Whether you’re just visiting Dubai on a short stopover, or you’re thinking of spending several days here, there’s plenty to keep you busy. The ultimate bland of old and new, Dubai deftly straddles the line between modern and traditional, a city where in one neighbourhood you can be surrounded by massive skyscrapers and gleaming malls, while in another you’re browsing traditional markets and snacking from local food stalls. Get ready for your trip with our guide to how to get around the city, and what to see and do while you’re in Dubai.
Dubai Metro is one of the most economical ways to get into the city from the airport. The driverless automated public transportation system offers good views of the city, and each station has a bus and taxi terminal to help you get to your final destination. Trains run roughly every 10 minutes from Terminals 1 and 3 and service starts at 5:50am (5:30am on Thursdays), and stops at midnight (1am on Thursdays/Fridays). You’re allowed up to two pieces of luggage on the metro (with one being hand luggage).
In order to ride the metro, your best bet is to buy a Nol card. These are electronic smart cards that allow you to pay for various modes of transportation in Dubai (tram, metro, bus, water bus) with one card. You can buy your ticket at the airport stations, located in each terminal. Get a silver Nol card for AED 25, which includes an AED 19 trip credit.
Your best options for getting around Dubai include metro, tram bus, and water bus.
Metro: The Dubai Metro is split into two branches: the Red Line and the Green Line. It’s easy to navigate and makes for a simple way to see the majority of Dubai’s major sights and landmarks. As per above, grab a silver Nol top-up card that you can use throughout your stay in Dubai, which also works with other forms of transportation in the city. Every station has bus connections, taxi pick-up and places to lock bicycles.
Bus: Dubai’s bus system will get you to most areas of the city thanks to a comprehensive network of routes. You can plan your journey online, and pay using your Nol card.
Tram: The Dubai Tram runs for 19 hours a day from 6:30am until 1:30am Saturdays to Thursdays and 9am until 1:30am on Fridays. It runs in a loop around the Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence area, and links up with the Dubai Metro and the Palm Monorail.
Water bus: Take a water bus across Dubai Creek and pay using your Nol card.
Head into the desert on a 90-minute camel excursion with the Al Sahra Equestrian Centre, where you’ll learn about the animals you’re riding, try camel milk (if you want), and catch the sunrise or sunset over the desert depending on what time of day you decide to go. The cost is AED 200 (or 450 if you want to add some bubbly to your experience).
No trip to Dubai is complete without a stop at the beach. One of the best public beaches in the city is Kite Beach. If you have time and you’re feeling adventurous, there are many water sports operators along the sand where you can rent equipment for kite surfing, wind surfing, and stand-up paddle boarding. Or, simply find a spot to relax on the sand or a beach café to stop for a snack and some food.
Old Dubai makes for an idyllic spot to spend a few hours of shopping in the souks (traditional markets), snacking on local specialties, and otherwise exploring an area that showcases the Emirati history and culture. (#localsknow hint: you can do all this on our Culture, Coffee & Colourful Souks Tour!)
Dubai Opera’s stage hosts an incredible array of world-class talent, with opera, ballet, and classical music concerts and productions at the core. Dubai Opera also stages musical theatre, fashion shows, jazz, comedy, family shows, and a full range of live entertainment.
Depending on when you visit, Dubai is also home to several worthwhile festivals. The Dubai Shopping Festival happens during the month of December, the Dubai Jazz Festival in February, the Dubai Food Festival (the only city-wide food fest in the Middle East) between February and March, and the Dubai International Film Festival in December.
Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers day tours in Dubai and beyond, all led by local experts that will give you a taste for local life:
Culture, Coffee & Colourful Souks Tour
Get away from the OTT skyscrapers and fantasy hotels for the morning and discover the old-world charms of Dubai before the oil rush. We will meet local Emirati friends who will introduce us to their traditional ways of life, discover the cultural treasures of the Alfahidi district, and then shop ‘till we drop in the best souks in the city.
Old Town Arabian Food Fest Private Tour
Explore the flavours of old Dubai on an Arabian culinary adventure and private tour with a local. Soak up Middle Eastern customs and traditions as you feast on a vast array of tempting delights, including kebabs, falafel, tandoori meats, dates, and some knock-out sugary sweets.
Abu Dhabi Highlights Private Tour
See Abu Dhabi from a local perspective! Spend the day on a private tour that will show you the city’s highlights and attractions beyond the traditional tourist mainstays. You’ll learn about the city’s rich history and feel like a local as you dive into the best of Abu Dhabi.
You can catch sight of some of Dubai’s desert scenery and incredible architecture in movies such as Star Trek Beyond, Syriana, City of Life, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Some good books set in Dubai to add to your reading list include the 1959 classic Arabian Sands by travel writer Wilfred Thesiger, which explores the lives of the people living in the Arabian Peninsula at that time; The Gulf Wife by Jocelyn Henderson, a memoir by one of the most iconic expats in the Gulf region; or Telling Tales: An Oral History of Dubai by Julia Wheeler, a collection of stories from locals about how life has drastically changed in Dubai over the years.
Sparkling, glittering, and completely mind-boggling — that’s Dubai. But this larger-than-life city is more than just skyscrapers and shopping malls. It’s also home to more than 230 different nationalities, excellent street food, and its own local culture that mashes up Emirati modernity with Bedouin traditions and international influence. Curious to see the real Dubai? Let us show you the city’s true local life on a Dubai tour with a local guide.