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  • Writer's pictureKristin

How to Visit Dubai on a Budget

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

Okay, so DUBAI and FREE may seem like an oxymoron…..but it is possible! There is a wide variety of things you can do in Dubai, even if you are on a budget! Dubai may be known for its extravagance, and while those parts are interesting to see, there are several other parts that are simpler and more affordable. These are some of the ways we explored Dubai on a budget.

These were the Top Free Things We Did in Dubai:

5. Explore the Impressive Malls of Mall of the Emirates & Dubai Mall

4. Visit the Beach

3. Discover Expo 2020

2. Explore Old Town Dubai, Deira & Dubai Creek

1. Watch the Camel Races

No. 5 – Visit the Impressive Malls

Malls are always free and open to the public, and Dubai is known for having some extremely fancy ones, so one day we went out and explored Mall of the Emirates & Dubai Mall.

Mall of the Emirates

The main attraction at Mall of the Emirates was Ski Dubai – the World’s Largest Indoor Ski Resort. The mall includes a viewing area of Ski Dubai – where we could see some sledding hills & part of the chairlift. However, we didn’t get a view of the actual ski hill from the mall viewpoint. However, to go inside & ski was a bit outside of our budget, but it looks like they have you well covered with providing the outdoor gear for you as well on your visit. We also didn’t think it would quite stack up to the ski areas that we were used to in Alberta, Canada. Within the mall they also had a small arcade & bowling alley.

Dubai Mall

This mall is larger and probably the most impressive of the two malls – it had waterfalls within the mall, as well as a massive aquarium in the center. areas that you could see the fish & sea creatures without having to pay admission. Of course, there is more inside if you pay, but we had fun grabbing a coffee & just watching it for free!

One of the main attractions of the Dubai Mall is the outdoor fountain show. Once it gets darks, the show runs every half hour. They have security that open and close access to the show viewing points. While the show only runs for about 3.5 minutes, just getting into position takes about 20 minutes ahead of that. However, it also offers incredible views of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which has a brief light show on it between the fountain shows. While the visit was short in duration, we all really enjoyed the Fountain Show.

No. 4 – Spend a Day at the Beach

One great thing about beaches is most of them are FREE! We spent our last full day in Dubai at Jumeriah City Beach. We found a spot with a great city view and a playground right next to it, as well as free parking. The city beaches in Dubai also have great amenities like bathrooms and showers. There is such a variety of beaches to choose from and there is not a lack of choices!

No. 3 – Discover Expo 2020

Running from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, Expo 2020 is a great event to experience while in Dubai. Since we flew into Dubai on Emirates, we got a complimentary admission ticket with our boarding pass from the flight – making it super affordable to attend! We actually enjoyed our first day there so much and found out about a November promotion where you get half-priced admission tickets if you attend on a weekday (Sunday-Thursday), so we went back for a second day. Full-priced admission is typically 90 AED per adult (about $12 USD/$15 CDN) and children under 18 years old are free. However, this event will easily keep you entertained for a FULL Day…..actually, multiple days in all honesty. We found it to be one of the best values for the small amount that we did spend.

We also packed some sandwiches to help save on food costs, as there aren’t any outside food restrictions. However, if you’re wanting to grab food on the grounds, we found a food stand near the Palestine Pavilion that sold Zaatar for about $2.50 USD each – they were SUPER tasty! Several hotels offer free shuttles and the second time we attended we had a rental car, and parking was completely free.

We enjoyed exploring a variety of country Pavilions and over the time spent there we visited about 20 out of the total of the 237 Country Pavilions, as well as other general Pavilions, to choose from. We mainly focused on trying to find Pavilions that would keep our kids entertained. Check out our blog post that highlights some of the kid friendly features we visited – all Kid Tested & Kid Approved!

No. 2 – Old Town Dubai & Dubai Creek

Located in the historical district of Dubai there are so many little streets and souks to explore in the area. There is that Al Fahidi area, which has several unique cafes, eateries and Arabian Tea House, as well as Al Seef which stretches 1.8 kms along the Dubai Creek.

However, we decided to spend our time here by heading to Deira via an Abra water taxi. These traditional Abra boats head from one side of the creek to the other side and drop you off right at the edge of the souks. The best part is that it is only 1 AED ($.27 USD/$.33 CDN) to get across & kids seemed to be free!

On the public taxi of the traditional Abra for rides less than $1 in Old Town Deira, Dubai.
Loaded up to take the Abra Traditional Taxi Across Dubai Creek in Old Town Dubai.

There we set out exploring the Spice and Gold Souks, as well as any other little small souks and unique streets we came across.

Kittens next to the scarves in the souks of Deira in Old Town Dubai.
Exploring the souks in Deira in Old Town Dubai.

We also found the food super affordable here, as this is the area that many of the immigrants who work here from south Asia and other surrounding countries have settled. We purchased Saffron Indian tea – 2 cups for less than $1 USD and a big piece of Iranian cheese roti for less than $1 USD as well! Both were delicious! The boys even stopped an got their haircut at the Bangladeshi barber shop for about $6 USD per hair cut. This is definitely the affordable area of the city to explore and eat out at!

Abra on Dubai Creek at Sunset.
Traditional Abra Crossing the Dubai Creek in Old Town Dubai.

No. 1 – Watch the Camel Races

Two children, a camel handler & camels at the Dubai Camel Racetrack.
Meeting some of the camels at the Dubai Camel Races.

The sport of camel racing has been a cultural heritage sport in the Emirates for many years, and you can watch this event at the Al Marmoom Camel Racetrack, just 30 minutes outside of the city of Dubai. The racetrack is also home to the Dubai Camel Racing Club. Here camel races take place Fall through Spring – October to April (I even saw some information saying September). A lot of the information you read about it on the Internet says the races happen on Friday & Saturdays; however, when looking at the website, race & qualifiers days seemed to vary week to week, so make sure to check out the website to not miss out. The Race Track is one of the most coveted camel racing tracks in the UAE and it has a variety of tracks that vary by length – 3 km, 6 km, 11 km and even up to 15 km.

Although camel racing is a heritage sport, they have advanced with the times, and in 2002 they implemented robot jockeys, instead of human jockeys. In addition, there are several monitoring devices and protocols to ensure camel safety, including a state-of-the-art Camel Hospital right on the grounds.

Robot Jockey sits in front of several racing camels in Dubai.
Robotic Jockey that is used instead of a human jockey for the Camel Races in United Arab Emirates.

We attended on a Tuesday morning and I believe it was a qualifying race day. We drove there in our rental car and there was free parking available. (If you don’t have a vehicle then taking a taxi would probably be your best way of transport there.) We were also one of the very few spectators at the track, as the stands were literally empty. However, I think we probably lucked out this way, as we were able to move from spot to spot around the track and even headed up a raised platform that was above the starting line where we could watch the camels start the races. It gave us a lot of freedom & flexibility.

When we first arrived, we were astounded by the hundreds of camels that we saw on the grounds! They were literally everywhere – hundreds of them! We watched groups of them warming up on the track and then we headed to the grandstand area where the races were happening.

A group of camels jogging along the track with their handlers prior to the camel races.
A group of camels warming up on the track at the Dubai Camel Races.

We watched there for a bit before heading over to the bridge that is raised above the starting line, which is where we saw a lot of the action of the camels staging for the races, getting led out to the starting line, as well as the race start. If you have access to binoculars, then it would be best to bring them with you to the races. The course is long and it is hard to see what is happening on the opposite side of the track. Therefore, we mainly just watched the start & finish to the races.

Almost as entertaining as watching the camels race, was the white SUVs that followed the camels around the race track. These SUVs contained the owners and trainers of the camels and they follow their camels around the track to give it commands and ‘encouragement’ while honking their horns and controlling the robot jockey.

White SUVs follow around the race track as the camels race around to give them encouragement and to control the radio jockeys at the Dubai Camel Races.
White SUVs follow along the race track as the camels race.

This was one of the more unique experiences we had in Dubai and we spent a couple of hours just taking it all in. We arrived around 7 a.m. and then left at 9 a.m.-ish. There was lots to do while we were there – the kids enjoyed cheering on the camels as well!

Accommodation & Getting Around

Okay, now for the elephant in the room….let’s be honest accommodation in Dubai can add up. However, one way we helped keep these costs down was by using some of the hotel points we had collected. We ended up getting $1600 USD worth for 8 nights of hotel for FREE! And it included a free breakfast, which also helped us save money on food. We used points that we got as part of a Sign-up bonus with the IHG Premier Credit Card.

In addition to accommodation, getting around in Dubai can add up as well. We took the metro the day we went to Mall of the Emirates & Dubai Mall and for the transportation there and back to our place near the Industrial Airport it added up quickly – we probably spent around $50 USD just in getting from place to place, including the taxis. There seems to be a compromise between the cost of staying centrally located or paying for transportation and staying more on the outskirts for a cheaper price. Also, contrary to popular belief, Uber & Careem were actually more expensive than the metered taxis.

Based on where we were staying (outside the central part of Dubai) and our plans for the rest of our time in the UAE, we determined that a rental car was much cheaper and efficient for us. However, at that particular time, rental cars in Dubai were insanely expensive, likely due to Expo, so Alex headed to Abu Dhabi to get a rental car from there and saved about $400 over 3 weeks by doing so.

Don’t let all the glamour and extravagance scare you off from visiting Dubai. There is an economical way to visit the city, if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices and are smart about how you spend your money. However, we are excited to see what the rest of the United Arab Emirates holds for us, and we are hoping it is a bit cheaper than big city prices.


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