Al Ain, which literally translates to ‘the spring’, is known as the ‘Garden City‘ of UAE due to its lush greenery. The city is located in the eastern side of Abu Dhabi Emirate, approximate 130 km from Abu Dhabi city. Al Ain is considered among the oldest inhabited cities in the world and is hence a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that there are plenty of historic sites to visit in Al Ain, like Qasr Al Muwaiji, Al Jahili Fort and Al Qattara Fort. In addition, Al Ain is also home to the largest oasis in UAE and also a zoo. All this, combined with the beauty of mount Jebel Hafeet, makes a road trip to Al Ain an enriching experience.
About Al Ain
Al Ain city is located on the eastern side of Abu Dhabi Emirate. It is the UAE’s border city, with Oman on the other side. Size-wise, Al Ain is the 4th largest in UAE, after Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
The reason why Al Ain is also known as “Garden City” (Madīnat Al-Ḥadīqah in Arabic) is due to its greenery, particularly concerning the city’s oases, parks, tree-lined avenues and decorative roundabouts.
Al Ain’s History
Although pretty tiny in size, Al Ain is of great historical significance. Together with the neighbouring city of Al-Buraimi (in Oman), this area is said to have witnessed major events related to the development of Islam during the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid eras (source). There is also archaeological evidence that Al Ain might have been inhabited for nearly 8,000 years (source). All these combined, Al Ain got recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
In addition, Al Ain is where Sheikh Zayed – the founder of UAE was born and raised.
How to Reach Al Ain
Most destinations in UAE can be easily reached if you have a driving license and a car (or you can easily rent a car). And Al Ain is no exception. In addition, there are regular buses from Dubai and Abu Dhabi city to Al Ain.
Interesting Trivia: Did you know that the expressways connecting Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain form an equilateral triangle (well, almost), with each city being approximate 130 km from the other two!
Our road trip to Al Ain
To start with, our road trip to Al Ain was a highly anticipated one. Primarily because we were stuck at home for over 6months, due to the pandemic-induced-lockdowns. But once things started to look better in Abu Dhabi, it was time we desperately needed a break. And thus we planned this road trip to Al Ain over a weekend.
And since the city is less than 2 hours drive from Abu Dhabi, not much planning was needed. We hired a car, booked a hotel, packed a couple of dresses and we were ready to drive.
Apart from the yearning to go out somewhere, we were really looking forward to 2 specific aspects of the trip. First one was driving on E22 expressway and the second one being ascending the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road. The Al Ain highway (or E22 expressway) is the only highway in UAE that has a speed limit of 160 km/hr (~100 miles/hr), all other highways being 140 km/hr. We were excited to try and hit 150 km/hr on E22!! (kiddish, I know 😉). And Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road has been rated as one of the ‘top 10 most amazing drives in the world’.
We started from Abu Dhabi city around 10 am and in less than 2 hours we reached Al Ain city. Driving on E22 expressway was a satisfying and fulfilling experience in itself.
After check in to our hotel, we went out for a quick lunch, and then started exploring the city.
During our road trip, we expored the following places in Al Ain:
- Jebel Hafeet Top
- Jebel Hafeet Park (and hot springs)
- Al Ain Oasis
- Al Jajili Fort
- Al Ain Palace Museum
Due to lack of time, we couldn’t explore a few more places. But, out of the one that we went, Al Ain oasis and Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road were the most fascinating to us.
Al Ain Oasis
Located in the centre of Al Ain city and covering 1200 hectares, Al Ain Oasis is one of the largest oases in the UAE. Two of the most distinctive features about the Al Ain Oasis are – (1) 147,000 palm trees of over 100 different varieties, and (2) still-operating traditional Falaj irrigation system.
Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road
As we have already mentioned, driving on the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road was something we were really excited about.
And we were definitely not disappointed…!!
Al Ain travel restrictions during the pandemic
Since Al Ain city falls in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, there are no travel restrictions for us since we were travelling within the Emirate itself – from Abu Dhabi city to Al Ain city. But for folks coming from other emirates, like Dubai, a negative PCR test report was needed. And if someone stays for over 3 days, quarantine was also necessary.
For recent norms, please check the UAE gov’s official website. But masks are definitely mandatory!
Other Tourist Places in Al Ain
Below we have listed all the places to visit in Al Ain:
- Al Ain Oasis
- Al Ain Zoo
- Jebel Hafeet
- Al-Jahili Fort
- Al Ain Palace Museum
- Al Ain National Museum
- Wadi Adventure Park
- Hili Archaeological Park
- Qasr al Muwaiji
- Al Ain public garden
- Green Mubazzarah Park
Places to stay in Al Ain
Based on the reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor, we had booked Hotel Hili Rayhaan by Rotana. And it turned out to be a wonderful experience. Especially with the pandemic, hygiene was our primary concern. And the hotel staff took great care of that. Hence, we would highly recommend Hili Rayhaan by Rotana.
Below are few other hotels that have great locations:
- Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet – this one is right on top of Jebel Hafeet!
- Green Mubazzarah Chalets – at the foothills
- Ayla Grand Hotel – right in the centre of Al Ain city, highly rated and highly recommended
- Aloft Al Ain
Al Ain Road Trip
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