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Dubai on a budget!
I think when most people picture Dubai, they think of a millionaire’s playground, bursting with Lamborghini’s, fabulous houses, and other ostentatious displays of wealth, and to some extent they would be right. But if you can bring it on yourself to look a little further into this fantastic emirate, you can see that Dubai is still steeped in tradition.
I decided that I would begin my around the world trip in Dubai, not only because it’s the ideal half way point between the UK and southeast Asia (my next stop) but because I had always been fascinated to see firsthand, a place that had, quite literally, rose from the desert. Now I know you’re probably thinking that Dubai is the last place that a budget conscious backpacker would want to be, but there are a few ways you can keep costs relatively low, while still seeing this wonderful place in all its glory.
Country – United Arab Emirates (U.A.E)
Population – 2,200,000
Visa – may need pre approval, find out here >> Visa Info
Currency – Emirati Dirham
Costs – Around $40 per day on a budget not including attractions, plenty are free but some are expensive!
How long do I need? – Around 5 days to a week will give you long enough to see everything, not including days spent sleeping on the beach!
Average costs – Anywhere from $25/night to the most expensive hotel in the world!
Admittedly it can be quite hard to find cheap accommodation in Dubai, the backpacker scene hasn’t really taken off just yet, meaning the budget traveller favourite of sleeping in hostels isn’t really an option. The good news is that you actually won’t need that long in Dubai to take it all in, so spending money on a hotel shouldn’t bite in to your bank balance too much. As long as you’re not right in the centre of Dubai, you can find a nice hotel room for around $30 a night. The good thing is even staying outside the centre, as long as you’re relatively close to the metro line, city access is simple.
With Dubai of course, the sky is the limit with hotel prices, so how about a night in the famous Burj al Arab, which can easily run you a couple thousand a night!
Average costs – $3 and up per meal!
Unlike other parts of Asia, street stalls haven’t really taken off as much as one would like, but don’t be fooled into thinking eating delicious food is only for those with money to burn, there are a number of outlets you can find to keep your stomach, and your wallet full.
Thanks to the fact that Dubai has people from all over the world living there, it means there is a huge variety of food to choose from, lower budget restaurants are aplenty offering food from all over the globe. “2nd of December Street’ (formerly al Diyafah) has plenty of cheap eat. I was able to enjoy a chicken falafel for $3!
Average costs – $1 and up!
Now of course when you arrive, you’re going to need to get from A to B, which if you’re not careful, can quickly eat into your budget. Personally I enjoy walking around a new area in order to explore the surroundings, and also lower the daily costs. Unfortunately I did find this difficult in Dubai, as depending on when you are there, you may find yourself taking a not so leisurely stroll in 45 degree (122f) heat. Yikes!
Your best option by far is the local transport, in particular the metro system. It is not only incredibly cheap and efficient but it also offers some fantastic views to admire during your journey, (which you can see below). The Dubai metro only has two lines, red line and green line, easy. The red line runs right through the centre of Dubai, making stops at all the important places you’re going to want to visit along the way. If you plan on visiting Dubai’s famous man-made island ‘palm island’ then you can enjoy the luxury of taking the monorail! Which I will explain more later.
If the metro isn’t to your liking or you want a tad more privacy, you will quickly realise in Dubai that there is a seemingly endless supply of taxis waiting for you, these can be relatively cost effective, particularly for shorter journeys where you are less likely to get stuck in traffic. I was able to take a number of 5-10 minute journeys for $4 or so, which can be a life saver when it saves you a 30 min walk in the hot Dubai sun. If you would like a rough idea before you go, try the fare calculator http://www.taxifarefinder.com/
Private Chopper Tour!
And finally as always, if you’re really in the mood to splash out, then why not enjoy a spectacular aerial view from you’re very own chopper!
Dubai’s Main Attractions.
Now, when you’re not stuffing your face with delicious falafel or enjoying the awesome views from the train, you’re going to want something to keep you busy. Luckily for you there is plenty of sights and activities to enjoy.
Dubai really doesn’t do anything by half and nothing portrays this more than the Burj khalifa, AKA the tallest building in the world. There aren’t many places you can go in Dubai where you can’t see the Burj towering above everything else in sight, and up close it’s even more impressive. You really have to tilt your head all the way back just to see the top, and trying to fit you and the building in one picture is close to impossible. Not only is it spectacular from the outside, but you can also go up, all the way up to the highest observation deck in the world, and enjoy Dubai from the 148th floor, a staggering 555 meters high, where you can not only see all over Dubai, but you have an incredible bird’s eye view of the Burj Khalifa lake, and out to the distance you can just make out Abu Dhabi. This experience will come at a price though, a trip to the top will set you back around $136 if you want to visit during prime hours, or $96 during the less busy period, in my opinion, totally worth it. However if this is just stretching your budget too much, there is the cheaper option of stopping at floor number 124, where you can still feast your eyes on some fantastic views, but with a more budget friendly price tag of between $32-55.
Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa Lake show
The easiest way to access the tallest building in the world is from, you guessed it, the biggest mall in the world. If you’re a shopaholic then Dubai really is the place for you. The Dubai mall is not only brimming with stores, but also boasts other attractions such as an enormous aquarium and indoor ski slope, yes, ski slope. My personal favourite part of the mall though lies just outside. The Burj Khalifa Lake is a huge man made structure, which forms the centrepiece between the Dubai mall and the surrounding areas. The lake takes centre stage at around 8pm each night, where the fountain and light show will make the perfect end to a day exploring Dubai. The fountain show was choreographed by the company that set up the Las Vegas set, so you know you’re in for a treat. Added bonus, all you need to see the fountains is yourself, as there is no entrance fee! If you would however like an up close and personal show, you can take a boat ride in the lake during the show, which will cost around $13.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab hotel is to Dubai, as the Eiffel tower is to Paris and the opera house is to Sydney. The Burj al Arab is Dubai’s centrepiece. Standing tall at the very tip of jumeirah beach, the sail shaped structure really is a sight to behold. Unfortunately unless you’ve got a couple of grand to spare, you’re probably not going to want to spend a night here. However, it is still possible to go inside and see the hotel, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the sky view bar for around $160! However if you’re like me, and want to keep your trip to Dubai as cost effective as can be, then you can still enjoy the view of the hotel from the outside, there are great photo opportunities to be had.
The palm island and the Atlantis hotel.
One of the main issues Dubai faced when trying to boost its tourism appeal, was the fact that Jumeirah beach is only so long, so they were literally running out of space for beach front hotels and apartments. To most places this would mean either building further inland or having to limit any further development. But not Dubai. Rather than accept that was no more room, Dubai had a solution, just build a giant man-made island to create more room, simple! The palm island really is a sight to behold, particularly from above, I wasn’t lucky enough to see it this way personally (other than on the plane), but heading up to the 53rd floor of the Marriott harbour hotel can be one way of doing this. Built entirely from natural resources, the island now holds hundreds of new houses, and the famous Atlantis hotel perched right on the beach front. The best way to access this is via the Dubai monorail, for around $8, you can be sped across the ocean directly to the Atlantis aquarium, which is worth a visit all on its own.
Despite Dubai’s astounding modern infrastructure, much of the more traditional image of the Middle East still exists. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as long as I would have liked in Dubai, but if you want to experience Dubai with more of a ‘middle east’ feel to it, then look no further.
Both bur Dubai and Deira, are parts of Dubai which boast a variety of souks which you can explore. Traditionally, a souk is a type of market stall or ’bazar’ which have a variety of goods such as gold, fabric, leather, spices, perfume and so much more. A stroll around these parts will have you thinking you’re right back in Dubai before its modernisation.
The Dubai museum
There’s no better way to really learn about Dubai’s history then a trip to the museum, sadly this is one of the parts I had to miss, but if a trip to the museum takes your fancy, entry will only cost you around $1!
Isn’t Dubai a dry country?
I know what you’re thinking, one of a backpackers favourite activities when not out and about exploring the local culture is enjoying a few (or more) drinks with friends, now won’t that be an issue in this part of the world? In much of the Middle East, drinking is a huge no-no. But thankfully due to Dubai’s much needed tourist industry, and the fact that much of Dubai’s population is built from expats, the rules have been ‘relaxed’ to accommodate traveller’s needs. Many of the hotels will have a pub or club attached, and there is a huge array of nightlife to choose from. However any drinking you partake in must be in these designated areas, when it comes to drinking alcohol outside these areas or being openly drunk on the street, Dubai is just as strict as other parts of the middle east. The other drawback for the budget conscious traveller is that drinking in Dubai is not cheap. Once you total up all the various taxes that are involved with getting a cold beer into the country then into your hand, you can be paying upwards of $6.
If Dubai’s big attractions weren’t enough for you, then here’s more;
Dubai’s buildings are a sight you won’t forget, but perhaps equally impressive is Dubai’s surroundings. Dubai is set right in the centre of the desert, so there is plenty of opportunity to hop in a 4×4, or a camel, depending on your speed, for a firsthand view of the desert that modern day Dubai was born from. Don’t worry, you will have to explore this area with a local guide, who will ensure your safety throughout, and make sure you arrive back at your hotel safely.
Home to the wealthy, Dubai marina is a truly stunning area and definitely not one to be missed.
There are plenty of places around Dubai that are more than happy to teach you all about the traditions, teachings and culture of the local area, and all for free!
Need to know
It’s important to remember when coming to Dubai that you are in a different culture, with different rules, views and expectations of how a person should behave, and whether you agree or not, Dubai has a very ‘my way or the highway’ attitude to their own customs, so it’s imperative you get on board to make sure you have an enjoyable trip.
Alcohol – I’ve already mentioned drinking so I won’t go into too much detail, as long as you’re in the right places you really are ok, but being out on the streets visibly drunk is definitely something you want to avoid.
Clothing – This part of the world has a very different dress code to western society, it’s important to keep your shoulders covered, dress codes are particularly strict for women, so it’s very important that dresses/skirts aren’t too short. When at the beach you’re fine with your normal beach wear, but it’s key that you change before leaving.
Behaviour – Dubai still holds some very traditional values, you may be required to show a marriage certificate if you want to share a hotel room with a partner, and public displays of affection are still a no-no in the majority of places.
So there you have it, Dubaion a budget. As you can see, by being careful and going for the cheaper options, Dubai really can become an option for part of your backpacking trip. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not Southeast Asia when it comes to a budget option, but because of its relatively small size, a quick trip is definitely worth the money to see an incredibly unique place!!