The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has had dramatic economic and population growth since its 1971 federation, with the built environment, green spaces, water features and other urban amenities growing to support its burgeoning population. These features, in turn, often provide unique habitats and microenvironments for a wide variety of resident and migratory species that benefit from their association with urban ecosystems, both on land and in nearshore coastal environments. While urbanization has undoubtedly caused important environmental challenges that should not be discounted, our growing cities have developed unique and important ecologies, much of which remains underappreciated and understudied in the UAE. Here we summarize the current understanding of urban ecology in the Emirates, providing insights into features that make cities amenable environments for organisms, particularly in the context of the UAE’s extreme environment. We also discuss several representative groups of organisms that benefit from the artificial environments provided by cities in both terrestrial and marine urban settings.