Situated just a 90-minute car ride away from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain is a captivating garden city that boasts breathtaking natural landscapes and renowned heritage sites. The name “Al Ain” translates to “spring” in Arabic, a fitting tribute to the town’s history that spans over 4,000 years. It served as a welcoming oasis for weary nomads and their camels, providing respite with its abundant palm trees and refreshing water. Today, Al Ain remains deeply rooted in its ancestral traditions, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of the emirate.
In this article, you will discover 7 essential places to visit in Al Ain in 2023:
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1. Jahili Fort
Al Jahili Fort is located in the beautiful garden city of Al Ain, just an hour and a half away from Abu Dhabi.
Since its inauguration in 2008, Al Jahili Fort has become a prominent destination for activities that celebrate the philosophy, culture, and heritage of Abu Dhabi. As one of the largest forts in the United Arab Emirates, it was originally constructed in the 1890s under the orders of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, also known as Zayed the First. The fort served as a residence for members of the ruling Al Nahyan family and stands as a testament to the region’s rich history.
Al Jahili Fort has been transformed into a cultural center and a popular tourist destination. Within its walls, you will find a temporary exhibition gallery that showcases various artistic displays. Additionally, the fort houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who was an explorer, travel writer, and photographer.
As you explore the area surrounding Al Jahili Fort, I highly recommend visiting the historical Jahili Mosque, which was constructed around the same period as the fort. This architectural gem stands as a testament to the craftsmanship and rich religious heritage of the region.
2. Al-Qattara Arts Centre
Al Qattara Arts Centre itself is a redevelopment of the former Bin Ati Al Darmaki House, a traditional mudbrick tower and residence. Essence of regional architectural style, the centre seamlessly blends into its surroundings, which include other modern heritage buildings. Additionally, the Qattara Archaeological Basement showcases permanent displays of archaeological findings, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich history of the region.
3. Al Ain oasis
Indulge in a leisurely stroll along the shaded pathways and immerse yourself in the serene beauty of Al Ain Oasis. This sprawling oasis, spanning an impressive 1,200 hectares, offers a tranquil escape within the vibrant city of Al Ain, often referred to as the ‘Green City.‘
Situated a mere 90-minute drive away from the bustling capital city of Abu Dhabi, stepping into the oasis will make you forget that you are surrounded by a desert landscape. The sight that unfolds before your eyes is nothing short of magical, with lush greenery stretching as far as the eye can see. Al Ain Oasis boasts an awe-inspiring collection of 147,000 date palm trees, which lend a sense of enchantment to the surroundings. As you wander through this oasis, you’ll encounter over 100 different varieties of vegetation, each adding its unique touch to the vibrant tapestry of colors and scents.
You’ll also discover remnants of the region’s rich history. The oasis is home to an ancient irrigation system known as falaj, a testament to the ingenuity and heritage of the area. The falaj played a crucial role in supporting the lush vegetation and sustaining life in the desert. Al Ain Oasis is a UNESCO Cultural Site, recognized for its historical and cultural importance.
4. Jebel Hafeet, the highest peak in the emirate
For awe-inspiring views of the Al Ain Garden City and breathtaking sunrise or sunset photography opportunities, look no further than the summit of Jebel Hafit (also known as Jebel Hafeet). This towering mountain, reaching an impressive height of 1,249 meters, is the highest peak in Abu Dhabi and the second tallest in the United Arab Emirates. To reach the summit, you have the option of driving up by car, riding a motorbike, or, if you’re up for the challenge, cycling your way to the top.
Jebel Hafit, nestled along the borders of Oman, stands as a testament to the passage of time, the area surrounding this mountain has also yielded significant fossil discoveries.
Upon reaching the summit the true magnificence of the mountain unfolds before your eyes. Take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the Al Ain garden city and the surrounding landscapes, capturing stunning photographs of the sunrise or sunset that will leave you in awe.
After immersing yourself in the beauty of Jebel Hafit, you can make your way to the nearby Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Hotel to indulge in a delightful meal. This hotel provides a perfect setting to relax and savor the moment, offering a range of culinary delights that will satisfy your appetite while enjoying the surrounding scenery.
5. Al Ain Zoo
If you are with your family, you will surely be tempted by a visit to the Al Ain zoo, a 900-hectare park, located near the traffic police, at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, which is home to nearly 4,000 animals including 170 oryx. Al Ain Zoo is extremely popular in the Emirates. You will find all kinds of animals, local or exotic. You can feed giraffes, familiarize your children with farm animals or even go on a night safari!.
You can take a camel ride, have a picnic, and see how some of the animals of 197 species are fed (including 2260 mammals and 865 birds).
6. Hili Archaeological Park
Between 4pm and 11pm you can relax in the Hili Archaeological Park, which are located near the Fossil Valley, an area rich in fossils from when the sea covered it thousands of years ago. The remains reported by UNESCO, including circular tombs from the Umm an Nar” period (dating from 2500 BC), wells and constructions, allow us to understand the evolution of the region, from nomadic life to sedentarization, in particular thanks to the agriculture which developed following the invention of the falaj, an irrigation system developed 2000 years ago. You can walk in the shaded alleys to discover the oasis and if you are early in the morning, go to the camel market, east of Jebel Hafeet, see the animals up close, and attend the haggling of the traders who come to praise the merits of their beast.
7. Wadi Adventure
Wadi Adventure is a unique park combining water activities and outdoor experiences. One of the last leisure spaces to open its doors in the Emirates, this place will delight young and old alike. Discover many attractions including a 3m high wave pool, a space reserved for kayaking, and also an adventure park where you can practice climbing, zip line, or walking on suspended ropes.