Dubai might be best known as a glamorous city, but is it really possible to visit on a budget? Our City Insiders have been on the case looking at how you can save your dirhams in the United Arab Emirates largest city of Dubai, but still have a great family vacation.
Budget Family Hotels in Dubai
There is always compromise when it comes to the word “budget” and accommodation. Yes, you can stay at some glamorous hotels in Dubai. But if the beach is not your priority, or you’ll be busy sightseeing not sitting by the pool, why pay extra to stay at a resort?
- The closer you are to the beach, or the major shopping malls, generally speaking, the more you pay.
- To save money visiting Dubai, we recommend you look for accommodation that is well located to the Metro. From there, you can save money on taxi’s and have the city at your reach (you can learn more on how to get around Dubai here).
- The older areas of Dubai are nearer to the airport and generally cheaper, such as Deira and Bur Dubai.
Our top three picks for budget, family-sized accommodation in Dubai are
Ramada Chelsea Al Barsha – Not too far from the Mall of the Emirates in an area called Al Barsha, it includes a rooftop pool, family-sized suites or interconnecting rooms and on-site dining options.
Premier Inn Dubai IBN Battuta – to the west of the Jumeirah area of Dubai so quite far from the airport, but accessible by Metro. Great sized rooms, immediate access to Ibn Battuta Mall. Great location if you also want to visit Dubai Parks & Resorts and Abu Dhabi as part of your trip.
Savoy Park Hotel Apartments – based in the Bur Dubai part of town these apartments represent really good value and include a small kitchenette for self-catering as well as being nearby to the green line of the Metro.
Things to look out for booking your Dubai hotel
Don’t let budget suddenly turn out more than you expected. Keep your eye out for extra TAXES! Not just your actual hotel room, but any services you buy within a hotel are subject to extra tax in Dubai. Check before booking your hotel whether the quoted rate includes:
- Municipality fee 7%
- Property service fee 10%
- VAT 5% (should be included by law)
- Per night room fee 10dhs (getting a room with multiple beds rather than two connecting rooms will reduce this charge)
These taxes are correct as of July 2018
You can save on these added costs by either self-catering or dining out at restaurants that are not attached to a hotel.
Getting around Dubai on a budget
The days of ultra-cheap fuel and taxis in Dubai is well and truly gone. Taxis are still a convenient way to get across town if you have a group and luggage but consider your distances; catching the Metro may well be cheaper (note you have to pay for all people in your group aged 5 and up).
If you know you will be taking several Metro or bus journeys during your stay in Dubai, get a NOL Silver instead of NOL Red the first time you buy a ticket at a Metro station. This will cost you 25dhs but comes come pre-loaded with 19dhs in fares. Every fare you pay will then be cheaper than buying a single ticket NOL Red (fares per journey vary from 3AED to 7.50AED on NOL Silver).
Other ways you can save include taking a traditional dhow or Abra to cross Dubai Creek rather than paying for an expensive cruise, and taking advantage of FREE airport transit buses if you are transferring between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Free and cheap activities in Dubai
It’s undeniable there is A LOT to do in Dubai! And while some of it is glamorous and expensive, other activities can still be undertaken completely free or very cheap. Here are just a few suggestions what you can do in Dubai on a budget:
Seeing the Dubai Mall & Burj Khalifa
While it’s costly to head up the Burj Khalifa (and can involve extensive queueing at times), it’s totally free to see it from outside and enjoy the nightly light and sound show that occurs in Downtown Dubai, outside Dubai Mall.
Timings for the sound and light show are currently 1pm & 1.30pm, then every 30 minutes between 6pm and midnight. There are many great restaurants where you can grab a bite in the Dubai Mall and adjacent Souk al Bahar with brilliant views, but grab yourself a takeaway from the food court and set yourself up with your own picnic outside to enjoy the show.
Enjoy the Beaches
Whilst hiring deck chairs and taking camel rides along the beach might cost, most beach fronts in Dubai outside of the resorts themselves are completely FREE.
You can try Sunset Beach (Jumeirah Public Beach) for the famous views of the Burj Al Arab, or why not try The Beach in JBR, or the fairly newly open La Mer in Jumeirah 1. Bathroom and change facilities are free but of course, there are plenty of cafes and vendors along these stretches of beach vying for your attention. Come prepared with towels from your hotel and a picnic lunch or dinner to avoid the temptation to spend more.
Explore Old Dubai
Enjoy the historic al Fahidi neighbourhood, the Dubai Museum and take an abra ride over Dubai Creek to Deira “Old Dubai” to see the spice souk and the gold souk.
Stroll the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk
In the cooler months, explore one of the cities newer outdoor spaces. Take a taxi (avoiding the obscenely expensive Monorail) out to the end of Palm Jumeirah, marvel at the amazing Atlantis the Palm (you can sneak a peek at the start of the giant aquarium the Lost Chambers for free) then set out to explore the new boardwalk that curves around 11kms of the outer crescent of the Palm.
What you should splurge on in Dubai
A trip to Dubai is not complete without getting beyond the big city and seeing some of the UAE Desert. There are A LOT of desert tours on offer these days in Dubai of varying quality and mixture of experiences. Our favourite providers include:
Taking you on a morning safari to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in the back of old-school Land Rovers, their programs are more focused at the desert itself and the wildlife than dune bashing and desert sports.
With several pick up locations across town and flexible itineraries to suit your interests, the Al Khayam Camp takes you through the Lehbab desert. Run by OceanAir, they have a strong reputation for providing excellent service.
When to Visit Dubai
The busiest time to visit Dubai is during the cooler winter months, however, this is also when prices are at their most expensive and there are few discounts to be had. If you are prepared to put up with the heat, there can be great deals to be had over the hotter summer months and during Ramadan when hotel occupancy can be much lower.
By City Insider Keri Hedrick
Keri is a long-time UAE resident with 3 children and a passion for all things Middle East! You can read more about Keri and all our City Insiders here.
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