Adventure into Dubai: Enjoying luxury on an affordable budget

© Katarina PremforsPost Thumbnail

With its gleaming skyscrapers, hyper-priced designer shops and enormous yachts lining the quayside, Dubai has rightly gained a reputation as a millionaires’ playground.

And while the sight of Rolex watches and Gucci handbags is still commonplace in the oil-rich emirate, a new clientele is also emerging beyond the playboys.

Ordinary families without bulging bank accounts are now being seen more and more on the spotless streets of Dubai with ever more affordable offerings available.

This will be boosted by the news that airline Emirates has launched a new route out of Edinburgh to the UAE, allowing a direct flight from Scotland.

I had heard only of the luxurious nature of the flights offered by the company, and sitting down in economy class for the seven-hour flight, I wasn’t disappointed.

© Katarina Premfors
The Dubai Frame is an architectural landmark in Zabeel Park

On taking your seat, you are greeted with a TV screen and the ICE system boasting up to 4,000 channels of movies, TV shows, music and games, on demand and in multiple languages.

The food aboard was also better than the now hackneyed joke about terrible airline food. There were three varied courses served with numerous drinks, and children’s meals were available on request.

Arriving early in the morning, the sun rose high above the towering skyscrapers, topped off by the world’s tallest man-made structure, the 2,722-feet Burj Khalifa, the car cruised through the streets before drop-off at the immaculate Rove Trade Centre where rooms are a mere £59 a night with breakfast included.

After a quick shower, we were on the road again to the Dubai frame. This glittering golden picture frame, soaring nearly 500 feet into the air, is the perfect place to look at the city both old and new.

A museum begins the tour showing Dubai’s transformation from 1950s fishing port to world oil capital.

It could be tough going for those with vertigo, but the speed of the lift means that you are above the city before too much anxiety can set in. Then on one side lies old Dubai – a mass of sand-swept homes and mosques – and a complete contrast on the other with some of the tallest and modern buildings on Earth.

The Emirates are so rich that only a handful of places could ever afford to build something of this scale that had no purpose other than to look good and provide a viewing platform.

Next steps were for a taxi transfer to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in the heart of old Dubai.

Here, we were treated to an authentic Arab experience of sitting on the floor and eating delicious curries and kebabs as the staff at the not-for-profit centre explained the intricacies of the local culture – from the dating scene to education.

Well-fed, we were taken on an enchanting tour of old Dubai through the Aladdin-like souks with the smell of exotic spices and scents and the blinding sight of countless jewels and gold shops providing a feast for the senses when exploring through the small marketplaces.

Standing as a marked contrast to this old-world charm is La Mer beach – more like a classy Canarian holiday offering than Arabian nights. Complete with a giant water park, sun loungers and scores of restaurants, the beach is likely to prove a must-see for any families travelling to the country.

As the sun set, a taste of the west was offered up at the Stars N Bars restaurant on the beach. One of the few to offer alcohol, you may pay more for a pint, but there is a great range available and friendly staff on hand.

Tucking into a big helping of chicken fajitas, it was deliciously seasoned and was the perfect way to round off a hard day of exploring. But I still hungered for more of the taste of the real Arabia as I went to sleep that night in my comfy double bed.

Dubai Mall is the perfect place for shopping addicts. Set over multiple floors, the world’s biggest names in fashion all have outlets. A cathedral of capitalism, opulence flows through the door, and alongside the shops there is a full-sized aquarium, fountains that would shame a great art gallery and even a full-sized dinosaur skeleton – made from real, ancient dinosaur bones.

Overlooking the stunning fountain, with jaw-dropping half-hourly shows, lunch was at the nearby Wafi gourmet restaurant. Serving Lebanese food, the spicy kebabs and curries were both delicious and affordable.

As the sun set once again, our party took to a four-by-four and headed for the desert.

The contrast to the crowded inner city was striking. The Arabian desert stretches on seemingly infinitely.

Our knowledgeable guide from Arabian Adventures pointed out a hill far in the distance as the nearest place of human habitation.

Bumping along the dunes, several stops are taken for pictures, and a ride on a camel proved a highlight.


In the darkness with only the stars above, we enjoyed an enormous meal of Arabian cuisine of kebabs, rice and meat.

While Dubai might seem like a playground for the rich, I found that you can have an enjoyable holiday while keeping to a reasonable budget.

Return Emirates flights from Edinburgh to Dubai cost from £359 economy class and £2,509 business class.

Rooms at the Rove Trade Centre cost from around £59 per night based on two people sharing on a B&B basis.