Originally published: 2 September 2014
When a place is known as the ‘city of gold,’ it’s easy to assume that it will be very expensive. While Dubai certainly caters to the more affluent among us, there’s also plenty to see and do if on a budget. Here’s how you can enjoy a day there on $25 while getting to know a little bit more about the city.
Use public transport
The Dubai Metro consists of two lines – the red line, which extends from one side of the city to the other, and the green line, which covers a little bit in the middle. The red line will be your best friend when you’re trying to cover a long distance. When deciding on accommodation, try and find a place as close to a metro station as possible and you’ll save considerably on transport costs.
You can cross five zones for as little as $1.77. If you buy a NOL card from the station, this will drop to $1.58, but it’s only worth getting if you’re in Dubai for longer than a week. There’s also an extensive bus network, details of which you can find here.
Visit free/cheap attractions
The Dubai Fountain
The Dubai Fountain shoots water jets as high as 500 ft in tune to a mixture of Arabic, classical and pop music. It’s set next to the Dubai Mall and has the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) as its backdrop. The atmosphere here is pretty special, as people congregate on the bridge that crosses the lake as well as the surrounding areas to watch the fountain’s performances, which happen every hour. There’s also a smaller show every half hour, but it’s less impressive, so definitely wait around if you have the time.
It’s best to see the fountains at night, so this is a lovely way to spend a cheap evening. Also, if you cannot afford to visit the top of the Burj Khalifa (pre-booked tickets for this cost $35 per adult), this is a good way of seeing it up close and taking photos if that’s your thing.
Transport: Use the metro and get down at the Dubai Mall station. Walk across the long bridge to the mall and follow signs for the Dubai Fountain.
Dubai Creek and Bastakiya
While Dubai is renowned for its futuristic skylines and dazzling buildings, the city’s real charm is found in the older areas of the city – we love these areas! The Bur Dubai part of the creek is one such area. This is where the city’s modern story began – old Dubai was an important port town, and until this day in this very place you’ll see hundreds of boats and ferries unloading cargo.
The Dubai Museum is located there, and is a good place to start, but there’s so much more to see. Bastakiya is nearby, and its labyrinth of narrow streets hail to a Dubai of humbler times. This area is full of character; the buildings are from a bygone era before electricity and air conditioning, and used to be cooled by wind towers. You can visit some of the restored homes as well as some of the city’s most charming cafés. While bohemian is not a word you’d use to describe Dubai, it’s certainly a word you’d use to describe this area of the city.
Nearby the creek, you’ll find a market area that sells everything from clothes and souvenirs to fake designer watches and handbags. You can also take an abra across the creek to Deira, where you’ll find the gold and spice souks – both are great for the photo opportunities, and while there you can also stock up on freshly ground spices.
Cost: The museum costs about $2 per ticket, while the abra ride costs less than a $1.
Transport: The Al Ghubaiba Metro Station is a 10-minute walk from the creek area of Bur Dubai.
Yes, Dubai may be located in the desert, but that hasn’t stopped the authorities from making a number of incredibly green spaces for people to enjoy. Safa Park offers 64 hectares of beautiful trees and gardens, and during the cooler months (from October until May), you’ll find locals and expats alike enjoying the space.
Bring a blanket, your favourite book, kick back and enjoy. To make the most of the time you spend there, why not bring your own meat and use one of the many designated BBQ areas? There’s a Union Cooperative Hypermarket opposite the park’s main entrance where you can buy everything you need.
Cost: Less than a $1 per person.
Transport: The F20 bus from Business Bay Seaside Metro Station to Al Safa stops at the park.
Jumeirah Beach Park
Dubai is a city that’s fortunate to be built right beside a beach, and it’s definitely something you should take advantage of if lounging by the sea is your idea of a relaxing day. There are many free beaches that run parallel to Jumeirah Beach Road that you can also go to, but Jumeirah Beach Park also offers playground areas for kids, BBQ facilities, restaurants and cafeterias, and sports facilities such as beach volleyball courts. And the beach itself? Beautifully golden sand and extremely clean water.
Cost: Around $1.5
Transport: Several buses stop near the park, including the number 8 service from Gold Souk Bus Station and the F16 feeder service that starts from the Burj Khalifa Dubai Mall Metro Station. Unfortunately there are no metro stations within walking distance.
Indian street food: Although I have enjoyed a decade-long love affair with Indian food, I did not have the joy of trying chaat (street food) until I lived in Dubai.
While visiting, I strongly advise you try it – not only is it ridiculously cheap, it’s absolutely delicious and so varied. I recommend pani puri (crispy deep fried bread that’s round and hollow and filled with flavoured waters such as tamarind chutney, chaat masala and chilli), vada pav (potato fritter served inside of a bread bun with chutney – try this with masala tea), and bhelpuri (puffed rice, vegetables and tamarind sauce).
Check out Mithaas near the Astoria Hotel in Bur Dubai (close to the creek area) for some of the best pani puri in town.
Al Reef Bakery (Lebanese): A favourite among both locals and expats, Al Reef Bakery serves a variety of manakish (think similar to pizza, but with thicker bases), shawarma and grills for ridiculously cheap prices – and trust us, prices like these are hard to come by in Dubai.
Try the egg and cheese manakish – yummy and only costs $2!
There are two Al Reef bakeries: one near the post office in Karama and the other on Al Wasl Road in Jumeirah.
We’re Andrea and Ankit, and we co-edit Scribble, Snap, Travel – a blog full of snappy travelogues, wow-factor photography and practical advice. Andrea’s a journalist and Ankit is a photographer, and together they travel the world.