Dubai has quite the reputation. From housing the world’s tallest building to fashioning its own personalized, man-made islands, there’s no other city in the world that does excess quite like Dubai. The city’s filled with the most expensive foreign cars, so much so that they are probably worth more than you make in a year. Or five. Seriously, you’ll even find the Dubai police riding in some of the world’s fastest and most expensive cars like Lamborghini’s and Bugatti’s!
It’s a destination that most must see to believe – and YOU can! Dubai has a bad reputation amongst the budget and backpacking communities for being too pricey, but never fear. You can see this city without going broke. I promise.
Here are some activities for you to stay within your travel spending budget.
Let’s start with the architecture…
Remember that tallest building in the world I mentioned? That piece of architectural madness is called Burj Khalifa, and it’s a must-see. It’s also impossible to miss, being the tallest building in the world and all. Getting to the top will cost about $100 a pop depending on your ticket choice, but the views are pretty insane.
Make sure you check out Burj Al Arab, while you’re at it. This hotel shaped like a wind-filled sail is the fanciest lodging you could ever stay in. You won’t be able to enter this luxurious spot unless you’re an official guest, but you can admire it from afar for the price of zero dollars.
Shopping (it’s a MUST!)
You can totally shop in Dubai without spending all your money. Head to the fancy malls for the experience—the Mall of Arabia is the biggest shopping mall in the entire world, complete with a Jurassic Park style theme park, and the Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope with REAL SNOW.
In any case, ogle to your heart’s content at the crazy malls of Dubai—because let’s be real, staring slack-jawed at the insanely wealthy is part of the Dubai sightseeing experience—but don’t pull your wallet out until you get to the souks.
The Khan Murjan Souk is where it’s at for fabrics, spices, and other traditional Arabian wares. To really be dazzled, though, head over to the Gold Souk. You’ll find gold, platinum, and even diamonds aplenty over here—and haggling is expected.
Seriously, you could get yourself some amazing jewelry for about a fraction of its retail value. Valentine’s Day gifts ABOUND.
Hit the beach
With all the glitz and glam you’ll find in Dubai, it’s easy to forget that this city started out as a humble fishing town. But you know what’ll remind you? The gorgeous coastline.
You can’t visit Dubai without a trip to the beach, even if you aren’t staying at one of the posh waterfront hotels. For a more budget-friendly beach experience, head over to Jumeirah Beach Park to take a dip in the clear ocean and sunbathe. Surrounding the beach are cafes, barbecue areas, and a playground for children.
You’ll have an awesome time tanning and splashing around in the Persian Gulf—but remember, the U.A.E. is an Islamic country, and respect for the local culture is a must. Almost anything goes in cosmopolitan Dubai, but the Western standard of near nudity on the beach is generally considered disrespectful. Unless you’re tanning on one of the private, hotel-owned beaches, stick with board shorts and a T-shirt during your beach adventure.
Explore the manmade island close up
While you’re chilling out at the waterfront, why not check out the bevy of manmade islands that surround Dubai? You can hop on a speedboat that’ll ferry you around the gulf, passing the Palm Jebel Ali, The Palm Jumeirah, and The World, a collection of islands that mimic the geography of the globe.
Go dune bashing in the desert!
You can’t go to the desert without, you know, actually GOING to the desert. Dubai is a glittering metropolis built right in the middle of the Arabian Desert, and you totally have to go see it in all its natural glory. Book a tour guide to experience reckless, irresponsible driving in a 4×4 through the sand dunes, go sandboarding—which is basically like snowboarding, Arabian Desert style— and you can even ride a camel! A desert safari usually includes all of the above, plus food prepared on site.
Eat like an Arabian sheikh
Still not convinced you can rock Dubai on a budget? To offset the cost of speedboat and dune bashing adventures, I present to you, Al Dhiyafah Road. Located in the old part of the city, Bastakia Quarter, you won’t find Ferraris or glittering shopping malls here. Instead, you’ll find the remnants of Dubai’s fishing village roots, a vibrant local population, and more cheap, delicious food than you can even handle.
Craving Indian, Iranian, or Lebanese food? DONE. Check out Ravi’s if you’re a fan of curry—it’s one of the best curry houses in the city, despite its humble demeanor—or head over to Sidra if you’re looking for exciting vegetarian options.
Have you been to Dubai? If we missed any of your favorite (affordable) activities, please let us know in the comments!