In our last post we covered the basic costs of visiting Dubai on a budget, here we tell you how you can have fun Dubai Sightseeing without breaking your budget.
Dubai Budget Sightseeing: Deira Old Town
The Dubai Museum and the adjacent Grand Mosque of Dubai began our cheap sightseeing day. The museum entrance fee at just 3 AED proved really good value. You start in the walls of the old fort where you can see old fishing boats and the fort cannons before you go underground to the new building where street scenes of old Dubai have been created for you to wander through. Be careful if you don’t see we’ll in the dark, the lighting has been turned down to moonlight level to add to the atmosphere of old. These scenes along with some interesting displays and information boards set out the history of Dubai and the Emirates in a really well crafted museum.
We then took to the water for the first time and hopped on one of the abra water taxis that for centuries have ferried people across the creek in Dubai. Your ride will last a matter of minutes but it’s great fun and you get to see a little more of the river than you can from the banks. The best thing is it just costs 1 AED.
Our destination on the opposite side of the creek was the souk’s selling gold and spices. They are very close to each other, but have been over developed in my view so lack some of the authentic charm of old. Both the markets look as if they still do some of the original wholesale trade but have now been interspersed with tourist focused shops selling Dubai gift packs of spices and fabric.
The gold market was our favourite, not because we are lovers of all that glistens, but the atmosphere was more lively. You can feel the excitement of those that are shopping for golden treats and some of the window displays of gold jewellery and more ornate golden costume adornments are truly impressive. If you are in the market for buying you can check the prices on the live gold price screens at the end of the market lane to ensure you are getting a good deal.
We took a break for lunch in a local cafe away from the tourist areas. We walked just one hundred metres from the markets and found a place for a cup of tea and falafel shawarma that cost us 10AED for two ($2.70 US) – who said Dubai can’t be a bargain. The chai was good and the falafel really tasty leaving us fueled for the rest of our sightseeing day.
Next on the agenda was a tour the Heritage houses that lie on the side of the creek. In one we were charged 2AED entrance but two others were free to wander around. The Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House, where we paid the entrance fee, has a small museum of postage stamps, coins and documents and photographs of Dubai in the days before its expansion which was fascinating even for those who are not obsessed with ephemera.
I learnt about how wind towers were designed into traditional buildings to cool them from the desert heat (quite ingenious the way they funnel air into the house below), and of Dubai life of old and how it grew from a small but important port to the bustling mega city it is today from the sale of pearls and spices to the traders of old and through the oil rich years.
Getting on the Creek and off again
We were going to splash out (sorry for the pun) on a boat ride along Dubai creek and up the coast to view the skyline from the water for 50 AED. We paid our fee and got on boat and realised we were the only two passengers on this 100ft vessel. The captain came to visit us and warned us that the trip may be cancelled due to bad weather, we decided this was because the boat was empty, the sky looked fine with not a gust of wind.
Ten minutes later he confirmed this over the ships tannoy, and said he would be taking us for a longer trip around the creek instead. We stopped the departure and got off, we can do this for much less on the abras. Off we went to get our refund. It was a shame because this is the only way that we were going to get to see the artificial archipelagos that are the Palm and World Islands without paying for an expensive dinner in one of the rooftop restaurants along the marina.
Paying for a View
The only other option of viewing these man made islands is to go up the big Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world. However, you need to book your timed tickets days in advance and when we finally got round to looking they were already sold out for the whole time we were here.
If you do book in advance you will pay 150 AED for the ticket, or if you are filthy rich you can pay 400 (about $100 us) for a “I’m rich walk up and take me to the top right now” ticket. You may be disappointed though as I discovered none of these tickets get you anywhere near the top, the viewing floor is actually on level 124 and is only the world third highest viewing platform.
You can also view the big buildings all around Dubai for free as well as wandering in the malls and their surrounding architecture and gardens. Its also free to wander into some of the five star hotels near to the Burj al Arab to get a better view of one of Dubai’s original tourist attractions. Be warned though when you get to the entrance. This seven star hotel is not kind to those not able to afford to stay there. You will be stopped at the gate and herded into an area to take pictures and treated like the proletariat you are. I decided to get a little pushy and wandered where I wasn’t welcome to get a better shot and pretended not to hear the security guard telling me off until I had got what I wanted. Proletariat power.
The Dubai Malls
You wouldn’t visit Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, so we couldn’t visit Dubai without at least taking a peek at the shopping malls. In the end we did two, the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates. They are free, can be fun and you will never hungry with the range of food on offer inside.
The Dubai Mall wins hands down for opulence, size and fun and in terms of people watching. It also has the advantage of the Burj Khalifa next door and a very pleasant (man made of course) water lake – that turns into a fountain light show at night to entertain the tired shoppers.
Inside you can also watch people skate in the small ice rink, or stand and watch the massive aquarium wall ( free to view without paying the entrance fee) as the sharks, rays and turtles amble past looking at the strange humans beyond.
There are food places to splash out on or, like us, keep to budget and eat at one of the fast food restaurants. We were able to munch our burgers and fries in an outdoor terrace with the view and sound of a cascade waterfall next to us so it felt like we were eating posh. We also went out for regular fag breaks at the main entrance and marvelled at the cars lined up delivering rich shoppers for their retail therapy. At one point the five cars in the row consisted of a McLaren Mercedes, two Porsches and two Bentleys, one a continental and one a saloon. Not bad
So we have proved with our two Dubai posts that you can have fun in this most expensive of destinations without breaking the bank, you just need to stretch that backpacking budget a bit to experience the wonder of a manufactured city. Not to everyone’s taste, but we enjoyed it much more than we thought. Its easy to get round and once you have shelled out for your accommodation you can enjoy your time here on a very small budget.