“Dubai” and “cheap” should not really belong in the same sentence but this is how I managed to spend one day in Dubai on a budget when I was backpacking in the Middle East.
I was surprised when I arrived and found out it wasn’t as bad as I thought Dubai would be as far as expenses went. I had images of just super modern skyscrapers and everything pricey. But then…
The story with this one is that there are loads of cheap flights through Dubai these days and I happened to be on one.
The plan was simple – cheap flight into Dubai, spend a night or 2 for a quick look around, then go to Oman.
Fast forward six days and I was still in Dubai.
One Day in Dubai on a Budget
I discovered that there’s a large Indian community with loads of CHEAP tasty food everywhere in the old part of the city. That and the hotel wasn’t as pricey as it could have been, along with cheap public transport everywhere.
Oh, and it also has an awesome coffeehouse scene going on with some of the best I have ever had… but that’s not part of the cheap day.
So if you, like me, were planning to come through Dubai just for 1 – 2 nights I figured I would put your mind at ease a bit and let you know you can see quite a bit of the city, old and new, and still get a good feel for it.
(If you decide you want to spend a bit of money to do things these are some fun adventures to do in Dubai).
Naturally, if you have money and want to do activities etc then you are in the wrong bloody place. Why would you even click a link for a cheap day in Dubai if that was the case 😛
Back to my budget travelling compadres who this is intended for.
You have one day in Dubai, don’t want to spend much, then this is how you should spend that day.
Transport and Where to Stay in Dubai
First of all I would highly recommend staying in the Al Ras part of the old city.
This is where you can find some of the cheapest hotels.
There are a few “hostels” in the city but I heard they were pretty bad so I said fuck it and spent an extra $15 dollars and got a hotel in Dubai downtown amongst all the action, because if I think I will be somewhere for a short time I like to be in the middle of everything to see as much as I can.
If coming by a budget airline there’s a chance you will end up at terminal 2 in the airport as that’s where FlyDubai etc go and there is no metro link into the city.
If that’s the case then pick up a “RTA Nol card” (get one anyway) at a newsagent in the terminal, it’s Dubai’s transport card and used for accessing the buses and metro. Get 25 dirham credit to start with.
It will cost around 8 dirham total for bus and metro.
Head outside and grab bus number 31 and go a few stops until you get to a metro station which will be for the green line. Take that metro to Union or Baniyas station in Al Ragga (Union) or Al Ras (Baniyas). That’s if you’ve taken my advice and are staying there.
If you arrive at terminal 1 or 2 there is a direct metro on the red line from the terminals to Union.
The Al Ras and Al Ragga neighbourhoods are buzzing!
They are home to a big Indian and African population and is where the old Dubai spirit truly is.
The hustle and bustle of the streets and cheap and fucking absolutely delicious Indian – Pakistani food everywhere.
It’s by far my favourite part of Dubai.
Getting to the other parts of Dubai are cheap by bus and metro. A 30 minute bus journey is 3 dirham ($1).
There are of course many options for places to stay in Dubai.
How to Start the Day in Dubai
The morning of your cheap trip to Dubai can start off around the Al Ras area and grab some good food.
For example, you can get a chilli chicken shawarma for 5 dirhams or (my favourite) a huge plate of chicken tikka biryani for 15 dirhams (that’s only $4) like in the photo below.
The chicken is sooooo good!
Look out for this place on the road next to union metro station. It’s my favourite.
Then walk down by the water creek channel where you can see many many dhow boats that are still used for transporting goods.
It’s good to see this tradition in such a modern city like Dubai. I feel the city has managed to mix the old and the new well.
Whilst down there you can take one of the small wooden passenger boats across the water to the other side to have a look around there for a bit. It costs 1 dirham for the journey.
Cross back to the other side again and head into the gold souq for a good laugh as street touts try to sell you a “Rolex” (yeah probably fake).
It’s a laugh because if you’re looking like a cheap scruffy backpacker (like me) it’s wonderment as to why they would think that I would want to buy some gold and a Rolex 😛
The gold souq is not that impressive really and isn’t that big so you can pass through there quickly and just roam around the general area, taking more of it in.
Walk several minutes from there over to the Deira fish market nearby. Attached to it is a good vegetable market section where you can get some very tasty and cheap dates – the Arabian fruit, not a social hookup!
They have several different dates from the Middle East, my favourite being the Iranian ones. If you want to be cheeky you can try several dates for free to taste.
Although I would suggest picking up a decent sized bag for 5 dirhams.
Next to this market is a bus stop where you can take bus number 8 for a 50-minute ride (only 3 dirhams) down to Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
The main reason is to go there is to chill at the public beach for a while (some activities to do at the beach in Dubai). It’s nice seeing the locals come down there to relax.
You don’t have to do this beach part as it’s not that interesting, but it’s cheap to get there and a nice place for the sunset watching the people go for a walk, and it’s always nice being on a beach!
If you love coffee and want to treat yourself in this area then go and look for the Surf Cafe where they have an excellent aero-press coffee.
It’s also a very chilled place to hang out. Unfortunately, though it’s not like the cheap eateries in the old part of the city, so this would be breaking with doing the day as cheap as you can.
But if you want that good cup of coffee…
After this area take bus number 81 to the Dubai Mall (3 dirhams).
Or if you skipped the beach part then I would say just hang around the old city a bit more and then take the metro from Union to the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall.
This is where you get to see the modern Dubai.
The Dubai mall is massive and you can walk around for ages, and right next to it the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. If you want to spend a little you can go all the way to the top:
I like this area more at night with more people around and a better atmosphere (IMO).
I should mention that the Dubai Mall is also the biggest mall in the world.
Yeah they do things big there!
They also have a huge cinema complex showing English speaking movies, so if you want to get a movie fix in this is a good place.
I was 4 months in countries before Dubai where everything was dubbed in Russian, so was happy to see a movie finally.
Naturally, if you are travelling cheap you won’t want to go shopping!
At night they have the fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa worth seeing (it’s free).
I should mention that yet again being Dubai, it’s the largest water fountain in the world. Tip – head to Kinokuniya bookstore on the 2nd floor. They have an attached cafe and just walk straight through onto the outdoor terrace to get a great overhead view of the fountain display.
You can always see it below as well as it’s every 30 minutes.
Like I suggested go at night as it’s a more impressive display with the lights on etc.
You can spend as long as you want around this area until eventually heading to the Dubai mall metro station and taking a metro to Union station and back to the old city.
Tip – get on the front of the metro as it’s driverless and there’s a window at the front where you can get a cool view as you go through all the skyscrapers.
Again being Dubai it’s the largest metro system in the… ok, just kidding this time!
Back in old Dubai go for a walk around at night. I like cities at night more than the day.
The lights are flashing with lots of activity going on. People finished work and taking it easy. Restaurants packed. It’s buzzing. Get some cheap food again and just watch everything go by….
And that’s that.
Like I said if you want to actually do things in Dubai it’s going to cost you and this is for those who want to get a feel for Dubai on a budget, from the old to the new, without spending so much
I find that in order to understand a city you need to see the old and the new.
Total cost for the day –
Transport – around 15 dirham.
Food – roughly 35 dirham.
Everything else – almost nothing!
So around $15 for everything. Add $30 or so for a hotel (or cheaper if you took hostel) and you can see Dubai for $45. Let’s just even it to $50.
Or you can couchsurf and spend only $15. I stayed at the Africana hotel in the old part of the city and it’s one of the cheapest around.
So don’t fear, Dubai doesn’t have to kill your expenses.
Be sure to pick up the Lonely Planet Pocket Dubai (Travel Guide)to give you more information about your trip. I found it very handy during my time there.
If you’re interested in this part of the world then you might like to check out my Budget Travellers Guide to Oman.
Abu Dhabi can be done as a trip from Dubai if you have the time.
If you decide you want to spend a bit of money and want some fun then check out some of the theme parks in Dubai!
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