How to save money in Dubai and Sharjah – 15 ways to vacation cheaper in the UAE
How to go on vacation cheap in expensive Dubai? Easy! I share my experience on a budget trip to the UAE. Learn 10 secrets to help you save money: how to buy cheap tickets or a tour, book a budget hotel, eat delicious and inexpensive food, find free entertainment and attractions.
Exchange rate: 1 UAE dirham (AED) ≈ 19 RUB.
Check out: How to travel to Dubai now (updated tourist reviews and pandemic entry conditions).
Map of Dubai – our guide to the best sights with descriptions, photos and tips. The map costs ₽300 and will save you a lot of time. It is installed on any smartphone and works without internet.
How to buy cheap tickets to Dubai
Warning. Not all flight options are available during the pandemic. Now it’s safest to fly direct from your country, avoiding transfers.
You can get to Dubai from Russian and European cities quite cheaply.
- The cheapest tickets from Moscow to Dubai and back usually cost from 14000 rubles – Aeroflot, Ural Airlines, flyDubai and others. For Aeroflot this is a great price. Charters can cost as little as 10,000 rubles (Russia, Ural Airlines), but these options are rare.
- Regions . Inexpensive to fly from Mineralnye Vody, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Makhachkala, St. Petersburg – tickets cost from 17,000 rubles.
- Very cheap charter flights to Dubai are from Helsinki (6000 rubles round trip), but you need to buy tickets on the Finnish sites of local tour operators (can you? If yes, try to look here: www.tui.fi). Alas, such options are rare.
I’ll list the European cities from which you can find cheap tickets to Dubai. Why? It’s easy: you can combine visiting several countries in one trip and save on airfare. For example, you can fly from Moscow to Istanbul or Stockholm, and then fly from there to Dubai, and only then return home. For the same 14-20 thousand for the Moscow-Dubai-Moscow ticket you can visit one or two more European cities. Here is a list of cities from where you can fly cheaply to Dubai: Kiev, Sofia, Istanbul, Stockholm, Prague, Bucharest, Katowice, Oslo, Budapest.
Look for cheap tickets to Dubai on Aviasales – it compares prices of all airlines. If you’re flying during high season and holidays, buy a few months in advance. Learn the secrets of finding cheap airline tickets.
Latest ticket prices calendar to Dubai
How to find a cheap hotel in Dubai
Dubai has some of the most expensive hotels in the world: I found options for 300 thousand rubles a day (villas and yachts), but usually luxury villas, hotels and apartments cost 20-90 thousand rubles a day. Okay, so we’ll rest some other time, but for now let’s talk about budget accommodation.
The cheapest hotels in Dubai cost from 2500 rubles per night for two people – they usually have modest ratings, uncomfortable location and many other drawbacks, which are written about in the reviews. Rest in such hotels is unlikely to be pleasant.
Недорогие квартиры в Дубае >>
Decent hotels with a rating of 8 or higher on Bookings cost from 4,000 rubles per night. That’s a good price for Dubai. I recommend booking a hotel in this category. Pay no attention to the stars – they don’t say a lot, you’d better look carefully at the reviews of guests, assess the convenience of the location and the availability of breakfasts.
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We stayed at Orient Guest House Hotel, which is a rare example of a traditional style hotel in the Emirates. Located in the Old Town, close to the subway and inexpensive Indian cafes. Nice and attentive staff (helped with ticket printouts, kept our luggage after check-out), very hearty breakfasts. Paid 3800 rubles per day. Recommended, it’s a great hotel.
How to book an inexpensive but good hotel:
- Choose a hotel with a rating of at least 7 out of 10.
- Carefully read the reviews – even in expensive hotels 4-5 stars have flaws.
- Find out if there is a free shuttle to the beaches.
- Check if the subway is close.
- Take a hotel with breakfasts.
- It’s convenient if there are supermarkets and inexpensive cafes nearby – look on Google Maps or Maps.Me.
Book hotels on Booking.com, but first compare prices on Roomguru.ru – the service may find a lower price on other sites. During high season book in advance. Learn more about how to search and book accommodation correctly.
Dubai is all about skyscrapers, Arabs, sand and camels. (Photo: unsplash.com / @fredrikohlander)
Ras al-Khaimah is the youngest
The youngest emirate and probably the best value for money when it comes to beach holidays. In Ras Al Khaimah, excellent beaches and beachfront hotels, a lot of entertainment in the desert, including – exotic hotels. In addition, it is very scenic: mountain ranges, beautiful beaches, the canyon of Wadi B and the mineral water Haat.
Who is suitable for the emirate: lovers of hiking and trekking, those who prefer a quiet family holiday at the beach.
Where to eat cheap in Dubai
Dubai is the perfect place to explore the cuisine of different Asian countries. Forget the pompous, European-style restaurants – the prices to us are excessively high. Choose inexpensive cafes and restaurants opened by emigrants for emigrants.
90% of the population of the Arab Emirates are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and other countries. They all need somewhere inexpensive to eat, so they open budget restaurants with national cuisine for their compatriots. A multi-course lunch or dinner at an inexpensive cafe will cost 40-50 dirhams for two. Trying the cuisine of a new country every day for only 300-500 rubles per person is a great alternative to senseless waste in mediocre and expensive restaurants.
But of course, the queen of hearty and inexpensive lunch in Dubai is Her Majesty Shawarma! An average serving costs about 10 dirhams. For the skillful gourmets the chefs from near abroad are ready to offer a more refined version of the well-known dish – shawarma on a plate for 12-15 dirhams.
In large supermarkets you can buy ready-made meals: salads, meat, desserts, juice. It’s not an easy way to make a meal for two: it’s very difficult to find a big supermarket in Dubai and it’s very inconvenient to eat outdoors.
The Bur Dubai and Deira areas are particularly well-stocked with budget cafes, but Downtown and Dubai Marina are hard to find.
Try to book hotels with breakfast included, you will save time and money.
For four days in Dubai we spent Dh300 ($80) for two people for food.
Цены на еду в Дубае >>
(Photo: chiragndesai / flickr.com / CC BY-ND 2.0 license)
Feel free to use public transport during your vacation in Dubai: subways, buses, streetcars and water transport. It is inexpensive and relatively convenient. You can get to almost any part of the city on the subway, the fare costs from 4 dirhams, there is a daily pass for 20 dirhams. The metro is modern, technological, beautiful, convenient, but because of the enormous size of Dubai it takes a long ride – on average it takes half an hour for each trip. You can’t take the metro to the beaches – you have to combine it with a streetcar, bus or cab – depending on where you want to go.
The cheapest and most interesting transport in Dubai is the Abrahs . They are traditional open boats that run along the Dubai Creek and connect Deira and Bur Dubai. There are plenty of them, they are cheap (from 1 dirham) and around the clock. Pay by cash. Often used by tourists as an attraction. You must go for a ride!
Read also: Prices for all-inclusive hotels by the sea, hotels, houses, apartments, apartments and cheap hostels for vacation in Batumi, Georgia. Rent a house for rent.
Also, cab rides are not expensive: the fare is 5 dirhams, and the cost per kilometer starts at 1.7 dirhams. If you are travelling as a family or in a group, it’s even cheaper to take a cab than the bus or the metro.
There’s no point in renting a car in Dubai – it’s cheaper and more convenient to take a cab or public transportation without thinking about traffic jams, gasoline, parking and fines.
For transport in Dubai for four days we spent 1700 rubles for two people.
The services of mobile operator Du – the starting package for the tourist costs 55 dirhams. It can only be bought with a passport. On account you have 200 MB, 20 minutes and 20 SMS conversations, it’s all valid for 7 days, then you have to renew the validity of the number (will come to the sms with a reminder). Lifehack for tourists in Dubai: if the Internet ran out, then top up the account for 20 dirhams and ask the employee to help with the Internet balance, as independently with the first time it is not always possible. You can recharge your account at the operator’s stores.
What can be seen for free in Dubai
On the sights and entertainment in Dubai can be ruined! Here they are either expensive or very expensive. However, you can always find loopholes. For the frugal, I’ve compiled a list of free attractions in Dubai.
- Burj Khalifa and other skyscrapers – free to look only from the side, entrance to the observation deck is paid.
- Dubai Mall.
- Jumeirah Mosque – free guided tours in English at 10 am daily except Fridays.
- Aquarium – admission is paid, but you can see part of the aquarium while walking around the Mall.
- Singing and dancing fountains in front of the Dubai Mall.
- Beaches – many of them are free, such as Jumeirah Open Beach, Jumeirah Beach Park, Kite Beach and others.
- Picturesque Dubai Creek.
- Tidy and restored Old Town.
- Markets: Gold, fish, spices.
- Neighborhoods of Dubai Marina and Dubai Lake Towers.
- Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort – Enjoy a glimpse into what Dubai was like at the time of the Bedouins and Emirs.
- Al Qouz Pond Park.
- Ras Al Khor is a huge park and a wintering spot for migratory birds. Here you can see the pink flamingo, heron, sea hawk and other species. The park is open Saturday to Thursday from 9:00 to 16:00 and feeding hours are from 9:00 to 9:30. Admission is free.
Abu Dhabi – the largest
The largest emirate in the UAE is chosen by lovers of cultural leisure. There is a large concentration of museums and galleries (even a branch of the Louvre!), exhibitions and concerts. And of course, must-see landmarks of the emirate: the Great Mosque of Sheikh Zayed, Al Husn Palace, the Corniche promenade, the Founding Fathers Memorial, natural parks. Entertainment is also a lot: for example, the legendary Ferrari Land Park and Yas Waterworld, a new park extreme entertainment CLYMB.
Who is suitable for the emirate: inquisitive tourists, families with older children and VIP-tourists.
Important: Russia has been put on Abu Dhabi’s “green” list, which means that tourists from Russia can now visit the emirate without quarantine!
Inexpensive Entertainment in Dubai
- Taste different cuisines from around the world.
- Take the metro – it’s so technologically advanced, beautiful and modern, the trains run without a driver, and the fare is cheap.
- Take a ride on traditional Abrah boats on Dubai Creek.
- Visit Alfa Safa Park, the largest park in Dubai. All covered in greenery, absolutely all of it – and this is a wonder for the desert and a real refreshment in a dusty and noisy metropolis. There are free barbecue areas, playgrounds, a ferris wheel, a jogging track with a soft surface. Every first Friday of the month there is a flea market in the park. Admission costs 3 dirhams.
We spent 6000 rubles for two people – the price of two combo tickets to the Burj Khalifa, the aquarium and the zoo at the Dubai Mall.
17 ways to save money in Dubai and have a cheap vacation
Before going to Dubai, I surfed the Internet to see if an inexpensive vacation in Dubai is possible in principle, because Dubai is about the most expensive things, from cars to skyscrapers. But when I came to Dubai, I realized that not necessarily need to be a millionaire to arrange a good vacation. In this article, I want to share some simple ways to save money in Dubai and have a cheap vacation.
Some of these ways I have already mentioned in my other articles. For example, how to save money on excursions in Dubai, you can read a dedicated article about them, and a few more ways to save money in Dubai in 2022 are described in the article “How much does it cost to vacation in Dubai”.
Holidays in the low season
“High” season in Dubai is early spring and late fall. This is the perfect time for a beach vacation, and the prices of lodging and airfare go up noticeably. Both are the most serious expense items, so you can save a lot of money by coming to Dubai “out of season”.
It is not worth going in summer – the heat in the UAE in the summer months is hellish, – but in winter it is quite comfortable. The temperature of water and air in the winter months varies markedly from year to year, so you may even be lucky enough to swim in the sea. But even without sea bathing in Dubai there is a lot to do. In winter, you can explore the city, go shopping, have fun in theme parks and water parks, go on excursions – almost any leisure activity is open to you.
Another time of year when prices for holidays in Dubai are reduced is the month of Ramadan. However, the trip to the UAE in Ramadan has certain disadvantages. Read about them in detail in the article “What a tourist should know before a trip to Dubai.
Catching the moment when the tours to Dubai are cheapest
The price of a tour to Dubai directly depends on whether you go in low or high season, as I wrote above. But there is another way to “catch” a cheap tour – to keep track of hot deals on aggregator sites level.travel and travelata. If the tour operator urgently needs to sell it, otherwise he will lose money on the already bought out airline tickets and hotel rooms booked. In this case your departure is scheduled for a week, sometimes two or three days, but you can save up to 50% of the cost.
Choose the right hotel with free breakfast and shuttle to the beach
In the hotel where you are going to stay, it is important not only the cost of the room and the equipment of the hotel itself, but also what services can be given to you in it for free. Many hotels in Dubai offer free transfers. It may be a transfer to the beach, to the city center and to some attractions, such as Dubai Parks & Resorts. It should be noted that transfer services are offered not only by luxury hotels, but also by “three-and-four” hotels. For mid-range hotels it is even more relevant, because they are usually located far from the sea (for example, in a relatively inexpensive area of Deira).
When choosing a hotel, it is best to take a B&B, bed and breakfast. Full board in Dubai is not particularly profitable, but you should not give up eating out altogether either. Looking for somewhere to eat breakfast in the morning is a hassle and will not save you a lot of money.
Take advantage of the hotel discounts
If you’re looking for accommodation on your own – for example, with the help of websites Roomguru or Booking – you can stumble upon a variety of discounts, which can sometimes exceed 15% of the amount of accommodation.
We are talking about promotions from the hotels or apartments themselves, and secondly – about discounts aggregator platforms, which place their offers. For example, on Booking.com you can get a discount for booking your hotel from a mobile app, or reduce the cost of your stay thanks to the bonus program Genius, which is automatically activated as soon as you make five reservations in Booking.
Saving on currency exchange
Currency exchange is a very crucial point where you can lose up to half of the money you’ve taken in Dubai. I described the situation in detail in the article “Money in Dubai” and gave some tips, but in short:
- Use a bank card if possible, but make sure the money is withdrawn in dirhams, not dollars;
- Bring dollars, not rubles or euros;
- Do not use exchange offices at the airport and hotels;
- Change money in banks or exchange offices in shopping malls (UAE Exchange and Carrefour are the best choices);
- Exchange your money for amounts starting from $100 and more. Most exchange offices practice a fixed fee for the exchange, so changing a large amount of money is more profitable than doing it in portions.
Using public transport
Cabs in Dubai are rather expensive – ~90 rubles for boarding, ~30 rubles/km trip, and there is often a minimum payment threshold – so it makes sense to take public transport. It in Dubai is represented by bus, metro and streetcar. To pay for them you can use a common reusable travel card, which you will periodically recharge.
The metro in Dubai does not cover the whole city, but only the central part of it and the Deira area, but for tourist purposes it is usually enough. Buses and streetcars have a wider coverage, but they travel at longer intervals and slower. Despite this, they are a comfortable and reliable means of transportation.
The cost of a trip by subway, bus or streetcar depends on how far you travel and how many transport zones you cross. On average it is 70-100 rubles.
Seeing Dubai for free
Most entertainment in Dubai is onerous on the wallet, but this is not true for all of them. Some attractions can be seen for free, if you spend only for the road, and they can make quite a rich program.
One of the main free attractions in Dubai – Dancing Fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa. Very close to them, in the Dubai Mall, you can admire the outside of the Dubai Aquarium. In the same mall you can see an artificial waterfall several stories high, above the surface of which the statues of pearl divers hover.
Other free attractions in Dubai include:
- Al Fahidi Fort and the Coffee Museum and Coin Museum located there;
- Markets for spices, gold, textiles, and fish;
- Jumeirah Mosque (one of the few where tourists are allowed);
- Riverland, a theme park that is part of Dubai Parks & Resorts;
- Ras Al Khor Reserve, where the pink flamingos live;
- “Heritage Village, an open-air ethnographic museum;
- Camel Museum near Heritage Village;
- Camel Races;
- Laser show at Festival City Mall.
Using the Dubai Pass.
The Go Dubai Card and iVenture Dubai Pass travel cards are a convenient way to visit several attractions or attractions at a discount. Both cards come in many varieties. There are unlimited cards that allow free entry to any attraction from the list for a certain number of days, there are thematic – dedicated, for example, only to amusement parks.
The most advantageous option is the “flexible” card, which allows you to choose a fixed number of attractions (3, 4, 5 or 7) from the list. The list includes almost all the major attractions and tourist attractions in Dubai, from climbing the Burj Khalifa to the theme parks.
Such maps can be purchased not only on the respective official websites, but also on Klook’s website. For example, a Go Dubai Explorer Pass can be purchased on Klook, and a “flexible” and unlimited card is available from iVenture.
Using discounts on excursions
If you book tours through one of the aggregator sites – Viator, GetYourGuide, Klook or Tripster – you can come across very good discount offers. In the case of tours with Russian guides, which can be booked on Tripster, you can even factor them into your plans. Tour guides indicate on their booking calendars which days demand less money for their services.
I write more about these sites and which ones offer the best discounts in my article about tours in Dubai.
Eating with the locals: where to eat delicious and inexpensive food in Dubai
There are dozens of restaurants in Dubai designed for tourists and for natives of Dubai with a high level of income. Prices in such establishments, of course, are off the charts. But that doesn’t mean that there is nowhere to eat on a budget in Dubai. There are many cafes and eateries in the city, designed for ordinary workers – usually Asian immigrants, of which there are more Arabs in Dubai than Arabs themselves. If you go further away from the developed tourist areas, you are likely to come across Indian or Pakistani eateries serving the respective national dishes.
You can get a hearty meal at such eateries for 25-35 dirhams, or even cheaper if you only take one or two dishes. If you need to dine out, there is also the option of looking for a café or restaurant where business lunches appear on the menu at certain times of the day. This can cut the cost of lunch in half.
You can read about the cost of food in Dubai and other ways to save on it (like buying ready-made food from the supermarket) in my article “How much does it cost to vacation in Dubai”.
Taking advantage of discounts on admission tickets
I’ve already written about one way to get a discount on admission tickets to a variety of attractions and attractions in Dubai – the Dubai Pass cards. But there are others.
For example, it is better to get tickets online rather than at the box office, and not only because there is usually a huge line at the box office. No less important reason – discounts, which are often offered for the purchase of a ticket on the official website. Usually they are kept in the neighborhood of 10%, plus you can stumble upon seasonal discounts and bonus offers.
It is even cheaper to buy admission tickets through Klook and Viator, which I have already mentioned in connection with buying tours and Dubai Pass. For example, the entrance ticket to the Dubai Aquarium officially costs 225 dirhams, and through Klook you can buy it for only 79 dirhams (here is the link).
Relaxing on free beaches
The idea that the free stuff is always worse than the paid stuff is firmly entrenched in people’s minds. Beaches Dubai disproves this statement, because, according to many tourists, the best beaches in Dubai – it’s among the free. They have all the necessary infrastructure, and for the stay at them you do not need to pay the 5 dirhams (the standard cost of admission to the paid beach).
The best free beaches in Dubai are Jumeirah Open Beach, JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), La Mer, Kite Beach and the wild beach Sufuh (aka Sunset Beach). La Mer beach is considered the best for a quiet civilized vacation and Kite Beach – for active, because it gives a lot of opportunities to do water sports. Kite Beach has another interesting advantage – the sky above it dazzles with colorful kites, which are especially suitable conditions for launching them here. Once a year there is a Kite Festival on one of the Dubai beaches, which is also free to attend.
Doing tax free – a tax refund for shopaholics
Many people go to Dubai, especially during Trade Fair month, to shop, including big ones. As of 2018, there is a 5% tax on them, which can add up to a serious amount in the case of expensive items. Fortunately, the UAE has launched a Tax Free program that allows tourists who plan to take home their purchases to get rid of this tax.
Tax Free is valid for goods costing more than 250 dirhams, and with its help you can get back 85% of VAT, but not more than 10 thousand dirhams per day. In order to get a tax refund, you need to make a purchase in a store which supports this service and ask for a Tax Free form upon payment. A special electronic form will be filled out for the goods (you’ll need your passport for that), and the relevant tag will be attached to the receipt. It is valid for 90 days from the date of purchase.
Before you leave for home in Dubai airport find the terminal with the Tax Free sign and show your passport, cheque and the tag. You may also need to show the item itself and prove that you’re actually taking it across the border in one piece.
Saving on cell phones
It is quite difficult to save money on mobile communications in Dubai. The main problem is the existence of only two main operators, Etisalat and Du, which have equally high prices for services. Virgin Mobile, which operates on Du networks and allows you to change the set of services in the tariff plan, has recently been added to them – but it is not particularly profitable. The situation is aggravated by the fact that video communication via the usual messengers and Skype is prohibited in the country.
Do not be fooled by offers to subscribe to the service “Call Home” or “Cheap International”! It is not for tourists, but for immigrants, and only covers India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Egypt.
So what to do in that case? There are three options to save at least a little money on your cell phone.
- A Drimsim travel SIM card. Its Internet prices in the UAE are terrible, but calls to Russia will be cheaper.
- Etisalat’s line of tourist tariffs is the Visitor Line. Not particularly cheap, but there are nice bonuses – discount coupons for shopping and sightseeing, promo codes for cabs, 5 hours of free access to UAE WiFi, working in public places.
- If mobile internet is important to you, your best bet is Etisalat’s Non-Stop Daily Plans. They give you unlimited Internet traffic with limited speeds. For 3 AED/day you get 192 Kbps, for 5 AED/day you get 400 Kbps, for 10 AED/day the speed limit is removed altogether.
The best way to save on buying a SIM card in Dubai is to use the Klook website. Through it you can buy a SIM-card (here’s the link) with a pre-connected plan that includes a package of Internet traffic (up to 3 GB) and minutes (up to 100), which can be spent including on international calls. Another option is to buy an entrance ticket to one of the Dubai attractions and get a free SIM card along with it. Read more about the free sim card here →.
Buying fruit in the stores
The usual advice when visiting exotic countries is to buy fruit “off-hand”, for instance from the markets where the locals bring the produce to sell. The situation is different in Dubai. The natural conditions here do not allow the cultivation of their own fruits and vegetables, so the residents of Dubai have to make do with imported ones. But the big stores and supermarkets, which buy products in large quantities, get them at the wholesale price and therefore exhibit lower prices.
Saving on souvenirs
From Dubai to go home will want to bring something interesting to remember the trip. But what should you do to keep it from costing you a pretty penny? Here are a few tips:
- The cheapest souvenirs referring to the history and culture of Dubai can be bought in a souvenir shop of the National Museum of Dubai.
- In Duty Free Dubai, unlike similar stores in other airports, the prices are relatively low. It is quite profitable to shop there.
- Stores belonging to the Day to Day chain also offer a wide variety and low prices, including souvenirs.
- Souvenirs from Dubai can also be bought cheaply in Dubai markets, especially in the Covered Market and Murdish Bazaar in Deira and Souk Karama Market in Al Karama district. Buying souvenirs at the market has the important advantage that by haggling you can reduce the price considerably. Al Karama Market also often has its share of sales.
Haggle to the Last Bargain
Haggling in the UAE is a national pastime, so you can try to lower the price in this way even in large shopping malls. You are unlikely to get much, but you can get a discount of 10-15%. Sometimes instead of a discount they make gifts. For example, if you buy a camera, they might give you a camera bag or a tripod. True, these will be the cheapest items. It’s a way of just throwing dust in your eyes.
But in the markets of Dubai haggling is a must: you can pay for the goods much less than the original price – sometimes even three times.
And you must follow some rules, otherwise you will not be able to get in touch with the seller.