The budget backpacker’s guide to Dubai

When I was planning my trip, I decided I’d spend my 26th birthday in Dubai with my best friend, but for some reason I chose to spend two weeks there, not even slightly taking in to account that I’d probably need a lot of money.

As I got to Dubai I noticed three things: it’s very clean (I’d been living in the ‘slums’ of Bangkok for the previous two weeks), it’s full of expats and it’s flashy. But thankfully for us backpackers, this doesn’t mean you need to spend your life savings. With the help of my friend I’ve actually managed to experience Dubai on a small budget!

In this post I’m going to create an example itinerary for one week in this glamorous concrete jungle, and you can pick and choose as you like. Sorry guys, a lot of this is going to be focused on the girls because ladies nights are a massive thing in Dubai!

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Monday

Day time: Barasti beach. This beach is located within the Barasti Beach Bar, but the beauty of it is that it’s free to the public every day of the week—so really you could do this whenever you want. The bonus of it being technically part of a bar is that it’s only for over 18’s, so you have absolutely no worries of kids running past you and hitting you in the face with sand/water/their inflatable dolphin.

Your minimum payment for this day would be 20AED (the price of a large bottle of water-you can’t bring your own in), and if you wanted food about 100AED all together.

Night time: Another beach, but this time just the bar (with a cracking view of the Burj Al Arab). Head down to Jumeirah Beach ‘Beach Lounge’ for 8pm for two hours of free-flowing bubbly! There’s also some light snacks and a live DJ, so my classy idea is to drink as much as you can handle for those two hours (drink responsibly, of course…!) and then you don’t actually have to spend anything for the rest of the night. Cheapskate or thrifty? I can’t really tell.

You could do this night for absolutely free, you would just need to pay for the taxi there and back…or you could walk.

Tuesday

Day time: I landed into Dubai on a Tuesday and my friend threw me right into it with ladies day at Zero Gravity —don’t worry guys, this doesn’t mean you can’t go along (believe me, PLENTY of guys are there) you just don’t get free entry like the ladies. However, you do get to jump the queue because you’re paying customers, so you can probably snag a bed first. It’s 150AED (approx £32) but you can redeem 50AED against food or drinks. We managed to snag a couple of beds so we just chilled, drank some cocktails, ate some food and listened to the DJ.

For ladies I reckon the minimum payment would be around 150AED.

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Night time: Ladies, get yourself back to Zero Gravity because ladies day turns into ladies night, and for an entry fee of 100AED (approx £20) you can help yourself to free drinks and food for 4 hours (8-12pm). We had margaritas and some other cocktails I can’t remember, but mainly we just filled up on sparkling wine, had a catch up and then danced to really cheesy music—it was hilarious! Then we headed off to 360 (we didn’t time it quite right as their ladies night specials end at 12:30pm and we got there at 12pm) but on arrival we were given four drinks vouchers. Being the classy girls we are we ran around the bar to four different servers (I don’t know how they didn’t notice) and got all of our drinks at once—I wouldn’t advise it. But then we got to stand and look at the beautiful view of the Burj Al Arab and the Arabian Gulf: what a view! You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Minimum payment for the night would be about 100AED.

 

Wednesday

Day time: The Cove Ladies Day. Yet another ladies day—how fabulous! It starts at 12pm so you can have a bit of a lie-in: you’ll need it after the previous night’s antics! For 100AED(approx £20) you get a day of free-flowing rose, cocktails, a lunch platter and a desert platter…add in the fact you get to top up your tan at the same time and that’s the perfect day out!

Minimum payment for the day would be 100AED.

Night time: We headed originally to Nola but it was far too busy, so we walked to Cocktail Kitchen (practically next door) and were given five tokens on arrival for five free drinks. I don’t know if they’re always the same, I have a feeling they aren’t, but that night we had the option of house wine, espresso martinis or cosmopolitans; I swear the first espresso martini I ordered was the best I’ve ever had! But then they went downhill so I switched to cosmos.

Minimum payment for this night would be zero. Technically you don’t need to pay a thing.

Thursday

Day time: Al Fahidi Historic District. My friend lives in Dubai Marina so I hopped on a tram and then a train to Al Ghubaiba station which was about a five minute walk from Al Fahidi. I had a really interesting and cultured day out (as opposed to my many other beach days and drinking nights) which was what I needed. I visited souks, although I could have hopped on a little boat to some more, there were art exhibitions, cafes and I spent a little time just wandering around looking at the architecture. I actually wanted to visit the heritage village, but it had been closed for renovations since September.

I paid 40AED this day, for my lunch and my train fares. Cheap as chips.

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Night time: Head to Pier 7 in Dubai Marina, which houses 7 floors of bars/restaurants. Get there for the time of after work drinks, and you’ll snag some happy hour deals! How much you spend depends on you.

Pay whatever you want here but drinks start at around 35AED (I think!) so let’s say 100 for a good night. Plus, happy hour will be cheaper.

Friday

Day time: I was treat to a birthday brunch at El Sur, a spanish tapas restaurant (and one of the cheaper brunch places…brunch is HUGE in Dubai!) my friend had the entertainer app, which costs a certain amount for a yearly subscription, although I can’t remember how much. However, due to the price of a brunch you should save money regardless. This place was a really nice place for a low-key brunch, and for about 300AED each (approx £60) you got four hours of unlimited tapas, alcohol and soft drinks. Safe to say we made good use of that…their white sangria was gorgeous!

Minimum payment for the brunch I think was around 200, but this was without alcohol, whereas the 300AED included alcohol. Whichever you wish.

Night time: Now you’ve splurged a little during the day, why not take it easy tonight and just chill out at your apartment/hotel? If not, have a google for nearby happy hours. We didn’t do anything after the brunch other than veg out on the sofa.

You could be paying zero for this night.

Saturday

Day time: Enjoy some greenery by having a wander to the Umm Suqeim Park, escape the crowds and busy city life and just sit with a book and admire your surroundings. Plus, the beach is right next to it, so after some time with nature you can go and grab some more time with the sun, sea and sand.

Technically, it’s another zero fee for the day.

Night time: If you follow this itinerary, by Saturday you still wouldn’t have seen the Burj Khalifa, so it’s about time you did. Every half hour between 6 and 11pm there’s a fantastic light and fountain show, which is free for everyone. Then afterwards you can walk around Dubai Mall or go and grab some food nearby.

Free for the show, and however much you want to spend for a meal…could be a maccas, could be a five-star restaurant. 

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Sunday

Day time: Sunday’s are for chilling, so take some more time to do that by your pool…or do a bit of research and see what everyone else does on a Sunday. Or even better, take a day trip to Abu Dhabi and the Grand Mosque: it only takes an hour to get there! We didn’t do anything because we had our evening activity starting at 4pm…

I’m not sure of the price for a trip to Abu Dhabi, although I know it costs nothing to visit the mosque. Or if you decide to chill, that costs nothing too!

Night time: In my mates list of things to do, a Desert Safari was right at the top. She’s used to splurging a little more and going with Emirates, but because I was on a small budget she did her research and went with a company called Lama Tours. Now I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought it was an amazing trip…and my friend was really impressed. We started off with some dune bashing, which was intense but ridiculously funny, followed by some time to take photos and wander along the desert, then some more dune bashing before being taken to our eating place. A camel ride was included, plus the buffet and the entertainment; there was a fire eater/dancer, a guy who spins a lot, and a belly dancer.

Approx 100AED for the desert safari.

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By my calculations, and not taking in to account some meals (get on Groupon or that Entertainer app) or taxi fares, you could get by in Dubai for a week on around 1000AED, which is approximately £220. Now I bet you didn’t think you could do Dubai on THAT kind of budget did you? Of course you could go WAY over that if you wanted to, but the point of this post was to draw attention to the fact that if you want to travel on a budget you can do … and this applies to anywhere you want to go. Believe me, I do it everywhere!

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