A one and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain is one of the world's oldest permanently inhabited settlements, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city abounds in picturesque forts. One of the UAE’s most historic buildings, Al Jahili Fort was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect precious palm groves and is home to a permanent exhibition of the work of British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger and his 1940s crossings of the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert. The redeveloped Al Qattara Fort is now home to a brilliant arts centre and gallery, offering hundreds of modern exhibits within its walls and with spaces for a variety of workshops – from pottery and painting to music and calligraphy. Get to grips with our culture and heritage with a visit to the city’s museums. With three main sections - archaeology, ethnography and gifts, Al Ain National Museum lets you explore various aspects of UAE life, including Bedouin jewellery and traditional musical instrument collections. The former home of the late UAE founder, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Al Ain Palace Museum houses a large collection of material about the ruling family. Visitors can tour the private rooms and gardens once occupied by the ‘Father of the Nation’.
Rising 1,240 metres, Jebel Hafeet is the emirate’s highest peak, and UAE’s second. This towering rocky height, which stands guard over Al Ain and borders Oman, is forged out of craggy limestone that has been weathered over millions of years. Significant fossil discoveries have been made in the area, which are vital pieces in the jigsaw of the city’s ancient history. Over 500 ancient burial tombs dating back 5,000 years have been found in the Jebel Hafeet foothills.
Al Ain Oasis
In the heart of the city, the Al Ain Oasis has been opened as the UAE’s first curated UNESCO World Heritage site visitor experience. Spread over 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) and containing more than 147,000 date palms of up to 100 different varieties, this impressive oasis is filled with palm plantations, many of which are still working farms. The cool, shady walkways transport you from the heat and noise of the city to a tranquil haven; all you will hear is birdsong and the rustle of the palm fronds. The site introduces visitors to the delicate oasis eco-system and the importance it has played in the development of the emirate. The oasis landscape of Al Ain is shaped by a complex shared water supply based on both wells and ‘aflaj’, the UAE’s traditional irrigation system. Al Ain Oasis has plenty of working examples of the falaj which have been used for centuries to tap into underground wells.
Al Jahili Fort
The picturesque Al Jahili Fort is one of the UAE’s most historic buildings. It was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect precious palm groves. The former headquarters of the Oman Trucial Scouts, the force that protected the mountain passes and kept inter-tribal peace, it also served as a residence for the local governor. It is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, and visitors are encouraged to explore it. The north wing of the courtyard is devoted to a permanent exhibition of black and white photographs by the traveller Wilfred Thesiger and entitled ‘Bin London and Freedom of the Desert’. The west wing is used as the temporary exhibitions centre, opening on to the court, while the south wing contains an information centre for visitors to the fort and to Al Ain, as well as a bookshop and majlis.
Al Ain National Museum
The oldest museum in the UAE, Al Ain National Museum was established in 1969 under the guidance of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Charting the history of Al Ain from the Stone Age through to the foundation of the UAE, the museum houses artefacts discovered in the many archaeological sites scattered throughout the region, including flint tools and arrowheads dating to the sixth millennium BCE. Opened in 1970, by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and now Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, the museum’s original location was in Sultan bin Zayed Palace. Al Ain Museum was then relocated to its current location in 1971, where it was inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Tahnoon bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region.