Dubai has become a favourite haunt for A-listers, who drop a pretty penny in this shopping mecca of brand-labelled stores.
Of course, shopping isn’t the only offering of this modern city - it’s a culinary hub of world flavours, a place where you can indulge those adventurous whims with a plethora of adrenalin-fuelled outdoor activities or simply soak up the sights and culture of the place and its people.
The city boasts one of the fastest-growing economies, and tourism is a major contributor to its financial coffers. Although it may seem like a visit here would be an exorbitant undertaking, it isn’t.
During a recent three-day visit to Dubai, I was exposed to the budget-friendly options of the city.
On my first day, the foodie within was unleashed.
After a quick check-in to Zabeel House Mini by Jumeirah, a new three-star hotel, which lives up to its “maximum attitude, minimum frills” mission statement, I showered and got dressed for lunch at Kanteen Urban Kitchen with the team from Emirates Holidays, who put together my wonderfully-packed itinerary.
I’m told that this eatery in Al Karama is located in a very vibrant spot that springs to life at night. Despite my street food tour being about three hours away, I tucked into everything that arrived on the table.
We had a wonderful mélange of hamour tikka, veggie and meat platters, chicken tikka, garlic and plain naans. Two different types of dhall. A wonderful selection of sauces.
If nothing else, make sure you try the hamour fish, which is native to the Persian Gulf. It’s succulent and delicious.
No alcohol is served here, but they have an interesting selection of fruit juices and mocktails. I tried the kokam cooler, which comprises kokam (a spice which is great for digestion), curry leaves, lime and is topped with soda water.
Before dropping by Ravi Palace Restaurant for dinner, where I enjoyed a delicious chicken tikka, which was cooked to perfection, we made another detour - this time to a perfume store for a purchase or two.
Day 2 started with a quick walkabout at the Dubai Mall, where we saw the ice rink, the Burj Khalifa and several of the high-end stores, before heading to the bus for our sightseeing tour. Choosing the Red Route, we hopped off at the Dubai Museum for a quick history lesson.
Before exploring the different souks in Old Dubai, we enjoyed a leisurely one-hour ride on the Creek Dhow Cruise. Then we made our way to the Spice Souk, we were spoilt for choice. At every turn, you bump into a shop owner trying to entice you to make a purchase. Be warned, your willpower will be tested here - and at the Gold Souk.
We stopped for a quick lunch in the Old Souk before exploring more of the area on foot.
The Dubai Frame, comprising two towers connected by a 100m² bridge, with a 25-metre glass panel that offers impressive views of the city below (for those who don’t suffer from vertigo or acrophobia), was first up on our itinerary for day three. The panoramic views are as stupendous as the virtual reality tour on the vision for the city.
The man-made Dubai Water Canal was next on the agenda. As the sun started retiring for the day, we made our way to the Mall of the Emirates to look at the Ski Dubai attraction, before heading to The Palm, another utopian part of Dubai, where the architecture is just mind-blowing.
Dinner was at a newly opened Mexican spot called Luchador, on the 11th floor of the Aloft Palm Jumeirah.
Seated on the rooftop terrace, where you are treated to a 360-degree view of the Arabian Gulf, there was a band playing contemporary music in the background.
Although the menu wasn’t extensive, it was populated with traditional Mexican offerings. We sampled something from every category: ceviches, tacos and the nachos. The pièce de résistance for me was the crème brû* ée, which seduced my sweet tooth.
I couldn’t think of a better way to end a jam-packed three-day tour of Dubai on a budget.
After a good night’s rest, it was back to the airport to catch the flight home - but not before a quick pit stop at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, where we saw the flamingos that migrate to Dubai.
There’s much to see and do in Dubai, provided you do your research and plan carefully. The holiday won’t exactly cost an arm and a leg, but the memories you leave with are priceless!