek on a traditional abra – a small boat like a gondala – and it’s a great way to see the contrasts of old and new Dubai. It’s also really beautiful around dusk if you choose to go then. For this price, you share with other passengers, but if you want the whole thing to yourself, you can do that for AED60 (USD16) – or less if you’re better at bargaining than I am.
EAT SOME INSANELY GOOD PAKISTANI FOOD (COST AED15/ US$4.08)
For Dubai residents, a trip to Ravi’s in Old Dubai is something of a rite of passage. In a city bursting with five star hotels, the humble picnic tables and chairs can be a welcome sign of authenticity. Pakistani cuisine tends to pack a punch, so it’s not for the faint hearted, but for lovers of spicy food, it’s a taste sensation. It’s also extremely budget friendly. If you order your own food Western-style you can expect to pay AED15-20 per person – that’s four or five dollars – but it’s much more fun to order a few starters and main courses together and share.
HIT THE BEACH (FREE!)
Although it can be difficult to spend time on the beach in the sweltering summer months, visitors coming to Dubai between late September and April can soak up the sun at one of Dubai’s public beaches. If you want to have a few drinks or some food while you’re at it, Barasti is a popular beach bar close to Dubai Marina that can get a little crazy on weekend nights but is a perfect spot for sunbathing during the day.
Get Lost in Dubai Mall(FREE)
When is a mall not just a mall? Well, when it has an aquarium (with sharks), an ice skating rink, world-class sculptures, a traditional-style ‘souk’ area, and so much more going on. Located right by Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountains (more on that below). The Dubai Mall is about so much more than shopping – it’s an experience! It’s the ideal place to window shop, and a great place to kill a few hours if you’re visiting in the hot summer months when outdoors options are off-limits.
EXPLORE EMIRATI HISTORY AT DUBAI MUSEUM AND AL FAHIDI FORT(COST AED3/ US$0.82)
Have you ever wondered what life was like in Dubai before oil was struck? It’ll cost you less than a dollar to find out. You can explore desert life, what Emirati homes looked like, and find out about everything from Arabic coffee, to agriculture, to military history.
Snap a selfie at burj khalifa and WATCH THE SPECTACULAR DUBAI FOUNTAINS SHOW (FREE)
Dubai is, of course, home to the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa (Burj is the Arabic word for tower, and Khalifa was one of the Abu Dhabi Sheikh’s who bailed Dubai out during the recession). Don’t miss the opportunity for a cheesy selfie! It’s located right next to the Dubai Fountains, where an amazing fountain show is set to music every half hour after dusk.
If you’ve got money to spend, you can go up to the 123rd floor and watch the show from above at the bar, but on a backpacker’s budget, the view from the ground is still pretty amazing.
GET SPOILED AT ONE OF DUBAI’S MANY LADIES’ NIGHTS (FREE)
Sushi and bubbles at the Ritz Carlton, darling? Just one of the many Ladies’ nights in Dubai where women are offered complimentary drinks. After a long day of exploring all Dubai has to offer, treat yourself to a cheeky free drink. Find out which hotels are running offers on the nights you’re in town by checking the Time Out Dubai listings.
Ready to get going?
These tips should be more than enough to keep you busy on your visit to Dubai without breaking the bank. And if you’re an expat thinking about moving to Dubai, check out my post comparing life in Dubai to life in Doha.
Have you got other tips for cheap or free things to do on a stopover in Dubai? Let me know in the comments section.
I’m a 29-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland.
I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.
In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.