The oasis area of Al Ain in the east of Abu Dhabi, which was already settled thousands of years ago, conveys life in the Emirates before the oil boom, in addition to modern buildings and gardens.
Al Ain is the second largest settlement in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi after Abu Dhabi City. Also known as Garden City, the oasis settlement is also a popular destination for Dubai holidays due to its green idyll and interesting archaeological finds. The ruling family of the United Arab Emirates also likes to stay here, as both the current president, Sheikh Khalifa, and his father were born here.
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PICTURES: Oasis city of Al Ain in Abu Dhabi
The temperatures in Al Ain - in the middle of the desert - are higher than on the coast of the United Arab Emirates, but bearable due to the lower humidity. Al Ain has always been an important stopover for trade caravans between India, Persia and the Mediterranean. Al Ain has long been committed to modern development - the UAE's first university was founded here in 1977.
Thanks to easily accessible groundwater, the sand dunes and gardens form the most fertile region of Abu Dhabi. Al Ain is especially known for its excellent dates, but grain, fruit and vegetables are also grown in Abu Dhabi's agricultural stronghold.
Until a few decades ago, the gardens and fields were still irrigated with the traditional falaj canals, which were already in use around 3,000 years ago.
Journey to Al Ain
Al Ain, literally translated as "spring", is located 160km from the capital and thus on the other side of Abu Dhabi. At the foot of the Hajar Mountains on the border to Oman, an idyllic oasis area spreads out over a length of around 30 kilometres. Thanks to well-developed highways and the international airport, the former oasis village is easy to reach today.
Places of interest in Al Ain
In the manageable city centre of Al Ain, orientation is easy. Large brown signs point out the most beautiful sights of Al Ain and the numerous roundabouts with their artistic sculptures are perfect points of reference.
The former oasis village of Al Ain is only recognisable at second glance among the modern buildings and well-known hotel chains such as Mercure, Intercontinental and Hilton. For example, in the Al Ain Oasis, an idyllic park in the middle of the city centre. With several museums and fortresses, it houses some of Al Ain's most important sights.
Al Ain Oasis
The huge oasis in the centre of Al Ain gives a fitting impression of the original Abu Dhabi before the oil boom. With idyllic palm groves and a millennia-old irrigation system that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors to the Al Ain Oasis will find heavenly peace and coolness under shady date palms far from the noise of the big city.
Al Ain Palace Museum
The former private residence of the President of the UAE in Al Ain is located amidst the famous date palm gardens of the Al Ain Oasis and today functions as a palace museum. The renovated Qasr Al Ain, with its originally furnished rooms and idyllically landscaped courtyards, shows the elegant life and work of the former ruling family of Abu Dhabi.
The National Museum of Al Ain is the oldest museum in the United Arab Emirates and provides information about traditional life in Al Ain when the oasis town was still populated mainly by farmers and Bedouins. Thousands of years old artefacts, Bronze Age finds from the Hili Archaeology Park and photographs document the development of the region from the Stone Age to modern times.
Sultan bin Zayed Fort (Al-Sharqi Fort)
The "Eastern Fort" in the east of the Al Ain Oasis was built in 1910 by Shaikh Zayed's father as his seat of power. Behind an impressive entrance gate flanked by cannons, the renovated fort presents life in Al Ain in the 1950s and 1960s.
Al Nagfa Viewpoint
Opposite the sports stadium in the south of the Al Ain Oasis is the Al Nagfa viewing hill, which offers a fantastic panoramic view over Al Ain. The true size of the palm garden is only really visible from here. The ascent to the mountain is via Khalid bin Sultan Street, and there is also a hookah café and a fast-food restaurant at its summit.
Al Jahili Fort and Park
The impressive Al Jahili Fort in the heart of Al Ain is one of the largest and most beautiful fortifications in the United Arab Emirates. Built in 1891 under Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, the fort is now carefully renovated and can be visited as a museum. Right next to it is Al Jahili Park, whose idyllic walkways, ponds and shaded areas are, however, reserved for women and children.
Souqs of Al Ain
In contrast to the lively markets in Dubai, the souqs of Al Ain seem almost sleepy. Tourists are hardly ever on the road, and if they are, they are unerringly targeted by sometimes pushy traders. The most interesting souqs in Al Ain are the Al Ain Souq (also called the old souq), the Al Bawadi Sou q and the Al Zafarana Souq.
Everywhere there is traditional flair and typical Arabic goods, including coffee pots, spices, incense and traditional clothing. The Camel Souq on Meyzad Road is the only souq where you have to pay an entrance fee.
Tip: Women travelling alone should be careful at the camel market, some travellers report very pushy traders!
Al Ain Zoo
The Al Ain Zoo is located on Nahyan al-Awwal Street in the southwest of the city centre and is the largest zoo in the United Arab Emirates. Around 180 species form an animal smorgasbord that is unparalleled in the Middle East. In addition to big cats and monkeys, fish and penguins, the Al Ain Zoo is also dedicated to breeding and protecting endangered species, above all the majestic oryx antelope and the white lion.
Also on Nahyan al-Awwal Street is the Paradise Gardens, a flower show of the highest order, which can be visited free of charge. Similar to the Miracle Gardens in Dubai, around 10 million flowering plants form pyramids, hearts and geometric patterns here. The highest number of hanging flower pots in the world has even earned the Paradise Gardens in Al Ain an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
Al Hili Archaeological Park
In the Hili Archaeological Park 12km north of Al Ain, shady walking paths lead through numerous ruins from the Bronze and Iron Ages on an area of more than 10 hectares. Archaeological finds and remains of dwellings, towers and around 600 graves have provided scientists with valuable information about the way of life, culture and technology of the Umm al-Nar culture in the 3rd millennium BC.
The 1240m high Jebel Hafeet is a foothill of the Hajjar Mountains that extends across the border into Oman. Hundreds of graves have been found at its foot, the oldest of which date back to the 4th millennium BC.
Even the 20-kilometre drive from the centre of Al Ain is an unforgettable experience with its steep serpentines and stunning views. On its summit - in a former guest house of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa - there is a 5-star Mercure Hotel, which offers an equally spectacular panoramic view over the rugged cliffs of the Hajar Mountains, especially on a clear day.
Oasis Green Mubazzarah
At the foot of Jebel Hafeet lies the picturesque oasis of Green Mubazzarah. In the middle of the desert, visitors feel transported to another world by its hot springs, streams and waterfalls. The thermal pools, picnic areas and idyllic guesthouses attract numerous guests, especially in the evenings and at weekends.
Children can enjoy themselves in the playgrounds and on the summer toboggan run, and several small restaurants, cafeterias and mini-markets cater for their physical well-being.