Getting around United Arab Emirates: Transportation Tips
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Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
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.
The Dubai Metro (wrta.ae) 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.
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 the Creek.
Trains run roughly every 4–8 minutes, with services operating Sat–Thurs from around 5.30am until midnight (and until 1am on Thurs), and on Fridays from 10am to 1am. Fares are calculated according to the distance travelled ranging from 3dh up to a maximum of 7.5dh for a single trip (or from 6dh to 15dh in Gold Class), or 20dh for an entire day’s travel (40dh in Gold Class). Children under 5 or shorter than 0.9m travel free. Note that tickets are sold at the information kiosks located at the departure gates in all stations in the event that the actual ticket office is shut (as they often are).
All trains have a Gold Class compartment at the front or back of the train (look for the signs above the platform barriers) – costing double the standard fare. 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 ordinary-class 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 relatively modest sums involved. All trains also carry a dedicated carriage for women and children next to the Gold Class compartment. Again, these are generally a lot less crowded than ordinary-class carriages.
Opened in late 2014, the new Dubai Tram has plugged one of the last major holes in the city’s transport infrastructure, offering a convenient (if not desperately fast) way of getting around the Marina and north towards Umm Suqeim – the system is eventually planned to extend all the way up to the Madinat Jumeirah. The network links seamlessly with the metro (with interconnecting stations at Jumeirah Lakes Towers and DAMAC Properties/Dubai Marina) and also the Palm Monorail. As on the metro, fares are covered by the Nol system and all trams have Gold Class and women-and-children-only carriages. Operating hours are Sat–Thurs 6.30am–1am, Fri 9am–1am, with departures every 8min.
Away from areas served by the metro and tram, the only way of getting around 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. Taxis are run by a number of firms (Cars Taxi, Dubai Taxi and National Taxis are the largest); they can be booked on the central booking number at t04 208 0808.
Fares are pretty good value. There’s a minimum charge of 12dh per ride, with a basic flag fare of 5dh 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 7dh 10pm to 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 wdubaitaxi.ae. A small number of “ladies’ cabs” (all with female drivers) are also available for the use of women and families only, at slightly increased rates.
The majority of taxi drivers (most are Pakistani or Indian, 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, you'll need to register and then submit details online at wdubaitaxi.ae. 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).
Further memorable views of Dubai from the water can be had by taking a ride on the smart modern Dubai Ferry. Services run three times daily in each direction between Bur Dubai and Dubai Marina (75min). There are also once-daily one-hour round-trips from the Marina out towards the Burj al Arab; from the Marina around Palm Jumeirah to Atlantis; from Bur Dubai down the coast to Jumeirah Public Beach; and from Bur Dubai up and down the Creek. Fares on all trips are 50dh (or 75dh in Gold Class).
For shorter hops, a small fleet of water buses zigzags up and down the Marina (Sat–Thurs 10am–10pm, Fri noon–midnight). There are four stations along the Marina. Fares cost 3/5dh, with departures every 15–20min. Buy your ticket at the water bus station where you get on; Nol cards are not accepted.
The city has also recently launched a new water taxi service, with 32 stations dotted across the city offering rides on rather swanky modern a/c boats seating around ten people with panoramic windows. There are no regular scheduled services – you’ll have to charter a water taxi either by calling t800 90 90 or by booking online at wrta.ae. Taxis are available daily from 10am to 10pm, with fares starting at 60dh for short hops, rising to over 300dh for longer journeys. You can also hire the entire taxi (200dh/30min) for fixed periods of between 30min and 8hr and simply cruise around.
Dubai has an extensive and efficient bus network (wdubai-buses.com), 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 some 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 most 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 Dubai Marina before terminating at Ibn Battuta Mall, covering a big chunk of the city not served by the metro or tram (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 Sharjah all leave from Al Ghubaiba Bus Station, and also from Al Sabkha Bus Station in the middle of Deira (24hr; departures roughly every 20min from each station; 45min–1hr; 10dh) Buses to Abu Dhabi leave from Al Ghubaiba (every 20min from 5am to 11.30pm; 2hr–2hr 30min; 30dh) and from Ibn Battuta metro station (Sat–Thurs every 30min from 5am to 10pm; Fri hourly from 5am to noon, then every 30–40min until 11pm; 1hr 30min–2hr; 30dh). Minibuses to Al Ain leave from Al Ghubaiba (every 40min from 5.40pm to 10pm; 20dh) and from Al Sabkha Station in Deira to Hatta (hourly; 6am–10pm; 20dh). Nol cards can be used on some Sharjah and Abu Dhabi buses (but not on Al Ain or Hatta services), or just buy a ticket at the bus station.
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 – look for the orange machines – at 2/5/8dh for 1/2/3hr). Finding on-street parking in the congested old city is particularly difficult. On the plus side, petrol is a bargain, at around 1.7dh per litre.
There are also six road toll points, run under the Salik (wsalik.gov.ae/en/home) scheme. These are located on Maktoum and Garhoud bridges, at two points along Sheikh Zayed Road (near Al Safa Park, and at Al Barsha, next to the Mall of the Emirates), at the airport tunnel and at Al Mamzar on the main road to Sharjah. 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 which 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 80dh (£15/US$21) 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. 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.
Almost all Dubai’s public transport services – metro, buses and waterbuses (but not abras) – are covered by the Nol system (wnol.ae), which provides integrated ticketing across the entire transport network. To use any of these forms of transport you’ll need to buy a pre-paid Nol card or ticket ahead of travel. Cards can be bought and topped up at any metro station; at one of the machines located at 64 bus stops around the city; or at branches of Carrefour, Spinneys and Redha Al-Ansari Exchange; no tickets are sold on board metro trains, buses or waterbuses. You swipe the card or ticket as you pass through the metro ticket barriers or as you board a bus or waterbus, and the correct amount is automatically deducted from your pre-paid account.
There are three types of Nol card; all three are valid for five years and can store up to 500dh worth of credit. The Silver Card costs 20dh (including 14dh credit). The Gold Card (same price) is almost identical, but also allows users to travel on Gold Class compartments on the metro. The Blue Card is aimed squarely at residents, costs 70dh (including 20dh credit) and offers additional benefits including an automatic top-up facility and the chance to earn loyalty points; they aren’t available over the counter, however (you’ll have to submit a written or online application) so aren’t much use to casual visitors.
An alternative to the three cards is the Red Ticket (a paper ticket, rather than a card). This has been specifically designed for tourists, costs just 2dh and is valid for 90 days, although it has to be pre-paid with the correct fare for each journey and can only be recharged up to a maximum of ten times. If you’re going to be using public transport regularly while you’re in the city it’s well worth investing in a Silver or Gold card.