With its tall skyscrapers, luxury cars on every corner, and fancy shit like UberChopper, Dubai is the most futuristic city I've stepped foot in. While it can be pretty dope to be surrounded by such luxury, it can also be pretty hard on your pockets. However, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a few things and still get a good perspective of the city without draining all your funds. Here's a few suggestions on how to spend your days without spending all your money.
Public transportation will probably be your cheapest option. Luckily, Dubai has many modes both on land and water. They also have a Nol Card available for purchase that works on RTA operated transportation. Ubers and taxis are also pretty affordable. Renting a car may be a better option if you plan to move around more, but although gas is cheap, parking often isn't! For more details on transportation, check out my post Essential Prep Guide: Dubai.
where to stay
Dubai has several western style hotels available but they'll put a dent in your pockets. Hostels are the cheapest way to go. Even if you
don't want to sleep in a dorm, you can book a private room for far cheaper than the hotels and still have the added benefit of meeting other travelers. If you're looking for a higher end hostel, check out At The Top, located on the 66th floor of the Elite Residence Tower situated in front of the Dubai Marina. They have free laundry, Wifi, breakfast, soap, and towels all included. Free parking is available on request and it's located right by the metro. There's a full kitchen for food storage and cooking which is clutch when you're pinching pennies. You also have access to a fitness center and pool, and the views over the marina, the palm (see above), and the city are well worth the roughly $35-45 a night a dorm room typically costs. Be aware, certain times of the year I've seen dorm beds advertised up to $100 per night!
If At The Top is out of your price range, there's a more affordable option called Backpacker 16. It's about 3 miles (5k) from At The Top closer to downtown and further inland. Backpacker 16 cost me about $22 a night for a shared female dorm with breakfast included. The dorms are spread throughout a large apartment building and a lot of people tend to live there short term when they first move to Dubai. The main reception includes a full kitchen and laundry services, and each of the smaller apartments has kitchens as well. Additionally, there's a small gym and rooftop pool with a great view of the city (see left).
how to kill time (and save your bank account)
Most things in Dubai cost money, and most fun things cost A LOT of money, but there are still a FEW things that you can enjoy for little to none.
There are probably a million different companies that offer this tourist trap package. On viator prices can range anywhere from $25-$80, and in person in Dubai it can range as well (always try and haggle). I spent about $25 USD and had the hostel book it for me. I usually avoid tourist trap excursions but in this case, I really wanted to go sand duning and knew this would be the easiest way to do it. The "barbecue" lasts for about 6 hours and includes transportation. I went with some new friends I made shortly before sunset. We had so much fun sand duning with very experienced (but wild) drivers despite being thrown around the car from lack of seatbelts and nearly taking out a camel or two. If you survive this, you have the option to sand board and ride camels. The lines for the camels were long and I didn't have the patience for that. The sand boards weren't fully functional the day we went, and though we tried, shredding sand was not the adrenaline rush we had hoped for. All this is followed by a BBQ and a show with dancing. For $25 it was worth it to me just to get some sunset photos out in the desert and go sand duning.
Catch the sun
Aside from the desert, there are many spots to watch the sunset and sunrise in Dubai. Any rooftop or high-rise balcony is a good option for this and both hostels mentioned above provide amazing views of the city as day and night interchange. A short walk from the hostel, At The Top, the Dubai Marina is the best place to watch the sunrise behind the city skyline. Walk down the road towards Skydive Dubai for the best photo angles.
The Burj Khalifa, located in downtown, is the tallest building in the world and would obviously provide a perfect spot to watch the sunset, however to catch the sunset you'll have to go during prime hours, averaging you 200 AED ($55 USD) for the 124th floor, and 500 AED ($137 USD) to go to the very top 148th floor. What do I suggest? Head to Jumeirah Beach to watch the sun set over the ocean behind the Burj Al Arab, the world's 3rd tallest hotel. You won't be able to access the hotel unless you're a guest, but Jumeirah Beach will offer unobstructed views.
If you're like me and need more rays in your life, Jumeirah Beach is beautiful beach to sunbathe. There is another public access beach about 20 mins walk down the coast from Skydive Dubai (away from downtown and Jumeirah), but it's harder to find, surrounded by construction (as of Fall 2017), and the beach is much smaller. The beach is going to be hot, always. Feel free to bring out the bikini, and also be aware that the water is probably just as hot as the air (this is not an exaggeration - October 2017 the outside temp AND ocean temp both registered at 38C!).
Dubai Mall & Burj Khalifa
As I mentioned above, the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, is a prime place to catch an aerial view of the
city at sunset, but it will cost you. If you're dead set on stepping inside, going during nonprime hours and the lower floors will provide you a discount. Non prime hours are from 8:30 - 14:30 (2:30pm) and from 19:00 (7pm) to close. During this time, to go to 124th floor will cost you 125 AED ($34 USD), to go to the top 148th floor regardless of time will cost a minimum of 300 AED ($95 USD). OR you can just see the outside of it, for free. The fountains in front display a show for about 5 minutes from 6pm-11pm every half hour. There are also 2 shows during the day at 1pm & 1:30pm (1:30 & 2pm on Fridays).
The Dubai Mall, located directly next to it, is another must see in Dubai. I realize if you're reading this you're also on a budget and probably wondering why I'm telling you to check out a mall. Much more than retail, even if you don't plan to spend a dime you should take a walk through to check out all the crazy things you typically don't see in a mall, including an aquarium and ice skating rink.