Top 10 things to do in Dubai for the Budget-Conscious

Dubai, with its luxurious leisure, accommodation and dining options, is a city that sounds expensive. Travelers on a shoe-string may want to drop it off their radars to save the dollars.

But the good news is, for the budget-conscious traveler, you can still get a good feel of the city if you know where to look.

Check-out the 10 places following this guide and you won’t need a deep pocket to do so.

(Estimated costs listed below do not include the cost of traveling to the places of interest.)


1. Admire the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa

The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, needs no introduction. Standing at a height of 829.8m (antenna included), it is a mixed use building with a total of 163 floors. The building houses the 5-star luxurious Armani Hotel. A room for 2 will set you back by US$300/night upwards.

Image courtesy of BS1920

If you are budget-conscious like us, there are cheaper way to explore the building. Depending on how far you are prepared to stretch your budget, it can be getting a ticket into the observation decks or enjoying a meal at the At.mosphere at 122nd storey. Ticketed entry are available to 2 of the observatories in the building, At the Top Burj Khalifa (124th and 125th floor) and At the Top Burj Khalifa Sky (148th floor).

Entry to At the Top Burj Khalifa (124th floor) is at AED 125 to 200/adult (general admission) and AED 300/pax (immediate admission). Entry to At the Top Burj Khalifa Sky (148th floor + 125th floor) is priced at AED 350 to 500/adult, with no immediate admission tickets available. For best value, go for off-peak general admission tickets which allows for entry from 8am to 3pm and after 6.30pm to closing. Advance booking of the general admission tickets are available from Burj Khalifa’s official website.

In comparison, the cheapest set meal at the The Lounge, At.mosphere Burj Khalifa cost AED 325 for breakfast and AED 320 for high tea. Reservation can be made at At.mosphere Burj Khalifa website.

Photo below: View from 124th floor observation deck

Image courtesy of sierragoddess

Expected damage: AED 125 (US$34) (for the cheapest off-peak tickets to observation deck)


2. Dubai Fountain, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system

Within walking distance from Burj Khalifa building is a 30-acre man-made Burj Khalifa Lake. Set in this lake is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system, the Dubai Fountain. The fountain is animated with performances set to light and music. At 275m in length, the fountain can spray up to 22,000 gallons of water as high as 150 metres in the air at any one time.

Image courtesy of wedn

The performances take place daily at 1:00pm and 1:30pm (1:30pm and 2:00pm on Fridays) and in the evenings at 30mins interval starting from 6:00pm to 11:00pm.

If you have a bit more budget, a 30-mins ride in traditional “abra” water taxi can be taken to view the water display closer to action in the evenings. Each ride cost AED 65 (US$18) and can be booked via Burj Khalfia’s The Dubai Fountain page.

Expected damage: AED 0 (US$0) (viewing of the fountain performances without a water taxi ride)


3. Marvel at the luxurious Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab is said to have self-proclaimed itself to be a seven-star luxurious hotel. It is also billed to be the most luxurious in the world.


With opulent design and furnishing, the cheapest deluxe one-bedroom suite is priced at AED 5,000/night (US$1,360) upwards. For us on a budget, a night’s stay in the hotel remains a dream. Unfortunately without the proof of a reservation (be it a room or a meal in their restaurants), visitors are not allowed inside the hotel. For a budget traveler on a shoe-string, the best option is to enjoy the view of the 3rd highest hotel in the world from afar.

Photo below: Burj Al Arab’s 180m high atrium


If you must venture inside, the cheapest options will be to either enjoy breakfast (8am to 11am) at AED 290/person (US$79) or purchase a beverage package (8pm to 11pm) at AED 250/person (US$68) at its 1st floor atrium restaurant, Sahn Eddar. I won’t venture to list the other more expensive meal options but you can find a list of the options at Burj Al Arab Restaurants. Do note though that meal reservations provides limited access within the hotel, limited to its lobby and restaurant area. So, we’re sticking to the plan of viewing it from the outside.

Expected damage: AED 0 (US$0) (viewing it from nearby beach and taking lots of selfies)


4. Learning about Dubai’s history at Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort

History buff rejoice! The admission fee to Dubai Museum is at a nominal AED 3 (US$0.80).

This main museum of Dubai is located in Al Fahidi Fort, which is now the oldest existing building in Dubai.

Image courtesy of TadM

When it was first built in 1787, Al Fahidi Fort was used as premises of the monarch and a fort of defence. Later on, it was used as an arsenal for weapons and artillery and a prison for outlaws.

Established in 1971, the museum covers the archaeology and history of very old Dubai.

Do take note that the museum is only open for half a day in the afternoon on Fridays. For more information on the opening hours, check out the musuem’s website: Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort.

Expected damage: AED 3 (US$0.80) (adult admission ticket)


5. Discovering Old Souks of Dubai

Souks are the Arabic Markets where all kinds of goods are bought sold and exchanged. A walk through Dubai’s famous Souks is a good way to experience old Dubai.

Thanks to Dubai’s history as a trading hub along the spice route, the Spice Souk has an amazing collection of spices and herbs. The colourful display of the wares and the fragrance in the air is a treat for the senses. A point to note is that the prices of the spices are not fixed. The shopkeepers tend to set the initial price high so do bargain hard for your purchases, it’s expected.

Image courtesy of kh92

Once you’re done with the Spice Souk, walk over to the nearby Gold Souk, where dazzling gold jewellery collections await shoppers.

The nearest metro station is Al Ghubaiba station, which is about a 10-mins walk away.

Expected damage: AED 0 (US$0) (window shopping)


6. Cross the Dubai Creek in an Abra

Take a ride in a traditional “abra” water taxi. There are 3 types of abra based on information from Dubai’s Road & Transport Authority website, namely the motorised, air-conditioned and electric abras.

The type of abras used for the crossing of the Dubai Creek is the motorised ones which can accomodate 20 passengers on each trip. Unlike the electric abra rides on Burj Khalifa lake that are mainly meant for tourists, these motorised abras cater to both residents and tourists. These abras rides cost AED1 per trip and are the cheapest and fastest means of transport between Deira and Bur Dubai.

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Eragne

There are two main route serving the 4 stations. A trip along route 1 takes around 5 minutes and runs between Deira Old Souk Abra Station (near the Spice Souk) to Bur Dubai Abra Station. Route 2 runs between Sabkha Abra Station to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station and takes around 7 minutes.

Definitely worth a try to experience a try to get a glimpse into local life.

Expected damage: AED 1 (US$0.30)


7. Marvel at a gorgeous man-made island

Palm Jumeirah is an artificial archipelago in Dubai, created to resemble a palm tree from above. It is one of the world’s largest man-made island created by land reclamation.

Image courtesy of Richard Schneider

Besides residential properties, Palm Jumeirah has a number of hotels and resorts with many retail, dining and entertainment options. One of the better known hotels, Atlantis The Palm, houses a water park (Aquaventure Waterpark), an aquarium (The Lost Chambers Aquarium), Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point. Staying a night stay at this 5-star hotel does not come cheap though, at around US$250 onwards per room per day.

To add to the accommodation cost, a one-day admission ticket to Aquaventure Waterpark costs AED 260 (US$ 78) and a combination ticket to both waterpark and aquarium costs AED 310 (US$ 93). Dig deeper into the pocket, a 15-minutes helicopter ride over Palm Jumeirah for a good aerial view costs US$220 or so (with hotel transfer). Add up all these costs, the day out to Palm Jumeirah may be too expensive for the average budget traveler.

But fret not, a good option to save the dollars but still take a good look at this man-made island is to take the Palm Monorail. A single trip costs AED 15 (US$4.50) and a return trip at AED 20 (US$6.00) so it’s quite obvious which ticket is more worth it. Do note, however, that only 2 stations are currently opened out of 4 on Palm Jumeirah.

Expected damage: AED 20 (US$ 6.00)


8. Keep calm and shop on at The Dubai Mall
Shopaholics will be thrilled at the chance to shop at one of the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall. With a gross leasable area of 3.77million sq. ft, the mall has over 1200 retail outlets and over 200 food & beverage outlets.

Image courtesy of Peter Gronemann

For non-shopaholics, there are plenty to do as The Dubai Mall also houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, KidZania, SEGA Republic, a 2800-seat Reel Cinema and Dubai Ice Rink, making it a good family outing destination. A full listing of what the mall offers can be found in this link.

Expected damage: AED 0 (US$0) (It costs nothing to window-shop a mall; budget differs for food and shopping.)


9. Learning about Emirati religion and culture at Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai open to non-Muslim 6 days a week, during a tour conducted by Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).

Image courtesy of Susanne Nilsson

The tour hosted by SMCCU runs from Saturday through Thursday at 10am. During the one-hour tour, visitors gets to under more about Emirati religion and culture. The tour fee is 20 AED per person with no prior reservation required.

Expected damage: AED 20 (US$6.00)


10. A cultural meal at Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding

Enjoy a traditional Emirati meal at Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) and learn more about the local culture, tradition and religion.

SMCCU hosts breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner on different days of the week. Generally speaking, breakfast is hosted every Monday & Wednesday at 10:00am and lunch is hosted every Sunday through Thursday at 1:00pm. Join in their brunch every Saturday at 10.30am and dinner every Sunday, Tuesday, & Thursday evening at 7:00pm.

Breakfast is charged at AED 90 per person, brunch at AED 120, lunch AED 100 and dinner AED 100. Do note that prior booking is required.

Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding also conducts heritage and creekside tours and Ramadan Iftar. More information can be found on the Skeith Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding website.

Expected damage: AED 90 (US$27.00) (for the cheapest cultural meal – breakfast)

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