One of my favourite places to break away from the bustling city life, is Al Ain, located just 1.5 hours drive from Abu Dhabi and called the “Oasis” or “Garden” City thanks to its lush greenery, ancient palm oases and fresh weather. “Al Ain” which means “The Spring“, is the birthplace of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE, and holds a deep affection among Emiratis. It is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, and very proudly received a UNESCO World Heritage Site badge for its historic oases.
Al Ain is different to its sister cities Abu Dhabi & Dubai in that it does not have any skyscrapers or glitzy buildings, rather a strict control allows until up to 4 floors, to emphasis the nature and easier going pace of life. Thanks to its location, Al Ain is an ideal retreat to escape the high temperatures, where you can enjoy the natural springs, and mountain views.
Here are some of my favourite things about the city:
Al Ain Palace Museum offers visitors the opportunity to gain insight into Bedouin life while enjoying exhibits of jewelry, instruments, and taking a small tour of the private quarters and gardens of the ruling family. From there I like to check out the National Museum as it gives a bigger understanding of life in Al Ain before oil. Visitors can learn all about the pearling and fishing industries, and go even further back into prehistoric times!
Camels have always been very precious to the UAE, serving as their main source of transportation and survival during Bedouin life. The Camel Souk is a great place to come close with these beautiful animals, witness trading, and enjoy a photo or two. Have you ever looked closely into a camel’s eyes past their gorgeous long eye lashes? If not, this is your chance!
Approximately 20 minutes drive, up a 1,240 metre mountain, you arrive to Jebel Hafeet, the 2nd highest peak in the Emirates where you will enjoy astonishing views of the UAE on one side, and Oman on the other. The Mercure hotel is located right at the top, which makes for a great experiential stay, or energizing lunch!
Al Jahili Fort, established in 1891 to defend and protect the city and palm trees, this wonderful establishment also holds the permanent exhibition of Sir Wilfred Thesiger, and his crossing of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter desert) in 1940. For culture vultures, Al Qattara Arts Centre offers visitors an insight into the past showcasing Emirati way of life through calligraphy, music, art and pottery, and hosts events all year long.
I saved the best for last, and my absolute favourite thing about Al Ain (and the reason for its elegant nickname), the Oasis. The UNESCO World Heritage Site protected estate is spread across 1,200 hectares and connects more than 147,000 date palms, with up to 100 varieties. It boasts a 3,000 year old underground system for irrigation called “falaj”, which was used to bring water from boreholes to farms and palm trees. Shaded walkways transport you from the heat and noise of city life, into a tranquil haven where you can enjoy the sound of birds chirping, palm leaves swishing, and even watch farmers climb to the top of the trees, to pick dates (with very little support). The tourism board has developed a year long program of festivals, events, and shows to educate visitors about this amazing oasis.
Al Ain has so much more to offer, and with the weather cooling down, now is the best time to visit!
Disclaimer: All views are my own and all photographs are © My Pink Diary, unless otherwise stated.