In the east of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, there is the greenest city in the country – the “garden city” of Al Ain. Concurrently, it is the birthplace of the first president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan al-Nahyan. It is Al Ain with the highest percentage of the local (Arab) population that is the real Emirates and by no means the massive tourist high-rise Dubai or Abu Dhabi. By the way, in Al-Ain there is a restriction on the height of buildings under construction. Below are places to visit in Al-Ain.
The city has several museum complexes and eight fortified forts built during the 19th century by local rulers. But the main wealth of Al Ain, surrounded by the desert, is its many parks, gardens, and squares. The city, originally built among oases generously fed by groundwater deposits, is simply buried in greenery. For a long time, it was considered a favorite resting place of sheikhs due to its unique microclimate, a gift from the mountains.
Among other things, this is the main transit point between the UAE and the Sultanate of Oman, it is here that the bulk of freight and passenger transport between the two states passes. The border is located a 10-minute walk from the center of Al Ain. Rather, until 2006 there was no border here at all, but after the flow of illegal emigrants grew to frightening proportions, the Emirates authorities put up fences and introduced passport control.
And still, a very large number of Omanis live in the Emirati Al-Ain, however, as well as Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans. And neighboring Al-Buraimi is very similar to Al-Ain with a similar culture, traditions, infrastructure. There are the same green parks, noisy markets, modern shopping centers, architectural monuments, fountains, only it is treated kindly by the authorities, perhaps a little less than Al Ain.
The entire city and the surrounding golden sand dunes can be viewed from a bird’s eye view, climbing Mount Jebel Hafeet; then take a dip in the hot mineral springs at its foot.
Places to Visit in Al Ain
Al Ain National Museum
This is the oldest museum in the UAE. It was built under the leadership of the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan al-Nahyan, who, boldly looking into the country’s future, did not forget to take care of preserving its past. The museum consists of two departments: archeology and ethnography.
The archaeological department is dedicated to the period of the country from the Stone Age to the Islamic period, telling about the early settlements. The ethnographic department introduces the traditions and culture of the country.
A wide variety of household items and tools of antiquity, displayed in chronological sequence, helps to travel back to the distant past. Here you can see musical instruments, weapons, a unique collection of gold bracelets and ancient coins; get acquainted with the old technology of agricultural work, the phases of the discovery and production of oil; see a picture of scenes of the life of society at that time; learn about the peculiarities and traditions of falconry. The huge collection of gifts received by the President is especially popular with visitors. The museum also features artifacts from the Great Tomb of Healy.
Another part of the museum is the East Fort, built-in 1910 and very well preserved. The fort consists of four rooms and three round towers, one of which, according to some sources, served as a prison. The fortress is open to the public in the morning. You can climb around towers and battlements.
Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum
The Palace of the Supreme Ruler of the country is a majestic structure, consisting of several courtyards, with a female and male half, with high watchtowers and many halls. Built-in 1937 and serving until 1966 as the home of Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan al-Nahyan, since 2001 the palace has been turned into a museum and opened to the general public.
The creators of the museum’s exposition tried to present everything as it was during the life of the sheikh. There is also an ancient bedchamber with a sheikh’s bed; and the school of knowledge, where the princes were trained; and the Quranic Hall, reflecting the spiritual needs of the family. The reception hall is “furnished” in a traditional style with cushions on the floor. The next room contains everything you need to treat guests in accordance with Arab customs.
The museum has many portraits of the royal family, there is an art gallery. The building is surrounded by a wide shaded veranda. In the courtyard are a kitchen, storerooms with supplies, and a vital source of water.
The replica of the tent of the Great Judgment symbolizes the ruler’s connection with the life of the Bedouins. Another symbol of Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan al-Nahyan’s commitment to his people is the Land Rover, a replica of the one that the ruler drove to the Bedouin communities scattered across the desert. And next to the museum is a cool and shady oasis.
Jebel Hafeet is a rocky mountain that rises in the desert on the Al Ain-Oman border. This is the highest point in the UAE, its height is 1249 meters. At the top, there is an observation deck with a restaurant and a parking lot. In clear weather, you can survey the entire city and its surroundings; this view is simply breathtaking. There are many viewing platforms in the Emirates, but they are all at man-made heights, and this one is at a height created by nature.
A little below the observation deck is the palace residence of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed. Halfway to the top – a new five-star hotel-SPA, and at the foot of the mountain – the Ain Al Fayda resort with healing hot springs. There are many caves in the mountain, which also attract tourists. In addition, snakes, foxes, and bats can be found here.
You will reach the observation deck along a wide modern highway, running up to the very top with a thirteen-kilometer serpentine snake. On the same track, cyclists’ competitions are held annually in winter, attracting participants from all over the world.
Al Ain Oasis
Al-Ain Oasis is a serene palm paradise in the city center. Here you can hide from the city heat and bustle and easily get lost. Growing near the Palace Museum, it used to be the personal garden of the ruler of the UAE. These palm plantations, with paths for trucks and passers-by, are divided into small, still working date farms. Here you can see working samples of falaj clay canals – traditional irrigation systems that have been used for thousands of years to supply water from underground sources.
There are two small mosques right in the middle of the palm forest, and there is also a restaurant.
Green Mubazzarah – Al Ain
Around natural hot springs and waterfalls, at the foot of Mount Jebel Hafeet, the grassy expanses of another public park, Green Mubazzarah Park, freely stretch. This is a popular picnic spot: a sea of flowers and greenery, and no one forbids walking or lying in the emerald glades, although every blade of grass costs the state a lot. There is a chalet where you can stay and a restaurant where you can eat. There are playgrounds and barbecue gazebos with tables and benches. You can play billiards, bowling or golf. You can swim in warm spring water, there are pools for children, for men and women.
In the vast territory of the park, everyone will find entertainment to their liking: desert safari, skiing on the sand, mountain climbing, hiking along scenic trails. There is a large lake in the park, fed by the same springs, where you can go boating or feed the fish with bread.
Al Jahili Fort
It is one of the largest and most impressive forts in the country, the former summer residence of the royal family, and a symbol of power. Built-in 1898 by order of Sheikh Zayed (the First), it took seven years to build. Perhaps the choice of location was determined by the availability of water and the fertility of the local land. In the days of enemy attacks, the walls of the fortress sheltered local residents. After the death of Sheikh Zayed, his eldest son Sheikh Khalifa continued to live here with his family.
In the early 1950s, British forces requisitioned the fort and placed barracks and other structures here. The fort has been in decline for many decades, but recently it was reconstructed and turned into a cultural center and tourist attraction.
In the new architectural appearance of the building, restorers tried to preserve its historical appearance, combining traditional materials and construction methods with the latest technologies. Of the original buildings that have survived, the most interesting is the round tower, which consists of four concentric tiers. Structures similar to it, dating back to the third millennium BC, were found during excavations in Healy.
Al Ain Paradise Flower Garden
The most pleasant walk can be taken along the “flower miracle” – the Al Ain Paradise square. In 2010, this square got into the Guinness Book of Records for a large number of flower baskets. The abundance of plants so amazed the imagination of visitors that many flowers were almost immediately stolen, and therefore the unusual square had to be closed for repairs soon after the opening. The garden was completely restored, improved, enlarged, and at the same time, some technical security measures were taken to prevent it from being ruined in the future.
There are paths, paths, and a sea of flowers around – of various varieties and colors from America, Europe, Asia. A large flower pyramid stands out – a 12-meter miniature copy of the Eiffel Tower with a complex lighting system. An artificial water stream crosses the entire park. Brochures with detailed information about each plant presented were printed for visitors, and there are many of them in the park.
Great central park
In spite of the surrounding desert, Al Ain is simply buried in greenery and flowers of numerous (there are about 70 of them) public parks, gardens, and squares. Central Park is one of the largest in the city. Children are especially comfortable here – a large playground awaits them, where you can try yourself in wall climbing, skiing on the grass, and find many other applications of children’s energy. And in the evening, a large dancing musical fountain will attract you with its intricate interweaving of jets and a mesmerizing play of color and light. The park is located in the center of the city, next to the Al-Jahili fort.
Hili Archaeological Park, Replica of the Great Tomb
The center and one of the main attractions of the Hili Archaeological Gardens is a replica of the Great Tomb discovered in these places by archaeologists. The original, which is more than 4,000 years old (older than the Cheops pyramid!), Is located in a strictly protected area in Abu Dhabi.
The remains of 200 people were found in the tomb, copper tools, beads, and finely finished pottery and clay dishes. Life expectancy was low and death was considered a new journey. Therefore, along with the bodies of the dead, they buried expensive dishes, jewelry, and other personal items. Now all the finds are kept in the Al Ain Museum.
The special round shape of the tomb is a sign of belonging to the ancient highly developed culture of Umm al-Nar (it appeared in the 2700s BC). Even 4.5 thousand years ago, representatives of Umm al-Nar traded with other peoples, knew how to mine copper, make dishes, grow wheat and palm trees, and also hunt large sea animals.
Hili Archaeological Park
Public park in the vicinity of Al Ain – shady cool gardens with numerous fountains. This is a great place for a family vacation – where you can have a picnic, sit in a cafe or go rollerblading. There are playgrounds for children.
It was created as a “setting” for the main archaeological monument of the UAE – a copy of Hilli’s Great Tomb. A whole group of round tombs has been discovered near Healy Park, as well as the surviving foundations of two large brick towers and several stone and brick houses of equally venerable age. Not so long ago, a second tomb was opened for visits, and in the third, located nearby, Arab and French scientists continue to excavate.
From time to time they find something sensational here. Not so long ago, the ancient falaj irrigation canals, built about 3000 years ago, were discovered. This is a very complex and original structure, which made it possible to supply water from underground sources to arid regions. Some parts of this aqueduct were built so well that they are still in operation.
Al Ain Racecourse
Camel racing for the Emirates is part of history, sport, and business. Camels are one of the favorite animals of the Arabs; they used to be their constant companions in life. Now everything in this country has changed, and the sheikhs, taking care of the preservation of the national heritage, remembered the old Bedouin fun. In fact, it has developed into a professional sport that attracts tourists.
Races have become a nationwide holiday, and running camel breeding has become a lucrative business. Camels that win on the run are very expensive, up to several million dollars.
Previously, riders-drivers were boys with a minimum weight; sometimes even 6-7-year-olds were used. Now robotic jockeys are used instead. An obligatory part of the show is the presentation of prizes and awards (by the way, considerable ones – cars and golden weapons) to the owners of the winning camels. The winners themselves also receive their “award” – their foreheads are smeared with a special coloring and smelling compound made from saffron flowers.
Al Ain Zoo
One of the largest zoos in the Middle East, distinguished by its size and variety of inhabitants – wild animals from all over the world (1500 species). Here you can observe rare animals in conditions close to their usual environment.
The zoo opened in 1969 and has gradually grown to enormous proportions. The largest area is reserved for Arabian antelopes and deer. The big pavilion was occupied by a feline family: lions, tigers, cougars, black and spotted leopards, jaguars. In the zoo, you can see the “Red Books” of the Arabian oryx and the white lion, as well as elephants, giraffes, gazelles, kangaroos, monkeys, snakes, peacocks, giant turtles, and funny miniature penguins.
The zoo boasts a huge aquarium, which is home to hundreds of species of marine animals from all over the world. He is also known for his scientific research on the program of breeding endangered wild animals.
The territory of the zoo is by no means small, so don’t expect to be able to quickly run and see everything. You can use the open-wagon locomotive cruising around the zoo.
Hili Fun City (Al Ain)
This is a whole town of more than forty attractions, several cafes, and a large number of souvenir shops; a favorite vacation spot for parents with children. Here you can screech on roller coasters or any other breathtaking “swing-roundabouts”, meet fairy-tale characters in the park alleys, ride a mini-train through the entire territory or take a camel ride. The park hosts various shows, festivals, and carnivals all year round. Nearby there is an Olympic-sized ice rink – “ice miracle” in the middle of the desert – Al Ain Ice Rink.
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