Dubai has quite the reputation. From housing the world’s tallest building to fashioning its own personalized, manmade islands, there’s no other city in the world that does excess quite like Dubai.

Seriously. The city’s filled with Ferraris, pet cheetahs, and cell phones that are worth more than you make in a year. Or five. Also, the cops drive Lamborghinis.


Obviously, you have to check out this crazy cool, former fishing village for yourself, but where to begin? 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.

1.) Let’s start with the architecture, mmkay?

Remember that tallest building in the world I mentioned? That piece of architectural awesomeness 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 is a bit pricey at $34 a pop, 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.

2.) Shopping!

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. I kid you not.

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 a plenty 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.

3.) Hit the beach.

Capture Light/Shutterstock

Capture Light/Shutterstock

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 Mamzar Beach Park, a public stretch of sand that charges a marginal $1.30 entrance fee. The more popular Jumeirah Beach Park will be closed for renovations until late 2016.

You’ll have an awesome time sunbathing 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.

4.) Those manmade islands, though.

Konstantin Stepanenko/Shutterstock

Konstantin Stepanenko/Shutterstock

While you’re chilling 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.

Seriously. That’s a real thing.

These boat cruises are a bit pricey, at around $123 per person. But hey, you practically got on the beach for free, so it all evens out, am I right?

5.) Go dune bashing!

Hashim Pudiyapura/Shutterstock

Hashim Pudiyapura/Shutterstock

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.

How to do that? Don’t go driving into the desert on your own, please. You’re not Bear Grylls. Instead, go with a tour company. This is probably the only time I’ll ever recommend you do anything with a touristy tour company, so trust me on this, lovelies.

You’ll get to experience reckless, irresponsible driving in a 4×4 through the sand dunes, go sandboarding—which is basically like snowboarding, Arabian Desert style—ride a camel, get tatted up with henna, and enjoy a traditional belly dancer show. At $85 a person, this is not the cheapest excursion—but dinner’s included! And you get to ride a camel. Come on, guys. VALUE.

6.) Eat like an Arabian sheikh.

Zhukov Oleg/Shutterstock

Zhukov Oleg/Shutterstock

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.

Eat all of the cheap food, my friends. Eat all of it.

I’ll be flying out to Dubai in March via Etihad Airways—stay tuned for my rundown of the experience! Who’s coming with me? Tell us about what you’d like to do in Dubai in the comments!



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About The Author

Hannah Winsten

Hannah Winsten is a freelance writer and marketing consultant living in New York City. A total travel junkie, Hannah came to CheapOair as a French translator and SEM associate after returning from a stint living abroad in Paris. She’s also working on her first book--you know you want to read it. Find her on Twitter at @HannahRWinsten.