We all know what it’s like. The excitement of New Year’s Eve is long gone. The meticulous preparations and generous gift-buying of Christmas feels like a decade ago. Yet the hole in your bank balance is here right now, as it is for many others in Dubai: recent figures suggest that each UAE resident has, on average, more than Dhs55,000 of personal debt.
We’ve grilled our team of Dubai experts for the very best cheap deals, free activities, affordable stop-offs and penny-pinching tips. Enjoy!
The city’s best bargain eats
Aryaas: This award-winning budget eatery may not look like much when you enter. But don’t by put off the utilitarian interior: the service is friendly and there are plenty of Indian veggie gems to try.
Main course from Dhs15. Al Nakheel Building, Karama (04 335 5776).
Calicut Paragon: Offering southern Indian cooking from the Kerala region: expect coconut-rich curries, tangy tamarind flavours and exotic spices.
Main course from Dhs15. Opposite Lulu Centre, Karama (04 335 8700).
Fish Market: This seafood restaurant receives rave reviews from diners for its bespoke style of cooking and the variety of fish on display. Sundays are a must for seafood-loving bargain hunters, for a promotion which offers a lobster, of any size, cooked to your liking.
Lobster Dhs99. Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7333).
Seamood: Unsurprisingly from the name, this eatery specialises in fish and seafood, with a strict no-hammour policy. It sources its ingredients fresh every day from the market and is exceptionally cheap.
Mixed grills from Dhs15. Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai (04-385 7977).
Taqado Mexican Kitchen: While Taqado is undeniably a fast-food joint, it stands out spectacularly from other central American offerings of this ilk in Dubai. Whether you order a burrito, taco or fajita, the food tastes fresh, healthy and light.
Main course from Dhs15. Mall of the Emirates, Barsha (04 385 1171).
The Butcher Shop and Grill: Considering the lofty prices charged at many of Dubai’s high-end steakhouses, this South African-style meat emporium offers good-quality cuts, including premium varieties such as wagyu beef, at relatively affordable prices. You can also buy your own raw cuts to cook at home.
Steaks from Dhs76. The Walk at JBR (04 428 1375), Mall of the Emirates (04 347 1167); Mirdif City Centre (04 284 0740).
Uzbegim: The service isn’t up to much, and the decor is basic, to say the least. Nevertheless, the meat- and carb-heavy selection of simple Uzbekistani cooking is hearty, flavoursome and well worth a dabble.
Main course from Dhs15. The Zen Tower, Dubai Marina (04 392 7311).
Party on a budget
You don’t need to cough up at the door to enjoy a night on the floor. Entry to these nights is free (how much you spend on drinks is up to you).
Bar bands at Blue Bar: One of the best spots in town to hear regular live music, Blue Bar hosts a revolving door of top local bands – check out funk-rockers Bull Funk Zoo on Thursdays and great jazz group the Rony Afif Quartet on Fridays.
Thu from 11pm, Fri from 9.30pm. Novotel World Trade Centre (04 310 8127).
Classical music at DUCTAC: Every year, Dubai Concert Committee puts on ten concerts from visiting international musicians as part of its Masterseries, with free entry to non-members on a first-come, first-served basis.
See the website for future bookings. dubaiconcertcommittee.com.
Get down at Deep Crates: Arty types in the know have long been haunting Casa Latina on a Thursday night – no, not for the dodgy Cuban theme, nor even for the cheap drinks, but for the afro, funk, old-school hip-hop and more eclectic grooves that are spun.
Free. Thu 10pm-3am. Casa Latina, Ibis Al Barsha (04 399 6699).
Top house talent at 360°: Some of the finest upcoming house maestros are spotted first by the long-standing team at Audio Tonic, now enjoying seven years as the regular residents at 360°. Upcoming bookings include Audiojack on Friday January 18 and Sasse on Friday January 25 – hear them free here.
Free (reservations recommended). Fri 4pm-3am. 360°, Jumeirah Beach Hotel (056 682 6617).
Warm up for some retro karaoke: Quirky ’80s themed club i2 is gaining popularity for its cheese-laden nostalgic karaoke night – and making a fool of yourself on the microphone comes at the grand price of nothing.
Wed 10pm-2am. i2, Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina (050 889 2578).
Time out Tip
Don’t be afraid to ask if you can take your restaurant leftovers in a doggy bag. Most venues are happy to oblige.
Five top happy hours
Save your pennies on drinks with our pick of Dubai’s best regular happy hour promotions…
Aquara Lounge: Dubai Marina Yacht Club’s popular upstairs bar really doesn’t need to offer two-for-one drinks every night, but we’re so glad it does.
Daily 6pm-8pm. Dubai Marina Yacht Club (04 362 7900).
Calabar: Scenic nightspot Calabar comes complete with great mixed drinks, Burj views and a cool soundtrack – and early birds can sample anything from the inventive drinks menu for half price.
Sat-Thu 6pm-8pm, Fri 4pm-8pm. The Address Downtown Dubai (04 436 8888).
The Observatory: Alongside its fantastic 52nd-floor vantage, every night The Observatory offers a long list of discount drinks from Dhs20.
Sat-Tue 5pm-10pm; Wed-Fri 5pm-10pm. Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel (04 319 4000).
West Beach Bar & Bistro: This top sports bar pours all draft hops for Dhs20 every day between 6pm and 9pm – perfect for those 3pm UK Premier League kick-offs.
Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach, JBR (04 449 8888).
Shop for less
Despite its blinging reputation, looking good and picking up gifts needn’t cost the earth in Dubai. Here’s how.
Daiso: Boasting a range of more than 90,000 products, and with 900 new additions every month, the nine Dubai branches of Japanese budget brand Daiso are some of the cheapest places in town to pick up kooky gifts. Check out the Ibn Batutta branch, which is open until 1am throughout January.
Open daily 10am-1am. Various locations including Ibn Batutta Mall, www.daisome.com (04 450 3739).
Dragon Mart: At 1.2km long, Dragon Mart is home to 3,950 wholesale and retail outlets, making it the largest trading centre for Chinese products outside mainland China. Stocking everything from home appliances and toys to machinery and textiles, you’ll almost certainly find yourself leaving with something you didn’t know you wanted in the first place.
Open Sat-Wed 10am-10pm, Thu 10am-11pm, Fri 2pm-11pm. Al Awir Road, near Ras Al Khor industrial estate, www.dragonmart.ae (04 428 5665).
Iconic: Described on its own website as being ‘reminiscent of a flea market’, there’s no disputing Iconic’s budget reputation. The store boasts a youth-centric ethos and stocks fashion, beauty, accessories and more – with more than 100 brands on offer, it’s a great place to bag a bargain. Despite a newly-opened branch at The Dubai Mall, we prefer the original Deira City Centre spot, which stars budget pan-Asian restaurant Wild Ginger – perfect for a pit-stop.
Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm, Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Deira City Centre (04 294 3444).
Karama Centre: What the Karama Centre lacks in airs and graces, it makes up for in bargain prices. The bustling backstreet shopping area is crammed with shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs, clothes and jewellery of suspicious origins. Sizes are sometimes a little misleading, so be sure to check before you buy.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-10.30pm; Fri 9am-11am, 4pm-10.30pm. Near 18b Street, Karama (no number).
PoundStretcher: The renowned British budget brand opened in Dubai in 2012 after much hype, and while it kept the ‘every penny counts’ catchphrase and the eponymous British ‘pound’ in its title, we’re pleased to report that you can save valuable dirhams here too.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri-Sat 10pm-midnight. Madina Mall, Al Qusais (04 252 1136).
S*uce Lite: There’s little need to introduce Dubai fashion fans’ paradise S*uce, which carries a great range of both local and international designers. What some might not know is that prices are often significantly cheaper at its S*uce Lite outlet shop, which opened recently on Jumeirah Beach Road.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-9pm; Fri 4pm-9pm. Jumeirah Centre, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 4391).
Time out Tip
If you’re a Dubai resident buying expensive goods in the UK, ask for a VAT form and receipt, then claim the tax back at the airport when you leave.
Time out Tip
Freeze food –especially bread – as often as possible, otherwise it tends to go green after a day and you have to buy another loaf.
Five cheap sporty places
Get those endorphins pumping – for next to nothing!
Emirates Billiards Centre: Try your hand at a more civilised sport on one of the club’s 11 tables.
From Dhs15 per hour. Near Ramada Continental Hotel, Deira (04 262 4499).
Surf Dubai: On rougher days you can try your hand at surfing, while calmer days leave the water perfect for paddleboarding.
Board rental from Dhs75. Sunset Beach, next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Umm Suqeim (050 504 3020).
Bargain spa and beauty treats
Aura Spa: Thai massages and reflexology are the specialities here, and there are weekday offers worth nipping out of the office for if you can.
Massages from Dhs100 Sun-Thu 11am-4pm (normally from Dhs150). The Atrium Centre, opposite Four Points Sheraton, Bank Street, Bur Dubai (050 156 6762).
Bare Gents’ Salon: This efficient men’s salon is a great go-to spot if you’re looking for a reliable cut in a hurry.
Haircut and wash Dhs70, manicures Dhs60, pedicures Dhs65, hair wash free. Men only. The Springs Town Centre, Emirates Living (05 363 8883).
eSSensuals Aromatherapy Centre: This ladies’ spa uses Decleor and organic Neal’s Yard products, with treatments including massages, facials, reflexology and aroma mani-pedis.
From Dhs210 for 60-minute massages. Ladies only. Jumeirah Centre, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 8776).
Formul’A French Hair Dressing Academy: Try a cut, colour or blow-dry with one of the trainees at this hairdressing academy and you won’t pay a dirham. There are also more senior hands available for very reasonable rates.
Prices vary. Knowledge Village (04 438 0122).
Wish Nail Spa: This salon offers a variety of grooming services, including affordable mani-pedis.
Manicures from Dhs55. Ladies only. Opposite Dubai American Academy, Barsha (04 392 7075).
Time out Tip
Obviously, buy Time Out Dubai: we offer frugal two-for-one vouchers every week!
Time out Tip
Download WhatsApp to your smartphone so you can communicate with your friends back home for free.
Our favourite free art spots in the city
Most of Dubai’s best art café-gallery-library-spaces are free to visit – grab your thick-rimmed specs and get down there!
ProArt Gallery: Taking the ‘pro’ in its title quite literally, this gallery features a refreshing range of works from street art masters such as Banksy and Mr Brainwash, plus lithographs from more than 50 artists from 15 countries.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-9pm; Fri 1pm-8pm. Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah (04 345 0900).
Tashkeel: Who says art galleries are stuffy? This Nad Al Sheba space boasts some compellingly calligraphy. There’s even an outdoor skate park where you can practise your tricks, with new ramps being added as we write.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-10pm. Near Nad Al Sheba police station (04 336 3313).
The Archive: Safa Park’s new arty hangout stocks books on typography, calligraphy, fashion, design and art history from across the Middle East and North Africa – stop by for a coffee and browse for free.
Open daily 8am-8pm. Gate 5, Safa Park, Jumeirah (04 349 4033).
The Pavilion: This urban-boho café houses two galleries, but its chic conceptual design and MacBook-heavy clientele make it a must for all starving artists.
Open daily 10am-midnight. Downtown Dubai (04 447 7025).
The Third Line: Stop by for contemporary Middle Eastern works, plus a space dedicated to up-and-coming artists.
Open Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. Near The Courtyard, Al Quoz (04 341 1367).
Traffic: This top spot specialises in local talent. It’s also worth eyeing up Rami Farook’s private collection, which includes works by the likes of Damien Hirst.
Open Sat-Thu 9am-7pm. 179 Umm Suqeim Road (04 347 0209).
XVA Gallery: While its ‘Old Dubai’ counterpart is a must-do for its great coffee, chilled courtyard and key location among the alleyways of Bastakiya, the real art hounds can be found checking the latest exhibitions at the DIFC gallery.
Open Sat-Thu 11am-7pm. Gate Village, DIFC (04 358 5117).
More fun for free
We say the best things in life don’t cost a dirham. Check out these eclectic city highlights
Join a free yoga class: The generous Friends of Yoga organisation offers free daily yoga classes, both morning and night, at different locations across the city.
Call for locations and timings. Various locations (050 658 3159).
Jog round Safa Park: Instead of hitting the bar after work, save cash and work off some carbs with a run round the park’s dedicated track.
Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah (no number).
Try a walking tour: Explore the city with one of our recommended walking and biking routes, or get in touch with a tour guide such as Barbara Smolina.
Wander Shindagha, Heritage Village and Al Ghubaiba: Head to the Bur Dubai side of the creek to Shindagha, where there are traditional houses open to the public, and Heritage Village to explore. Also, nose round the new Barjeel Heritage Guest House in Al Ghubaiba.
Heritage Village open Sat-Thu 8am-10pm; Fri 4pm-10pm. Shindagha (04 393 7151). Barjeel Heritage Guest House, www.barjeelguesthouse.com (04 351 9111).
Watch flamingoes feed: Enjoy the natural world by heading to Ras Al Khor by 9am to watch the flamingos get their daily breakfast. Drive along Al Awir Road, do a U-turn at the junction where Nad Al Hamar Road crosses over Al Awir, and exit onto the second service road.
www.wildlife.ae (no number).
Free film screenings
Al-fresco films: Emirates Golf Club (04 417 9999) hosts free movie screenings on Fridays and Saturdays, while Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club’s Lakeview Terrace (04 295 6000) host free Monday Movie Nights.
Gallery screenings: Dubai International Film Festival screens a triple bill of themed movies every month as part of its Film Buzz programme at The Pavilion, while various art galleries host one-off free screenings – check our Film section each week for more information.
Advance showings: Movie studio Shooting Stars often hosts advance screenings of new movies, with free tickets given out via www.facebook.com/ShootingStarsLLC. And keep an eye on our Twitter feed @TimeOutDubai for competitions to win film premiere tickets.