Abstract The concept of the urban roughness sublayer is discussed and this lowest atmospheric layer over a rough surface is shown to have a non-negligible vertical extension over typical urban surfaces. The existing knowledge on the turbulence and flow structure within an urban roughness sublayer is reviewed, focusing on the height dependence of turbulent fluxes and a scaling approach for turbulence statistics, such as velocity variances, in the above-roof part of the roughness sublayer. Finally, the implication of this turbulence and flow structure upon dispersion characteristics is investigated. The most prominent difference of explicitly taking into account the roughness sublayer in a dispersion simulation (as compared to assuming a `constant flux layer') is a clearly enhanced ground level concentration far downwind from the source. For the example of a tracer release experiment over a (sub) urban surface (Copenhagen) it is shown that introducing the roughness sublayer clearly improves the model performance.