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Dubai Myths: You Can't Walk Anywhere

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Dubai is built for cars. Every place has ample and usually free parking. Highways are big and most of them feature 7+ lanes each way.

Sheikh Zayed Road, the city's centrally located highway, transforms into a marathon track once a year.

However, this does not mean that you need a car to survive or enjoy the many attractions the city has to offer.

Rather than having a single city core like most cities, Dubai has multiple city centers, some of them up to 50km apart. Each of these city centers is designed to be highly walkable for residents and workers alike.

Popular city centers include the historic "old" Dubai alongside the Dubai Creek, DIFC, Downtown Dubai, Dubai Marina, Barsha, City Walk, and Expo City.

By building the city around many smaller city centers rather than a single, dense core as is common in European cities such as London or Paris, we keep congestion down.

In London or Paris, car ownership is largely unfeasible. It is just too expensive, too crowded, and too slow to get around in a private automobile. In Dubai, however, you can own and drive a car while still living in a (smaller) walkable sub-neighborhood.

Low-density urban use in between city centers also allows for wind to pass through and reduce air pollution. For a desert city with sometimes dusty air, that's a useful aspect to consider.

While Dubai's many city centers are all highly walkable, it is of course not as convenient to walk on foot or travel by bike between city centers. However, this was never the intention. Dubai's fully automatic, driverless metro system seamlessly connects all city centers with trains that run at high frequencies, with trains departing every 3 minutes during rush hour. Metro trips start from just 3aed per ride or 75 US cents.

Dubai's incredibly wide highways with up to 28 lanes are designed to allow anyone to travel between urban centers with ease, in their own car or in one of Dubai's abundant and affordable taxis. While rush hours do see some congestion on highways, the overall traffic situation is much better than in other global cities of similar or larger size.

Imagine Dubai as many smaller sub-cities. Each of these "15min cities" has residential space, shopping malls, and offices within close proximity, and usually within a 15min walk of each other. The districts have lots of walking and bike paths as well as parks and green spaces.

It is your responsibility to find a living space close to your place of work - it is definitely not difficult.

Dubai Marina, for example, has offices, shopping malls, and thousands of residential apartments located side by side. Here you also find dozens of kilometers of walkways and promenades that are entirely free from car traffic.

Dubai Marina has nearly unlimited water-side promenades that are completely car-free and ideal for pedestrians.

Palm Jumeirah, has kilometer-long pedestrian-only beach-side promenades, a 1.5km long central park, and a monorail that connects residential neighborhoods with hotels and shopping malls. How is this not walkable?

The 1.5km long Al Ittihad Park in the center of Palm Jumeirah. Shown right in the center is the elevated Monorail.

One of the many extra-wide beach-side promenades on Palm Jumeirah. This one is called Palm West Beach,

Downtown Dubai with its Dubai Mall and the world's tallest building is also super walkable - as long as you stay within the district. Here you find the Middle East headquarters of HSBC and Standard Chartered, tens of thousands of apartments, and every imaginable store and restaurant.

Dubai's annual marathon also passes through Downtown!

Located in close proximity to downtown Dubai is City Walk, another 15-minute city within Dubai. Just like in downtown, you will find restaurants, hairdressers, daycare centers, a hospital, and even the Canadian University Dubai here - all within a short walk.

City walk has it all, from residences to a hospital and university, yet most Dubai visitors have never even heard of the district. It is worth checking out!

Deira and Bur Dubai, the two neighborhoods forming Dubai's historic city center along Dubai Creek are designed with walking in mind. Here you can walk for hours through the half dozen or so souks without a car in sight.

Shown here is the textile souk, just one of many souks in old Dubai. Completely car-free of course!

Expo City Dubai was the site of the 2020 Dubai Expo. After the Expo's end in March 2022, 70% of the exhibition's buildings are being repurposed for residential and office use. The core of Expo city is completely car-free and reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists.

This, however, does not mean that Expo city residents need to relinquish their cars. A large part of the city is built on a giant underground parking garage that allows easy access by car from outside to right under the building you want to visit. Everyone can own and use a car, but nobody has to suffer from noise and pollution. How clever is that?

Me enjoying fresh, filtered water from one of the many free water fountains in Dubai's Expo City.

Al Seef is another recent addition to Dubai's cityscape. Al Seef is a 1.8km long and up to 300m wide creek-side shopping district exclusively reserved for pedestrians. The district is split into two parts, modern and historic.

The masterplanned Al Seef district has an incredible length of 1.8km - and is always worth a stroll. There are even some hotels located here!

Similarly, Bluewaters Island is a mixed-use development that not only features the world’s tallest ferris wheel, but also endless car-free walkways and a pedestrian mall. Residences and hotels are also part of the development, and you can walk on foot over to Dubai Marina.

Bluewaters Island as seen from above. On the left you have residences, on the right a large pedestrian-only mall.

Dubai has more pedestrian-focused developments than almost any other city in the world!

While there are many people looking for European-style pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, there are also many who prefer to live in spacious suburbs and commute to the city by car.

Dubai’s city planning has elegantly combined both of these worlds.

The above districts are just a few examples of how pedestrian-friendly Dubai really is. I don't know of any other city with this many unique, safe, and truly world-class promenades and cycling paths.

Yes, Dubai has many highways and spread-out suburbs that are unsuitable for walking. However, it also has endless walkable neighborhoods.

The city offers both in abundance, and you as a visitor and/or resident have the choice of where to spend your time. Diverse neighborhoods that allow any imaginable lifestyle based on your personal preferences make Dubai the most livable (and tolerant) city in the world.


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