DUBAI—I've just arrived here for a conference, and everyone is talking about the city's new Metro, a futuristic elevated train that soars high above the desert floor as smoothly as a magic carpet over the Arabian sands.
Opened in September, the state-of-the-art system (the photo, left, was taken with my less-than-state-of-the-art phone camera) links Dubai airport with the Jebel Ali district on the far side of town, a distance of 31 miles. For much of its length, the line runs alongside busy busy busy Shaikh Zayed Road, one of the main thoroughfares. It's satisfying to be on one of the trains, clipping along at 55 mph, while below you Zayed Road is illuminated with thousands of brake lights as traffic crawls to a stop, which tends to happen more and more often these days.
The Dubai Metro is the longest automated driverless metro in the world—a source of pride in the United Arab Emirates but also a potential problem.
"A lot of people won't use it because it's driverless," says a colleague of mine who works in Dubai. "I don't mean locals; I mean expats from Europe and the States." But once those expatriates realize how much they can save by riding the Metro in this congested city, I'm betting they'll overcome any phobias they might have about the nonhuman guidance system. They will come to like it, as I already have, because it is clean, fast, and convenient.
Well, maybe not super-convenient. The Metro is still so new that most of the planned stations have yet to open. Nonetheless, it currently stops at such popular destinations as the airport, the financial center, and the ginormous Mall of the Emirates, famous for its indoor ski slope.
But for my money (one-way rides from 50 cents to $1.75) the best station stop is Khalid Bin Al Waheed. From there you can walk a few blocks east to Dubai Creek and saunter along a waterside path clear to the Arabian Gulf. In this somewhat overlooked neighborhood you will pass old dhows transformed into dinner boats, historic houses with towers designed to create a cool breeze within, flimsy wooden taxi boats carrying local Emiratis from one bank to the other as they have for centuries, and age-old souks selling shoes, jewelry, handicrafts, and fresh fruit—in other words, a part of Dubai that is as remote and removed as possible from the 21st-century technological marvel that brought you there.
Mark Orwoll is the international editor at Travel + Leisure.