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9 must-visit attractions in Al Ain

A 90-minute drive from Abu Dhabi will get you to Al Ain, the UAE capital’s famous garden city, where gorgeous green landscapes and famous heritage sites await. Al Ain, which means ‘the spring’ in Arabic, dates back to over 4,000 years when weary camel trekkers would find solace from the desert heat in this oasis town that offered fresh water and shade under lush palm trees. To discover more about this incredible historical city that still successfully uses many age-old traditions, we’ve picked nine must-visit attractions… 

1. Al Ain Oasis

Breathtakingly beautiful, the sprawling Al Ain Oasis will leave you in awe. The first curated UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UAE, this 1,200-hectare estate is home to hundreds of farms and over 147,000 date palms of about 100 different varieties. An Eco Centre welcomes you at the entrance, where you can watch videos and interactive exhibits on how the oasis works and what measures have been put in place to ensure the historical ecosystem’s farming methods can continue to be practised in the future.

You can also study a fascinating 3D model of the falaj, the ancient irrigation system that is still operational today. We can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than blissfully wandering around shaded pathways, taking in date-palm farms, beautiful fruit trees and lush gardens.

2. Qasr Al Muwaiji

For more than 100 years, this incredible historic fort has played a major role in the history of the United Arab Emirates. The Qasr Al Muwaiji fort was built in the early 20th-century to protect and watch over the oasis, and is a great place to take photos today. The simple yet impressive square enclosure features a grand entrance gate and protruding corner towers. Over the years, Qasr Al Muwaiji has been used as a home for the ruling family, a place for the community to gather, and as a seat of governance.

It was abandoned for many years, and demolished in parts, but ongoing extensive restoration projects ensure this beauty still stands. A modern exhibition hall, housed in a stylish glass-walled space within the courtyard, tells the story of the fort and its inhabitants, with a focus on His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates.

3. Al Jahili Fort

Step back in time when you visit one of the largest and oldest forts in the UAE, Al Jahili Fort. Built out of sun-dried mud-brick, straw and palm-tree fibres, it was first erected in the early 19th-century as a symbol of power and as a summer home for the ruling family. Today, the fort has been painstakingly restored and is a historical museum with a number of exhibits, including striking black-and-white images taken by British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger during his monumental crossing of the Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter) desert, the largest uninterrupted sand mass in the world, in the 1940s.

4. Al Qattara Arts Centre

What was originally the Al Qattara Fort is today the Al Qattara Arts Centre. This traditional mud-brick tower and house is located on a mound overlooking the date-palm gardens of Qattara Oasis, which it was originally built to protect. Showcasing carefully restored traditional local architecture, the centre aims to provide a family-friendly venue where arts and culture can be studied, practised and developed by the entire UAE community and visiting travellers.

During the creation of the Qattara Arts Centre, excavations revealed a five-metre sequence of archaeological layers or ‘horizons’ reaching back from the Late Islamic period to the Iron Age, some 3,000 years ago. On show to the public, these emphasise Al Ain’s incredible archaeological finds and highlight the importance of the area throughout history. Today you’re able to book a number of creative classes for all ages here, from drawing to pottery, calligraphy to music, photography and more. The large art gallery constantly updates its exhibits, plus there is a permanent archaeological and heritage exhibit to appreciate.

5. Al Ain Zoo

For family fun at its best, the Al Ain Zoo delivers in spades. The UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was born in Al Ain and started the Al Ain Zoo in 1968 as a centre for oryx conservation, in an effort to save this nearly extinct species. The zoo is now home to over 4,000 animals with plenty of exciting experiences and exhibits on offer.

Think parrot and birds-of-prey shows, horse, donkey and camel rides, feeding of giraffes and penguins, a petting zoo, a train tour of the wildlife area and plenty of playgrounds and picnic spots. Conservation and preservation of the UAE’s natural environment are always at the heart of Al Ain Zoo, and you can learn more about its sustainability efforts at the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre. We highly recommend the Al Ain Safari, where enthusiastic guides will take you on an unforgettable hour-long wildlife drive along the base of the magnificent Jebel Hafit mountain to spot zebra, African lion, white rhino, ostrich, gazelle, Arabian oryx and much more.

6. Hili Archaeological Park

If history fascinates you, then you’ll want to add Hili Archaeological Park to your itinerary. Now a modern park where you’re able to picnic and go for peaceful walks, this UNESCO World Heritage site dates back to the Bronze Age and includes evidence of settlements dating back to about 2000 BCE, with ancient tombs. Also visit the nearby Hili 8 where, in 1977, French archaeologists began excavating and found the remains of barley, wheat and date palm as well as bronze objects, pottery and livestock. Today, you’ll find ancient tombs, built with the utmost care, and exposed building foundations.

7. Jebel Hafit

For myriad outdoor adventures, head to the magnificent Jebel Hafit mountain, Abu Dhabi’s highest peak, reaching 1,240 metres. Here you can explore incredible trails – on foot or by mountain bike – and take in spectacular sunsets. There are a couple of accommodation spots located at the base. Jebel Hafit Desert Park offers several camping options – basic individual camping, serviced camping in a Bedouin-style camp, or a five-star luxury desert glamping experience in a dome tent with views of the stars.

This desert park also offers dune buggy tours, horse and camel rides, and mountain biking, all taking in the area’s many historical sights. If camping is not your style, book a few nights at the Green Mubazzarah Chalets. They are fully equipped with all the necessary comforts and offer easy access to beautiful mountain streams and hot-water springs.

8. Wadi Adventure Park

Also located at the foothills of the beautiful Jebel Hafit mountain is Wadi Adventure, the ultimate aqua experience. This adventure park boasts the world’s longest manmade white water rafting channel, at 1,100 metres, where you can kayak or raft (with a professional guide) across three levels of rapids.

Also try wakeboarding, water skiing and kneeboarding, or relax at the family pool and splash areas. There’s also an exhilarating zip ride that flies you over the park.

9. Hili Fun City

With so much rich history and culture to absorb in Al Ain, it may be a good idea to book a casual fun day at Hili Fun City, the Arabian Gulf’s first theme park, opened in 1985. The renovated and modernised park boasts an ice rink and 25 thrilling rides and attractions for kids and adults. Happy riding!

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