The oasis city of Al Ain has a dramatic setting, overlooked by the craggy mountain range of Jebel Hafeet . It is a beautiful and orderly city that is easy to get to and is popular with homestays for its zoo and many relaxing public parks. Historically, Al Ain has been settled since at least 3000 BC, and the museum here does a good job of tracing that long history. This history makes the Al Ain area the only place in the United Arab Emirates to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is also an excellent destination for tourists interested in local culture. The best things to do are excursions to the camel market and regular camel races. Those with an adventurous streak will enjoy a four-wheel drive trip to the top of Jebel Hafeet or a day spent in the wave pools and white water rafting facilities of Wadi Adventure water park.
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1 Jebel Hafeet
The jagged shape of Jebel Hafeet (Mount Hafeet) rises inland from Al Ain. If you’re looking for panoramic photos over the city and surrounding desert, a trip to the summit should be at the top of your sightseeing list. At 1,240 meters, this is the second highest mountain in the United Arab Emirates and the highest in Abu Dhabi. The drive up here, following a winding mountain road, has many beautiful viewpoints and from the top the whole region is spread out below you.
2 Al Ain National Museum
Housed in the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort , the Al Ain National Museum does a good job of bringing alive the heritage, culture and history of the United Arab Emirates. There is a particularly interesting ethnographic section reflecting the daily life of the people of the region, with a reconstructed traditional majlis and displays of traditional clothing and Bedouin jewellery. The archaeological section features exhibits of local artifact discoveries, dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, including pendants and an important collection of coins. However, the main attraction of this section is the exhibits from the surrounding Hili Archaeological Park , including the restored Grand Hili Tombexcavated at the site.
Address: Khalid Bin Sultan Street
3 Al Ain Palace Museum
The Al Ain Palace Museum is the former residence of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and his family, who later became the first ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The interior has been finely restored to reflect what the palace would have looked like when the sheikh called it home. Unfortunately, information in the rooms is sparse for those who don’t speak Arabic. Nevertheless, the decor really gives you a good idea of the style of life that was led here.
Address: Street Sultan Bin Zayed I
4 Al Ain Zoo
Al Ain Zoo opened in 1969 and is one of the largest animal enclosures in the United Arab Emirates. Endemic mammals such as the Arabian antelope and oryx can be seen, as well as African gazelles, giraffes and eland. The big litter boxes have lions, tigers, cougars, black and spotted leopards and jaguars. There is also a monkey complex, an aviary and a reptile house. The zoo is known for its research facilities, especially its breeding program for endangered native animals, with more than 30 percent of the species seen here listed as endangered. The zoo’s latest venture is the Al Ain Safari– a 217-acre expansion where African and Arabian Gulf animals (including some critically endangered species) live in a more natural environment. Visiting this area of the zoo is by jeep or truck trip only.
There are plenty of family-friendly features, including a petting zoo; giraffe feeding activities; camel riding; and a children’s garden, which promotes learning about biodiversity. The zoo is also home to the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Center , with exhibits focused on the desert environment and ecology of the Arabian Gulf.
Address: Nahyan al Awwal Street
Official site: www.alainzoo.ae
5 Al-Jahili Fort
This interesting fortress, surrounded by a number of tranquil, shady gardens, dates back to 1891 and was once an important defensive feature, protecting the city from attack. Today it is one of Al Ain’s main focal points, and in its dimmed, gold-mixed bulk you’ll find an exhibit devoted to photographs of the life and work of British adventurer, desert explorer, and writer Wilfred Thesiger, with a particular focus on his travels to the empty quarter in the 1940s. The fort’s ramparts and towers can be climbed for views, and a video explains all about the fort’s restoration at the information center.
Address: Street of Sultan Bin Zayed I
6 Wadi Adventure Park
This surf, kayak and white water rafting water park contains the world’s largest artificial surf wave (measuring 3.3 meters), three levels of rapids with white water rafting for both absolute beginners and experienced rafters and a long kayak channel. As well as being a fun day out for adventure seekers, this is the best place in the UAE to learn how to surf, kayak or whitewater raft. In addition to the three main activities, there is also an Air Park with zip lines, balance beams and a giant swing, a climbing wall, acclimation facilities and a family pool for when you just want to relax.
Address: Hazza bin Sultan Street
Official site: www.wadiadventure.ae
7 Qasr al-Muwaiji
Recently restored to its former glory, this fort offers a good chance to appreciate Emirati fortress architecture. Built in the early years of the 20th century, it was home to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and his family between the years 1946 and 1966, before he became ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Inside, in addition to admiring the building itself, you can visit a small museum dedicated to the history of the fortress and the people who lived there.
Addresses: Khalifa bin Zayed Street
Official site: www.qasralmuwaiji.ae/en
8 Al Ain Oasis
A quiet respite from the hot sun and a refreshing natural distraction from the city streets. Al Ain Oasis is a huge series of date palm plantations connected by footpaths, where you can take a quiet, shady walk. There is also history here amidst the nearly 150,000 date palm trees. The palm groves are still fed by water channels using the traditional falaj irrigation system, which has been in use in the United Arab Emirates for 3,000 years. This is a great option for anyone looking for down time and a relaxing walk.
9 Hili Archaeological Park
In the Hili Archaeological Park, archaeologists have invented Bronze Age and Iron Age finds. While many casual visitors will struggle to understand the site, archeology fiends will enjoy the vast sense of history here. It is mainly because of the important discoveries that Al Ain has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The park is in the middle of a conservation area and is surrounded by a palm tree oasis . Most of the finds from the site are on display at Al Ain National Museum , which does a great job of putting the site into context.
Address: Aroh Al Jaw Street
10 Public Gardens
Nicknamed the ‘garden city’, Al Ain lives up to its reputation. Throughout the area you will find lush greenery, which contrasts with the dry and parched desert environment. Many public gardens and parks provide welcome shade on long, hot summer days. Several are gifted with odd (and slightly over-the-top) landscaping features, impressive fountains with lighting screens at night, and play facilities for children. The Central Public Garden in the center of the city is one of the best for walking.
11 Camel Market
The Al Ain camel market is an excellent opportunity for travelers to get a taste of the traditional local culture. The market is a bit smelly (unsurprisingly), but if you can handle the smell, a visit here is a truly fascinating experience that has yet to be ramped up for the tourists. This is the last remaining camel market in the United Arab Emirates, and people from all over the region flock here to buy and sell. You are free to wander around if you like and watch people bartering about the camels; ignore men who may approach you upon entry and insist that you need a guide.
Location: Off Zayed bin Sultan Street
12 This Fun City
Hili Fun City is one of the largest and most popular theme parks in the United Arab Emirates. The park features more than 40 rides, including a roller coaster and an elevated sky flyer. An annual festival, celebrating the culture and history of the Emirates, attracts thousands of visitors from across the region. As with most theme parks in the country, Hili Fun City has excellent facilities and is excellent for families. Right next to the theme park is the Al Ain Ice Rink , an Olympic facility with ice skating and numerous children’s games.
Locatie: Off Aroh al Jaw Street
13 Camel Racing
Camel racing has taken place in the United Arab Emirates for centuries, and Al Ain’s large 10-kilometer track regularly hosts races. Watching the race is a rare opportunity to see some of the traditional Emirati culture, which hasn’t been wiped out as the high-rises rose. If you happen to be in town racing, don’t miss this one. Certain breeds of camels are used for racing because of their slim size, including the white or gold “Anafi” breed and the brown or black “Boushahri” breed.
14 Mubazzarah Park
At the foot of Jebel Hafeet , you will find Mubazzarah Park, a secluded spot in the green landscape amidst the rocky and arid landscape. This natural oasis is a great place to relax and is especially beautiful at sunset. The highlight is the natural mineral hot springs , which run through the park in a series of pools. They are a great place to soothe wanderlust and pain. On weekends, the park is busy with local families picnicking.
Location: Off Hazza bin Sultan Street
Where to Stay in Al Ain for Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Al Ain, the best place to stay is in the city center, close to top attractions such as the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, Al Jahili Fort and Al Ain Zoo. The main attractions are spread over a large area, so it is best to get around the city by car. Here are a few highly rated hotels in convenient and central locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Close to the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum and Al Jahili Fort, the family-friendly Al Ain Rotana Hotel is one of the city’s top hotels, with a spa, pool, fitness club, and on-site restaurants. Other popular luxury options include the Ayla Hotel, in the center of Al Ain, four minutes by car to Al Jahili Fort, and the Hili Rayhaan by Rotana, in a quiet location next to the Hili Mall, about a 12-minute drive to the fort .
- Mid-Range Hotels: At the top end of the mid-range hotels, the Hilton Al Ain is packed with facilities, about a five-minute drive from Al Ain Mall and a short drive from other top attractions. Opposite the new Safeer Mall, about an 11-minute drive north of Al Jahili Fort, Asfar Resorts Al Ain is a popular mid-range option – especially for families, thanks to its modern one- and two-bedroom villas with full kitchens. Dana Al Ain Resort is also centrally located, about a 13-minute drive from the zoo and about the same distance from the camel souq. Shoppers can drive to Al Ain Mall in about eight minutes from here.
- Budget Hotels: Al Ain has limited budget options, but two hotels offer relatively cheaper rates that reflect their basic amenities. Ain Al Faida One to One Hotel and Resort is located about ten minutes from Al Ain Zoo and the same distance from Jebel Hafeet Mountain. It offers hotel rooms and single and double dormitories. The Al Massa Hotel is located in the heart of the city, a nine-minute drive from the camel souq.