Maximising layovers and short stops in Dubai for rest or fun
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 get refreshed?
We recently had a family member ask exactly this question about a 14-hour layover – and instead of keeping all this juicy information to ourselves we’re sharing it with you here today!
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!
- Staying near the airport – which hotels are closest or offer transfers
- Self explore around Dubai – transport options and popular sites
- Take a guided tour – best short tour options
- Transferring to Abu Dhabi International Airport – how to move between the two biggest cities and airports
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE where we have extensive coverage on things to do, where to stay and practical visitor guides
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.
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.
Staying at Dubai Airport
On the scale of International Airports, there are definitely worse places that you could be stuck than Dubai International! Our suggestions is anything under 5 hours, you are best staying at the 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.
Dubai Airport is huge, if your connection is in different terminals you will also need to factor this into any transit time. Moving around between terminals is permitted, but if you want to head land side, you do need to clear customs and passport control and queues can be long, and at peak times Dubai’s roads gruelling.
Airport Lounges at Dubai International Airport
This can be a great option for short to medium length layovers (1 to 4 hours). There are several options, some you may be able to get for “free” via loyalty programs, others you’d need to pay for. If you are flying Business class, you will of course automatically be given access to a lounge through your airlines own dedicated team, or there is the Dubai International Business Class lounge in Terminal 1, Concourse C for all other airlines.
If you don’t have a business class seat but do have a loyalty card such as Lounge Pass or Priority Pass, you can access several full services lounges including the Marhaba Lounges at all 3 terminals and Ahlan Business Lounges. Non-cardholders can also pay cash on arrival if there is space or prebook to guarantee a spot. Check for any lounge entitlements with your credit cards too – see all our airline travelling hacks here!
If you are just after a quick nap or a wash, there are Snooze Cubes located in Terminal 1 at Gate C23. These include Wifi and a quiet spot to rest, a minimum of 2 hours must be booked – singles are 75AED+VAT per hour or shared 100AED+ VAT per hour. The other alternative is Sleep ‘n Fly at Gate A1, Terminal 3 who also offer hourly rate cabins, some minimum hour restrictions apply overnight, single and double cabins (Did you know Priority Pass cardholders can use this option instead of a lounge?!)
Shower cubicles are in both Terminals 1 & 3 – no washrooms are in the sleep cubicles, you’ll need to opt for full hotel accommodation if you’d like a connected bed and bathroom (more below!)
Things to do in Dubai Airport
- Zen Gardens – the airport’s little slice of indoor nature is not a bad place to chill out for a while. Located in Terminal 3 between gates B7 and B27. It also includes a children’s area with play equipment, TV’s, interactive games zone and baby change facilities.
- Bounce – Trampolining during your layover? Why not! The internationally renowned free jump revolution can now be hired by 30 minute or hour blocks. If you’ve never tried Bounce before I assure you this is the perfect way to exhaust your little ones (ideally 3 years+). 50AED for 30 minutes of 80AED for one hour. Located in Terminal 3 near gate B27
- Surf the net – Well, what else do we all actually do these days? Ultra-fast, free internet WOW-fi is only free for the first 60 minutes. If you need longer than this you’ll need to move to the paid service offered by Boingo
- Shopping and eating – not always ideal with little ones in tow but there are literally dozens of choices from fine dining to family favourites like Giraffe or simple fast food and cafe takeouts.
Young families will be pleased to know there are complimentary strollers available at Dubai Airport. They’re not always available in every rack, but you should eventually find one!
Day / Overnight accommodation options for a Dubai Stopover
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 40 minutes away. We recommend staying immediately adjacent to the airport for stops under 24 hours.
Dubai International Hotel is the only one actually in the airport, Terminal 3. Including full 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. You can read a detailed review of what to expect at the Dubai International Hotel here. Room rates start from 650AED.
Nearest reasonable accommodation options next to but not in the airport (ie you will need to clear customs)
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), 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 200AED, often cheaper if flying at off-peak times
Seeking more family hotel favourites in Dubai? See this extensive guide to Dubai’s best family hotels, hand picked by parents, for parents.
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 on-site restaurant. Prices from 150AED, if time permits much more cost-effective than using the sleep pods for a good stretch of sleep.
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 450AED
Dubai Connect – FREE transit hotel for Emirates Passengers
Have you heard of Dubai Connect? Economy passengers with Emirates who have an unavoidable connection time between 8 to 24 hours are eligible for accommodation, meals and ground transportation courtesy of Emirates. (This applies to Business and First class passengers as well between 6 and 24 hours).
You need to meet a few conditions, ie no better flight connection available and don’t get a say in the hotel – but if saving money and looking for convenience this could be your best option. if you are booking through a travel agent they will book this element of the trip for you, or for DIY bookers, book your flight first, then apply through “Manage My Booking”.
Stopping long enough to get to the beach? Our favourite Dubai Beach Resorts Revealed
Getting Around Dubai – Self-guided
The two easiest options for visitors are using the Metro and hiring taxies 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).
If you are staying in the city for more than a short transit, here is a great detailed guide on how to get around Dubai and all the different public transport options.
Some of the popular “stop, look and click” spots around Dubai include:
- The Burj Al Arab – Iconic “7-star” beachfront hotel
- Burj Khalifa – World’s tallest building
- 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 extravaganza
Atlantis the Palm
- – Mega hotel at the tip of the world’s largest inhabited man-made archipelago – The Palm Jumeirah
- 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
- Heritage Village – Take a quick dip into Dubai’s past and the Bedouin culture
- Gold & Spice Souks – a taste of the different side of Dubai, still active trading souks and views of Dubai Creek – from here you can also catch an Abra
(For a far more comprehensive list of things to see and do in Dubai check out this post – the ones mentioned here are good for a quick taster but I guarantee you’ll wish you had longer! If you’re on a really tight budget check out this guide)
Metered taxies are readily available at all hotels and tourist spots. You can calculate approximate taxi costs using this calculator from Dubai Taxi Corporation or Uber and Careem apps will give you a quote (want to know how they compare in price? a really useful infographic here that shows you what you’re up for using these different car services).
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 you direct them to the sites you really want to see with the time you have available. They are not tourist guides per se but will navigate you to your chosen destinations.
Dubai City Tour Options
Unlike other airports, Dubai does NOT offer a free stopover city tour. Emirate does, however, offer through their company Arabian Adventures many paid excursions.
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 direct 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 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, its no problem to pop to one of the nearby hotels such as Holiday Inn Dubai Airport to use as a collection point.
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.
Dubai Old & New City Tour – offered vis Get Your Guide, this is a great taster tour WITH GUIDE. It includes cold refreshments, and abra ride and vehicle to get you around all the highlights of town.
Frequently asked questions for Dubai Layovers
Can I leave my bags at DXB
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, I know this part can be tricky if you’re considering an outing during a layover. This is why we now strongly prefer taking a small fold up stroller like the compact Mountain Buggy Nano that can come on the plane with us. And if you’re using anything like a sleep aid product for the kids on the plane, make sure its small and can fit in your hand luggage, like the Kooshy Kids Kooshion or Plane Pal.
Should I do a stopover in the summer?
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.
Desert safaris will 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 its temperature controlled.
What if I am stopping over in Dubai during Ramadan?
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, I 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.
Will I need a Tourist Visa?
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. Other countries can apply in advance or at the airport but charges may apply. For exact countries and rules relevant to you, please see Visit Dubai – this is NOT our area of expertise nor can I help you get a visit visa!
A Tourist visa lasts for 30 days + a 10 day grace period.
Important Timing Note. Please read this to avoid a fine! Your tourist visa is multiple entry and you can come and go from the UAE within the 30 days. However, say you’re only transiting on one leg and planning on staying longer during the return leg – do not go over day 39 or you’ll be fined for overstaying – yes even if you were out of the country for most of the 30 days!!! Eg you get stamped in day 1 and leave again day 2. Day 29 you return again to visit. You must depart the country again before day 40, or do a “border run” at any point between day 31 and day 39 to renew your tourist visa.
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.
How to get from DXB to AUH
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 – 6 services per day. 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 – 10 services per day. 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 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 driver. These will cost minimum 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. The 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.
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.
Want to know more about visiting Dubai and the UAE?
We have lived for many years in the UAE and have a tonne of great articles focused on the family market we’d love you to explore when planning your trip.
We strongly recommend if you’ve never stopped before to actually get out of the airport and spend a few days getting to appreciate not only Dubai but all of the Emirates. They have really been built with the tourist in mind and there’s an awful lot to see and do!
Here are some of our favourite Dubai & UAE guides:
- 100+ family things to do in the UAE
- Where to stay in Abu Dhabi (and tips on how to save on your hotel rooms!)
- UAE’s Best Beach Resorts
- Where to find culture in the UAE
- Guide to beach and desert camping in the UAE & Oman
- Visit the Musandam Peninsula, Oman
Bookmark this page for your next trip or Pin it for later
Have you done a Dubai Stopover? Any more tips you would add?
Disclosures: We are not sponsored by any of the airlines or services mentioned in this post, however, there are affiliate links that may earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you if a purchase is made. This post is based on our own research and information is correct at time of publishing February 2018. You can see our full disclosures policy here.