Al Ain is the capital’s garden city of Abu Dhabi Emirate in the United Arab Emirates. A tourist visit to Al Ain is always a good plan, for expats, locals and regular foreign tourists. Indeed, this is still an Oasis in the desert which after a 90 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi city may show its gems to the visitor.
Al Ain is welcoming and performs a contrasting role with the massive capital. We decided to stay two weeks in UAE to understand a bit of its history and its current situation and Al Ain suited for that purpose.
The city is quite big and important. It has close to 800.000 inhabitants and it is the second biggest city in Abu Dhabi Emirate, the forth in all United Arab Emirates and the first and most important inland city in the country.
What to expect of Al Ain
We arrived at Al Ain from Abu Dhabi capital by car. The road to get there was in perfect condition. It was warm, as it should be in a middle eastern country in July. We stopped first at Al Jahili Fort, the guards were gentle and polite and asked for PCR to get in. After passing that control we were welcome for the visit. Inside, we discovered the legendary trips of Thesinger and we understood we were in an old scenery for old school adventurers. The guards, like friendly bedouins keeping their good manners, offered us small talk, coffee and even water to go for the terrible heat on the street.
In Al Ain, immediately, you feel the stress of the capital is gone. There are much less radars visible on the streets, you are welcome to park for free at the main attractions and you can feel the freedom of the adventure of just deciding where you want to go and not just where I can go.
Al Ain is a disperse city. We couldn’t find a proper center as you may expect in European capitals where to choose in which restaurant you would like to get in just by walking randomly on the street. In Al Ain you need to know where to go in advance and take a car to arrive there. The idea is from A to B, from a place with air conditioning to the next place with AC. If you want cafés, juices or fast food the best for you will be to go to a shopping mall.
For history lovers, Al Ain is a delight. This is one of the most interesting cities to dive into history in all of the UAE. Especially for those like us who enjoy heritage, museums and archaeology settlements. And besides culture, there are natural spots and extreme sports opportunities.
The best things to do in Al Ain
Al Ain Lush Oasis
This is the Al Ain Oasis which covers 1.200 hectares. It has shaped the economy and the image of the city since a very ancient time. It is located in the very center of Al Ain and indeed it is a must-do in town. You will have the chance to observe a traditional falaj, an ancient irrigation system that nourishes local grasslands and over 150.000 date palms and fruit trees.
A Lush Oasis has a free entrance but is too large to walk inside on your own, especially in summer. We recommend taking a 20 minutes tour with the organization vehicules. The cost is 20 AED per person. They will quickly take you along the picturesque palm trees corridors and a good spot to walk in the plantation.
Al Jahili Fort
Al Jahili Fort dates back to the 1890s, the ruling time of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. Between 2007 and 2008, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi restored the fort and transformed it into a cultural center and tourist attraction. They did a good job.
The fort won the Terra Award for Internal Design and Layout in 2016. Besides that, it is our favorite spot in Al Ain. This is probably one of the most picturesque forts in all of the UAE. The views of the defensive towers are simply beautiful and the circular tower (you will identify it at the first glance) is stunning.
In the fort you can visit the permanent exhibition about Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the intrepid explorer, travel writer and photographer who, with his Emirati and Omani companions, crossed the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali), twice in the 1940s.
Qasr Al Muwaiji
Qasr Al Muwaiji is a picturesque structure and an example of early 20th-century mud-brick architecture. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that functioned not only as a home and oasis in the desert but also as diwan, a council or seat of governance, and a place for the community to gather. Qasr Al Muwaiji was home to generations of the ruling Al Nahyan family. This is the homeland of Sheikh Khalifa, the late President of the UAE, in 1948.
It has a museum that houses a permanent exhibition and also features interactive activities. You can get more information eventually about the visit on its official site.
Al Ain Camel Market
The Camel Market in Al Ain is a very authentic experience as can be seen below. You may think before going that it could be some kind of set up for tourists and you would be wrong. We arrived there by car. We parked in front of the Camels’ stalls and we were welcome to approach and take some pictures. The camel sellers are generally very friendly despite their mission is to sell camels out.
You will be able to watch young camels from Saudi Arabia which are the best racers and beautiful adult camels ideal for breeding. The market is a one-of-a-kind experience to understand a part of the important Emirati cultural heritage.The Camel market is located 15km away from the center of Al Ain. Trading takes place in the morning but it’s usually possible to see the herded animals all day long.
Hili Archaeological Park
This archaeological site is 10 kilometres outside of Al Ain on the road to Dubai. It is a combination of a public garden and an archaeological site. We visited in july 2022 and at that moment we were the only visitors. It is free entrance and if the temperature encourages you for a walk it is spacious enough and nice to take a stroll.
Hili Archaeological Park provides the earliest known evidence of an agricultural village in the United Arab Emirates. It also treasures evidence of other Bronze Age and Iron Age villages, burial grounds, forts and agricultural infrastructure. Some artifacts from this settlement can be seen in Al Ain National Museum. Nevertheless, in the park you can visit some structures. The circular tomb is probably the most remarkable asset.
Al Ain Palace
The Al Ain Palace dates back to 1937 and it was the residence of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan. The entrance facade is probably the most interesting part for the visitors with its aesthetic round towers. Inside,the palace has a couple of courtyards with gardens and a museum. Currently, Al Ain Palace can be visited for free as a visitor of the Al Ain Palace Museum. It can be the last of the things to do in Al Ain, since I have noted the rest of the plans listed in this post are indeed more interesting.
Some extra activities for a tourist visit to Al Ain
Click and check some of the best activities in Al Ain!
Where to stay in Al Ain
In tourist visit to Al Ain it is possible to find good accommodations for a reasonable price. This is a constant in all the United Arab Emirates. Normally all the places available keep kind of standards and they are clean and comfortable. The staff is generally friendly and helpful. You can take a look here to the Al Ain accommodation lowest guaranteed prices of our partners:
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