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Getting Around Dubai – Public Transportation in Dubai 101

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For a long time, Dubai was a city built for cars. The expansive road network, the city's love for cars and the subsidized fuel prices enabled everyone to own their own personal vehicles. The public transportation systems in Dubai that we see today is a fairly recent undertaking, roughly a decade old. But like everything Dubai does, the RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) have built a public transport network that rivals some of the best in the world. The buses are efficient, the metro is modern, the cabs are everywhere(in a good way) while the water taxis are an experience of their own.

In this guide, we will take a look at all the major public tranport options available in Dubai and what you need to know about them before visiting the crown on the Persian Gulf.

Dubai Public Transportation - The Basics


Let's start with the Dubai Metro that has 2 lines, 49 stations, and trains that run every 2-3 minutes. Next, buses in Dubai have 119 internal lines (35 that connect to metro stations), covering 82% of the urban area in the Emirate of Dubai.

Dubai trams have been in operation since 2014, running for 14.5 kilometers along Al Sufouh Road, connecting Dubai Marina to the Palm Jumeirah and Al Sufouh. Taxi cabs are ubiquitous throughout the city and easily available- they are, however, on the pricier side. The Dubai Monorail is another option, the first monorail in the Middle East.

Dubai Abras are a traditional form of transport- picture half-boat, half-raft that gives off old-time Dubai vibes. One of the newest forms of public transport in Dubai, the Dubai Ferry is also operated by the RTA.

The public transportation system in Dubai - metro, buses, trams, abras, ferry, water taxi - are managed by the RTA. The best part is that all these services use the same ticket type - the NOL card. You don't need to worry about purchasing a different ticket for each service. Road taxis however need to paid primarily by cash.

What is the NOL Card?


The NOL card is a smart card that allows commuters in Dubai to use various RTA transport modes in with a single card. With its 'touch and go' feature, you simply have to tap your card on the card reader at the entry and exit gates of the Metro and Waterbus stations, at the entrance gate of every RTA Bus, and on all RTA parking meters. The system automatically charges the correct fare from your card. Remember that the credit must be added to the card before travel. The NOL cards will get you access to the following services in Dubai:

  • Metro
  • Buses
  • Water Buses
  • Dubai Tram
  • RTA's Paid Parking
  • Dubai Water Bus
  • Abra Rides

Read our first timer's guide to purchasing a NOL Card

dubai public transportation

Types of NOL Cards

NOL Cards come in 4 major types:

  1. Red - The Red NOL card is a paper card that can be bought for only AED 2. It can then be loaded with up to 10 Single Trips. These cards can be bought from any ticket vending machine. The Red NOL card can only be used on only one mode of transport at a time (e.g. on Metro only, Bus only). This is perfect for tourists.
  2. Silver - The Silver card is an e-card that allows you to travel on all the modes of transport (unlike the Red ticket) and can be loaded with up to AED 5000. The card costs AED 25 and includes an AED 19 e-purse value. The Silver NOL card is valid for 5 years. This is perfect for tourists and locals.
  3. Gold - The Gold card is similar to the Silver card in all ways except that it also allows you to access the privileged Gold class cabins on the Dubai metro and trams. This is perfect for tourists and locals.
  4. Blue - The Blue card, or the Nol Personal Card, is similar to the Silver card. It's added advantages are discounts for students and senior citizen on metro and free travel for those with disabilities. This is available for locals only.

NOL Ticket:

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Getting to Dubai City From the Airport


Dubai has two airports - Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC).

DXB is a modern airport handling huge international passenger traffic, and is equipped with world-class facilities. Situated just north of the city, it has three terminals with Terminal 3 being the largest airport terminal in the world. DWC on the other hand is doesn't handle a lot of passenger traffic and is dedicated primarily to cargo. In this guide, we'll focus on how to get to Dubai City from DXB.

dubai public transportation

By Metro

Both terminals 1 and 3 are connected to the city via a major metro network. The red-line of the Dubai Metro has stops at terminals 1 & 3. One of the major Dubai Metro lines, it connects the airport to Dubai Downtown, JLT/DMCC, Dubai Marina/DAMAC, and Jebel Ali. If you happen to land at Terminal 2, you can get to Terminals 1 and 3 via bus if you want to take the metro to the city.

  • Timings: Daily 5 AM - 12 Midnight (except Fridays: 1 PM - 1 AM)
  • Frequency: Every 5-7 minutes
  • Tickets: You can use the NOL card to travel on the metro or get tickets from ticket machines and ticket counters at the station
  • Cost: One-way ticket costs $1.60 - 2.00 (5.80 - 7.00 AED)

By Bus

The RTA(Roads and Transport Authority) of Dubai handles an efficient network of buses in Dubai. Its fleet consists of air-conditioned buses with fares that start from about $2 per journey to the city centre. Buses leave from stands opposite Terminal 1, 2, and 3. Remember, to use public bus services in Dubai, you must purchase a prepaid NOL card as cash is not accepted. Bus No. 401 and 402 take you to the city. Children below 5 years of age and below 90cm travel for free.

  • Timings: Daily around the clock
  • Frequency: Every 20 minutes
  • Tickets: You can only use a prepaid NOL card (cash is not accepted)
  • Cost: One-way ticket costs $2.00 (7.00 AED)

By Taxi

The airport is well connected to the city and at no time of the day will you face any issues with getting a taxi. Taxis are easily available and pretty convenient, even though they are more expensive than other public transport options. Luckily, there is hardly any fluctuation in cab fares as all taxi companies in Dubai are generally franchised by the government of UAE. The taxis available outside the airport use the meter and start at AED 25.

  • Timings: Daily around the clock
  • Tickets: Cash/card
  • Cost: Starts at AED 25

Private and Shared Transfers

While most people prefer to take a cab from the airport, it can get quite expensive. On the other hand, shared transport is often reasonable and a comfortable travel option. With minibuses, vans, luxury limousines, a driver waiting for you at the arrival gate and getting dropped right at your hotel, taking a shared or private transfer from the airport is quite an easy and efficient option. They are not only way cheaper than private cabs but also save you time and rids you of hassles associated with public transport.

Read more about Dubai Airport Transfers

Check out your ticket options:

Dubai Public Transportation Deconstructed


1Dubai Metro

The Dubai Metro offers one of the easiest ways to get around the city. It has two lines- the Red Line (that runs from Rashidiya (near Dubai Intl Airport) to UAE Exchange (formerly Jebel Ali)) with 29 stations, and the Green Line (that runs from Etisalat to Al Qusais Creek) with 20 stations. Passengers can switch lines and transfer between them at Union or Bur Juman Station.

Timings:

Mon-Thur: 5 AM - 1:15 AM
Fri & Sat: 5 AM - 2:15 AM
Sun: 8 AM - 1:15 AM
Frequency: Every 4-7 min
Payment Mode: NOL card
Cost: from 3 AED onwards
Dubai public transportation

2Dubai Bus

The buses used by the RTA are air-conditioned, equipped with NOL card sensors at the entry & exit points and easily accessible by people with special needs. Combine this with the coverage area and you have one of the most efficient bus networks in the world. The bus stops are air-conditioned too, to keep you safe from the Dubai heat.

Similar to the Dubai Metro and other transport modes operated by the RTA, you will need to get yourself a NOL card to travel on the buses. Cash is not accepted on Dubai's buses. There are 15 major bus stations in Dubai, and numerous bus stops along the way. The major bus stations are divided into Major Stations, Sub Stations and Feeder Bus Stations. You can check out the official Dubai RTA bus station list to learn all about them.

Timings: Daily between 5 AM & 12 Midnight
Payment Mode: NOL card
Cost: from 3 AED onwards
Dubai public transportation

3Dubai Trams

The RTA operated Dubai Tram has been part of the Dubai Public Transport network since 2014. The tram line is currently limited and runs for 14.5 kilometers along Al Sufouh Road, connecting Dubai Marina to the Palm Jumeirah and Al Sufouh. One can transfer from the tram to the metro at the Jumeirah Lakes Towers Station and Dubai Marina Station of the Dubai Metro's Red Line. The tram is also connected with the monorail of the Palm Jumeirah. It comes with additional services such as Wi-Fi, disabled access, private cabins, a cabin for women, and a dedicated metro police.

Timings:

Mon-Sat: 6 AM - 1 AM
Sun: 9 AM - 1 AM
Payment Mode: NOL card
Cost: from 3 AED onwards
Dubai public transportation

4Taxi Cabs

Like every other major city in the world, taxis are ubiquitous throughout the city and easily available. Despite being the most expensive form of public transport in the city, its ease and comfort easily makes it one of the most convenient ways to move around in Dubai. Taxis in Dubai are run by various companies - Dubai Transport, Arabian, National, Cars, and Metro. All run at similar rates, at AED 1.75/km, with the minimum charge capped at AED 12. Taxis can be easily found at the entrances of malls, shopping destinations and all major tourist attractions. You can also hail one on the road, though it does get difficult during rush hour.

Timings: Daily 24x7
Payment Mode: Debit/Credit/NOL card
Cost: from AED 1.75/km (with min charge of AED 12)
Dubai public transportation

5Monorail

Opened in 2009, the Dubai monorail is the first monorail in the Middle East. The Dubai Monorail runs on the Palm Islands and connects it to the mainland with further plans to connect the line to the Metro Red Line. The Palm Monorail is one of the best ways to navigate across the Palm Jumeirah: a way of getting from one place to another while promising a ravishing view. The Dubai Monorail accepts only cash. You cannot travel on the Dubai monorail with a NOL card. A one-way ticket costs AED 20 and a return ticket costs AED 30.

Timings: Daily 9 AM - 10 PM
Payment Mode: Cash
Cost: from AED 20
Dubai public transportation

6Abras

Abras are the city's most traditional form of transport. Half boat and half raft, the abras have retained their design and functionality for centuries and are a present-day link to the old days of Dubai. Abras are the most common forms of boats you'll see plying their trade and ferrying passengers across the beautiful 14-km stretch of the Dubai Creek.

Timings:

Bur Dubai Abra - Deira Old Souk Abra: 6 AM – 12Midnight
Dubai Old Souk - Al Sabhkha Abra: 24x7
Payment Mode: Cash
Cost: from AED 1
Dubai public transportation

7Dubai Ferries

Abras are the city's most traditional form of transport. Half boat and half raft, the abras have retained their design and functionality for centuries and are a present-day link to the old days of Dubai. Abras are the most common forms of boats you'll see plying their trade and ferrying passengers across the beautiful 14-km stretch of the Dubai Creek.

Payment Mode: Cash/Credit/Debit
Cost: from AED 15
Dubai public transportation

Dubai Hop-On-Hop-Off Tours


dubai public transportation

Dubai Hop-on-hop-off buses are perfect for tourists as it not only takes care of your transportation woes, but also shows you the most important highlights of the city. Dubai has Big Bus and City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Buses, both of which have planned routes with a total of about 40 stops along the way. You can get on the bus at any of these stops and get down wherever you like.

Big Bus Routes

Big Bus operates three lines in Dubai:

Red Line - Dubai Mall (through which you can visit the Burj Khalifa), City Walk, Wafi, Burjuman, Old Souk, Heritage Village, Spice Souk, Dubai Museum, Gold Souk, Riviera, and Deira City Centre.

Green Line - The Jumeirah Public Beach, Souk Madinat, Burj Al Arab, Mall of the Emirates, and the Dubai Mall. The scenic drive is not to be missed!

Blue Line - Mall of the Emirates, Marina Walk, Marina Mall, Marina Promenade, The Beach, Bay Side, Tallest Block, Media City, Al Ittihad Park, and Atlantis The Palm.

Here's our detailed comparison of the top Hop On Hop Off Buses in Dubai

Top Rated Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours

Best Way To Get Around Dubai


With so many public transportation options in London, how does one go about choosing the right option for them? By doing your fair share of research beforehand, you can select a mode of transportation that is not only cheap, but also convenient for you.

Cheapest Mode of Public Transportation?

The Dubai Metro is the cheapest mode of public transportation in Dubai. Get your NOL Card right away!

Fastest Mode of Public Transportation?

You guessed it - the Dubai Metro takes the cake once again. This is especially applicable for longer distances. Another quick mode of transportation might be a taxi cab but try and avoid peak hours.

Stops At Tourist Destinations Conveniently?

The iconic red double-decker Hop On Hop Off buses are your best option.

Convenient Mode of Transportation?

Dubai's iconic taxi cabs with the yellow "taxi" sign are pretty popular. All cabs are metered and wheelchair accessible. Even though most convenient, they are on the pricier side.

Wheelchair-Accessible Modes of Transportation?

The Dubai Metros, Trams & City Buses are all wheelchair accessible.

Dubai Public Transportation Tips


  • If you're traveling in Dubai with family, you might consider using taxi cabs. 4-5 people will fit in and it is very convenient. The only downside is dealing with Dubai traffic.
  • While taxis are comparably more expensive than other modes of transportation in Dubai, they are actually cheap compared to other metropolitan cities in the world.
  • If you are out and about during peak hours, we strongly recommend using the metro. This is also the best mode of transportation if you need to cover long distances.
  • We strongly recommend using Dubai private transfers from the airport over hotel transfers.
  • If you're in the Dubai Creek area, do not forget to try out the Dubai Abra experience. It's quite remarkable.
  • Looking for the fastest mode of transportation on The Palm? The Dubai Monorail is the way to go.
Dubai Public Transportation

Ready to Explore Dubai?


Fancy heading out to some other must-visit Dubai attractions? Take inspiration from our list of the best things to do in Dubai here. Use our comprehensive Dubai Travel Guide to explore the rest of Dubai in a hassle-free fashion with all the need-to-know information in hand.

FAQs: Dubai Public Transportation


What is the safest mode of public transportation in Dubai?

The Metros, the buses, and the taxis are the safest and convenient ways to get around the city and visit the attractions.

What is the cheapest mode of public transportation in Dubai?

The Dubai Metro is the cheapest mode of public transportation in Dubai.

Are taxi cabs advisable to book in Dubai?

Taxis are government-controlled, safe, and metered- so it is very much advisable to book in Dubai.

What are some of the best travel apps to download when traveling in Dubai?

Some apps advisable to download before your trip to Dubai are Darb, XE Currency, Wojhati, BOTIM, and more. 

How expensive are NOL cards?

NOL cards cost about AED 25 (including AED 19 e-purse value).