Dubai is very spread out – it’s around 25km from the city centre down to Dubai Marina – but getting around is relatively straightforward and inexpensive, thanks mainly to the city’s excellent metro system. Taxis offer another convenient and relatively inexpensive form of transport, while there are also buses and boats, as well as cheap car rental.
Full information about the city’s public transport is available on the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) website at wrta.ae. The RTA also provide an excellent online travel planner at wwojhati.rta.ae.
Opened in September 2009, the Dubai Metro (wrta.ae) has revolutionized transport within the city and offers a cheap, fast and convenient way of getting around, with state-of-the-art driverless trains running on a mixture of underground and overground lines, and eye-catching modern stations. Stand at the front or back of the train for the best views on overground sections – riding at the front of the driverless trains is the most (travel) fun you can have in the UAE outside a theme park.
The metro consists of two lines. The 52km-long Red Line, starts in Rashidiya, just south of the airport, and then runs via the airport and city centre south down Sheikh Zayed Road to Jebel Ali. The 22km-long Green Line arcs around the city centre, running from Al Qusais, north of the airport, via Deira and Bur Dubai and then down to Dubai Healthcare City (the two last stations on the line – Al Jadaf and Creek – had yet to open at the time of writing).
Trains run every 4–8 minutes, with services beginning at around 5.50am daily except on Fridays, when the metro doesn’t start running until 1pm. Last trains leave at around 11am (or around midnight on Thursday & Friday). Despite the frequent departures, the popularity of the system means that it’s often difficult to get a seat. Fares are calculated according to the distance travelled ranging from 1.80dh up to a maximum of 5.80dh for a single trip (or from 3.60dh to 11.60dh in Gold Class), or 14dh for an entire day’s travel (excepting Gold Class). Children under 5 or shorter than 0.9m travel free.
All trains have a dedicated carriage for women and children (look for the signs above the platform barriers) plus a Gold Class compartment at the front of/back of the train – costing double the standard fare charged to a Silver or Blue Nol card (and a little less than double on a Red Ticket); these have slightly plusher seating and decor, although the main benefit is that they’re usually fairly empty, meaning that you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat. Given how packed other carriages often are and how reasonably priced the system is, you might feel that paying a bit extra for Gold Class is well worth the modest sums involved.
Away from areas served by the metro, the only way of getting around Dubai quickly and conveniently is by taxi. Cabs are usually plentiful at all times of day and night almost everywhere in the city with the important exception of Bur Dubai and Deira, where you might sometimes struggle to catch one, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours and after dark. Large malls and big hotels are always good places to pick up a cab; if not, just stand on the street and wave at anything that passes. Taxis are operated by various companies and come in assorted colours, though all have yellow taxi signs on the roof, illuminated when the vehicle is available for rent.
Fares are pretty good value. There’s a minimum charge of 10dh per ride, with a basic flag fare of 3dh (or 3.50dh from 10pm to 6am), plus 1.71dh per kilometre. The exception is for taxis picked up from the airport, where a 20dh flag fare is imposed; there’s also a 20dh surcharge if you take a taxi into Sharjah. Booking by phone adds an extra 3dh to the fare (or 3.50dh 10pm–6am). If you want a taxi to wait for you, it costs 0.50dh per minute. You’ll also have to pay a 4dh surcharge if your taxi travels through a Salik tollgate. For a full list of fares and charges, visit wdtc.dubai.ae and click on the “Our Fares” tab. A small number of “ladies’ cabs” (all with female drivers) are also available for the use of women and families only (flag fare 6dh, or 7dh from 10pm to 6am).
Drivers and complaints
The majority of taxi drivers (most are Indian or Pakistani, including many from Kerala) are well trained and will be familiar with all the main city landmarks, although if you’re going anywhere more obscure you might have to help them find the way; if in doubt, try to have directions or a full address to hand. If you get completely stuck, get them to ring up their control centre for help. Rumours of taxi drivers inflating fares by driving newly arrived tourists five times around the block occasionally surface, but appear to have no basis in reality; the whole industry is stringently regulated, and drivers are unlikely to risk their jobs for the sake of a few extra dirhams. Be aware, though, that Dubai’s labyrinthine traffic systems often add considerably to the distances between A and B. If you get into a cab and the driver seems to head off in completely the wrong direction it’s likely to be because he has to turn around or find the correct exit/entrance to a particular road. If you think you have a genuine grievance and you wish to lodge a complaint, phone the RTA call centre (t800 90 90). Make sure you take the driver’s ID number before you leave. Tips aren’t strictly necessary, though many taxi drivers will automatically keep the small change from fares unless you specifically ask for it back.
Taxi drivers might occasionally refuse to take you if you’re travelling only a short distance. This is most frequently the case outside hotels and malls where drivers are obliged to join a long queue to pick up a fare. Strictly speaking, they’re obliged to take you however short the journey, though in practice if they’ve been waiting for an hour and you only want to go around the block you can see their point. If this happens, just walk back down the queue of taxis until you find a more willing driver. The only other occasion when a driver may refuse your fare is if it’s likely to get them stuck in a massive traffic jam (such as when crossing the Creek during the morning or evening rush hours).
Finally, watch out for the hotel limousines which sometimes try to pass themselves off as conventional taxis (hotel doormen may sometimes try to get you into one of these, pretending they’re ordinary taxis). These are metered, but usually cost around twice the price of a normal cab and have no perceptible benefits apart from leather upholstery and the overwhelming smell of cheap air freshener. Remember, if it doesn’t have a yellow taxi sign on the roof, it’s not a proper taxi.
Despite contemporary Dubai’s obsession with modern technology, getting from one side of the Creek to the other in the city centre is still a charmingly old-fashioned experience, involving a trip in one of the hundreds of rickety little boats – or abras – which ferry passengers between Deira and Bur Dubai. It’s a wonderful little journey, offering superb views of the fascinating muddle of creekside buildings with their tangles of souks, wind towers, mosques and minarets. Note that small bumps and minor collisions between boats are common when docking and departing, so take care or you might find yourself not so much up the Creek as in it.
There are two main abra routes: one from the Deira Old Souk Abra Station (next to the Spice Souk) to the Bur Dubai Abra Station (at the north end of the Textile Souk), and another from Al Sabkha Abra Station (at the southern end of the Dhow Wharfage in Deira) to the Bur Dubai Old Souk Abra Station (in the middle of the Textile Souk). There’s a third abra route from Al Seef Station at the southern end of Bur Dubai to Baniyas Station, near Baniyas Square in Deira. The fare is a measly 1dh per crossing. Boats leave as soon as full, meaning in practice every couple of minutes, and the crossing takes about five minutes. Abras run from 6am to midnight, and 24hr on the route from Bur Dubai Old Souk to Al Sabkha (though with a reduced service between midnight and 6am).
A more sedate but much less atmospheric way of getting across the Creek is aboard a waterbus. These were launched with the intention of providing a safer and more comfortable means of crossing the water than the traditional abra, although they have rather failed to catch on thanks to the higher fares, long waiting times between boats and general lack of atmosphere – boats are entirely glassed in behind tinted windows, effectively cutting you off from the views and sea breezes outside. They’re worth considering if you might have problems hopping on and off an abra (if you have small children in tow, for instance) but otherwise don’t have much to recommend them.
There are four different routes, mainly using the same “stations” as the city’s abras, but following slightly different routings: Line B1 runs from Bur Dubai to Al Sabkha; B2 runs from Bur Dubai Old Souk to Baniyas Square; B3 runs from Al Sabkha Station to Baniyas and Al Seef; and B4 from Bur Dubai Old Souk to Al Seef and then on to Creek Park. Waterbuses run daily from around 7am to 10pm (line B1 10am–10pm only), with departures every 30 minutes. The fare is 2dh per trip, payable by Nol card or ticket; tickets aren’t sold on board.
Dubai has an extensive and efficient bus network, though it’s mainly designed around the needs of low-paid expat workers so is of only limited use for tourists – most routes cover parts of the city that casual visitors are unlikely to want to reach. The majority of services originate or terminate at either the Gold Souk Bus Station in Deira or Al Ghubaiba Bus Station in Bur Dubai (many services call at both). Bus stops are clearly signed, and many also boast air-conditioned shelters providing waiting passengers with refuge from the heat of the day; you’ll also find a useful map of the bus network and other information inside each shelter.
For the casual visitor, the only really useful service is bus #8 (roughly every 20min from early morning till late evening), which runs from the Gold Souk station to Al Ghubaiba and then due south, down Jumeirah Road to the Burj al Arab and on to Dubai Marina, covering a big chunk of the city not served by the metro (although if heading to the southern city it’s probably quicker to take the metro to the nearest jumping-off point, and then a cab for the last part of your journey). Buses are included in the Nol ticket scheme, meaning that you’ll need to be in possession of a paid-up Nol card or ticket before you get on the bus; tickets aren’t sold on board.
Buses to other emirates
Buses to neighbouring emirates all leave from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Bur Dubai (from the south side of station, opposite the New Penninsula Hotel), with regular services to Sharjah (every 20–25min; 45min–1hr 15min depending on traffic; services operate 24hr; 7dh), Abu Dhabi (every 30min, 5.30am–11.30pm; 2hr–2hr 30min; 15dh) and Al Ain (hourly 6.30am–11.30pm; 1hr 30min–2hr; 15dh). These buses aren’t covered by the Nol scheme, and you’ll need to buy a ticket at the relevant kiosk in the bus station before boarding.
Renting a car is another option, but comes with a couple of major caveats. Driving in Dubai isn’t for the faint-hearted: the city’s roads are permanently busy and standards of driving somewhat wayward. Navigational difficulties are another big problem. Endless construction works, erratic signage, and road layouts and one-way systems of labyrinthine complexity can make getting anywhere a significant challenge. Outside the city you’re less likely to get lost, although the main highways down to Abu Dhabi and up to Al Ain are notorious for the wildly aggressive driving styles of local Emiratis. Accidents are common, and considerable caution should be exercised.
Driving is on the right-hand side, and there’s a 60 or 80km/h speed limit in built-up areas, and 100 or 120km/h on main highways (although locals regularly charge down the fast lane at 150km/h or more). Parking can be a major headache. Most hotels (apart from city-centre budget establishments) should have free spaces available but elsewhere you’ll have to take your chances with finding an on-street space (most have metered parking at 1–2dh/hr). Finding on-street parking in the congested old city is particularly difficult, although there are plenty of small car parks dotted around Bur Dubai (fewer in Deira), most charging 10dh/hr. On the plus side, petrol is a bargain, at around 1.7dh per litre.
There are also four road toll points, run under the Salik (wsalik.ae) scheme. These are located on Maktoum and Garhoud bridges and at two points along Sheikh Zayed Road (near Al Safa Park, and at Al Barsha, next to the Mall of the Emirates). You don’t actually have to stop and pay the toll on the spot – it’s automatically charged to your vehicle’s account every time you drive through. If you’re in a hire car, the rental company will subsequently deduct any toll fees (the basic 4dh toll, plus a 1dh service charge) from your credit card.
If you have an accident, local law prohibits you from moving your vehicle until the police have been called and the exact circumstances of the crash have been investigated. Note also that drink-driving is an absolute no-no. If you’re caught behind the wheel with even the slightest trace of alcohol in your system you’re facing either a hefty fine, or a spell in prison.
All the major international car rental agencies have offices in Dubai, and there are also dozens of local firms, some of whom may slightly undercut rates offered by the international companies, although, equally, service and backup may not be quite as professional and comprehensive. Drivers will need to be aged 21 (25 for some larger vehicles) or over. Your driving licence from your home country should suffice, although you might want to check in advance. Rates are generally cheap – as little as 70dh (£16/US$19) per day for a basic vehicle including collision damage waiver (well worth taking). Some agencies will also deliver and collect vehicles from your address in Dubai, saving you the bother of picking up the car in person – check when you book.
There are also car rental desks at all major hotels, while some of the tour operators also offer car rental. The greatest concentration of offices is at the airport, in Terminal 1, although bizarrely these are located in an area which is technically accessible only to newly arrived passengers (just inside the main doors – you can see the offices clearly from outside). If you want to rent a car here and you haven’t just got off a plane you’ll have to try and duck in through the no-entry doors (usually easy enough, assuming there’s no security guard hanging around, in which case you’ll have to sweet-talk your way through) or call the relevant office and ask them to meet you outside. There are also lots of car rental offices scattered along Sheikh Zayed Road, a more convenient (and less stressful) starting point than the airport if you’re heading south of the city.