If you have planned a visit to Dubai, or any of the other cities in the United Arab Emirates and you want to see places more traditional of the region and away from the typical tourist trail… then take a day trip to Al Ain. In 2011 Al Ain was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first in the UAE.
This makes a visit to Al Ain very worthwhile and highly recommended in our book. Let us share some of the highlights of the garden city of Al Ain, each in its own right a truly unique reason to plan a trip.
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Table of Contents
Getting to Al Ain
A drive from Dubai to Al Ain will take you no more than two hours. And I’m going to recommend that you rent a car because this will give you the benefit of freedom while getting around. We enjoyed taking our time to see each place in detail and to explore at our own free will.
Of course there are alternative solutions if you choose not to drive. Public transport is always an option, check this post for more information about schedules and timetables from Dubai to Al Ain.
Remember that if you are visiting Al Ain during the current pandemic you may be required to present a recent PCR or DPI test at the Dubai/Abu Dhabi border. This can be done a couple of days in advance if you choose or at the border crossing point (please check the local websites for updates). We chose to visit the Ghantoot DPI screening centre two days ahead of our visit.
Our Top Must See Places to Visit
In no particular order, below is a list of our favourite places to visit in Al Ain. Pick and choose to create your own favourite list and itinerary.
We would recommend that you stay one night in Al Ain to get the best from your time in this beautiful city. See our recommendations for accomodation options and places to stay at the end of this post.
Al Jahili Fort
This fort is very special to the Arabian Peninsula as it dates back to 1890 and was built by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa the first ruler of the UAE. Given the nomadic nature of the region the age of this fort provides a unique insight into the history, culture and life as it was in the previous century.
Great lengths have been taken in the restoration process of the fort to maintain the authenticity of the building. The materials used are consistent with those locally available to the region such as mud and the date palm. This is explained in a short film in the visiting area of the fort.
Take a walk up and around the small tower on the right side of the fort. To the back left are the royal quarters which demonstrate a simple, yet beautiful display of Arabian design and architecture.
One of my favourite sections of the Jahili fort is the permanent art display of Wilfred Thesiger. An English explorer in the 1950’s came to Arabian peninsula to explore Oman and the United Arab Emirates before they became two countries. An account of his journey is presented through a series of black and white photographs and film on display in the front left section of the fort. Interestingly, Al Ain is where Thesiger finished his journey, deciding to stay on to get a better understanding of life in the region during this time.
The fort is situated within a large park. A perfect place to stop for lunch or to let the kids have a play. There are parking options around the fort and across the road from the main entrance. There is no entrance free, which makes a visit easy on the pocket.
Al Ain Oasis
Fifteen years living in Dubai and I cannot understand why I have not heard of this Oasis before now. Following some random googling of Al Ain, I stumbled across a review of this 1200 hectares of oases. It seems such a shame to me that I haven’t visited before now AND that more people have not heard of it. However, I suppose it also adds to the beauty of the Al Ain Oasis, as the tranquility and quietness is possibly what makes it so special.
The Oasis is divided into a maze of smaller fenced off independently owned farms. A centrally paved path runs within and around the oasis which creates an easy access to each section.
But what makes the Oasis so unique is the Falaj system that runs throughout. A falaj is a traditional man made water system that evenly divides and carries water to where it is needed. It brings and distributes water from underground sources.
Historically speaking a falaj was very important to the local culture, a source of community and togetherness. They are the ideal water solution in the harsh and dry landscape of the Arabian Peninsula. Further to this, they date back some 3000 years, which makes them quite an extraordinary thing to see in action.
Entrance is free, but you might to consider renting a bike to get around inside the oasis. We paid a small hourly fee, and were not charged for the extra hour that we had the bike. Overall, it was a great way to see the entire area, and it saved the legs of the younger members of the family. You will be able to stop and explore inside some of the more beautifully cared for oasis and falaj systems.
Al Hili Archeological Park
Only 15 minutes out of the central city is the Al Hili Archeological park. Unfortunately, we were unable to see this as the park was closed during our visit. However, this is a space we would liked to have seen.
In the 1970’s these tombs and structures were restored. And they date back to between 3000 and 2000 BC. The information that I have read about this archeological park appear to suggest it is an interesting place to explore, rich in culture and history. For more information, visit the website for Abu Dhabi Culture.
Green Mubazzarah Thermal Springs
Likewise, the thermal springs were also closed due to Covid restrictions. Before our visit I had never hear of thermal springs in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, I was very surprised to discover this little treasure.
It sounds as though it is a busy place, particularly in the evenings and weekends, but a great place to visit if you are looking to soak weary feet. And also to experience something a little unique in this region.
Jebel Hafit/Hafeet Lookout
For a very grand view over Al Ain, head to the lookout. From Al Ain, this drive will take around 30 minutes to the very top. From one side, you’ll look down over the Jebel Hafit Desert Park and on the other side Al Ain.
This is a popular picnic destination for locals and expats alike. Lining the footpaths, picnic mats and tents are sprawled out as families and smalls groups of friends enjoy their time together.
Besides this, there are a couple of places to order food and a small play park for the kids to get a run around.
Jebel Hafit Desert Park
The Jebel Hafit Desert Park is brand new… well new in terms of access any how.
On our mission to explore Al Ain we began by looking for somewhere to spend the night. And boy were we lucky to find this place. It had opened to the public only a few weeks before our visit. This is the ideal destination for a unique stay. Read below for more details on the accomodation options available.
There is an entrance fee to the park, but if you intend to stay the night, the entrance fee is waived. Getting around is a little bumpy and the park may tell you that you need a 4×4 to get around. But we were driving a small SUV (all wheel drive) and had no difficulty on the well maintained gravel roads.
The Beehive Tombs
The tombs were most definitely my favourite thing to explore. It was uncrowded and gave me a deep sense of the history that is seldom seen in the UAE.
Keeping in mind, there are two locations to see the tombs, and the ones pictured below are the restored tombs. These are the closest to the main information centre and can be accessed independently. But if you want to see the unrestored tombs you will be required to take a guide.
A little further into the park, situated near the traditional tents, is the White Wadi. The dry wadi bed is a remarkable picture as the white stone has washed down from the peaks of Jebel Hafit above. As a result, the white stone stands in strong contrast against the desert coloured stone everywhere else.
Hiking, Buggy Tours or Camel Rides
For a more active experience head to the information centre. Here you’ll be able to book camel or horse rides for varying lengths of time. And if you fancy a quicker pace, check out the buggy tours. There are also a couple of hikes available and these can be arranged in advance with the team at the centre.
Now there are several options here for camping and the team at the Jebel Hafit Desert Park have created something for everyone. If you like the comforts then you’ll appreciate the Dome Tents. But if you are travelling on smaller budget, or with a larger group then you’ll love the Traditional Tents. And if your fancy the DIY approach then public camping is also available. Bookings are made directly via their website linked above.
Each of the camping options are in clusters but in seperate locations dotted around the park, and each offering a slightly different experience. For example, if you don’t mind sleeping on the traditional floor cushions (majlis) with shared ammenities then the traditional tents will suit just fine.
Alternatively, in the Dome and Bubble Tents you will have your own private bathroom, luxury bedding, a fridge and hairdryer.
Each location provides a stone fire place. And there is certainly something pretty special about being out of the city, sitting around a fireplace, and toasting marshmallows while star gazing. We can definitely recommend this experience to any type of traveller.
A Weekend Getaway to Al Ain or a Day Trip
We found that with all of the beautiful places to visit in Al Ain, we would thoroughly recommend a two day trip. While the drive is not long, there is certainly enough in this city to justify an over night trip. And with camping accomodation options available, offering reasonably priced over night lodgings, we think… well hey… might as well stay!
In summary, there is a reason Al Ain is noted as the garden city of the United Arab Emirates. It is undoubtedly beautiful, with culture and history a strong feature of the community. We loved it, and we think you will too!
If you loved this post on Must See Places to Visit in Al Ain, then you’ll also want to check out this Ultimate Guide on Where to Stay in Dubai and the UAE.
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