14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Al Ain
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The oasis city of Al Ain has a dramatic setting, overlooked by the craggy mountain of Jebel Hafeet. The drive up to Jebel Hafeet's summit to take in the panoramic views is the number one thing to do while staying in town.
It's a pretty and ordered town that is easy to get around and is a popular weekend break destination thanks to its family-friendly tourist attractions, such as the shady palm-tree-filled oasis, its water park, and acclaimed zoo.
Historically, Al Ain has been settled since at least 3000 BC. It's one of the best places to visit in the UAE for travelers interested in local history and culture and is the only site in the country to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Al Ain.
See also: Where to Stay in Al Ain
1. View Mountain Panoramas on the Summit of Jebel Hafeet
The rugged contours of Jebel Hafeet (Hafeet Mountain) rise up from the edge of Al Ain. If you're looking for panoramic photos over the city and surrounding desert then a trip to the summit should be at the top of your sightseeing list.
It's approximately 56 kilometers from central Al Ain to the summit. At 1,240 meters, this is the second highest peak in the United Arab Emirates (the highest is Jebel Jais in Ras Al-Khaimah) and the highest in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
The drive up here, following a winding mountain road, has plenty of scenic viewpoints, and from the summit, the entire region is spread out beneath you.
The Al Ain Full-Day Tour offers a chance to see this and other Al Ain highlights in a single day if you're staying in Dubai. The tour includes a drive up to the summit of Jebel Hafeet for its scenic views, as well as visits to the city's main historical attractions of Al-Jahili Fort and Hili Archaeological Park and cultural sites, including the camel market. There are also photo stops at the Al Ain oasis and the hot springs of Mubazzarah Park. Transport from Dubai, as well as pickup and drop-off from your hotel is included.
2. Take the Kids to Al Ain Zoo
Opened in 1969, Al Ain Zoo is the United Arab Emirates' largest zoo.
Endemic mammals such as the Arabian antelope and Arabian oryx can be seen, as well as African gazelles, giraffes, and eland.
The big cat enclosures feature lions, tigers, pumas, black and spotted leopards, and jaguars. There is also a monkey compound, aviary section, and reptile house.
The zoo is famous for its research facilities, particularly the breeding program for endangered native animals, with more than 30 percent of the species that can be seen here currently on the endangered list.
The zoo's latest venture is the Al Ain Safari, a 217-hectare extension, where African and Arabian Gulf animals (including some critically endangered species) live in a more natural environment. Visiting this section of the zoo is by jeep or truck tour only.
There are plenty of family-friendly features, including a petting zoo; giraffe feeding activities; camel rides; and a children's garden, which encourages biodiversity learning.
Inside the zoo, you'll also find the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Center, with exhibits focused on the Arabian Gulf's desert environment and ecology.
Address: Nahyan al Awwal Street, Al Ain
Official site: www.alainzoo.ae
3. Explore Al Ain's History at Al-Jahili Fort
This much restored fortress, surrounded by some tranquil, shaded gardens in the central city, dates back to 1891 and was once an important defensive feature protecting the town from attack.
Today, it's one of Al Ain's major points of interest, and inside its stocky golden-bricked bulk, you'll find an exhibit devoted to photographs depicting the life and work of British adventurer, desert explorer, and writer Wilfred Thesiger, with a particular focus on his journeys into the Empty Quarter during the 1940s.
The fort's ramparts and towers can be climbed for views, and a video explains all about the fort's restoration in the information center.
Address: Sultan bin Zayed I Street, Al Ain
4. Cycle amid the Date Palms in Al Ain Oasis
A tranquil respite from the hot sun, and a refreshingly natural diversion from the city streets, Al Ain Oasis is a vast series of date palm plantations linked by footpaths right in the heart of the city.
A small museum near the main entrance does a good job of explaining the importance of date palms to traditional life, while the oasis itself contains nearly 150,000 date palm trees. The palm groves are still fed by water channels using the traditional falaj irrigation system, which has been in use in the United Arab Emirates for 3,000 years.
This is a great option for anyone seeking some downtime and a relaxing stroll or bike ride amid the shady palms.
Cycles can be rented at the main entrance to explore the oasis at your own pace. There are also tours by buggy or horse available at the entrance.
5. Cool Off at Wadi Adventure Park
This surfing, kayaking, and white water rafting water park contains the world's largest artificial surfing wave (measuring 3.3 meters); three levels of white water rafting rapids catering to absolute beginners, as well as experienced rafters; and a long kayaking channel.
As well as a fun day out for adventure seekers, this is one of the top spots in the UAE to learn how to surf, kayak, or white water raft.
As well as the three main activities, there's an Air Park with ziplines, balance beams, and a giant swing; a climbing wall; wakeboarding facilities; and a family pool area for when you just want to relax.
Address: Hazza bin Sultan Street, Al Ain
Official site: www.wadiadventure.ae
6. Learn about Local History at Al Ain National Museum
The Al Ain National Museum, housed in the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort, does a good job of bringing the heritage, culture, and history of the United Arab Emirates alive.
There is a particularly interesting ethnographic section reflecting the daily life of the region's people, with a reconstructed traditional majlis and exhibits of traditional garments and Bedouin jewelry.
In the archaeological section are displays of local artifact discoveries that date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, including pendants and an important coin collection.
The main attraction of this section, though, are the exhibits from the nearby Hili Archaeological Park, including the restored Grand Hili tomb unearthed at the site.
Address: Khalid bin Sultan Street, Al Ain
7. Al Ain Palace Museum
The Al Ain Palace Museum is the former residence of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and his family, who went on to become the first ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
The interior of some of the palace compound has been finely restored to reflect what the palace would have looked like when the Sheikh called it home.
Unfortunately, information throughout the rooms is sparse for those who don't speak Arabic. Nevertheless, the interior decoration really does give you a good idea of the style of life that was led here, and it provides an opportunity to view Emirati traditional architecture.
Address: Sultan bin Zayed I Street, Al Ain
8. Qasr al Muwaiji
This traditional mud-brick fort has been restored to its former glory and offers a good chance to appreciate Emirati fortification architecture.
It was built during the early years of the 20th century and was home to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and his family between the years of 1946 and 1966, before he became ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Inside, as well as admiring the building itself, you can visit a small museum dedicated to the history of the fort and the lives of the ruling Al Nahyan family.
Just outside the fort is a courtyard with a modern recreation of the Emirati falaj (irrigation canal) system.
Address: Khalifa bin Zayed Street, Al Ain
Official site: www.qasralmuwaiji.ae/en
9. Discover Al Ain's Ancient History at Hili Archaeological Park
At Hili Archaeological Park, archaeologists have excavated finds dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages.
Although many casual visitors will struggle to comprehend the site, which consists of Umm Al Nar period tombs, archaeology fiends will enjoy the vast sense of history here.
It is mostly because of the important discoveries found here that Al Ain has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The park lies amid a protected area. Most of the finds from the site are on display at Al Ain National Museum, which does a great job of putting the site into context.
Address: Aroh al Jaw Street, Al Ain
10. Visit Al Ain's Camel Market
Al Ain's camel market is an excellent chance for travelers to experience a taste of traditional local culture. The market is on the outskirts of town, about nine kilometers from the city center.
The market is a little stinky (unsurprisingly), but if you can handle the smell, a visit here is a truly fascinating experience that has yet to be trussed up for the tourists.
This is the last remaining camel market in the United Arab Emirates, and people from across the region head here to buy and sell. Nearly all the camel buying business happens in the morning, so it's best to head here early. The market opens at about 7am.
You are free to wander around at will and watch people bartering over the camels; don't take any notice of men who may approach you on entering and insist that you need a guide.
Address: Zayed bin Sultan Street, Al Ain
11. Watch the Camel Racing
Camel racing has taken place in the United Arab Emirates for centuries, and the large 10-kilometer track at Al Ain hosts regular races. Al Ain's camel racing track is 16 kilometers southwest of the town center in the suburb of Al Dahir.
Watching the racing is a rare opportunity to see a slice of traditional Emirati culture, which has not faded away as the high-rises rose.
If you happen to be in town when the racing is on, it shouldn't be missed. Certain breeds of camel are used for racing due to their slender size, including the white or golden "Anafi" breed and the brown or black "Boushahri" breed.
Racing generally takes place on Friday mornings (usually from around 7am) during the cooler months from approximately October to April.
Address: Zayed bin Sultan Street, Al Dahir
12. Soak in the Hot Spring Pools of Mubazzarah Park
At the foot of Jebel Hafeet, you'll find Mubazzarah Park (also called Jebel Hafeet Park), an isolated spot of green amid the rocky and dry landscape.
This natural oasis is a great place to relax and is especially popular with Al Ain locals during sunset when families head here for picnics, walks, games, and barbecues.
There's a small lake and plenty of space in the park for the kids to let loose and run about. The highlight, though, for travelers who want to soak away any travel aches or pains is the natural mineral hot springs here.
The hot water is pumped up into the park to run through narrow manmade streams where you can soak your feet. It's also pumped up into two swimming pools (separated by gender) if you want a fuller soak.
On the weekends, the park can get extremely busy, so if you want a quieter experience try to time your visit for a weekday.
Location: Off Hazza bin Sultan Street, Al Ain
13. Take the Kids to Hili Fun City
Although now showing its age – particularly in comparison to the flashy theme parks of Dubai and Abu Dhabi city – Hili Fun City is a great place for families with smaller children.
The park features more than 40 rides, including a roller coaster and an elevated sky-flyer but is most well known for its slower, more old-fashioned rides, such as dodgem cars and carousels, which have a more retro vibe.
It's extremely popular on the weekends with local families due to the good-value admission fee. As it's outside, it's best to plan your visit for the early evening so that you miss the heat of the day.
Just adjacent to the theme park is the Al Ain Ice Rink, an Olympic-sized facility offering skating and numerous children's games.
Address: Aroh al Jaw Street, Al Hili, Al Ain
14. Stroll Al Ain's Public Gardens
Nicknamed the "garden city," Al Ain lives up to its reputation. Throughout the city area, you'll find parks of manicured gardens and lush green lawns, which contrast vibrantly with the dry and parched desert surroundings.
Many public gardens and parks offer welcome shade on long, hot summer days. Several are endowed with weird (and slightly over-the-top) landscaping elements, impressive fountains with lighting displays at night, and playground facilities for children.
The Central Public Garden in the center of town is one of the best for a stroll.
The parks come alive with people strolling, families picnicking, joggers and runners, and children playing in the early evening hours after the worst of the day's heat has finished.
Where to Stay in Al Ain for Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Al Ain, the best place to stay is in the city center, close to top attractions such as the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, the Al Jahili Fort, and the Al Ain Zoo. The main sights are spread out over a large area, so it's best to explore the city by car. Note that Al Ain has very little budget accommodation, so it's best to upgrade to mid-range here.
- Close to the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum and the Al Jahili Fort, the family-friendly Al Ain Rotana Hotel is one of the city's top hotels, with a spa, swimming pool, fitness club, and on-site restaurants.
- Other popular upscale options are the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, with a massive amount of facilities, including huge grounds with separate adult and children pool areas and a bundle of restaurants, and Danat Al Ain Resort, with its spa, multiple pools, tennis courts, and bags of children's activities.
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More UAE Cultural Destinations: Although the UAE as a nation is young, it celebrates its traditional Emirati culture and its long trading history, which far pre-date the country's formation. Head to Sharjah for museums in the historic district, to Fujairah to view coastal forts and the country's oldest mosque, and Abu Dhabi to take a tour explaining the ancient art of falconry in the Falcon Hospital.