The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Dubai on a Budget

Dubai Travel Guide

Dubai may boast dazzling skylines and opulent experiences, but that doesn’t mean you need a sultan’s fortune to explore it.

This Dubai travel guide is your secret weapon to unlock the city’s magic without maxing out your credit card. We’ll equip you with the essentials you need to navigate the souks, conquer towering dunes, and savor delicious street food – all on your budget of choice.

Travel Costs: Detailed Breakdown

Dubai caters to a wide range of budgets, but it’s important to acknowledge that it leans towards the higher end compared to many other destinations. Here’s a realistic breakdown of the average costs per person (per day) to help you plan your trip:

Suggested Budget per person

  • Low: $100-150 USD (with compromises on accommodation and activities)
  • Mid-range: $200-300 USD
  • High: $300+ USD

Detailed Costs


  • Low: Hostels or budget guesthouses: $50-80 USD (limited options)
  • Mid-range: Mid-range hotels or B&Bs: $100-200 USD
  • High: Luxury hotels or upscale apartments: $200+ USD

Read: Best Hostels in Dubai.

Public Transportation:

  • Metro ticket: $2 USD
  • Daily pass: $7 USD
  • 3-Day tourist pass: $20 USD

Entrance Fees:

  • Low (mostly free activities): beaches like Jumeirah Beach or Kite Beach, Deira Souk (traditional market), free cultural events 
  • Mid-range: Burj Khalifa observation deck: $80-140 USD, Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo: $40-60 USD, Sheikh Zayed Road Water Canal Cruise: $30-50 USD
  • High: Hot Air Balloon Ride over the desert: $300+ USD, Ski Dubai: $100+ USD, Helicopter Tour: $500+ USD


  • Low: Falafel (street vendors): $3-5 USD
  • Mid-range: Local restaurants: $10-20 USD
  • High: High-end restaurants: $30+ USD

Falafel (deep-fried chickpea fritters)

  • Low: Street vendors: $3-5 USD
  • Mid-range: Restaurants: $10-20 USD
  • High: Upscale restaurants: $20+ USD


  • Low: Takeaway or local bar: $3-5 USD
  • Mid-range: Cafe: $5-7 USD
  • High: Specialty coffee shops: $8+ USD

Beer & Wine:

  • Low: Local bar: $8-10 USD (alcohol is significantly more expensive than in other regions)
  • Mid-range: Mid-range restaurant: $10-15 USD
  • High: Craft beer or imported wine: $15+ USD

Important Note Regarding Alcohol in Dubai:
Alcohol consumption is legal in Dubai but with strict regulations. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Alcohol is only sold and consumed in licensed restaurants, hotels, and bars attached to licensed hotels. Public consumption, possession, or purchase of alcohol outside these designated areas is strictly prohibited and punishable by law.
  2. Tourists and residents alike require a license to purchase alcohol from dedicated liquor stores. However, visitors can avoid this by purchasing alcohol from Dubai Duty-Free upon arrival, within the duty-free allowance limits.
  3. Alcohol is generally more expensive in Dubai compared to other parts of the world. Be prepared for higher prices when purchasing or consuming alcoholic beverages.

Exploring Dubai: Things to See & Do

Dubai is a city that dazzles the senses, offering a unique blend of traditions and futuristic innovation. From soaring skyscrapers to historic souks, here are some must-see and do experiences to add to your budget-friendly adventure:

Must Do: Travel guide for Dubai


  • Burj Khalifa: Ascend the world’s tallest building for breathtaking panoramic views.
  • Burj Al Arab: Witness the iconic sail-shaped luxury hotel on an artificial island.
  • The Palm Jumeirah: Explore this man-made palm-shaped island featuring luxurious resorts and stunning beaches.
  • Dubai Frame: Capture stunning cityscapes from this futuristic golden picture frame.
  • Sheikh Zayed Road: Witness Dubai’s architectural marvels lining this major highway.


  • Deira Souks: Explore the labyrinthine alleyways of these traditional souks, selling gold, spices, and textiles.
  • Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood: Discover Dubai’s rich heritage in this historical district with wind towers and museums.
  • Dubai Museum: Delve into the city’s history and culture from ancient times to the modern era.

Outdoor Adventures:

  • Desert Safari: Experience the thrill of a desert adventure with dune bashing, camel riding, and traditional entertainment.
  • Kite Beach: Relax and kite surf on this popular beach with stunning views of the Burj Al Arab.
  • Jumeirah Beach Park: Enjoy a family-friendly beach day with sun loungers, water activities, and food stalls.

Retail Therapy (or just window shopping):

  • Dubai Mall: Shop till you drop at the world’s largest shopping mall, featuring luxury brands and entertainment options.
  • Madinat Jumeirah: Wander through this luxurious shopping and entertainment complex with traditional souks and waterways.

Entertainment Extravaganzas:

  • La Perle by Dragone: Be mesmerized by a captivating aqua show with acrobatics, music, and visual effects.
  • Dubai Fountain Show: Witness the world’s largest choreographed fountain show at Burj Khalifa Lake.

Free things to do in Dubai

Explore Neighborhoods:

  • Deira: Immerse yourself in the beautiful atmosphere of this historic district with traditional souks and street food.
  • Bur Dubai: Discover historical landmarks like Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and Shindagha Museum.
  • Al Satwa: Experience a slice of local life in this traditional Emirati neighborhood with markets.

Free Shows:

  • Dubai Fountain Show: Enjoy the world-famous choreographed fountain show set to music at Burj Khalifa Lake.
  • Imagine Show: Witness a captivating laser light and water projection show on the Dubai Festival City Mall facade.


  • Zabeel Park: Relax in this expansive park with a lake, botanical garden, and children’s play areas.
  • Mushrif Park: Enjoy family-friendly activities like cycling, boating, and a petting zoo.


  • Dubai Museum: Explore Dubai’s history and culture through exhibits showcasing traditional artifacts and lifestyles.
  • Etihad Museum: Learn about the formation of the United Arab Emirates and its cultural heritage. 
  • Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding: Engage in cultural exchange programs and learn about Emirati traditions. 
  • Al Shindagha Museum: Discover Dubai’s maritime history and heritage in this restored fort.
  • Salsabil Desert Resort Museum: Delve into Bedouin culture and nomadic life in the desert. 
  • Coffee Museum: Learn about the history and significance of coffee in Emirati culture. 

Tip: Many museums offer free entry or discounts on specific days, so check their websites before your visit to maximize your savings.

Dubai Day Trips 

  • Abu Dhabi: The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a city of contrasts, with both modern skyscrapers and traditional architecture. Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, or explore the Heritage Village to learn about Emirati culture. You can also enjoy the thrill of Ferrari World, the world’s first Ferrari-themed park.
  • Musandam: Located in the northern tip of Oman, Musandam is a beautiful peninsula known for its rugged mountains and fjords. Take a dhow cruise through the Musandam fjords, go snorkeling or diving in the crystal-clear waters, or visit the traditional fishing village of Khasab.
  • Hatta: Located in the Hajar Mountains, Hatta is a popular getaway for residents of Dubai. Hike or bike through the mountains, visit the Hatta Fort Hotel or go kayaking on the Hatta Wadi Dam.
Dubai Museum of The Future

Where to Stay on a Budget

While Dubai boasts luxurious accommodations, budget-conscious travelers can still find comfortable and convenient options. Keep in mind that the most popular tourist areas, like Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina, tend to be pricier. Here are some budget-friendly neighborhoods to consider:

1. Deira: This historic district is the heart of old Dubai, offering a great atmosphere with traditional souks (markets) and affordable guesthouses and hotels. Be prepared for popular streets and a more local experience.

2. Bur Dubai: Located north of Deira, Bur Dubai offers a charming mix of history and modernity. Explore traditional wind towers and historical landmarks alongside budget-friendly hotels and convenient access to the metro.

3. Al Barsha: This up-and-coming neighborhood is popular with families and long-term stays. It boasts a variety of affordable hotels, apartments, and hostels, along with shopping malls and access to the metro. While not directly on the coast, it’s well-connected to other areas.

4. Jumeirah Village Circle (JVC) & Jumeirah Village Triangle (JVT): These residential communities offer a relaxed suburban vibe with a mix of affordable apartments, villas, and guesthouses. Perfect for those seeking a quieter experience and longer stays. Be aware that you’ll need to rely on taxis or ride-sharing apps to get around, as public transportation options are limited.

Choosing the best neighborhood depends on your priorities. If you crave a central location and cultural immersion, Deira or Bur Dubai might be ideal. If you prefer a modern vibe with easy access to amenities, Al Barsha could be your pick. For a quieter, more residential experience, consider JVC or JVT. Reminder: We have an article on the Best Hostels in Dubai.

Eating and Drinking

Here’s your guide to savoring the city’s diverse flavors without burning a hole in your wallet, here are our travel tips:

Water: While tap water in Dubai isn’t recommended for drinking, staying hydrated is crucial, especially in the desert heat. Invest in a reusable water bottle and refill it at numerous public water fountains scattered across the city, like those found in Zabeel Park or Jumeirah Beach Park.

Affordable Eats: Dubai Tips

  • Avoiding Tourist Traps: Skip the restaurants clustered around iconic landmarks like the Burj Khalifa. Instead, head to neighborhoods like Deira, Karama, or Satwa, where local eateries dish up authentic flavors at more reasonable prices.

Embrace Local Markets:

  • Deira Souk: Dive into the sensory overload of Deira Souk. Grab a steaming falafel wrap or a refreshing mango lassi from a local stall amidst the labyrinthine alleyways.
  • Satwa Souk: This hidden gem boasts local eateries serving traditional Emirati fare like chicken machboos (a flavorful rice dish) and luqaimat (sweet fried dumplings) at pocket-friendly prices.
  • Spice Souk: While not strictly for food, the Spice Souk offers a unique experience. Purchase fragrant spices like saffron or cardamom to whip up your own culinary masterpieces back at your accommodation.

Exploring Budget-Friendly Options:

  • Kebab: A cornerstone of Middle Eastern cuisine, kebab shops like Aroos Damascus offer succulent grilled meats like shish taouk (marinated chicken) and kofta (minced lamb) served on fluffy pita bread with hummus and salad, all at wallet-friendly prices.
  • Street Food Stalls: Immerse yourself in the street food scene. Sample piping hot samosas filled with spiced potatoes or crispy potato fries coated with zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) from vendors lining the streets. Don’t miss karak, a strong, milky tea, a local favorite perfect for a quick pick-me-up.
  • Local Cafes: Escape the tourist frenzy and explore local cafes frequented by residents. These hidden gems, like Al Mallah or Bait Maryam, often offer budget-friendly snacks like shawarma sandwiches, flaky pastries like msakhan (flatbread stuffed with spiced chicken), and refreshing Karak tea.

Grocery Gems:

  • Lulu Hypermarkets: A Dubai staple, Lulu Hypermarkets offers a vast array of groceries, fresh produce, and international brands at competitive prices. Stock up on essentials like fruits, vegetables, and pantry staples for self-catering meals.
  • Union Coop: Another local favorite, Union Coop boasts numerous branches across the city, known for its affordable prices and diverse selection of everyday essentials.
  • Carrefour: A familiar sight for many, Carrefour offers a mix of local and international products at budget-friendly prices. Check out their weekly flyers for deals on specific items.

Bonus Tip: Look out for “set menus” and “lunch specials” offered by many restaurants, particularly during weekdays. These often provide significant savings compared to a la carte options. Additionally, consider exploring delivery apps like Zomato or Talabat, which often offer discounts and promotions on meals from local restaurants.

Dubai Marina Street Food

Dubai Souk

How to Get Around

Unveiling Dubai’s wonders doesn’t require a hefty transportation budget. Here’s your comprehensive guide, breaking down various options and highlighting the most affordable choices:

Public Transportation: Visiting Dubai

  • Metro: Dubai boasts a world-class metro network, the perfect blend of efficiency and comfort. Its air-conditioned carriages whisk you across major landmarks in a breeze. While single fares start at 3 AED ($0.82 USD), consider these cost-saving options:
  • Nol Silver Card: This reloadable card is a lifesaver. It offers discounted fares compared to single tickets, making each journey more affordable. Top up the card at metro stations or convenience stores for seamless travel.
  • Dubai Pass: This all-encompassing pass combines access to various attractions, including unlimited public transport usage for a specific duration. If you plan on visiting several attractions and using public transportation frequently, the Dubai Pass might offer significant savings compared to purchasing individual tickets.


  • Metro Hours: The metro operates from Saturday to Wednesday from 5:30 AM to midnight and on Thursdays and Fridays from 5:30 AM to 1:00 AM. Plan your trips accordingly to avoid late-night inconveniences.
  • Metro Lines: Dubai’s metro network currently comprises two lines:
  • Red Line: Connects key areas like Dubai International Airport (DXB), Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall, and Deira City Centre.
  • Green Line: Serves areas like Dubai Healthcare City, International City, and Rashidiya.
  • Accessibility: All metro stations are accessible for people with disabilities, featuring elevators, ramps, and dedicated waiting areas.


  • Extensive Network: Dubai’s expansive bus network offers even wider coverage compared to the metro, reaching numerous neighborhoods and hidden gems. While single fares start at a mere 2 AED ($0.54 USD), consider using the Nol Silver Card for discounted fares.
  • Bus Routes and Schedules: Download Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) app for real-time bus arrival information and route planning. This app is an invaluable tool for navigating the city efficiently.
  • Night Buses: Dubai operates night buses covering key routes between midnight and 4:00 AM, ensuring safe and affordable transportation even after the metro closes.

Water Buses (Abra):

  • Embrace Tradition: Experience a slice of Dubai’s heritage by taking a scenic and budget-friendly ride across Dubai Creek on a traditional wooden abra. These boats have served as a vital mode of transportation for centuries and offer a unique perspective of the city’s skyline.
  • Affordable Fares: Fares typically range from 2-5 AED ($0.54-1.36 USD) depending on the route, making them an incredibly affordable way to explore Dubai’s waterways.
  • Abra Stations: Locate abra stations in Deira Old Souk, Bur Dubai Al Ghubaiba, and Dubai Marina. Hop on and embark on a historical and budget-friendly adventure.


  • Metered Taxis: While not the cheapest option, taxis offer convenience and are readily available throughout the city. Flag down a distinctive yellow meter taxi on the street or pre-book a ride-hailing service like Uber or Careem for transparent pricing.
  • Fares: Remember, taxis start at a flag-down fare of 5 AED ($1.36 USD) and charge a per-kilometer rate. Be sure to inquire about the fare estimate before embarking on your journey.
  • Alternatives: Consider ride-hailing apps like Uber or Careem, which often offer competitive fares and promotions compared to traditional taxis.

Cheapest Way to Get To and From the Airport in Dubai

From Dubai International Airport (DXB):

  • Metro: The most affordable option. Take the Red Line from the airport terminal to Dubai’s city center, with fares starting at 3 AED ($0.82 USD) using a Nol Silver Card. Look for signs directing you to the metro station within the airport.
  • Bus: Route C90 departs from Dubai International Airport to various destinations in the city, offering a reliable and budget-friendly option. Fares start at 2 AED ($0.54 USD). Locate designated bus stops within the airport.
  • Taxi: The fastest option, but also the most expensive. Expect fares to start at around 100 AED ($27  USD) for central areas.

From Dubai World Central (DWC) – Al Maktoum International Airport:

  • Bus: Route X23 departs from Dubai World Central to Dubai Ibn Battuta Metro Station. Fares start at 7 AED ($2 USD). Locate designated bus stops within the airport.
  • Taxi: The fastest option but the most expensive. Expect fares to start at around 200 AED ($54 USD) for central areas.
  • Pre-booked shuttle: Some hotels offer shuttle services from DWC to their locations. Consider inquiring with your hotel if they offer this service and if it aligns with your budget.
  • Ridesharing Apps: Download apps like Uber or Careem to compare fares and potentially score deals or promotions. While not always the cheapest option compared to the bus, it could offer more convenience depending on your needs.

Best Time to Visit Dubai

  • High Season (November – April):


Perfect weather: Ideal temperatures (70s-80s F, 21-27 C) for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Great atmosphere: Numerous festivals like the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai World Cup.
Longer daylight hours: More time to explore the city.


Higher prices: Expect increased costs for accommodation and flights.
Larger crowds: Popular tourist attractions can get crowded.

  • Shoulder Season (May & September-October):


Pleasant temperatures: Mid-80s F (27 C), offering a good balance between warmth and comfort.
Fewer crowds: Compared to the peak season, allowing for a more relaxed experience.
Potential for lower prices: Accommodation and flights might be slightly cheaper.


Hotter temperatures in May and October: While still manageable, it might not be ideal for extended outdoor activities.

  • Low Season (June – August):


Lowest prices: The most budget-friendly time to visit Dubai, with significant savings on flights and accommodation.
Fewer crowds: Tourist attractions are less crowded, allowing for easier exploration.


Extremely hot weather: Temperatures often exceed 100°F (37.7 C), making outdoor activities uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Limited outdoor activities: Many outdoor attractions and experiences might be closed or have restricted hours due to the heat.
Shorter daylight hours: Less time for outdoor exploration compared to other seasons.

National Holidays & Peak Festivals: Visiting Dubai

  • Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha: These Islamic holidays, with variable dates, can significantly impact availability and prices. Expect higher accommodation rates and potentially limited options during these periods.
  • Ramadan: The Islamic holy month of fasting, has different periods each year so make sure to check. While restaurants and cafes remain open in tourist areas during non-fasting hours, alcohol consumption and public displays of affection are generally restricted.
  • Dubai Summer Surprises (June – August): This festival offers various discounts, promotions, and entertainment events. However, it coincides with the hottest months in Dubai.
  • Dubai Shopping Festival (January – February): This renowned shopping event attracts large crowds and can lead to increased prices during these months.
  • School breaks and holidays: Accommodation prices might rise during holidays, especially around Christmas, New Year’s, and school breaks.
  • Weekend getaways: Dubai is a popular weekend destination, so expect higher prices, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year.
  • Opening hours: Some attractions, especially outdoor spaces and water parks, might have shorter operating hours during the low season. Research specific opening hours before your trip to avoid disappointment.
Dubai in ''Winter''
Dubai in Summer

Essentials, Money & Safety Tips

Dubai, with its glistening skyscrapers, mesmerizing deserts, and cultural tapestry, is a haven for intrepid backpackers. But before diving headfirst into this kaleidoscope of experiences, ensure you’re well-equipped with the essentials and well-versed in safety tips specific to the city.

Dubai Budget-Friendly Passes:

  • Dubai Pass: This all-encompassing pass combines access to various attractions, including unlimited public transport usage for a set period. Ideal if you plan on visiting several attractions and using public transportation frequently.
  • Dubai Stopover Pass: Perfect for short layovers, this pass offers access to two to four top experiences, allowing you to make the most of your limited time in the city.
  • Flexi Attractions Pass: This option allows you to choose a specific number of attractions you want to visit, offering flexibility and customization for your itinerary.

What to Pack for Dubai:

  • Sun Protection Arsenal: Dubai’s relentless desert sun demands a well-stocked sun protection arsenal. Pack a high-factor SPF sunscreen (SPF 50+ is recommended), a wide-brimmed hat (preferably with a neck flap for added protection), and UV-protective sunglasses. Remember to reapply sunscreen regularly, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Dehydration is a real threat in Dubai’s hot climate. Invest in a reusable water bottle and fill it frequently. Opt for a bottle with good insulation to keep your water cool throughout the day.
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes: Dubai is a walkable city, so pack comfortable and breathable walking shoes. Consider shoes with good arch support, as you’ll likely be exploring for long stretches.
  • Lightweight Clothing: Pack light, loose-fitting clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton or linen. Opt for long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from the sun and potential mosquito bites, especially during evenings.
  • Modest Attire: While Dubai is a cosmopolitan city, remember to respect local customs when visiting religious sites or conservative areas. Pack clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, and avoid overly revealing clothing like short shorts or tank tops in these areas.
  • Power Adapter: Dubai uses Type G electrical sockets, different from those used in many other countries. Pack a universal power adapter to ensure you can charge your electronic devices.
  • First-Aid Kit: Pack a basic first-aid kit with essential supplies like pain relievers, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and any personal medications you might need.
  • Sunscreen-Friendly Clothing: Consider investing in lightweight, quick-drying clothing with built-in SPF protection for added sun protection.

Dubai Safety Tips

  • Sun Safety: Remember, Dubai experiences intense heat and sunshine throughout the year. Avoid prolonged exposure to the midday sun (between 11 AM and 3 PM) and seek shade whenever possible. Take breaks in air-conditioned spaces to cool down and rehydrate.
  • Respectful Behavior: Dubai is a multicultural and welcoming city. However, remember to be respectful of local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and refrain from public displays of affection, which are not widely accepted in public spaces.

Common Scams: Dubai guide for tourists

While uncommon, be aware of potential scams, especially in tourist areas. These might include:

  • Fake Gold Scam: Individuals approaching you with “cheap gold” deals, often claiming to be from a broken-down car. These offers usually involve fake or low-quality gold jewelry. Stick to reputable shops for any gold purchases.
  • Overpriced Taxis: Unmetered taxis, particularly near tourist areas, might try to overcharge you. Always opt for metered taxis or pre-book rides using ride-hailing apps like Uber or Careem for transparent pricing.

Things Not to Do

  • Public Intoxication: Dubai has strict laws regarding alcohol consumption. Avoid public intoxication, as it can lead to hefty fines or even arrest. Enjoy alcoholic beverages responsibly, only in licensed restaurants and bars.
  • Disrespecting Cultural Practices: Photography is generally permitted in Dubai, but be respectful when taking pictures of people. Always ask for permission before photographing individuals, especially women in traditional attire.
  • Littering: Dubai takes environmental protection seriously. Avoid littering and dispose of waste responsibly in designated bins. Public littering can result in fines.
  • Disrespectful Behavior at Religious Sites: When visiting mosques and other religious sites, dress modestly, maintain silence, and refrain from taking photographs or engaging in disruptive behavior.

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