Drive 90 minutes inland from Abu Dhabi city and you’ll arrive in Al Ain, one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This oasis city is a natural wonder, with a landscape as diverse as its culture, where palm trees outnumber houses and ancient waterways nourish the sand-dune-covered desert. And the city has something for every type of traveler, making it well worth a stop for those who want to extend their Abu Dhabi trip by two or three days.
You can stroll through the oases along pathways shaded by lush greenery. And in the busy city streets, you’ll come upon ancient forts representing time-honored traditions and telling the essential stories of the UAE’s origins—history fans can wander the archaeological parks and marvel at ancient artifacts. Those with an appetite for culture shouldn’t miss visiting the area’s old-world palaces, camel market, and vibrant souks selling authentic Emirati crafts, spices, carpets, perfumes, and more. With so much to do and to discover in Al Ain, here’s how to make the most of a few days in this enchanting city.
What to do in Al Ain
A visit to Al Ain can be anything from a relaxing getaway to a thrilling adventure or a balance between the two. There are endless activities to choose from—here are just a few of the can’t-miss attractions you should add to your itinerary while spending time in Al Ain.
Experience the serenity of a famous oasis
The expansive, nearly 3,000-acre Al Ain Oasis is a cherished UNESCO-recognized destination in the heart of the city. It provides a respite from urban life, inviting visitors to explore shaded paths and creating a peaceful retreat amidst the verdant plant life. This oasis boasts 147,000 date palm trees, more than 100 vegetation types, and relics of the past, like the 3,000-year-old falaj (or “split into parts”) irrigation system that uses tunnels and channels to transport water.
Visit a working camel market
Al Ain’s renowned camel market, situated less than 10 miles from downtown Al Ain, is a stark contrast from urban life and provides a glimpse into authentic Arab culture and traditional Emirati heritage. It’s also an excellent opportunity for photography, as the market showcases young Arabian camels with potential for racing and mature camels for breeding. Families will enjoy the experience too. Visitors are welcome to get up close, watch locals arrive in pickups laden with goats and sheep, and attend mock races.
Browse an authentic souk
At Souk Al Zafarana, an authentic Emirati marketplace in a modern setting adjacent to Al Jimi Mall, find traditional attire, incense, spices, henna, oud, and dallah (Arabian coffee pots). Other souks in the city include the Al Ain Souk, Souk Al Bawadi, and Souk Al Qaws.
Explore a historic palace
Al Ain Palace Museum holds major historical significance for the entire country as the former residence of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father and first president of the UAE. This estate sheds light on the ruling family’s life and seamlessly blends modern design with Emirati traditions. The property was constructed and restored with sustainability in mind, using eco-friendly materials like clay, adobe, and palm tree elements. Entry is free.
Wander the walls of a restored fort
With its distinctive square layout, corner towers, and grand entrance, the historic fort and palace Qasr Al Muwaiji remains significant to this day as the birthplace of the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE. The restored fort is now a museum and cultural center, offering insights into the ruling Al Nahyan family and the region’s history, heritage, and traditions.
Where to stay in Al Ain
Al Ain is an enticing destination that harmoniously blends luxury with desert landscapes, and the city’s hotel scene offers various options that embody that hybrid quality. Here are three centrally located hotels that ensure you maximize your time in Al Ain.
Ayla Hotel, located in the middle of Al Ain and part of the stylish Ayla Commercial Complex, is ideal for leisure travelers due to its proximity to shopping centers and entertainment venues. It features comfortable rooms, a well-equipped health club, diverse dining options, and modern meeting facilities.
If you’re looking for a refuge of tranquility located in the center of town and surrounded by majestic gardens, look no further than Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort Al Ain. It was initially built for a royal wedding and features three inviting swimming pools and contemporary rooms with views of the UAE’s highest peaks.
For a more resort-like experience that’s mere minutes from the city center, Al Ain Rotana is an excellent choice with its seven restaurants, three pools, a spa, and a fitness center. Choose among well-appointed rooms and suites with views of landscaped gardens, Jebel Hafit Heights, or Mediterranean-style villas.
Where to eat in Al Ain
There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants in Al Ain. You’ll find everything from casual to fine dining, serving nearly every imaginable cuisine from around the world. Tamra Café at the Ayla Bawadi Hotel is a tea lounge with traditional Arabic undertones. This spacious and elegant spot provides a peaceful setting for relaxation or socializing and an all-day menu featuring breakfast and lunch options, teas, coffees, smoothies, and desserts.
Another option for lunch is Ayla, the international all-day dining restaurant at Ayla Hotel that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a selection of theme nights. From buffet breakfasts to live BBQ stations and diverse international lunches and dinners, their menu features American, Italian, Middle Eastern, European, and Indian influences and caters to various palates, making it a crowd-pleasing choice for any meal.
For an unforgettable night out, head to Tanjore Restaurant, which blends contemporary creations with an array of authentic Indian dishes prepared in traditional tandoori clay ovens. Start with classic onion bhajiya and then try a paneer dish, lamb vindaloo, or signature specialty such as Murgh Awadhi Korma Aed, and then complete the meal with delightful kulfi ice cream or the rasmalai dessert, homemade cottage-cheese dumplings poached in sugar syrup and served with reduced saffron-flavored milk spiked with pistachio.
If it’s a relaxed evening you’re after, consider Arabesque Restaurant in the same resort. The menu’s Arabic and North African influences that fuse European styles and flavors are also visible in the modern and open decor. Daily specials for lunch are themed with dishes from the Arab world and Europe.
How to get to Al Ain
When traveling from Abu Dhabi International Airport, you have several options for arriving in Al Ain. Taxis are readily available for a direct journey, but car rental services provide more flexibility. Public transportation includes buses operated by the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport, and the travel time is around 90 minutes but can vary based on traffic conditions. Traveling from Dubai International Airport to Al Ain by taxi, Uber, or car rental takes between 90–120 minutes. Private transfers and a combination of Dubai Metro and buses are alternative options. Al Ain also has its own airport, Al Ain International Airport, that’s located around 10 miles northwest of the city center. It primarily serves domestic and some international flights to nearby destinations.