How To 'Do' Dubai - Budget Vs Splurge
Contrary to popular belief it IS possible to see Dubai properly without spending a small fortune. Of course, it would be amazing to do helicopter tours and dinner at the Burj Al Arab on every visit but for most of us, we want to see it without spending a month's salary.
You don't need to go up the Burj Khalifa to have 'seen it' properly. I think it is best viewed from the ground and the best location is from Souk Al Bahar next door to the Dubai Mall. There you can stand below the Burj Khalifa and watch the famous Dubai Fountains without spending a dirham.
Experience traditional Arabic culture by heading over to Bur Dubai, hopping on a Dhow boat and crossing the creek to shop in the Fabric and Gold Souks. You can barter and haggle down the prices of Arabic gold and beautiful fabrics to a quarter of the Dubai Mall prices.
(Even if you are doing a Dubai 'splurge', going to the souks in Bur Dubai is a must! The atmosphere and the culture gives you a real Dubai experience).
In Dubai and the UAE, there are some stunning beaches both natural and man-made and you don't have to spend money to enjoy them. One of my favourites is 'Kite Beach' in Umm Suqueim . It has restaurants and cafes with a clear view of the Burj Al Arab. The perfect place to spend a day topping up your tan.
If you want somewhere quieter then go to 'Sunset Beach', a little further up the coast. This lesser frequented section of sand is calmer with a view of not only the Burj Al Arab but also the Burj Khalifa.
For an authentic eating experience, I suggest you try Bu Qtair next to the Umm Suqueim Fishing Harbour. With a backdrop of traditional Dhow boats and the Jumeirah shore, this local favourite is the perfect seaside restaurant. With a small but traditional menu and exceptionally fresh fish caught the same day, you are completely spoilt in this rustic eatery. I highly recommend either the prawns or the Hamour but don't forget to share so that you can try a little of everything.
For a modern twist on Arabic street food head to Zaroob in DIFC. It is fun, different and you will spend less than 60 dirhams. Or try Arz Lebanon in Jumeirah 3 for classic Middle Eastern food in an outdoor, social atmosphere.
Burj Al Arab
There are so many spots to enjoy the famously self-rated seven-star hotel without going inside. The hotel itself is very pricey - some might say overpriced but no one can deny that it is an incredibly stunning building and the perfect backdrop for a day on the beach or evening drinks. Sunbathe on the section of coast next to the Burj Al Arab which is open to the public or head to The Uptown Bar in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel for drinks at Happy Hour. Half price cocktails in the shadow of the famous 'sail' are the perfect way to end the day.
For us girls, we get a pretty good deal in Dubai when it comes to bars. Tuesday and Wednesday night are Ladies Night which means in many bars across Dubai we get free drinks and in some places, we drink free all night. My favourite is Nola's in Jumeirah Lake Towers (not actually in Jumeirah). On a Tuesday they offer ladies complimentary cocktails and 50% off their food and trust me the food is delicious. A New Orleans bar where waiters spontaneously play the trumpets that hang from the walls is my idea of perfection.
Window shopping in the Dubai Mall is more fun than it sounds, especially if you head to Fashion Avenue. Sure, like me, you may not be able to afford Alexander McQueen or Chanel but just wandering the carpeted halls and admiring the beautiful boutiques is awe-inspiring.
Head to Zabeel Park on a Friday and wander the stalls at Ripe Market. From handmade gifts to fresh fruit and vegetables you can end up spending an entire day here. My favourite thing to do is head over with a picnic blanket, buy some tasty treats from the food trucks and sit in the beautiful Dubai sunshine.
If you want to enjoy The Palm and the views it has to offer you don't have to book an expensive room in one of its luxury hotels. Rent a bike with the 'NextBike' app and cycle along the trunk or from one end of the crescent to the other. The views are stunning at all times of the day but particularly at sunrise and sunset.
Experience a Dubai sunset from anywhere in the city. There is nothing quite like an Arabian sunset with its orange glow sinking into the horizon. My favourite place is on 'Sunset Beach', where your view is unobstructed.
Al Bastakiya (also known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood) is a 'must-see' when in Dubai. With its winding alleyways and traditional wind towers, it will take you back in time to a bygone era of Dubai. A cultural experience not to be missed. If you want a more in-depth understanding of its history, book a 'Cultural Meal' at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding: SMCCU.
When splurging on a visit to the Burj Khalifa, I still recommend that you watch the fountains from Souk Al Bahar. It is the best view of the colossal building but I bet you can't fit the whole structure into one photo.
Most tourists visit the Burj Khalifa and pay the admission fee to go to the 124th & 125th floor but now you can also visit the 148th floor (Burj Khalifa At The Top SKY) which gives you stunning views of the city at a slightly higher price. All the other buildings look like miniature models in a toy town and you can see for miles on a clear day. You can also book into At.mosphere, a bar on the 122nd floor. It is not quite as high as the observation decks but there is nothing quite like seeing this view with a cocktail in hand. The reason it is a splurge lies with the minimum spend. A table by the window will set you back just under AED 900 and a non-window table will require you spend just below AED 700.
Head to the Dubai Mall to explore all of the shops they have to offer. There are over 1,200 shops to explore from high fashion to The Gold Souk on the ground level. You can also head over the bridge to Souk Al Bahar to wander the avenues selling artwork and fabric whilst the smell of warm nuts and dates fill the air. Or get yourself some henna and create beautiful necklaces with your name written in Arabic.
If you want to see Dubai's beaches in style you can go to the many beach clubs that litter the shoreline. Mainly run by hotels, they bring drinks and food to your sunbed so you can top up your tan whilst staying hydrated. My favourite hotel beach club is Nasimi Beach at the Atlantis hotel. It is not too busy on weekdays and you can see the tall towers of the Marina in the distance.
My other favourite spot for a beach day is at the Dubai Ladies Club in Jumeirah 2. As a member, access to the beach is included but for non-members, you can pay the small fee for a day pass. It is a peaceful beach in a cove of its own but only for women, sorry boys.
In Dubai, restaurants are often expensive, especially when alcohol is added to the bill. There are also hundreds of cuisines to choose from including, Thai, Mexican, Indian and many more. One of my personal favourites is Fish, a picturesque restaurant bringing you tastes from the Aegean Sea. Its blue and white tables sit on the beach accompanied by an open fire giving it the perfect atmosphere and vibes for an evening whether you are with friends or eating alone.
For dinner and a view there is so much choice and narrowing it down is near to impossible, however, for a stunning view of Downtown, Jumeirah and The Gulf, Prime 68 in the JW Marriott Marquis is the place to go. Succulent steaks, excellent staff and delicious cocktails mean it's hard to go wrong. They have also been nominated as having the best toilet in Dubai and they're right, the view is fantastic.
Dubai is inundated with Friday brunches, so it is impossible to pinpoint the best. I do however have a couple of favourites that you should try given the opportunity. The first being Wanderlust at Garden in Business Bay. From Indian to Italian they offer every cuisine you can think of. They even have breakfast options if you want to start off with a pastry or two. Alcohol is served from stalls differentiated by spirit type and the terrace is open for people to sit, eat, drink and socialise.
My second recommendation is at the Vida Downtown Hotel. They offer the Urban Picnic Brunch that is adorably unconventional with rainbow bagels, rosewater cocktails and a table lined in faux grass. Pay a little extra to book a cabana by the pool so you can hop in and out if the weather allows.
Burj Al Arab
As I mentioned earlier the Burj Al Arab is an expensive place. Yes, the afternoon tea is nice but after having done it, I don't feel it is worth the AED 660 price tag. You are paying for the views more than anything else and the food is exactly what they give you for High Tea offered in the lobby at AED 300 cheaper. So my recommendation is you book a spa day at the Talise Spa. Yes, the treatments are expensive but you definitely get what you pay for and you can spend the day there using the facilities and enjoying the same view as you would in the Sky Bar.
Jetty Bar at The One & Only Hotel in Al Sufouh, is nestled away at the back of the property only a short walk or buggy ride from the road. Perfectly placed on the beach, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset while sipping prosecco.
Another favourite of mine, although I definitely do not go enough is Folly in the Jumeirah Madinat. With drinks like Prosecco Pops you can't go wrong. If you book in advance and request their private table you will be seated in a little alcove of your own with unobstructed views of the Burj Al Arab. Perfection!
Hire a Yacht for the day (or at least for a few hours) to enjoy some time out at sea. Starting from around AED 600 per hour you can charter a yacht, complete with captain and crew, so you can swim, snorkel and sunbathe. If you plan the return time for after 7pm you will also get sensational views of the sun setting before you return to the marina.
Before you travel, research what shows are on at the Dubai Opera. Its a beautiful building in the heart of downtown that hosts some of the best shows in The Middle East. Dress up and get there a little earlier to enjoy a drink in the bar and get lots of snaps of the Burj Khalifa towering in the distance.
If you are planning to visit Dubai in April then check the dates for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Race Course. It is an exceptionally glamourous day where you can dress up and rub shoulders with some of Dubai's elite. The day ends with a stunning firework show and concert, usually headlined by a world-class singer or band. Sia performed on my last visit in 2017 and oh my was she fantastic.
Dubai caters to all budgets whether it be big or small. Don't hesitate to book a trip for the fear of the prices when you get here. Personally, I think if you can mix a few of the 'splurge' items into your itinerary then you will have the makings of a great trip.
"Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage" - T.S Eliot
All opinions in this blog are my own.