Al Ain is known as the Garden City, come and find out why by visiting the best places to visit in Al Ain.
Although it had been many years since I last visited, I found on this trip that it hasn’t really changed a lot. It still has the feel of being a relaxed town with lots of greenery and culture.
Places to Visit in Al Ain
Al Ain Oasis
The joy of the oasis is being surrounded by lush greenery, something so many of us yearn for, especially in recent times. It has nearly 150,000 palm trees and over 100 varieties of dates and many other trees such as banana, mango, oranges, figs, papaya and sidr.
You can enter the farm area but, of course, be careful not to damage plants on the ground. Some areas have cleared ground, others tall green grasses and yet others a lush green carpet. You’ll forget you’re in a city surrounded by desert!
The Falaj system, the local irrigation system made up of channels, runs throughout the oasis and you will find different parts having water in the channels at different times of the day.
Al Ain Oasis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with other nearby locations which we’ll visit below.
In one of the photos, you’ll see an art exhibit by artists Dr Najat Makki and Mehrez Ellouz. At night time the sculptures are lit from within. At different times, you might find other art exhibits.
There is an Emirati restaurant at the entrance but we had drinks and ice cream and mini pancakes at the cafe inside the oasis. It was such a relaxing spot to just sit and listen to the birds in the trees, enjoy the shade of the trees and the light breeze and forget we were actually in the middle of a city.
Bicycles are available for rent for AED20 per hour and a family bike for AED50. Payment is cash only and it’s easiest to have the right money to avoid waiting for change.
Cycling through the lanes surrounded by greenery is a lovely experience when living in the desert the rest of the year and what better way to explore this wonderful hidden oasis! You’ll soon see why it’s one of the favourite places to visit in Al Ain.
Entrance to the oasis is free and opening times are 9am to 5pm.
See more photos and videos here
Al Ain Palace
Now, let’s move next door to the wonderfully elegant Al Ain Palace Museum, which is not a palace with gold and domes and the like. It’s very simple and yet beautiful in its simplicity, its quietly ornate elements of design and the sense of tranquillity.
The unusual arches and symmetrical designs of the entrance entice you to enter to discover more. Within the first gate, there are several art pieces on the walls around the first small courtyard and the second inner wall. Be sure not to miss them.
The palace was the family home of Sheikh Zayed until the late 1960s and you can visit the rooms of Sheikha Fatima amongst many others.
The rooms are on two levels and set around several courtyards and two ponds which are connected by a water channel. They include bedrooms, guest rooms, majlises (reception rooms) kitchen, store, etc.
In the kitchen, you’ll see an enormous cooking pot that would hold enough to feed more than a whole village and that’s probably exactly what it did
Looking at the small, simple bed that Sheikh Zayed and his wife slept in, I couldn’t help but wonder at the stark contrast between the simple life of a ruler then and that of even an average office worker now, never mind a ruler.
The Palace is just a couple of minutes from the oasis. You can walk around or drive. Entrance is free, hours are Saturday to Thursday 10am – 6 pm, Friday 2-6pm.
Qasr Al Muwaiji
Qasr Al Muwaiji was built in the second half of the 19th century and was the birthplace of the current ruler HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The fort now houses an exhibition telling the story of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and also of the fort itself and the adjoining oasis. The exhibition is set within a glass structure blending modern and traditional architecture.
You can tour the fort and explore the North East Tower which was the home of Sheikh Zayed for some time. Although the original tower was demolished, it was rebuilt with the same materials and the same design.
You can also visit the oasis outside. If the weather allows, you can sit in the courtyard and enjoy the surroundings.
Al Qasr Al Muwaiji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with other sites of importance in Al Ain.
Entrance is free and it is open daily 10-6, Fri 2-6.
Jahili Fort and Museum
Our next choice of places to visit in Al Ain is Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain was built at the end of the 19th century as a summer residence for the ruler of Abu Dhabi at the time, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan.
The cylindrical four-storey tower was the first feature to be built (initially as a simple tower). You can climb up to the second storey. Next, the fort with four watchtowers was built and a wall enclosing the whole area to create a large courtyard. The fort has its own courtyard within.
Outside the walled area is Jahili Mosque built in the same period. It has the traditional open style as was common at the time. A similar, but older, mosque is the bin Sultan Mosque in Masfoot.
The fort holds temporary exhibitions (currently ‘Building with Earth’) and is home to the permanent exhibition dedicated to Mubarak bin London, aka Wilfred Thesiger.
The displays include many photos taken by Thesiger, one of the last great explorers, during his journey from Salalah to Abu Dhabi and many within Al Ain and Abu Dhabi itself.
It also exhibits some of his personal items used on the trip as well as many inspiring quotes.
Before visiting, you may want to read his book documenting his Salalah-Abu Dhabi trip through the Empty Quarter, Arabian Sands.
It’s also available on Kindle and Audible. I have the paper and audible versions. Buy the kindle version (UK). Get the Audible version (UK). Buy from Audible US.
Thesiger was given the name Mubarak bin London in Abu Dhabi and he continued to have close connections to the UAE and friendships with Shaikh Zayed and many others over the years. He was awarded the Order of Independence by the UAE for his contributions.
Jahili Fort sits within Al Jahili park. Jahili Fort opening times are daily 10-6, Friday 2-6. The park has many lush green areas for sitting, play areas and facilities.
You can see more photos of Jahili Fort and the exhibition on the Facebook post here.
Other places to visit in Al Ain include Green Mabazzareh, Hili Archaeological and Fun Parks – Click below for more fun activities!
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