Updated November 30, 2023
Published December 21, 2019
By Lara Brunt
Dubai means seven-star hotels, private butlers and caviar facials, right? Well, yes… and no.
Know where to look and you’ll find a city bursting with amazing local eats, generous happy hours and even a dash of culture, without a sprinkling of gold leaf in sight.
From affordable activities to accommodation options without the hefty price tag, here’s how to enjoy a holiday to Dubai on a budget.
Soaring 828m (2,717ft) into the sky, Burj Khalifa is one of Dubai’s biggest draws. A high-speed elevator delivers you to the observation decks at level 124 and 125, or level 148, and floor-to-ceiling glass provides a 360-degree view over the sea of skyscrapers below.
Pre-purchase your tickets to guarantee the time you’d like (you can book online up to 120 days in advance) and visit outside of the prime viewing hours of 10am-6pm to save yourself around £16pp.
You needn’t bother with level 148 either – you’ll fork out more than double the ticket price of decks 124 and 125 for a similar view.
For the best bargains on dining and attractions, get The Entertainer app. It has more than 7,000 buy-one-get-one-free vouchers for restaurants, bars, spas, activities, hotels and more across Dubai.
The app is free to download, then you can purchase a membership bundle such as the Entertainer Dubai 2024, which allows you to redeem discounts and offers on premium dining, leisure activities and top attractions. You can share your membership with up to three friends and family, making it more cost effective if travelling with multiple people.
Before you buy any packages, take a look through the potential offers and savings attached to them to ensure you save more than you’ve paid.
Before the mega malls and supercars, Dubai was a pearling and trading village set around the Creek. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding leads walking tours of the narrow sikkas (alleyways) and restored barjeels (wind towers) of the Al Fahidi district, as well as no-holds-barred Q&A sessions on local culture. Tours cost around £23 and run at 9am every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and at 10.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Q&A sessions take place daily at 3pm and 6pm and are around £10pp.
Then, take an abra (water taxi) across the Creek to the spice and gold souks of Deira for just 20 pence each way.
The city also has a blossoming contemporary arts scene. There are a dozen swanky galleries in Gate Village that you can visit for free, while Alserkal Avenue has a collection of edgier galleries and exhibits housed in converted warehouses. You can check out their latest exhibition schedule here.
Dubai Garden Glow is a fun, neon-lit attraction. The glow-in-the-dark garden is home to a mesmerising display of handmade models and structures, illuminated by over one million LED lights – expect vivid creations made out of recycled materials, as well as food stalls and live music (£15 per person; free for under-3s).
At the foot of Burj Khalifa, meanwhile, is a 30-acre lake containing the Dubai Fountain – the world’s largest, naturally – which shoots water 152m (500ft) into the air while ‘dancing’ to Arab pop songs and Lionel Richie numbers.
Watch the free evening shows every 30 minutes from 6pm–11pm outside the entrance to The Dubai Mall.
Indians and Pakistanis are the biggest expat communities in Dubai, so you’ll find plenty of budget-friendly fare. Ravi Restaurant is a Dubai institution where you can dine out on Pakistani curries for less than £9 a head.
Emirati food is surprisingly hard to come by, but other low-priced Middle Eastern cuisine is widely available. Take a seat at the buzzy outdoor terrace at Aroos Damascus and feast on hot and cold Arabic mezze and grilled meats. Main courses average between £6-£10 a dish.
Or grab a shawarma (pitta bread with shaved meat, garlic sauce and salad) – the £9 chicken shawarma platter with fries and pickles at Al Safadi is a popular choice.
Alcohol is only served in restaurants and licensed premises, which basically means a hotel.
Most bars have a happy hour – one of the best is Cargo, a warehouse-style bar with an outdoor terrace overlooking Dubai Marina. It has selected drinks for £6-£7 every Sunday to Friday between 12pm and 8pm. Ladies’ nights, usually on Tuesdays, mean women get free, or heavily discounted, drinks at venues around the city.
For drinking while dining, limitless brunch – an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink lunchtime feast – is your best-value option. Try the fun-filled Saturday brunch at Vida Creek Harbour. For £65, you get unlimited house beverages, salads and meat from the barbecue from 1-5pm on Saturdays – as well as music by international DJs.
Dubai is full of expensive places to stay, such as the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, commonly referred to as the world’s most luxurious hotel.
More modest digs can be found in the older parts of town around Bur Dubai and Deira – the four-star Hyatt Place Dubai Al Rigga is within easy reach of the airport and has smart rooms and an outdoor pool. Rooms can be picked up for around £85 a night in low season.
Alternatively, look to budget-friendly Citymax Hotel Al Barsha for double rooms starting from around £43 a night. It’s got bright, spotless rooms, three restaurants and a small rooftop pool, plus it’s conveniently located close to the mall, metro and Jumeirah Beach.
Please note: All prices correct at time of writing.
Between sumptuous five-star hotels, world-class shopping and family-friendly theme parks and waterparks, Dubai is the ultimate destination for all types of traveller. Discover the best of the city here.Read moreabout 10 of the best things to do in Dubai