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Dubai on a Shoestring

By Scott Dicken

Ten Ways to Avoid Imminent Budget Bankruptcy in the City of Gold

Dubai isn’t cheap! In fact, never have I been to a place where the cost of a very average meal made my eyes water quite so much. And yet Dubai remains a go-to spot for so many tourists. With that in mind, what’s the secret for remaining on budget in a place where you could quite easily spend a years’ salary over the course of a long weekend? That’s what this article aims to explore with ten easy ways to avoid imminent bankruptcy in UAE’s city of gold!

Cheap Eats: It’s always tempting to google the ‘best’ restaurants in a city and to start making your way through them when you arrive. In Dubai that will only serve to leave gaping holes in both pockets. The top restaurants in Dubai are predominantly located in and around the major hotels and have eye watering price tags for even the simplest of meals. Instead, seek out cheaper eats in Old Dubai or on 2nd December Street in Satwa. You can feast on any type of cuisine that your heart desires in either of those locales at much more reasonable price points.

Savor the Souks: There’s nothing wrong with a bit of window shopping in the big fancy malls, but even if you’re from a relatively expensive destination you aren’t going to grab a bargain in any of them. Instead, spend some time in the souks of old Duabi where you can haggle for better prices for those much-needed souvenirs and gifts.

Ride the Rails: Whilst it’s all too tempting to jump in a taxi (which you’d be forgiven for in the heat of the summer) those costs can soon rack up. Thankfully, Dubai has a comprehensive, cheap, and air-conditioned public transport system including buses, metro, water buses, and a tram system. Check out the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority website for full timetables and destinations.

Do Your Research: Dubai has an abundance of resources that will help you save money. If you’re looking for cheaper digs than a pricey hotel then Airbnb operates in Dubai. If you’re looking for cut price deals on food, drink, or entertainment then both Timeout and Groupon will come in handy. Do your research before you leave and purchase cut prices deals on Groupon when you see them, and your budget will just about stay on track when you arrive (admittedly at the cost of some spontaneity).

Find the Cheap Attractions: Undoubtedly there are a whole host of expensive activities for you to try your hand at in Dubai; you could scale the Burj Khalifa, go indoor skiing, or partake in a luxury dinner in the desert. But it’s not all budget-busting activities! The Dubai Museum, the Heritage Center, Jumeriah Mosque and the Dancing Fountain Show at Burj Khalifa are all well worth seeing and will secure a full day of sightseeing on a shoestring budget.

Happy Hour Happiness: Happy Hours are a big deal in Dubai, probably because ‘regular hour’ drinks are so expensive! The good news is that Happy Hours can provide some absolute ‘bargains’ if you’re intent on partaking in liquid refreshment. Again, I’d turn your attention to Timeout Dubai, who have a dedicated Happy Hour Page.

Bargain Brunches: Even bigger than Happy Hour is the brunch scene in Dubai. Now, I’m not going to lie, these brunches (which typically operate on a Friday) aren’t necessarily cheap; but they offer good value. Essentially you just have to be prepared to park down for a few hours and gorge on the all-you-can-eat (and in some places all-you-can-drink) offerings. If you don’t have the stamina, or don’t want to spend all of your time in a state of drunken debauchery (which some seem to head towards later in the day) then this probably isn’t the best option for you.

Abra – Cadabra: If you’re looking for a slice of local life at a bargain price then looks no further than the abras (a traditional wooden boat) which ferry locals across Dubai Creek. Abras travel between the water station at Shindagha/Al Ghubaiba on the Bur Dubai side of the creek, and the water station at Al Sabkha on the Deira side. The abras depart every few minutes. At the bargain price 1 dirham there probably isn’t a more budget friendly activity to be found anywhere in Dubai.

Soak up the Sun: Dubai has an abundance of private beachfront property. The bad news is that because it’s private there are whole stretches of beach that you won’t be able to visit. The good news is that there are a number of free beaches that you can use instead. For iconic views check out the free beach next to the Burj Al Arab. Alternatively, you could check out Kitesurfing Beach, Bu Qtair Beach or the 4×4 Beach.

Out with the New and In with the Old: I’m a fan of Old Dubai. The good news for fans of culture, and those looking for a more authentic slice of the Middle East, is that Old Dubai is also by far the cheapest part of town. Spend more time here than in new Dubai and you’ll be bound to save those hard-earned Dirhams.

If you’re looking more tips and tricks for a visit to Dubai, be sure to check out!

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