By April 10, 2013 Read More →

Dubai on the Cheap

We had never considered Dubai to be a flashpacking destination and it wasn’t very high on our must do list for this round the world trip.  However with some very reasonable airfares from Sri Lanka to Dubai, and a fly Dubai bargain back into Europe, we decided to give it a try.  By breaking up the journey with these flights we could save 200 GBP each to our next destination of Istanbul.  We decided to challenge ourselves to see if we could put these savings to good use and experience a few days in Dubai on the cheap.    

  • Flight Colombo to Istanbul –  410 GBP
  • Colombo to Dubai   – 110 GBP Sri Lanka Airlines
  • Dubai to Istanbul  – 95 GBP  Flu Dubai
  • Total Flights – 205 GBP saving 205 per person to enjoy Dubai for three nights.

Arriving in Dubai at Night

We arrived late (10.30pm), which is sometimes the price you pay for cheap flights.  By the time we got through immigration and picked up our luggage an hour had passed since we had touched down. This was bad news, the metro had closed for the night and our attempts to find a bus to the location of our hotel proved futile, no info desk or helpful signs to be found.  Everybody we asked said, just get a taxi.  In the end we decided they were probably right and we were left with little choice but to get a taxi, the good news was this was hassle free, and the meter was switched on without even asking a relief after some of our Asian troubles with this form of transport. We loaded our luggage, hopped in the back and we set off on our Grand Prix style ride to downtown Deira, for the Dubai budget busting price of  cost 38 AED($12 US).

Dubai on the Cheap

Now this may sound like an oxymoron, but this was our challenge.   Dubai is great if you are rolling in cash and come for a long weekend for the full desert driving, hot air ballooning, fancy eating and shopping for which it is well known. It can be a bit like an adult Disney world , if you’ve got the cash to enjoy some of the spectacular experiences available to visitors.  We quite literally did not have this luxury so we were going to see if it can be fun without wearing out our credit card.

The taxi fare had not been a good start, the hotel cost had not been much better.  Budget rooms don’t really exist in Dubai, after quite a bit of research we decided that a bed in Deira would give us access to the best public transport links and the best value, but it wasn’t going to be cheap.

We stayed at the Icon Apart Hotel which cost £55 ($80 US) a night, not exactly in our flashpacking budget range, but considering where we were and what we got, we thought it good value.  Just for comparison a bed in a dorm in the only Youth Hostel in Dubai costs you around 35 GBP per night.

The apartment was massive with a huge comfortable bed, a small dining area, a sofa and kitchen. it even had a washing machine. We managed to do some washing and cook ourselves breakfast each morning, we had ice and cold drinks in the fridge to mix with  our Dubai duty free brandy so its value was getting better by the minute.  Drinking out in Dubai was well beyond the cheap challenge, places to drink alcohol are limited to swanky restaurants and hotels. We were even able to iron clothes, something that we haven’t done in months – now this was luxury.  Oh and we had a bath to soak in for the first time in ages too – our own private spa.

First impressions of Dubai

I try not to do this, but sometimes I get a picture of a city or destination in my mind from what I have seen on TV or in print and it is never ever the same when you actually get there.  Dubai surpassed all my previous preconceptions on a massive scale, it turns out to be about ten times the size I imagined.

For some reason I had decided it was the size of Singapore downtown and all the famous landmarks would be settled into an area of around 5 sq kilometres.  It isn’t, this just about describes the old town around Deira, the rest of the iconic sites are a generous metro or taxi ride away down the coast.

Dubai Transport

We managed to get around Dubai with our one day unlimited transport pass at 16 AED each. The metro system is amazingly clean and shiny pin new, it only opened in 2009 so the lustre is still firmly in place.  It’s the only metro system where they have different class carriages, offering you the choice of silver or gold options  (you will pay a 60% premium on ticket prices to sit in the gold section) . Here in Dubai if you have the money, you can jump a queue and be guaranteed a comfy seat, even on public transport.

The buses are similarly clean, but a lot more difficult to navigate.  The routes are designed to get the local workers to the places of employment rather the tourists to the top sightseeing spots.  We tried in vain to get from one of the metro stops to the beach (about a kilometre away) but there was no link at all.   In fact if you ask anyone how to get somewhere in Dubai the answer will always be “take a taxi”.  It seems if you don’t have a car this is the only mode of transport tourists are expected to use.

Driving and walking in Dubai

If you are wealthy stupid enough to hire a car and drive in Dubai be very careful.  Some of the drivers in Dubai are crazy, they treat every traffic light as a speed trial countdown and set off at a ridiculous pace revving their oversized egos and engines.

Always wait for the green man at the pedestrian crossing or you are likely to be mowed down by a racing car cum taxis speeding round the corner, its like trying to cross the road in Monaco during the Grand Prix.  With the exception of the old town (Deira)  you will very rarely be walking outdoors.  Dubai new town is not built for walking, its a car’s terrain. If you do need to walk from the metro stations you will most probably find yourself on one of the miles and miles of travelators that line the malls and metro station connections around town.

Some Do’s and Don’ts of Dubai

  • Do Dress conservatively
  • No public affection, holding hands or kissing or cuddling
  • Boys don’t wear shorts that show your knees, women and men no exposed shoulders
  • Absolutely no public alcohol consumption

You will be reminded of these rules on signs and flats screen around the malls, and on handy leaflets at the information counters.

Food and People and Safety

Supermarkets and food outlets are open all hours so you will never need to go hungry or be without your essential supermarket purchases.  Street food exists in the form of shawarmas which you will find everywhere for a couple of AED dollars.  

It feels and is a very safe place to wander about even in the dark hours.   If you do walk you spend most of your time with the huge percentage (over 85% of Dubai population) of migrant workers that live and work here from the Phillipines, India and other Asian countries.   Thus your interaction in hotels, restaurants, malls and shops will be as pleasant as it is in those countries.

Our Total Costs for Three Nights for Both of us

  • £75 for food, entertainment, entrance fees and transport (oh and a bottle of duty free brandy)
  • £165 for accommodation

So did we do Dubai on the cheap?  We spent £125 per person for three nights (42 GBP per person per night)  in Dubai where we had fun, didn’t starve, had a wonderful luxurious and spacious room and got to see all the main sights and had much more fun than we expected to have. We consider this a free trip as our direct flight to Istanbul would have worked out more expensive.  In our next post we will tell you what we got up to making best use of what Dubai has to offer the tourist for free . 

Price Guide for Some Things to Do in Dubai

If you aren’t trying to do Dubai on the cheap here are some of the adventures you can get up to along with their current costs in early 2013 all priced in AED (one US dollar was equivalent to around 3.7 AED)

  • 4X4 desert safari 135 (250 if you do it in a Hummer)
  • Dinner cruise on the creek 120
  • Day tour to Abu Dhabi 199
  • Stretch limo ride 325
  • Visit Ferrari theme park 399
  • Wild wadi water park entrance 225 Adults, 175 children
  • Desert Balloon ride 995
  • Ski Dubai indoor 200 for two hours ski pass



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12 Comments on "Dubai on the Cheap"

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  1. Agness says:

    Wow, I’m pretty shocked by your daily budget. Staying at Icon Apart Hotel was really expensive. I was hoping to experience some cheap food but it isn’t that cheap at all. Looks like Dubai needs to wait till I save more money 🙂

  2. I’m impressed. I never thought there’d be a way to get a budget trip out of it. The hotel cost is still too high for me as a single person, so I’d probably need to stay at the hostel. Bummer there’s only one, although at least it exists. Thanks for the update… even though I think on the whole it might still be over my budget, at least I know I won’t have to avoid a layover. =)

    • If you can get cheap connecting flights on your way it will pay for itself, we enjoyed it much more than we thought, especially the old town area.

  3. Alex says:

    I really enjoyed the article, and think that people like yourself need to promote your lifestyles more and more. Sick of sitting in an office all day long, one would gather at leas $2000 before attempting to going to such a location.

    I am curious, did you go to Dubai only with the money you have spent, or had a bigger budget that you vowed on not exceed?

    What would have happened if you suddenly found yourself in need of money to get back home?

  4. So interesting about the different class metro cars. I thought there might be different cars for men and women.

  5. Anwar Mahmood says:

    Another great article and photos, as always.

    Your writing and pictures bring to mind a cross between the Jetsons and ancient Rome at the height of the empire.

    Looking forward to the next post.


  6. Sam says:

    That seems surprisingly good value for a place with a reputation of being as expensive as Dubai. Breaking a flight like that seems sensible too. Good job!

  7. Dubai is a great place for tourist and everything is developed and managed according to tourists and for tourist only. That’s why tourist love Dubai and every year a huge number of people visit Dubai.