A guide to public transport in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including metro, bus and ferry

Making the switch from driving to riding can help manage money, time and stress levels

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Imagine heading to The Dubai Mall and facing no parking woes or taxi queues. Better yet, envision listening to your favourite podcast, suitcase in tow, going from Dubai Marina to Terminal 3 for only Dh7.50.

There are plenty of alternatives to driving your own car or hopping into a taxi that can lessen the environmental impact. You can move across the Emirates conveniently using several forms of public transport, with cost being one of the biggest benefits. Here's a guide to what’s on offer in addition to taxis.

Dubai International Airport

Travelling to and from any airport is often a trek, so preparing accordingly and avoiding any stress is welcome. Travellers passing through Dubai International Airport can get the Dubai Metro directly for Terminal 1 and 3 on the Red Line.

Tourists can also ride the metro to The Dubai Mall for some preflight shopping and dining, as the concierge at the mall has partnered with Dubz, a service that allows passengers to store luggage or check in for their flight from home and have their bags sent to the airport. Storage starts from Dh50 per bag, while checking one in is Dh150.

While the metro is the most convenient mode of public transport for visitors or those unfamiliar with the extensive bus network, should you miss the train, bus line C01 runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and stops at terminals 1 and 3 connecting to major city bus stations. A single journey is no more than Dh7.50.

Abu Dhabi International Airport

In the capital, city buses stop at all three Abu Dhabi International Airport terminals connecting directly to the city for Dh4 each way. The bus into the city is operational 24 hours a day and runs every 40 minutes, with access to all major bus stations.

If you’re transferring to or from Dubai, the new Abu Dhabi Express shuttle service costs Dh35 and runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, between Abu Dhabi Airport and Ibn Battuta Bus Station, with a shuttle making the trip every hour.

Between Dubai and Abu Dhabi

The RTA in Dubai has a bus line that runs between the two emirates every 20 minutes throughout the day. You can catch the E100 from Al Ghubaiba Bus Station in Dubai, which will get you to the capital in two hours and 15 minutes; or the E101 from Ibn Battuta Bus Station, which takes an hour and 40 minutes. Both bus stations directly connect to the Dubai Metro. Tickets cost Dh25 and you’ll be transported to Abu Dhabi Central Bus station next to Al Wahda Mall.

Within Dubai

One of the easiest ways to navigate the emirate via public transport is using the Dubai Metro. The Red and Green lines run from Al Qusais to the newly reopened Expo 2020 city.

With 64 stations, travellers can connect directly to places such as the Dubai International Airport, Mall of Emirates and The Dubai Mall, to name but a few, as well as to tram lines, bus stations and ferry docks.

Dubai is split into seven zones and travelling through a single one costs Dh4. If you transfer to a bus or tram within the same journey, it is included in that rate. To ride the metro, tram, bus or ferry, simply purchase a Nol card at any metro station. These come as one-time red Nol tickets or reusable cards.

Dubai resident Tiakala Sangtam, who uses Dubai’s metro and bus lines daily, says: “It is convenient, clean and most of all safe. The S’hail application makes planning your journey simple and with the Nol cards, transferring from metro to tram or bus is all done with a single tap.” Sangtam estimates that her transport costs are no more than Dh200 a month, and loves that she doesn’t need to worry about traffic jams during rush hour.

For the rare stops not covered by the Dubai Metro, there's the 1,500-strong bus fleet. Timetables, maps and Nol card balances can all be found on the RTA/S’hail app. Occupational health and wellness coach Sana Basharat, who uses the bus to travel to Sharjah for work, estimates her transport costs, including daily use of the metro, are Dh500 a month.

DMCC and Sobha Realty Metro stations also connect directly to the city’s Tram Line, which stretches through Dubai Marina and has 11 stations connecting JBR, Dubai Marina, Al Sufouh and the Palm Jumeirah Monorail.

The Monorail is exclusive to Palm Jumeirah, carrying passengers through the island’s five stations from Palm Gateway, at the Golden Mile Galleria shopping mall to Atlantis Aquaventure water park.

In Dubai Marina, hop on the water bus using your Nol card to get around different stations in the area. Or, travel through the marina on the Dubai Ferry, which carries about 100 passengers via scenic routes around Palm Jumeirah, past Burj Al Arab and all the way to the Dubai Canal and Dubai Creek.

For inner city transport, Careem bikes and Lime scooters are a convenient alternative to the buses and metro. The bikes can be easily found in most pedestrian areas and outside bus and metro stations. Simply download the apps on your phone, scan the QR code, jump on and the app will clock your time. Careem bikes have daily (Dh20), weekly (Dh50) and monthly (Dh75) plans, whereas Lime scooters cost Dh35 an hour or Dh45 a day.

Within Abu Dhabi

Moving around Abu Dhabi is just as efficient and affordable. The Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station provides more than 500 buses locally and regionally across 124 routes. The inner-city lines offer direct access to every corner of the capital 24 hours a day for a mere Dh2 for a single journey.

Local lines cover inner-city transport and connect residential communities such as Al Amerah, Al Bahya, Rabdan and Shakhbout City, whereas the regional lines connect to districts such as Al Zahiyah, Al Reef and Saadiyat Island.

To get to Al Ain, passengers can take the X90 line from Abu Dhabi Central Station to Al Ain City Central Station. The journey takes two hours and 35 minutes, with a bus leaving the capital every hour from 6.45am. The last bus departs at 10.45pm. Access to Sharjah, Dubai, Al Ain, Liwa and Al Ruwais are all available from the main bus station, too.

Timetables and maps can be found on the Darbi app. Riders need to use the Hafilat travel smartcard that, like Dubai's Nol card, automatically deducts the fare upon being scanned. Cards can be bought and topped up at a number of ticket vending machines spread across the city, most notably at all Lulu Hypermarket branches in Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain city and the Dhafra region, as well as at hafilat.darb.ae.

Buses are free for senior citizens and people of determination, who get a special version of the Halifat smart card. This costs Dh5 and is valid for five years.

Bus numbers that are prefixed with an "A" move to and from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Those prefixed with an "M" are minibuses, while an "X" before the bus number represents the express lines. Last year, Abu Dhabi implemented a number of air-conditioned bus stops across the emirate, as well as free Wi-Fi on all vehicles.

Local buses aside, tourists can hop on to the Visit Abu Dhabi Shuttle bus network, which offers free transport around the city’s sights upon checking into their hotels.

Lime scooters and Careem bikes are the best option for inner-city transport, and can be found in most areas, including along the Corniche.

If you want to enjoy a day on the water, ride the ferry that sails to Delma Island from Jabal Al Dhanna port or to Al Aliah Island from Saadiyat Island for Dh20.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 7:19 AM