Dubai is the Middle East’s largest airline hub, boasting excellent connections worldwide with the city’s own Emirates airline and other international carriers. These include numerous direct flights to various destinations in the UK, plus a number of places in the US and Australia.
Other options for getting to Dubai are contrastingly limited (for Western visitors, at least). It’s possible to travel overland into the UAE from several points in neighbouring Oman, but not Saudi Arabia. There are no regular ferry services to Dubai, although the city is a popular stop on many cruise itineraries.
Several airlines offer nonstop flights between the UK and Dubai; outbound flying time is around seven hours (slightly longer on the way back). There are currently nonstop flights from Heathrow with Emirates (wemirates.com), Virgin Atlantic (wvirgin-atlantic.com), British Airways (wba.com) and Royal Brunei Airlines (wflyroyalbrunei.com), plus indirect flights with many other European and Gulf airlines. Emirates also operates direct flights to Dubai from a number of other UK airports including London Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow, as well as from Dublin.
There are currently nonstop flights to Dubai with Emirates (wemirates.com) from New York, Washington DC, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, plus innumerable other one- and two-stop options with a host of other carriers. Flights from the east coast take around 13–14 hours; from the west coast around 16 hours; and 14–16 hours from Houston and Dallas.
There are nonstop flights to Dubai with Emirates (wemirates.com) from Perth (11hr), Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane (14hr), plus one-stop flights from Auckland (via Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne; 19hr) and Christchurch (via Sydney; 22hr). There are also numerous alternative routings via Asia, sometimes at slightly lower fares.
Travelling from South Africa, there are direct flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban (taking around 8–9hr), plus a few one-stop options including, most conveniently, Kenya Airways via Nairobi and Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa.
The airport (wdubaiairports.com; airport code DXB) is very centrally located in the district of Garhoud, around 7km from the city centre. There are three passenger terminals: Terminal 1 is where most international flights arrive; Terminal 3 is where all Emirates airlines flights land; and Terminal 2 is used by smaller regional carriers. All three terminals have plenty of ATMs and currency exchange booths, although if you want to rent a car, you’ll have to head to Terminal 1.
There are several ways of getting into town from the airport and many upmarket hotels offer free airport transfers; check when you book. Both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 have dedicated metro stations, offering quick and inexpensive transport into the city centre and beyond to southern Dubai; if the ticket office is closed in the station you're at you can buy a ticket at the information booth at the ticket barriers. Alternatively, there are plentiful taxis, although note that they charge a 20dh flag fare when picking up from the airport rather than the usual 3dh, making them significantly pricier than usual.
There are also various buses (see wdubai-bus.com) running from the airport into the city centre. Most useful for tourists (especially if you arrive during the night when the metro’s not running) is the recently introduced Sky Bus (Terhab) network, which runs 24hr from all three airport terminals with departures every 30min. The buses currently cover twelve routes from the airport to various points citywide and connecting with pretty much all the major hotels – see wdubai-buses.com for full details. The fare (15dh) is payable by Nol card/ticket. There are also various other local services, but these are only really useful if you’re staying in Deira or Bur Dubai and know where you’re going; again, you’ll have to buy a Nol card or ticket before boarding the bus.
The UAE shares land borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia, though only the Oman border is open to visitors from outside the Gulf. There are currently four border crossings between the UAE and Oman open to non-Emirati and Omani citizens: at Tibat between Ras al Khaimah emirate and Oman’s Musandam Peninsula; at Al Ain/Buraimi in Abu Dhabi emirate; just west of Hatta in Dubai emirate; and at Khatmat Malahah between Oman and Fujairah emirate on the east coast of the UAE.
It’s about a five-hour drive from the Omani capital Muscat to Dubai, and there are also several daily buses operated by the Oman National Transport Company leaving from the bus station in Ruwi.
Unless you’re travelling overland from neighbouring Oman or sailing in on a cruise ship, you’ll almost certainly arrive at Dubai’s sparkling modern international airport close to the old city centre (although a handful of flights land at the new Al Maktoum International Airport in the far south of the city). Once you’ve cleared customs and the crowds, getting into town is fairly straightforward.