How to do Dubai on a budget

Published February 10th, 2016

Dubai has reinvented itself from a small fishing and pearl diving village to a bustling 21st century metropolis, where everything needs to be bigger, better and faster than ever before. The glitz and glamour this attracts has given the city a well-earned reputation as a 5-star luxury travel destination. This doesn’t mean you should fly straight through though!

Here are a few tips on how to do Dubai on budget...

Explore the wonders of Dubai. Photo: Getty

Getting Out and About

The first thing most travellers first notice about Dubai is that it can be hot, very hot, particularly if you’re visiting over summer. Don’t let this force you into blowing your dirhams on air conditioned taxis to get around though: an all-day pass on the metro will only set you back the equivalent of five Aussie dollars and connects the main districts. Head out early, grab the free waters from your hotel room and explore further afield on foot. Whether you’re roaming through old streets by the creek or walking past highrises downtown, you’ll get a much better feel for the city and catch a glimpse of day to day life here.

Doesn't get much more epic! Photo: Getty

Traditional Dubai

One of the best areas to start in is heritage listed Bastakiya, where sights are either free or very close to. The sand coloured buildings in the area have all been restored and converted into a variety of exhibits and art galleries. The impressive Dubai Museum is housed in the old Al-Fahidi fort and easily recognisable by the traditional dhow boat on the roof, flanked by Arabic ‘wind towers’ which were used to cool houses before Fujitsu and Daikin came along. From here, it’s a short walk to the creek where an abra ride to the other side is only one dirham per person. Spend some time exploring the various markets, such as the Gold Souk, Spice Souk and Perfume Souk, or check out reconstructions of 19th century pearl diving villages.  

For a more immersive cultural experience the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offer “open doors, open minds” gatherings over breakfast or lunch. Don’t know your kandura from your abaya? Let a local host answer any and all questions about Emirati life and customs over tea, dates and a variety of local dishes. They also run daily guided tours of Jumeriah mosque and other attractions further afield.

Josh and the Burj!

Modern Dubai

If you’re feeling less Lawrence of Arabia and more Burj al-Khalifa, being on backpacker’s budget doesn’t limit you to the old city. The world’s tallest building doesn’t look any shorter when seen from ground level and the nightly water fountain shows (designed by the same guys who did the Bellagio in Las Vegas) are free. If seeing the view from higher up is a bucket lister, tickets bought in advance are a quarter of the price of those purchased on the day. After you’ve given up trying to crop the Burj into a single instagram pic, walk through the adjoining Mall of the Emirates. It is shopping on a scale that needs to be seen to be believed, with distances between each end far enough that wealthy Emiratis are chauffeured around in mall mini-taxis, which look like clown cars. Don’t aim to pick up souvenirs here though – prices are quite high compared to Australia and you’ll get a much better deal bargaining at the souks.

 More Dubai inspo on the blog: Round the World: Dubai stopover 


Outdoor Dubai

The best way to cool off after a day or two of walking is at one of Dubai’s surprisingly good beaches. While many are reserved exclusively for 5-star hotel guests, others such as Jumeriah, Burj and Kite beaches charge minimal entry fees, have great facilities and even offer exclusive ladies days.

Keep an evening free to go on a dune safari. These are a blend of hectic four wheel-driving, falcon hunting, camel riding and geography lesson capped off with a Bedouin style meal and belly dancing in the desert. The experience of walking over the sand and staring out across the seemingly endless dunes feels a world away from the city itself and is definitely worth budgeting for.   

Plan ahead!

Lastly, the best way to do Dubai on a budget is to plan ahead. Hotels in the Bastakiya area offer great early bird rates and are located near heaps of amazing Indian and Nepalese restaurants that cater for local workers and tourists alike, plus are close to the airport. Likewise, flights with our Black Market carriers such as Emirates and Qantas have the best student rates available if you get in early. Even if your trip is more spontaneous, it’s still possible to save money with a stopover pack such as Topdeck’s three or four-day options. Talk your Student Flights consultant for more info!

This blog was written by Student Flights’ Consultant Josh Cranston after his recent Dubai stopover. If you’re in Sydney, drop into Student Flights Anzac Parade and chat to Josh about a Dubai stopover or holiday! For everyone else, you can drop into any of our 80 stores nationally, pick up the phone or book online.


cranston josh pic travel

Josh Cranston

I'm lucky enough that I get paid to do what I love - live and breathe travel with Student Flights! A backpacker at heart, I am always looking for the best value way to maximise my experiences around our beautiful world. It's a hard choice but India, Hungary and Myanmar are just a few of my favourite stops so far!