Backpacking Dubai can be fun, but it is not cheap! Not unless you use some of my best travel-hacks…
Dubai is one heck of a city! It shouts out – “I am awesome! Awesome… yet expensive”. While this is a country is a tad expensive for the average backpacker, it won’t let you down in terms of things to do. If you’ve got the cash and fancy giving Dubai a whirl it is possible to see the country on a budget (but it’s definitely going to cost you!).
Backpacking Dubai – How to Get There
One of the good things about Dubai from a budget point of view is that you can get to Dubai pretty cheaply from the UK with flights costing around the £200 mark if you grab a bargain.
Be sure to check flights both to Dubai AND to Abu Dhabi. Both can have great deals to and from Europe, you just gotta keep an eye out.
Backpacking Dubai – The Best Hostels in Dubai
Dubai’s love for luxury obviously extends to its accommodation, which is why staying in hostels is the best way to save money while backpacking Dubai.
And surprisingly – the hostel scene isn’t too bad! While there are currently only a handful of options Dubai has some great hostels that aren’t too terribly expensive. Here are some of the best hostels for backpacking Dubai.
- Free Breakfast
- Amazing Views
If you are backpacking Dubai, At the Top Hostel is a pretty sweet choice for accommodation. And see those views? I’ll give you one guess where it gets its name from…
Located on the 66th floor, At the Top Hostel has some astonishing views and feels quite luxurious for its modest price. Include some free breakfast, high speed wifi and 24 hour reception, and it seems At the Top gives quite some bang for your buck.
- Pool and gym
- No breakfast
A bit more budget friendly, Backpacker 16 Hostel is one of the best hostels in Dubai. It’s chic and comes at a very affordable price tag. It’s got a gym. Yay! It’s got a pool. Yay! It’s got a kitchen. Yay! But no free brekkie. But given the price tag the amenities are fairly stellar, which is why Backpacker 16 is awesome.
- Unlimited shisha
- Free brekkie
A bit on the pricier side, but you need to consider everything you are getting. A free delicious breakfast, free towels, high speed wifi, highly reviewed beds, and most importantly – FREE AND UNLIMITED SHISHA!
So maybe Domme is more of a Shisha-smokers paradise. But if you are into a hell of a lot of awesome perks, this could be the hostel for you.
Best Airbnb in Dubai: Bright Room in Shared Villa
Enjoy staying just outside of the hustle and bustle at this villa near the beach! It’s just footsteps from the sea and provides beach towels during your stay. Hang out in the large living space right outside your bedroom door that is decked out with large comfy sofas, coffee tables, books, board games and a massive TV with both cable and Netflix. Perfect for couples looking to have a lazy weekend stay.
So, you’ve landed in Dubai, you have a few bucks to your name and a weekend to kill; what should you do. What CAN you do in Dubai on a budget?
Top Things to do when Backpacking Dubai
1. Soak in the views from Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek divides Dubai into two views, the Deira on one side, and the Bur Dubai on the other. You can cross Dubai Creek by Abra, a traditional ferry, for under a buck and the views over the city are well worth the hassle of getting out there.
2. Explore the Bastakia Quarter and Al Fahidi Fort
If you really want to peek behind the curtain and discover the real Dubai, you’re going to have to look beyond the flashy malls and towering skyscrapers. The best place to start is the Bastakia Quarter, built by modern day Persians (those dudes that the Spartans like to shove off cliffs) in the 19th century. Winding alleys, stunning towers and crumbling facades paint a picture of what life might have been like in Dubai one hundred years ago.
Drop the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding an email to organise a tour of the area and find out about the customary practice in the United Arab Emirates…. or, wait for someone else to organise the tour and then tag along within earshot, it’ll be free!
It’s also well worth heading to the oldest surviving structure in town; the Al Fahidi Fort where you can check out wall after wall of ancient weaponry (yep, now we’re talking). It only costs a dollar to get in and will keep you busy during the hottest part of the afternoon – seriously, you’re going to want to hide between 12 and 3.
3. Take to the streets and try local cuisine
Head to Al Dhiyafah Road and check out the dozens of stalls serving up tasty Iranian, Lebanese and even India food. If you want fresh seafood right off the grill, check out Pars Iranian Kitchen. If you’re a curry fiend head straight to Pakistani Ravi Restaurant for their world-famous, ridiculously spicy, dishes. If you’re heading to Dubai, you really must make an effort to try some authentic Middle Eastern food. Visit the Afghan Kebab House behind Naif Mosque, off Deira St. and eat a stack of Naans with lamb.
4. Explore the desert
No trip to Dubai is complete without a short jaunt into the desert. If you’re feeling adventurous, simply make a buddy on Couchsurfing and ask them to take you out into the desert. If you have a bit of cash, sign up for a desert safari and explore the desert by 4 x 4 before camping out for a night under the stars. Check out this post for plenty of photo inspiration on the most instagrammable spots in Dubai.
…or book your desert tour, with camels, surfing and BBQ here.
5. Head to the shopping malls
Ok, I hate shopping. It’s not my thing at all. Saying that, whenever I am in crazy hot countries I will usually head to a shopping mall once in a while simply to enjoy the air conditioning or to watch a movie in an epic cinema – they are ALWAYS cheaper than the cinemas back home. Karama Market is the place to go for cheap goods, just be sure to bring your haggling A-game.
If you want to check out some of the plusher malls and see what all the fuss is about then head to the Mall of the Emirates. Here you can see an indoor ski slope, complete with real snow. You can also check out the Mall of Arabia; complete with a gigantic dino-park…
6. Party like there’s no tomorrow.
My idea of partying involves buying a pack of beers, heading to the hostel common room and seeing whom I can befriend over a game of cards…. If this isn’t quite gonna cut it for all you mad party animals then head on over to the somewhat expensive 360° bar which is located at the end of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Marina Walkway. You can enjoy a 360° view of the Burj Al Arab, a panoramic view of the sea, and a beautiful skyline of Dubai whilst sipping on fancy cocktails. Dubai is packed to bursting with cool pubs, trendy bars and pulsating clubs; just be sure to find a cheapish one or to befriend a wealthy prince; which I imagine is somewhat difficult if your male. There are not too many places in the Middle East you can party hard so get this onto your Dubai itinerary.
7. Hit the beach
There are some incredible beaches in Dubai! The Al Mamzar public beach is the place to spend your mornings swimming and sunbathing. Chill and read a book or take to the waters and go kitesurfing, wakeboarding or jet-skiing.
Bonus! – Feeling like doing something special with your partner in Dubai? In this city, there is no shortage of dreamy activities to get into. Check out this article for a complete this of romantic things to do in Dubai.
So there you have it my lovelies! – Everything you need to know to hit Dubai on a budget without breaking the bank! As mentioned, Dubai is extremely safe, and can be a truly eye opening travel experience. If anyone manages to find some truly cheap accommodation out there, let me know! I tend to Couchsurf wherever possible if I am backpacking in more expensive countries.
Volunteering in Dubai
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Dubai whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.
Make Money Online Whilst Backpacking Dubai
Traveling in Dubai long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city?
Well, if you want to teach English at a school in Dubai you’ll have to settle down for some serious time and it usually requires some prior experience.
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Dubai
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
Backpacking Dubai can be one hell of a crazy party at times (surprise!). Take it from me, it can be easy to get carried away. It is important to keep in mind that you are an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country.
If you visit the outlying, run-down areas always ask people before taking photos. The people who live in these quarters of the city are not exhibits in a museum. They are normal folks just living their lives. Always show them the complete respect that they deserve.
I know it can be hard, but do your best to use the least amount of plastic water bottles that you can. Refill the ones that you do buy! Use a Grayl Geopress. Refill at your hostel! There are plenty of ways to reduce plastic!!!
Even when Backpacking in a glamorous part of the world like Dubai some of the great socio-economic inequalities of the world are illuminated. Never take it for granted that you are healthy and financially able to go traveling. Show the world around you some gratitude and help to make a positive impact on it. Most of all have the time of your life and spread the love!
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FYI – If you are really short on time, then note that there are Dubai transit tours operating from the airport which last around 5 hours.