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Visiting Dubai on a budget: best free and cheap things to do

Dubai is synonymous with luxury and all things expensive. Be it visiting the tallest building in the world or enjoying a drink at one of the bars or nightclubs or perhaps spending time in the Dubai Mall, you would find yourself reaching out for your wallet more than you would like. While the city is known for its expensive tastes, it is still possible to visit Dubai on a budget. All it needs is a lot of research and detailed planning.

Before You Go


Before you plan your visit to Dubai, you need to apply for a visa first. Citizens of most countries can apply for a Dubai visa online. If you want to save money on your air ticket, make sure that you book your ticket several months in advance. Apart from this, there are several budget airlines that have regular flights to Dubai from around the world. Also, if you plan to visit Dubai during the off-season (between April and August), you would be able to save a lot of money on air tickets and accommodation. However, the temperature is really high during this time of the year, and you need to consider this before you plan your holiday.

Accommodation in Dubai

Dubai on a budget

When it comes to accommodation in hotels, Dubai is pricey. However, there are still some ways to stay in a luxury hotel without breaking the bank. If this is something you’re looking for, check out this website and save up to 20% on your luxury hotel booking.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for budget accommodation opportunities, don’t worry; it’s still possible to find accommodation for budget travelers. If you have friends or relatives in Dubai, it would be great if you could crash at their homes. This would save you a lot of money. There are also several budget hostels and hotels which offer decent accommodation at low prices. Most of these low price hotels and hostels are located in the old part of Dubai which is cheaper compared to the new, modern Dubai. You can also opt for Couchsurfing through the CS community in Dubai. Apart from this, there is also Vrbo (and Vrbo referrals) where you can find a place to stay as per your budget and requirements. 

Finally, consider swapping your house with other travelers and scoring free accommodation by using sites for swapping homes.

Are you thinking about moving to Dubai? Check out our expat guide to living in Dubai.

Food in Dubai

food market dubai

Dubai is home to a lot of classy restaurants. It is also a place where you would be able to enjoy international cuisine like nowhere else, from Arabic and Lebanese to Asian, American and continental food. However, most of these restaurants are expensive and eating out at them every day can burn a huge hole in your pocket. But it is possible to save money on food when you are traveling in Dubai.

Check out the eateries in Bur Dubai and Deira which offer meals at low rates. It is easier to find restaurants and eateries that serve Indian, Pakistani and Chinese dishes at reasonable prices. While these meals do not cost much, the quantity and taste are decent. You would find delicious Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Lebanese food at Al Dhiyafah Road.

Some of the best budget restaurants in Dubai include Delhi Darbar, Shetty Lunch Home Restaurant, Al Ibrahimi Palace, Chinese Connection, Arz Lebanon, Calicut Paragon, Ravi, etc. If the place you are staying at has a kitchen, it would be best to shop at the supermarket and cook your own meals. You will also find simple and low-cost ready-eat- meals at most supermarkets in Dubai. Eating out in Dubai can be economical with these simple tips during your trip.

What to See and Do?

dubai at night

Most of the places to see and interesting activities to do in Dubai are quite expensive. That’s why going on a sightseeing tour that covers most of the city highlights might be a good idea. But even if you go sightseeing independently, fortunately, there are still a lot of free things to do in Dubai.

 Dubai may look like a concrete jungle but the city has some amazing parks which are huge and green. Most of them are free while you may have to pay a nominal fee to visit some of them. You can take a stroll, have a BBQ picnic and have great fun at these parks.

 The Dubai Fountain show is one of the most amazing experiences you will have in the city. The sound and light show that happens multiple times, every day, is a sight to behold and is absolutely free. Moreover, it also gives you a chance to view the mighty Burj Khalifa.

dubai beach

 Dubai has some amazing beaches. You may have to pay a fee to access some of the beaches, most of them are free. You can visit Jumeirah Beach for free. While this sun-kissed beach is perfect for relaxation and adventure, it also gives a great view of Hotel Burj Al Arab.

 Dubai may be an ultra-modern city, but it is still deep-rooted in culture, and it is important to understand this aspect of the city. Head to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding where you get to go on a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque and also know about Islam and Emirati culture. Complete with a delicious Arabic meal, this tour would give you an insight into the culture and traditions of the Arabs at a good price.

 If you want to know the fascinating history of Dubai, i.e. how it went from being a modest fishing village to one of the richest cities in the world, a visit to the Dubai Museum is a must. With a price ticket of AED 3, the museum portrays the earlier life of the Arabs in an interesting way. After the visit to the museum, you can also check out the Bastakiya Quarter. This is the heritage hub of the city.

dubai mosque

 The dhow cruise on the Dubai Creek is one of the most popular tourist activities. However, if you do not want to spend money on a dhow cruise dinner, you must at least take an abra ride on the Dubai Creek. You get to travel from Bur Dubai to Deira or vice-versa at just AED 1 and it’s a unique experience.

 The desert is an integral part of Dubai and your itinerary should definitely include a desert safari experience. The best thing is that you would find several companies offering desert safari and you can easily find one that fits your budget. You can choose from regular, adventure, overnight or morning desert safari as per your budget and interests.

 If you find the heat too much for sightseeing in Dubai, there are many malls in Dubai that can help you to beat the heat. While they protect you from the harsh heat, they also entertain you. The entry is free and there are tons of things to see and do here. Even if you do not want to spend money, taking a walk in these malls is in itself quite entertaining.

Transportation in Dubai

dubai sunset

The easiest way to get from one location to another in the city is by cabs; you would find plenty in Dubai. But cabs are expensive, so it would be better to find an alternative. Metro in Dubai is inexpensive and is a great way to travel to major tourist locations. There is also the bus service although it is not very regular and hence not always recommended. However, one bus that runs regularly is the Big Bus that allows you to see the best of Dubai and is a great choice for people that don’t have a lot of time to lose.

If you have a lot of time, you can travel across the city on rented bikes. It’s a great way of touring the city although you need to check the weather before hopping on the bike. If you are traveling with a group or can find other
travelers to share with, renting a private vehicle would be quite economical.

Another alternative, if you’re brave enough to drive in this urban jungle, is renting a car in Dubai. If this sounds interesting, use this AutoEurope discount code and save 15% on all car rentals in Dubai.

Shopping in Dubai

Dubai on a budget

Shopping is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Dubai. It is the city that hosts the largest shopping in the world, every year, i.e. the Dubai Shopping Festival. Moreover, there are numerous malls in the city, the biggest being the Dubai Mall which has more than 1200 retail stores. In short, this the best place for retail therapy. But this can be a burden to your budget.

However, this does not mean you should take off shopping from your itinerary. On the other hand, you can look for
cheaper options. Instead of the malls, head to the traditional souks and local markets of the city. Karama Market is the perfect place to shop for gifts and souvenirs to take back home.

Additional Tips to Save Money

 Book tour tickets online in advance to get good deals and discounts. For instance, you can buy Burj Khalifa tickets at a much lesser price online than the price you would have to pay directly.

 Buy the magazine “The Entertainer” as soon as you reach the city. The magazine offers a lot of great deals on some of the popular restaurants, nightclubs, pubs, theme parks and other attractions of Dubai.

Dubai on a budget

 The expats and locals rely a lot on Groupon which offers a lot of great discounts and deals on hotels and restaurants. So, check the website before you plan your day.

 Alcohol is expensive in the city and is only available at licensed restaurants and bars. The best way is to stock up on your alcohol at the duty-free stores at the airport. Moreover, if you are a woman, you would be able to get free drinks at nightclubs on ladies’ night which is usually held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You can also check out happy hours at restaurants to enjoy a drink without spending too much.

Traveling in Dubai on a shoestring budget may look difficult but it is not impossible. With great planning, you would definitely have an amazing and memorable holiday without emptying your bank account.

Useful resources for visiting Dubai on a budget

 Looking for cheap flights to Dubai? Use this Qatar Airways special offer and save up to 25% on your flight to Dubai.

Want to rent a car in Dubai? Use this AutoEurope discount code and save 15% on all car rentals in Dubai.

For the best travel insurance deals, check out World Nomads.

Use this link to get 15% off on all accommodation bookings in Dubai.

Finally, don’t forget to check whether you need to obtain a visa for your trip to Dubai. Most countries’ passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival but some need to obtain a visa prior to their departure. You can check which group you belong in on this website and apply for a visa if necessary. I used IVisa for my last trip to Dubai and I warmly recommend them.

Did you ever visit Dubai on a budget? Do you think there are some other great ways to save money while traveling in Dubai? Let us know in the comments!

best Free and cheap things to do in dubai
dubai on a budget

Dubai city tour

Thursday 17th of January 2019

Nice Article. Guys tell me something when you talk about City tours, which cities of the world comes to mind first. Well in my mind the first City Tour to come is Dubai City Tour, then Hong Kong City Tour and Tokyo City Tour. What do you say? Which is the best?

Passport Symphony

Saturday 26th of January 2019

Well, I wouldn't know. I normally don't go for tours. I prefer exploring on my own :)

emman damian

Saturday 8th of December 2018

I got my Dubai visa via an accredited agency. Well, Dubai is really amazing and I love the structures! It’s really a fun place to visit. An international melting pot of cuisine, people and culture.

Passport Symphony

Saturday 8th of December 2018

It sure is, Emman. Thank you for your comment.


Wednesday 5th of December 2018

These are some awesome tips for visiting Dubai! I've always wanted to go, but it's so expensive. Hence, why it's marketed as a luxurious destination. I'm hoping to go next year and will start looking ASAP with your cheap flight tips. I'm so excited to see the Dubai Mall as well!

Also, great photographs!

Passport Symphony

Thursday 6th of December 2018

Thank you, Martha and I hope you get the chance to visit soon.


Tuesday 4th of December 2018

You have really shared a very informative post on how to visit Dubai in the budget. As Dubai is a luxury destination so if we plan it carefully then we can save a load of money. I too agree Entertainer and Groupon have best deals, especially in luxury restaurants. They sometimes have 1 meal free for ordering 1 meal which is a very great offer. Also visiting public beaches is a great thing to do here without spending a penny. I too use Metro as they are very clean and well managed and inexpensive too.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

Thank you, Yukti

Amar Singh

Tuesday 4th of December 2018

Dubai indeed has a lot to offer. It can be pricey at times. You have provided some great tips on how you can get more of Dubai workout spending a fortune. Bur Dubai and Africa a good place to find cheap food and get a taste of local life. The public transport can be a affordable way to travel on the metro. Thanks fir these great tips.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 5th of December 2018

Thank you for your comment, Amar- I'm glad you liked this post.