In Dubai, with its opulent hotels and shopping malls, the ethos is spend, spend, spend – but you don't have to. From free drinks and fashion bargains to cheap brunch, here are my money-saving tips
You can spot more designer handbags on the backs of restaurant chairs in Dubai than you can in Paris or Milan. It's a sign that well-heeled tourists now make up the vast majority of visitors to this extravagant Emirate, but you don’t have to spend the earth to get the best from Dubai.
Buy one, get one free
If you’re visiting Dubai for a week or longer, it’s well worth investing in one of The Entertainer books. You can pick these up in most bookshops, such as Borders or the Virgin Megastore in the Emirates Mall. The Entertainer gives you free stuff and discounts at more than 300 venues, on things such as waterparks (Aquaventure at Atlantis is a must), desert safaris and golf. The Fine Dining edition offers "buy one, get one free" vouchers at many of Dubai’s top restaurants, whilethe Body issue gets you the same at spas, beauty salons, relaxation suites and fitness centres in the UAE. Even if you use just one or two vouchers, you’ll cover the cost of your book in savings.
Sure, the huge Dubai Mall will hook you like a fish in its own gargantuan aquarium (you can dive with the sharks in here too) but those in the know head away from the big shopping complexes when it comes to buying clothes. Karama is a key spot in the city for those “real, authentic fakes”. On a Saturday, you can join the odd conspicuous local in pulling back the curtains on the street and stepping into Gucci/Prada paradise. Decent designer fakes in genuine leather can be bartered down from thousands of dirhams to a couple of hundred.
The Covent Garden market on JBR Walk is also a magnet for fashion shoppers at weekends. Imports from London and India provide an up-to-date alternative to the high-street offerings in the malls, and the atmosphere on the Walk in the cooler months is a friendlier, seaside alternative to a soulless shopping centre.
If you really don’t mind a mall crawl, head to the Outlet Mall. It’s slightly out of the city, in Dubailand on Dubai Al Ain Road, but here you will find everything you would get in the other malls, but with up to 70 per cent off. Surprisingly, this is still a hidden gem among tourists, perhaps because you need a car to get there. However, a taxi shared between four people will cost no more than 25 or 30 dirhams each – and it’s well worth it for the money you will save.
One thing you won’t want to miss in Dubai is the infamous Friday brunch. You can spend up to 550 dirhams on one huge lobster-and-Champagne blow-out at the Fairmont, Burj Al Arab or Al Qasr hotels, or you can opt for a cheaper alternative:
The Cellar at Aviation Club It is à-la-carte treats galore at this media hot spot near the airport, as you sample mini portions from its excellent international menu. This is the best place in Dubai to sit outside in the cooler months. Dhs100 (plus extra for alcoholic drinks).
Legends at Dubai Creek Golf Club At the top end of the Creek, this is great for watching dhows, abras and golfers on immaculate lawns, and serves amazing breakfasts and curries. Dhs95. Soft drinks included.
Coconut Grove at Rydges Plaza For Indian food, you can’t get much better than this at such a bargain price. Popular with Indian expats, it's the place to try the buffet of chicken, mutton, fish and vegetarian options. Dhs45. Drinks not included.
Remember, you can’t drink alcohol with your meal in Dubai, unless it’s at a licensed hotel bar or restaurant, in a resort or at the Irish Village/Aviation Club in Al Garhoud.
Another Dubai institution is ladies' night, which gives the girls an excuse to dress up and drink for free, or at a discounted rate. Five of the best are:
Oeno at Westin Every Tuesday, ladies get three free glasses of pink Champagne. It gets super-busy, but this stylish wine and cheese bar is a great place to mingle.
Jimmy Dix at Movenpick Every Sunday, the drinks are completely free for ladies all night. It's a bit of a pick-up spot for the guys, too, as you can imagine.
Savage Garden at Capitol Hotel If it’s salsa you love, you’ll dig this place on Tuesday nights. There are free cocktails and a live Latino band.
Boston Bar at Jumeirah Rotana On Tuesdays, from 9.30pm, ladies get four free cocktails. Expect some dancing.
Boudoir at Dubai Marine Beach Resort Expect candlelit tables, free Champagne all night for the girls and even a pink throne! Yes, it’s a real sexy boudoir (without the sex, obviously).