Is “Dubai on a budget” for real or just another click-bait? To be honest, anyone can stay within the budget for a bucket list destination like Dubai. The key is good research.
The general rule, of course, is to book your tickets a few months in advance. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll get the best rates at least three months ahead. Avoid traveling on a holiday season. But you know that already, don’t you?
The best time to visit Dubai is from November to March. I was in Dubai in February and the weather was still comfortable. Dubai’s climate for the rest of the year can be really hot and humid.
You will notice this post is not about how much money you need to enjoy Dubai’s best attractions. First of all, I have no idea how much money you are willing to spend and how long will your holiday be. In this article, you’ll find a shortlist of Dubai’s must-see spots. While you need to spend money on an authentic Dubai experience, there are many free things to do. All you need is look them up in advance.
Must-see Places in Dubai
The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa is understandably a must-see for visitors. The tower offers a magnificent sunset view from the top but you need to buy a ticket for entry. If you’re fine with a snapshot, you can marvel at the skyscraper for free from its base. Burj Khalifa is located next to Dubai’s biggest mall, the Dubai Mall.
Dubai Mall has over 1,200 retail stores to date. While the shops are all high-end for a budget-savvy shopper, it’s free to walk in and get the feel of the top shopping destination in the United Arab Emirates. The mall houses the famous Dubai Aquarium. The animals can be viewed for free through an acrylic panel.
On weekends, crowds would flock to the Waterfront Promenade just outside Dubai Mall. It is the best spot to watch the fountain show. The show runs every half hour.
Souks are Arab traditional markets. If you’re a serious shopper and you want to explore the souks in Dubai, you might spend a whole day. You will surely be amazed at hundreds of stores in Gold Souk. They sell mainly gold jewelry in intricate designs.
Are you into spices? Head off to the Spice Souk for cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, and many more herbs and spices.
The Gold Souk, Spice Souk, and Textile Souk are all in the same district.
The Global Village is also a must-see in Dubai. It’s aptly called Global Village because it showcases the best of cultures from 90 countries. Yes, all in one massive theme park! However, it’s not open all-year-round but from October-April. The entertainment village allows entry from four o’clock in the afternoon onwards. A wide range of shops, activities, and shows can be enjoyed for only AED15.
Another visit-worthy place in Dubai is its heritage district, Al Seef. It is where even your go-to Starbucks and Dunkin Donut stores are built in old architecture. Al Seef, however, is not all about old structures. There’s a section for villas that are built in contemporary design.
Put on your best dress for the Dubai Miracle Garden because every spot is absolutely Instagrammable. Even if you’re not big on flowers and plants, you will leave this place in awe. The Miracle Garden is a 72-thousand square meter space full of scented and colorful flowers. This project is in partnership with the Walt Disney Company. Don’t be surprised if you see a 12-meter high Mickey Mouse structure wrapped in natural flowers.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab is the iconic five-star hotel in Dubai. It is famous for its shape, resembling a ship’s sail. This luxurious hotel stands on its own island. It has over 200 rooms, each said to be at Php95,000 ($2,000) per night. Want a souvenir shot for free? Head off to Kite Beach where you can easily take a selfie with the tower in the background.
The beach is very popular among water sports and/or fitness enthusiasts. Kite Beach is a perfect spot for kitesurfing, kayaking, water skiing, and paddleboarding. It’s a long stretch of white sand beach with a jogging track and kids’ play areas. It’s perfect for families and friends who want some outdoor fun. Going to Kite Beach, you will need to take a combination of metro, bus, or taxi.
Dubai has its own London Eye, the Ain Dubai. In fact, Dubai claims that its Ferris wheel is now the world’s tallest. It is located off the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) beachfront. Ain Dubai is said to have 360-degree views of the city’s skyline and coastline.
Jumeirah Beach Residence
Jumeirah Beach Residence, popularly known as JBR, is a long stretch of a waterfront community. The towers are evidently luxurious, all overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The good thing is, the beach is open even to non-residents. Entry is totally free and there are showers and changing rooms around.
JBR has a stunning and lively beachfront. Even the camels take a stroll through the soft white sand. There are beachfront cafes and shops around and a pathway called The Walk.
La Mer is the newest beachfront attraction in Dubai. What I enjoyed most, though, are the graffiti art murals. While I don’t like seeing myself a lot in travel photos, you just can’t leave this place without posing cute next to each mural. La Mer is really charming!
Other Things to See/Do in Dubai
Did I tell you that skydiving was the only thing I didn’t tick off my Dubai bucket list? It’s a long story but just to give you a wee bit of idea, my budget for skydiving was unfortunately spent on flight rebooking. I’m still crushed that I didn’t get to swoop over the iconic Palm Jumeirah Island. Moving on, there are other enjoyable things to do in Dubai. These activities should be booked in advance.
The Dubai Frame
Okay, its’ a giant picture frame. The structure stands at 150 meters and now holds the record for the largest frame in the world. The Dubai Frame stands for Dubai’s past and present, as viewed from different directions. It’s open to visitors all year round but entry is not free.
This is a popular activity for tourists in Dubai as it offers a view of Dubai Marina at night. For AED35, you can experience a relaxing cruise, a grand buffet dinner, and entertainment onboard. I wasn’t prepped to try the Taruna dance with the boat’s performer but f*** it, that was fun!
This, I think, is the best part of my trip for only one reason: I wanted to ride a camel. If you’ve been to the United Arab Emirates and you didn’t ride a camel, have you been there at all? My answer would be NO.
Let me be clear, I never rode an elephant in Cambodia or Thailand because I knew about the abuses going on there. Camels, on the other hand, are working animals known as “ships of the desert”. Unlike elephants, camels can carry heavy loads and travel for hours.
Desert safari tours in Dubai are pure adventure. The thrill starts when you zip through the desert in a 4×4 vehicle. The desert safari experience includes a tummy-filling barbecue dinner (or lunch), free henna art, and belly dancing and fire dances. All these activities happen in a Bedouin-inspired camp right after an exhilarating desert adventure. They need to be booked in advance.