We got to discover Dubai under $20! On our way to Lisbon, we had a six-hour layover in Dubai and used the opportunity to explore the incredible city of Dubai. Although we were on a tight budget, we managed to see and do a lot – all under $20!
We arrived really early in the morning – giving us a full morning to discover Dubai. After a quick assessment of our budget, we put aside the equivalent of $40 for the day ($20 each). The exchange rate at the time was 3,5 United Arab Emirates Dirhams (AED) for 1 American Dollar ($).
First things first
We needed to get out of the Airport – and into the city. The most affordable way of doing so was to take the Metro. The Metro offers an affordable, beautiful ride directly from the Airport to a number of stops throughout the city. We paid 44 AED for two unlimited day passes.
The first sight we wanted to see was the iconic Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. As we arrived very early in the morning, nothing was open yet. To be honest, this wouldn’t have made a difference as a ride to the top costs a minimum of $30 – and very much out of our budget. We did, however, manage to tick off seeing the Burj Khalifa from the bottom – for free.
On our way back to the metro we walked through the Dubai Mall and caught a few glimpses of some marine life through the Aquarium glass doors. These two sights were also free of charge (largely due to the fact that nothing was open yet).
Refueling on a budget
As we got to Dubai so early not much had opened yet, but it was already extremely hot. With our bags on our backs and having been awake for a couple of hours already, we followed the source direction of a man holding a cup of coffee for some food. And we hit the jackpot! There was a local cafe open in one of the side streets.
People were sitting, eating and drinking, paying and leaving at the speed of light – a really well-oiled machine. We got hustled to our seat and ordered a coffee and before we knew it, we had an entire meal in front of us. It was delicious and only cost us 20 AED.
During this meal experience, we learned two things – 1. Dubai locals love their sugar and 2. Everyone eats with their right hand for hygiene purposes.
This food gave us a nice boost of energy to carry on exploring the surrounding area of the Gold Souks. We watched the shops open, marveled at the gold and got haggled on every corner – and it cost us nothing! However, we did spend 10 AED on a cashmere shawl from a bargain bin to cover Candi’s shoulders (we were uncertain about the lines of modesty and didn’t want to offend anyone).
A trip within a trip
By this point, the heat had picked up to 40 degrees Celsius. We wanted to cross the river but didn’t want to walk all the way around. We decided to ‘brat out’ and get a ferry ride across – but it was far cheaper than anticipated. The entire crossing only cost us 2 AED.
Once there, we bought a drink to cool down. We avoided the (what we thought were) expensive restaurants and settled on a (what we thought was a) cheaper stall. But it wasn’t – we ended up paying a little bit more than anticipated for a mango juice and Coca Cola which totaled 20 AED.
Back at the airport
Once back at the airport, we spent whatever was remaining on some lunch, water, and a Snickers bar. This came to 43 AED.
In total, we spent 139 AED which translates to $37.8 (only $18.9 each).
In conclusion, it is more than possible to endure a layover and experience a new city on a budget! Just make sure that you meet the local VISA/passport requirements.