Should you leave DXB airport, and if so, where do you go?
Are you looking at a flight via Dubai but not sure about connection times? Looking at the prospect of a long Dubai International Airport (DXB) layover to contend with, or should you make it a full day’s stopover, get out of the airport and explore Dubai?
In this post, we will cover several Dubai layover and stopover options including:
- Staying at the airport – how long can you realistically spend at DXB!
- Take a guided tour– best short tour options
- Self explore around Dubai – transport options and popular sites
- Staying near the airport– which hotels are closest or offer transfers
- Transferring to Abu Dhabi International Airport– how to move between the two biggest cities and airports
Is it a stopover or a layover?
Some important terminology to understand when booking your flights as it can make a BIG difference in ticketing and baggage.
A layover is simply a break you have between flights. If you are on a continuous ticket with the one airline/network, your checked luggage will go all the way through and you’ll be issued tickets for both flights at the outset (or need to collect your second ticket at the transfer desk).
This can relieve some stresses, but remember if you gate check anything like a stroller, you won’t get it back to your end destination – a VERY important factor to think about if you’re planning to leave the airport (you can learn more here about whether you’ll need your stroller during a a stopover in Dubai)
A stopover, on the other hand, is where you have two separate flights. Usually through a hub city where you are then changing airline. You MAY be able to get your bags ticketed all the way through, but likely scenario is you need to collect your bags and check in again.
This can work well if you want to stop overnight (or longer) and have access to all your clothing and gear but isn’t ideal when you have a short turn around times between flights.
This guide is focused on passengers planning a stopover or layover with Emirates of less than 24 hours. Pop on over to our itinerary ideas if you are planning a longer stopover in Dubai – there’s plenty more you can fit in!
Staying inside Dubai Airport
Our suggestion is anything under 5 hours, you are best staying within DXB airport to prevent the hassles of checking in and out through immigration and risk missing your flight. International flights require checking in a minimum 2 hours beforehand.
We have a great guide to all the things you can do staying in Dubai Airport here, it includes:
- Airport lounges available for transiting passengers in DXB
- Sleeping options available inside the airport
- Things to do in DXB – gardens, family areas, quiet zones, eating and entertainment
Pop on over to our Dubai airport layover guide here to assess the option of simply staying in the airport during a layover.
Dubai City Stopover Tour Options
Unlike other large international airports, Dubai does NOT offer a free stopover city tour. There are plenty of paid tour options though depending on your time of day and budget. Just be mindful, you may not be able to start a city tour from DXB.
Take a Big Bus Tour: This is a great way to see a lot of the city in a short space of time. You may not be able to get off at all the stops depending on your available time. There are 3 routes and several ticket categories to choose from. Note this does not leave directly from the airport though, you’d need to get yourself to Deira City Center which is a couple of stops on the Red Line Metro departing from Terminal 1/3 DXB.
>> See prices for a Big Bus Tour Dubai
Join a desert safari – only a short time in the evening? Let’s forget the concrete jungle and escape to the desert! Most tours depart in the evening so you will find a wide selection available on overnight stopovers. If you are not staying at a hotel, it’s no problem to pop to one of the nearby hotels such as Holiday Inn Dubai Airport to use as a collection point.
>> See Desert Safari options available through Get Your Guide
There are also many tours that specialise in morning adventures to see the sunrise in the desert – perfect if you have one of those tricky overnight arrivals and you’re at a loss what to do.
>> Try this sunrise camel trek in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
Dubai Old & Modern City Tour – Join a guided tour through the city highlights, including cold refreshments, abra ride and vehicle to get you around all the highlights of town.
>> Click here to see prices for city tours.
Getting Around Dubai – Self-guided Dubai Stopover Tours
The two easiest options for visitors are using the Metro and hiring taxis or private cars. There are also Uber and Careem services available in Dubai (download the apps in advance if you want to use these options).
Some of the popular “stop, look and click” spots around Dubai include:
- The Burj Al Arab – Iconic “7-star” beachfront hotel on sunset beach Jumeirah
- Burj Khalifa – World’s tallest building – check out ticketing options here to visit the different observation decks & discover dining choices.
- Dubai Mall – One of the biggest in the world, packed full of restaurants, family entertainment, Aquarium, Ice Rink, Kidzania – you name it! At night stop to see the free fountain and light show extravaganza
- Atlantis the Palm – the amazing luxury hotel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah – Modern souk built in traditional style with many eateries and views back to Burj al Arab
- The Walk & The Beach – Trendy new area of Dubai JBR, lots of street art, cafes and activities always going on
- La Mer – even closer to the airport, this is a great fun waterfront venue, ideal for kids to stretch their legs, have a bounce or even a slide at Laguna, or simply enjoy Dubai’s modern and colourful beachfront vibes
- Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood – including the Dubai Museum, wonder the oldest streets of Dubai, through to the Al Seef Waterfront district where you can catch a traditional abra (boat) to Deira
- Gold & Spice Souks – taste a different side of Dubai, Deira is home to active trading souks and views of Dubai Creek
- Dubai Festival City – super close to the airport, a great little night spot to enjoy shopping and a bite to eat with its very own evening lights show spectacular, IMAGINE
Metered taxis are readily available at all hotels and tourist spots so you should have no problems organising your return back to the airport after sightseeing.
We have a detailed guide here on exactly how to get from Dubai Airport to Dubai Mall and the Downtown area of Dubai.
Or why not hire a private car and driver? There are options with reputable ticketing agents such as Get Your Guide to book a car and driver that will pick you up from the airport then drive you directly to the highlights.
Dubai stopover Accommodation options
Before you go any further! Check if you are eligible for a free hotel flying with Emirates under Dubai Connect!
Dubai Airport used to be one of the central points of the city but as you can imagine in a city the size and scale of Dubai, the boundaries have grown. The nearest areas to Dubai Airport are Bur Dubai and Deira. Downtown Dubai can be 15-25 minutes away depending on traffic and JBR/The Palm Jumeirah 40 minutes away. We recommend staying immediately adjacent to the airport for stops under 24 hours.
Dubai International Terminal Hotel is the only hotel actually inside the airport, Terminal 3. Including full 5 star hotel facilities with restaurants, gym, spa, swimming pool this is your best luxury option without needing to actually leave the airport. No family rooms available but you can add up to one extra bed / cot with charge. Room rates start from 650 AED ($177 USD).
>> Check prices here for Dubai International Terminal Hotel
Nearest reasonable accommodation options next to but not in Dubai Airport
(NB you will need to clear customs and be eligible for a Visa on Arrival or Transit Visa to use these options)
Premier Inn Dubai International Airport – located adjacent to the airport you can catch their free shuttle. Facilities include double and family-sized rooms (sofa bed), a swimming pool, restaurants, a small supermarket nearby. This is our preferred and most recommended option for families close by. You can still go into town for some sightseeing but know you are staying near the airport for any early starts. Expect rates from 200 AED ($55 USD), often cheaper if flying at off-peak times
>> Check prices here for Premier Inn Dubai International Airport
Holiday Inn Express Dubai Airport – very clean, neat basic nearby accommodation with a free shuttle. A promise of soundproof rooms, comfy beds, private bathroom and an on-site restaurant. Prices from 150 AED ($41 USD), if time permits much more cost-effective and comfortable than using the sleep pods within the airport for a good stretch of sleep.
>> Click here to see prices for Holiday Inn Express Dubai Airport
Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre– For a more luxury but still very close to the airport this is our top pick. There are multiple restaurants on-site, different room configurations, pool and extensive spa facilities if you’re seeking that perfect transit massage. Note airport shuttle is charged but you can get a short taxi, minimum flagfall 12AED. Prices start from 450 AED ($123 USD).
>> Check Prices for Le Meridien Dubai
Dubai Connect – FREE transit hotel for Emirates passengers
As we mentioned above, SOME passengers with Emirates who have an unavoidable connection time between 10 to 24 hours are eligible for accommodation, meals and ground transportation courtesy of Emirates.
You need to meet a few conditions, ie no better flight connection available and don’t get a say in which hotel – but if saving money and looking for convenience this could be your best option – check here where we talk you through exactly how it works.
The hotels currently available through Dubai Connect are:
- Copthorne Hotel Dubai
- Le Méridien Airport Hotel Dubai
- Arabian Park Hotel Dubai
- Or another alternative at the discretion of Emirates.
Frequently asked questions for Dubai Stopover passengers
Are you changing flights in Dubai and will have your bags with you during a stopover? There are storage lockers available at Terminals 1 and 3. Not entirely cheap though at 40AED/bag for up to 12 hours. If you have the option to check your bags all the way through I strongly suggest you use this and just take a small day bag with you for a stopover.
Families, we know this part can be tricky if you’re considering an outing during a layover. This is why there’s a great reason to take a compact folding stroller with you that can fit in the overhead locker of the plane.
This is difficult to answer as it really depends on your tolerance for heat and how much you enjoy indoor spaces! Daytime temperatures in the peak of summer can hit 50c (122F). For most, this is beyond pleasant and being outdoors for any length of time is frankly hideous. If you do leave the airport you will likely find yourself jumping from one air-conditioned building to the next.
That said, there is an increasing range of indoor activities available from the Green Planet biodome to indoor skiing at Mall of the Emirates, skating, the Aquarium, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa so you can very much plan an indoor adventure, just don’t expect to be sunning yourself on the beach mid-August.
Desert safaris do still run in the summer but at a reduced number and some activities will be cancelled. Evenings are still very hot and sticky still. If you are planning to stay somewhere with a refreshing pool, make sure it’s temperature controlled.
You can see our complete guide to tackling Dubai in the Summer here.
The UAE is a Muslim country and the holy month of Ramadan is strongly observed. If you are transiting through the airport you will likely see little outward change as transiting passengers are exempt from fasting.
Do note though many of the staff will still be observing Ramadan. Please bear this in mind looking at your behaviour – eating, what you’re wearing, public displays of affection – be modest.
If you are venturing beyond the airport, we recommend you read this visitors guide to Ramadan in Dubai so you know what to expect – it’s not overly difficult to follow the social rules and avoid hefty fines, but no doubt very confusing and intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the rules and traditions that surround Ramadan.
You can check the expected timing for Ramadan and other religious holiday’s in the UAE here.
To enter the UAE as a tourist you will need a tourist visa. These can be issued at the airport free for those holding passports from the GCC, Western Europe, North America, Australasia and the Far East – we give you a complete run-through of who is eligible for visa on arrival here.
Other nationalities can apply in advance through their airline or at the airport but charges may apply.
Transferring to Abu Dhabi from Dubai International Airport?
It is possible to do a stopover that involves flying into Dubai International (DXB) and out of Abu Dhabi (AUH) or vice versa. There is nothing cheap and direct, however, so here are all your airport transfer options.
Free airline shuttles
Your ticket for either Emirates of Etihad airlines will allow you to book through to your final destination in the UAE.
We give you a complete run-through of how the free airline buses work here, but summarised for you:
How to get from DXB to AUH
NB – Since June 2020 there has been a hard border checkpoint between Dubai and Abu Dhabi emirate due to COVID-19. Please check in advance eligibility requirements in order to cross the border.
So if you’re flying Emirates but ultimately want to end in Abu Dhabi, your ticket can be issued to include the free transit bus through to your destination. The Emirates bus stop in Abu Dhabi is at their office on the Corniche (NB, this is nowhere near the airport!) You can see the schedule here . Expect the taxi back to AUH from the Corniche to cost over 80 AED.
We’re not aware of any baggage service here, so if you want to do Abu Dhabi sightseeing before your next flight, your bags will need to come with you or return to AUH first to store your bags. You can organise a baggage transfer with Emirates for 200AED but by this point, you may as well have paid for a metered taxi.
How to get from AUH to DXB
And vice versa if you are flying with Etihad and leaving from Dubai, you can get the Etihad free shuttle service, leaving from Etihad Travel Mall, in Downtown Dubai. Click here for the current schedule. Expect the taxi from DXB to the Etihad Travel Mall cost 40AED.
Again no baggage storage if you want to do daytime sightseeing, other than at nearby Dubai Mall you can use their paid concierge service which we believe is 70AED/day.
The journey in either direction Dubai to Abu Dhabi takes about 1 hour 25 minutes but for arrivals, you will likely be booked on a service at least 1 hour after your landing time. Departures they will suggest catching the service listed at least 4 hours before your departure.
Neither, unfortunately, work as a well-oiled machine and conveniently dropping you at each others airport! If you are flying any other airline than Emirates and Etihad you cannot get the free bus, and to get each others transfer services you will still need connecting taxies or other transport.
Other routes between Dubai and Abu Dhabi
We have a detailed guide to Dubai and Abu Dhabi transport options here
Other more direct (but more costly) options between the two airports are:
- Take a standard metered taxi airport to airport will cost approximately 200AED
- Get a private hire car with a driver. These will cost a minimum of 250AED for a small local vehicle to 350AED for a seven-seater. Some services might be able to provide you with car seats.
- It may be cheaper to hire a car, but the hassle and paperwork for a one-way trip and dealing with Dubai’s traffic after a long flight? I’d only take this option if there are other stops outside of the big cities you want to make on the way.
The Intercity Bus service Dubai to Abu Dhabi is NOT direct for the airports, in fact, quite complex but we will include instructions!
- You would need to take get from the Dubai bus station at Al Ghubaiba in Bur Dubai to the bus station in Abu Dhabi at Al Wadha. Intercity Bus costs 25AED per person.
- Dubai Airport to Al Ghubaiba bus station. There is no bus station at DXB only bus stops at each terminal. From DXB Terminal 1 take bus 33 or 42; DXB Terminal 2, take bus 31. DXB Terminal 3 you can take the Metro to Burjuman, switch to the green line and get off at Al Ghubaiba Metro Station, then transfer to the bus station (You will need a pre-paid Nol card to take these services). Or take a metered taxi.
- In Abu Dhabi, you will need to take a local bus service to connect to AUH. For Abu Dhabi public transport you will need a Halifat visitor card, prepaid only no cash, available at the station. From Al Wadha, you then need a local bus to Al Mushrif to catch the A1 bus to Terminal 1. Or take a taxi, approximate cost 60AED. You can see a complete Abu Dhabi transport guide here.
When you add the inconvenience of needing pre-paid transport cards and numerous stops and transfers, it’s most definitely NOT the easiest option, especially if travelling with kids. I’d save the public bus only for ultra-budget travellers.
Dubai Hyperloop? This ultra-fast shuttle service could cut the transit time between the two cities to a mere 15 minutes, but may sadly still be a pipe dream (pardon the pun). Stick to taxies and buses, for now.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Go City Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency, nor an agent for Emirates. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.Dubai Travel Planner
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Thanks again for the awesome insight.
Hello. Great information. I have a question, how does the long layovers work with the current Covid situation? I will be traveling from USA to Cairo and have a 7 hour layover in Dubai. I wanted to step out of the airport to go to downtown, but will be the USA PCR test still be valid for my Cairo flight later that evening? I appreciate your feedback.
You will need to check the current terms and conditions with Emirates as the rules are constantly changing.