Getting around Dubai

Public transport options in Dubai

This highly-technological city has a plethora of transportation options available to efficiently whisk you around - from water taxi to monorail and more.

Melinda HealyJournalist and travel writer
15 September 2022

For a city with more than three million residents and 16 million visitors a year, its public transport network is crucial to moving people around. Dubai has a Metro, rideshare services, a sizable taxi fleet, and of course, a bus network.

By Car

Given the number of cars on the road and Dubai’s vast road network, it’s no wonder plenty of people choose to drive here. Rental cars are reasonably priced, and gas is cheap and easy to come by, with fuel stations frequently accessible.

You may have to navigate large motorways and make snap decisions, but if you’re confident and keep your cool, you’ll pick it up quickly.

But, a word of warning, it can feel a bit like defensive driving here at times, and quick decision-making skills are beneficial. You may have to navigate seven and eight-lane motorways and make snap decisions, but if you’re confident and keep your cool, you’ll pick it up quickly.

Traffic is particularly busy between 6.30am-9am and 4.30pm-7pm with work and school traffic, and on weekends – which have recently switched to Saturday and Sunday – you can expect plenty of congestion around popular attractions, including popular beaches and shopping malls.

There is an abundance of rental car companies at the airport, and shopping malls and standalone stores/kiosks throughout the emirate. Parking is relatively easy to access citywide, and signage for payment is self-explanatory. For navigation, Google Maps or an app called Waze are the most accurate and reliable.

By Taxi

Dubai is all about its taxis, and most travelers usually find themselves in need of one at some point during their trip. Licensed by the Government, local taxis can be identified by their cream colour. There are some private taxis: you’ll notice they have different colored roofs.

Ask first

It’s always wise to ask the driver before you get in if they know how to get where you want to go - not all taxis have GPS systems. There is nothing worse than getting in a taxi with a new driver or someone who doesn’t know their way around. Not only can it prove costly, it can delay what would otherwise be a straight-forward trip.

Never accept a lift from a stranger and avoid the men who approach tourists in the arrivals hall offering them a ride at a cheaper rate – instead always head to the main rank, which is clearly marked.

Aside from a rental car, taxis are the most efficient and comfiest way of getting from A to B. They’re air-conditioned, metered, and most have Wi-Fi and card payment facilities. Taxis can be hailed on the street, picked up at a taxi rank, or booked by phone or online.

Women, if traveling alone, can opt for a dedicated Ladies Taxi with a female driver if they prefer, but, that being said, most taxis are safe to travel in. If traveling alone, it’s best to ride in the backseat: not only does it distance you from the driver, but it also ensures there are no uncomfortable misunderstandings. It’s also always best to dress conservatively: this goes for all forms of transport.

The minimum fare in Dubai is AED 10 and you can expect to absorb tolls in the fee. Depending on where you get your taxi, there can be a starting fee, which can range from AED 3.50 to AED 20 (the latter is for an airport taxi).

By Ride-share

Mobile ride-hailing apps are as much a part of the Dubai landscape as they are in other global destinations. Uber and Careem are the most popular in these parts, and when their costs are compared with what a taxi might cost you, there is not a huge difference.

The convenience of booking and ease of payment are attractive to a lot of travelers who don’t want to handle cash or rack up international transaction fees on their bank cards. Another point of difference is the quality and comfort of the rideshare vehicles and the notable offerings like bottled water and charging stations.

Ride-share drivers are usually more attuned to what is where and will get you there quickly and efficiently.

Dubai Metro

The extensive rail network known as the Metro is operated by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the body that also operates the city’s buses, water taxis and trams.

This 55-mile-long automated transport system has two lines – Red and Green – and is the most budget-friendly way to navigate the emirate. Trains run every 10 minutes or so. You can make use of the RTA’s journey planner in advance of your trip so you know how long it will take.

In order to use the Metro, travelers will need to purchase a Nol (Arabic for fare) rechargeable transport pass. These can be bought at ticket counters or vending machines within each of the 50-odd Metro stations, at bus stations, or local supermarkets and convenience stores, including Lulu, Carrefour and Waitrose. Cards can be topped up at station vending machines.

There are seven zones that make up the Metro network and fares are calculated based on how many zones you pass through on any given journey – one zone starts at AED 3.

Most trains have four carriages: one is usually a dedicated women-only carriage and some are quiet carriages, where speaking to one another loudly and talking on the phone is frowned upon. Some have ‘Gold Class’ seating options too, which come into their own when the trains are at their busiest during rush hour.

If traveling from the airport by Metro, you are allowed two pieces of luggage – a big suitcase and a handheld bag. No food or drink is permitted during your ride and Wi-Fi is available to all passengers.

By Tram

The Dubai Tram services the Dubai Marina and Al Souffah districts and makes stops at destinations including Jumeirah Beach Residences, JBR The Walk, and Dubai Marina Mall. Governed by the RTA, it also connects to The Palm Monorail and the Dubai Metro. Users will need their Nol cards to ride the tram and can expect to pay AED 3 per ride (kids under 3 ride free).

As with the Metro, there is a ‘Gold Class’ option (AED 6-8) and a special carriage for women and children. A loop takes about 40 minutes, with trams running every six to eight minutes or so.

By Monorail

A tourist delight, the Palm Monorail provides visitors a special sightseeing journey along the trunk of the world-famous Palm Jumeirah. Just under four miles long, for a fee of AED 10 you can enjoy the picturesque views of this iconic man-made island. Open 7 days a week between the hours of 9am and 10pm, the monorail begins from the Gateway station at the entry to The Palm. There are more than 150 parking spaces with limits of up to three hours, so you can park and ride if you like. The journey finishes at the Atlantis Aquaventure Park.

By Bus

The RTA manages the city’s bus network, which has almost 130 different routes and is and is used by commuters who are on the lower end of the earning scale. Dubai’s buses are air-conditioned and serve their purpose, but they certainly aren’t quick, so for tourists looking to pack as much sightseeing in as they can, there are better transport options. That being said, if you are on a budget, fares do range from just AED 3 and at their most expensive cost about AED 8.50.

Buses do not accept cash and as with the Metro you will need a rechargeable Nol card to be permitted onboard.

For travel outside of Dubai, there are public buses that travel between Dubai and Abu Dhabi – a two-hour trip that costs AED 25 – and the RTA also operates a service between Dubai and Muscat, Oman’s capital city (AED 55). Please bear in mind, however, that most foreign passport holders are required to have a visa in order to gain entry to Oman.

Aside from the regular RTA buses, tourists can also purchase tickets to join the sightseeing buses that service the emirate.

Big Bus Dubai is a great way to familiarise yourself with the city and its attractions, so you know what you want to explore in more detail. Not only are the buses air-conditioned, they also have Wi-Fi, and are equipped with an audio accompaniment that explains each landmark as you move around the city.

You can pre-book the hop-on hop-off tour of your choice, which can be purchased at a discounted rate online. If you’re not that organised, it is still possible to join at the last minute. If you see a bus stopped at one of the landmarks, just approach the driver and pay for a ticket.

One-day Big Bus Dubai passes start from AED 253, while dedicated night tours cost about AED 173, and there are packages that combine the bus tour with entry to some of the city’s popular attractions.

I can highly recommend these tours, I find them really professionally-managed and easy to navigate. I’ve joined them in other countries so I can say so with confidence.

Water taxis

A ride in an Abra is to take a step back in time. These motorized wooden boats ferry locals and tourists across the Dubai Creek that links the neighborhoods of Bur Dubai and Deira.

A ride in an Abra is to take a step back in time.

Old Dubai, as this northern end of Dubai is known, offers tourists a taste of days gone by with markets on both sides of the creek selling spices, traditional clothing, gold and textiles.

An Abra (Arabic name meaning ‘to cross’) trip takes under 10 minutes and is the cheapest journey you’ll take, costing you just AED 1 or AED 2 depending on what route you take. You may have to wait a few minutes for the boat to fill up before setting off, but it rarely takes longer than this.

These water taxis operate daily, from 6am, and there are more than 150 of them running between the two creekside stops.

At Dubai Marina, tourists can jump on the hop-on-hop-off Dubai Marina Water Bus. There are a number of routes that service Bluewaters Island, Marina Mall, Marina Promenade and Marina Walk, with fares costing between AED 3 and AED 5. You can also use your Nol Cards on these air-conditioned water transport vessels.

About the author

Melinda HealyAlthough born in PNG, Mel is an Aussie-made journo who's always been more interested in passport stamps than possessions. A whiz with words, Mel spent a number of years living and working in the United Arab Emirates, it was here that she shared insight into Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the world. Mel believes travel is a privilege and an educator.