I often hear ‘Oh Dubai is too expensive’ or ‘I’m not sure about Dubai, it’s just glitzy hotels and private beaches’. Yes, Dubai can be overly fancy (a gold leaf burger eaten in a gold plated room anyone?) and yes, there are lots of activities to do that are expensive (indoor skiing, shopping, Legoland). All of these things are amazing and often worth the cash! However, Dubai can be done on a budget. Exploring some of the cheaper, or even free, options that the Emirate has to offer can also make for a more interesting holiday. It can show you more of the ‘real’ Dubai than if you stick to the pricier offerings. Read on to find out!
This half term we drove to Dubai from Al Khobar, Saudi. We drove because it is a lot cheaper than buying five flights and we can take all our stuff! It takes us about eight hours, which we timed around bedtimes and naptimes to keep everyone happy. We really wanted to keep our costs down as we had just come back from a busy summer holiday and will be travelling again at Christmas.
We booked an apartment/hotel (City Premier Marina Hotel Apartments @cpmhadubai) which allowed us to cook at home, have enough space for everyone and keep costs down but still have access to a pool and be in a good location. A central location and pool access are a great way to start saving money on holiday with kids. Every morning we got straight out of the flat and either went for a swim or we walked around the marina, looking at the boats and the skyscrapers together and letting everyone get some fresh air.
One of our favourite Dubai activities, especially when the weather is hot, is to head to Dubai mall. A huge high-end shoppers’ paradise hardly seems like the best option for free fun, but it hosts a number of interesting things to do. First, get to the mall early so you can sightsee before the crowds arrive and head for the aquarium. There is no need to buy a ticket (although you can if you want to enjoy the whole experience). The view of the huge main tank from outside is mesmerising. Children can run around in the space while spotting the gliding sharks and rays. Get ready to answer some great questions about why the sharks aren’t eating all the other fish! Then wander around the corner to the Souk section, where right in the centre, lives the Dubai Dino. The enormous Diplodocus fossil and his flashy information screens always impress the little ones.
You can then move on outside to the fountains and the Burj Khalifa. The fountain shows themselves are amazing if you can arrange to be there for one and the towering Burj Khalifa really is awesome to see.
There are other things to check out in the mall; see the waterfall, play with the toys in Hamleys or The Toy Store, watch skaters on the ice rink. There are food courts with lower priced food options and there is also a Waitrose supermarket on the basement floor if you fancy picking up picnic food to eat out by the fountains or to take on to another of Dubai’s freebie options…
Parks! Some of these charge a nominal entry fee and some are completely free. Try taking a picnic to Safa Park for green spaces and canal walks. Head to the small Umm Suqeim park for children’s play spaces right on the beachfront. There is also the best shawarma stand (location shown below) around the corner by the mosque/masjid next to Kings’ School Dubai.Get there a little before sunset, pick up shawarma and head to the park and beach to see an iconic Burj Al Arab sunset view. A little-known play space also runs up a fair length of Palm Jumeirah’s trunk. There is a walking and running track with sandpits, swings and climbing frames places at intervals, with beautiful gardens in between. Well worth a trip.
The other great place to head outdoors in Dubai is obviously the beach! There are loads of beautiful hotel beaches, which if you want to pay for access to, are a lovely luxurious way to enjoy the Dubai beach lifestyle. However, there are also lots of fantastic free beaches, a rarity in the Middle East. Head to Kite Beach for surf, volleyball, food shacks and a laid back atmosphere. Further West is JBR Open Beach. This stretch can get very busy but there is loads going on; camel rides, restaurants, shops, a running track plus showers and loos are available. If you want somewhere quieter, Black Palace Beach is a local favourite.* It has beautiful views of Palm Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab, the waters are shallow and safe, and there is space to spread out. You can drive your car right off Al Sufouh Street on to the beach. This one is not easily accessed by public transport and you need to be able to pack for a stay as there are no facilities at all at this one.
Another low cost favourite of ours is the Dubai Metro. Tickets are very cheap, there are great views across the city and kids of all ages will love the train ride itself! We always have great fun buying our tickets together and spotting things out of the windows. We even showed Eirlys where she was born! It gets you to loads of locations across the city and the stations are well connected to all the big malls.
Finally, one of my favourite budget activities, an abra across the creek. Abra are small wooden taxi boats the go back and for across the creek. Start at the ‘fabric souk’ or Dubai Museum in Bur Dubai and wander through the streets there, before heading to the creek and walking along until you reach the abra dock. For just 1AED the boat will take you across the creek to Deira Gold Souk and Spice Souk. Doing this at sunset or at night make it extra magical. There are a couple of low priced Arabic food and shisha places along the Bur Dubai side of the creek that are worth wandering along to find too. Once you are over on the Deira side, explore the souks. Marvel at the sheer amount of gold on display and breathe in all smell of all the exotic spices. You may also be offered to be taken to shop for the fake handbags hidden in secret locations! You can also walk along the creek edge, something that many tourists miss out. It is fascinating to see the docks and watch the men loading modern white goods onto the huge, creaking, traditional wooden dhows.
Hopefully that gives you a brief insight into a more accessible Dubai. It is a great place for families and definitely isn’t for expensive, luxury holidays only!
Send in your comments if you have any more budget Dubai ideas!
*At the time of writing this beach was still open but some construction work has been started at one end. So it might be worth checking out but having a back-up plan in mind.
Head here for information and timings: VisitDubai