When you hear about Dubai, probably luxury cars and expensive way of life comes to your mind, making it an impossible destination for a student or budget traveler, but, Dubai can be cheap too! In fact except the business area, is far cheaper than Spain or France and even some cities in central Europe.
Why so? If you really believed that Dubai is all glass and steel skyscrapers you can not be more wrong, the majority of the city is either individual houses or the typical like arab city appartment blocks (featuring kebabs, halal food, cheap carpets and "friendly sellers", like the ones in the picture). You can eat in cheap places for around 4€ and a coke outside the center should be no more than 80 cents (In the center you pay 2 euro, not that crazy either). Also, for your information, one euro is same as 5 dirhams, the change rates are usually ok in many Change houses.
If you want to come to Dubai, I don't recomend you to go as a single trip, since in 2 days you will be left without many activities to do (unless you are willing to pay a lot of money in shopping). So the best option is to stop here for one or two days when coming or going to eastern Asia or Oceania, since Dubai airport is the major hub in the middle east. For example, I went there when returning from Beijing for 206€ (Via Kunming) and then flew to Barcelona for another 200€ (Via Istambul), so for 406€ I returned from the other corner of the world and spent a day in Dubai.
About acomodation, this is the most expensive part if you are alone, since single rooms are just a little bit cheaper than double, you really don't need to go to a 5*, you can either go to a 3* (even if it has low marks in Booking, if you pay attention, bad marks are just given by arabs not westeners). I found rooms from 30 to 45€ per night in the decent 3-4* hotels outside the business centre (inside is imposible to find anything cheap, and is not the real centre). I recomend beign in the Deira part, which is close enought to airport and is about 10 minutes by metro from the business centre (where the skyscrapers are). Specially, try to be close to a metro station since the temperature in street can reach 50º (it was 48º when I were) in summer. I was in Confort Inn Hotel Deira, which is quite good for families or single travelers tired after a long trip, room was 43€ but it totally worth it (air conditioned, bathtub, comfortable beds, flat TV, included buffer breakfast, and a rooftop swimming pool).
The part which surprised me the most was the metro. When I saw the metro stations (all with modern architecture and with air conditioned) I thought I will need to pay about 2-3 € per ride, something like Barcelona or London.... but it surprised me that it coul be even less than one euro! (If for short transit of 3 stops) and about 1€ for a single ride (where you want). So going from the airport (which has excellent metro conection inside the building) to your hotel in Deira should be 1€ . Here I have a personal experience, take the single ride ticket, not the short, because for some cents more you will not have any problem when leaving the metro, since I thought that short ride could be 4 metro stops and when I tried to leave the metro, an alarm started to sound and 5 minutes after leaving the airport I was beign interrogated by 3 police officers, but I think they are used to this mistakes and were helpful, I needed to pay a 3€ fine to leave and that was all. But the best of metro is that you can buy a 24h metro card for just 4€, so for that money you can see the whole city (skiping those Hop On-Hop Off turistical buses that are a ripoff).
About attractions: You can really see the major things in 1 day (or one morning if you are fast) if you don't stop to shop. In Deira, don't forget to visit the old Dubai city area, where the Dubai museum is, it's very nice because it feels like a normal arab city knowing that is one of the safest places in the world (really, Dubai safety is world's top). Here you can see several mosques, the old fortress (inside the museum) and do a quite cool thing that is crossing the river for just 20 cents (one dirham) in a typical boat from the city. Then, take the metro to business area and be ready for the awesomeness, because after certain metro stop, the railways go elevated over the street, so you will start to be sourronded by skyscrapers and desert (you will see that some of them are literally on the desert, without any concrete lanes but just sand). Stop in Dubai Mall and say hello to the biggest shopping centre in the world. Here you can find anything (also, some shops are affordable, so you can also spend some money and say you went shopping in Dubai). Actually, it look more average than I expected except for the fact of having a big aquarium, ice ring and indoor mini taxis inside. If you go out to the main pool (that is where the fountain spectacle takes place) you will see the Burj Al-Khalifa building in front of you, as well as another shopping centre build in a more arabic architecture. If you want to go to Burj Al-Khalifa let me warn you: Dubai is under a constant light sandstorm when is windy, so if you go up, you will hardly see the ground and about 3 kilometre maximum, so for me didn't worth the 25€ of advanced ticket or the 100€ of buying the ticket on the day, so I didn't do it, and people who did it told me that doesn't worth the money if is sandstorm. From there take the metro again and go closer to the Burj Al-Arab hotel, which stop is another shopping centre (the one which includes the biggest indoor ski resort in the world). From the metro stop to the Burj Al-Arab hotel you can go by walk (not in summer if you don't want to die) or by taxi, which has a decent price and is cheap if you are several people. In there you will see the beach too. About the palms in the sea, unless you go to the Burj Al-Khalifa top in a not windy day or take a helicopter tour, they will be quite hard to apreciate.
But the best part for me in Dubai is the desert, which red sand will make you fell inmediately in love with it. There are Desert tours every day, with a price that ranges from 30 to 50€ and it takes about 6 hours. It features dune bashing in a 4x4, stops to take pictures in the sunset and then they take you to a turistical camp where you can do typical turistical things like camel riding, pictures with traditional clothes, eagles, dinner and some local dances and spectacles.
Yes, it's pricy, and also quite turistic, but just for the dune bashing and going to a similar place you will pay far more in Spain, so it worth it I think. I went with Desert Team, but many companies do the same.
About food, prices can be whatever you want, if you want to eat for two euro, simply go to a Kebab or to a indian food shop and fill your belly, if you want to spend a lot of money, choose among the huge variety of chef restaurants, if you want average, just choose a normal place, it works the same as everywhere.
But if this guide is enought for you, I will tell you what I did on the day I stayed in Dubai, so you can take it as example:
17 of August 2014: 8:00 in the morning and 46º in the street, I woke up and went to have breakfast in a hotel full of Russian families. After a nice and big breakfast I got the energy to check out and keep my luggage in the hotel storage, at 9:10 I was in metro station going to Baniyas square metro station, from where I walked a little bit in the street and easily reached the traditional boat (Abra) pier, I payed 1 dirham and crossed the river. At 9:30 I walked out from the boat at the old Dubai area, and I spent some time buying souvenirs here since they were with a fair price in my opinion. Then I visited the Dubai Museum because I needed some air conditioned. After that, I took a coke in a Pakistani cafe for 50 cents and walked 200m for the metro stop (again almost dehydratating in the process). Once in the metro I went close to a window to start recording everything, and I was amazed by the trip. At 11:10 I was in the Dubai Mall, but I did't see it quite closely and went to the fountain exit, where I saw the biggest building of the world in front of me. I went to the other shopping centre crosing the bridge of the fountain pool and had a nice big ice cream there for 3€.
At 12:10 I left the area in order to see the Burj Al-Arab hotel closely, but then the temperature went up to 48º and was imposible to walk from metro station to there, so I consider taking a taxi (for 7€ per 4 min ride, quite fair for beign a capital) but I didn't wanted to pay 14€ just for some minutes (if you are not alone, do it for sure). So I went again to the metro station and realize that there was another shopping centre, which I started to explore and I found out that it had the famous indoor ski resort I heard about. I went into the reception and I was greeted by some kind of hologram (actually says hello and moves when you go closer to a move detector) and saw a very cool (but artificial) atmosphere, but prices were around 20€, so, beign skier myself, I decided that won't worth it to ski here beign able to do it in my region. After that I went back to the Dubai Mall. From 13:20 to 14:50 I was exploring it closely, and beign amazed by some details it had, like women indoor taxis, dinosaur skeletons... and I had lunch in the burger place that was announced everywhere. At 15:30 I was back in my hotel and ready to take the desert tour. The driver allowed me to sit in the front and I spend my tour with a very cool family and we fastly started to talk. The dune bashing part is nothing extreme, but is quite nice (better than expected) and finally the inner was the final night of my long traveling summer (which I will speak in other post). Finally, we went back around 21:20. So I inmediatly took the metro and went to the Dubai Mall (again) and waited to see the fountain spectacle that was a huge disapointment (yes, the fountains are very powerful, but thats all, is a 3 minute coreography with no more special things that I saw in other water spectacles). So finally took back my luggage and went to the airport, ready to fly back to Spain.
In this section you will find all you need to become a little expert in the guide place, without expending a lot!