In our Go Local Guides, we’ve teamed up with local insiders from popular travel destinations; giving you their money-saving tips on how to get a taste of the places they call home, without breaking the bank.
Dubai-based health and travel journalist Danae Mercer shares the best ways to live life up while bringing costs down in her home city.
Dubai is known for its glitz and glamour. But if you move behind the sparkle, you can find a whole lot of soul without spending a fortune.
Dubai was a pearl trading town until the discovery of oil in the late 1960s. Today the old part of the city – the Dubai Creek – bustles with an interesting mix of museums, recreated souks, and retail shops. Head to the Gold Souk for a taste of the past, with vendors selling spice, scarves, precious metals, and plenty of ‘Chanel bag’ knockoffs. You won’t want to shop here, as prices are aimed at tourists. Instead walk to the water’s edge to grab a dhow (a traditional wooden boat) from Deira Old Souk Abra Station across the Dubai Creek for 1.35 UAE Dirham/AED (33p). To actually buy gold, visit Gold and Diamond Park in the centre of the city. You can get a necklace made with your name in Arabic script for under 225 AED (£55.28) — just be prepared to haggle.
Dubai’s warehouse art district is a pedestrian-only neighbourhood mixing free art galleries with local cafés, boutique fitness studios, co-working spaces, and antique cars. If you’re feeling flush, start your morning with a (pricey) spin class in the nightclub-inspired Crank (120 AED/£29.48), then grab Sri Lankan ‘egg hoppers’ (delicious wok-made breakfast crépes) around the corner at Nightjar Coffee (35 AED/£8.60). This little coffee roaster serves beans from all across Dubai, so be sure to chat to the barista about the day’s best cuppa. Later you can stroll one minute to the city’s first arthouse movie theatre, Cinema Akil, to watch an independent film from a faded couch (103 AED/£25.31).
Dubai drinking culture can seem a little unusual for westerners, with different rules and deals often applying according to gender. Bars around the city, for example, often have ‘Ladies Nights’ throughout the week, offering up combos of discounted nibbles and drinks for women-only. If this appeals to you, check out At.mosphere in the Burj Khalifa on a Tuesday evening in the highest restaurant in the world. Or for something more casual and aimed at everyone, swing by Q43 in Media City for a two-for-one happy hour and a bustling young professional crowd.
Dubai’s many public beaches are both safe and pleasant. Visit La Mer on the north side of town for an Instagram dream. You can spend hours strolling and sunbathing between pastel beach huts, rentable cabanas, hammocks, wall art, and dozens of open-air restaurants. To eat, go local with UAE-born Salt. This no-frills burger joint serves up epic wagyu beef sliders on indulgent buttery buns (31.50 AED/£7.74).
Flush against The Dubai Mall (the world’s largest mall), the Dubai Fountain is a thing of beauty. Every night from 6pm, this behemoth heaves water into the sky to the pulse of music at 30-minute intervals. Skip the crowds by heading to Baker and Spice in Souk Al Bahar. This charming café uses local produce from Dubai’s farmer’s markets to serve up salads and fresh breads, but the real attractions here are the outdoor tables. Grab one before nightfall for a front-row showing of the largest choreographed fountain in the world, complete with sunset views. A mix of salads will set you back 58 AED (£14.25). Afterwards, head inside The Dubai Mall to watch 485 underwater species float through along the Dubai Aquarium. An incredible experience in this unique location.
Book a hot vinyasa at Inspire Yoga, then head downstairs to feast on Bystro’s Garden Breakfast Bowl
Unit 102 and 103 T and G Building, Al Manara.
Hot Vinyasa - 99 AED (£24.32)
Matcha latte at Cassette café
The Courtyard - Sheikh Zayed Road (E11), Al Quoz Industrial 1, 4 B Street
23 AED (£5.65)
The Surf Café - Stylish meets surfer, this beachfront space serves up sushi with a side of board shorts
Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 2, Near Umm Suqeim Park Emarat Petrol Station
For dinner try the salmon poke bowl (77 AED/£18.92) or dive into the airy venue's popular all-day omelettes
The Dubai Metro is spotless and reliable, but very limited in terms of routes. Taxis are cheap and readily available
Day passes for 18 AED (£4.42)
Most large enterprises include service charge in price, but a discretionary 10-15% is appreciated
Our insider city guides - packed with tips from locals in the know.