Get lost in Garden City
Although it’s known as the UAE’s Garden City, greenery and oasis heritage are just some of the draws in Al Ain.
And what’s best, the action-packed getaway destination is virtually at your doorstep.
After about 90 minutes of driving from Abu Dhabi, you’ll reach a roundabout - the first of many - but navigating your way through the maze-like Garden City is easy with the help Explorer’s Al Ain mini map.
Start out at the recently renovated Camel and Livestock Souk. Get there early to witness trading in full swing - whether you choose to put your bargaining skills to the test or not, you’ll get to rub elbows with camels, goats and chickens, while the sellers and buyers go about their business.
After all the hustle and bustle or trading, it’s time to take a stroll in the tranquil Al Ain Oasis. Many of the plantations are working farms and if you’re lucky, you may get offered a fresher-than-fresh date by one of the friendly locals. Either way, it’s best to stick to the paved pathways and try to remember which entrance you came in through - it’s all too easy to get lost in the serene oasis.
For a bite of history, venture into the nearby Al Ain Museum, which features exhibits, photographs and artefacts that tell of times gone by. Also nearby is Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, where you get to learn more of the beloved former ruler (who was born in the Garden City).
Liven things up by heading out to Hili Fun City. The family-oriented fun park has a whole host of rides that range from bumper cars and carousels to the white-knuckle Sky Flyer. After getting the adrenaline pumping, chill out over a picnic lunch - the leafy grounds are a perfect spot for relaxing during the hottest hours of the day.
UAE residents don’t need a visa to visit the Omani side of Al Ain. Cross the border at the Hili border post to explore the colourful Buraimi souk or venture out of the city to check out the ancient oasis villages of the surrounding countryside. For more tips on recommended routes, grab a copy of Explorer’s UAE Off-Road guide.
After crossing the border back into the UAE, take a fabulously scenic ride up to Jebel Hafeet. At 1,240 metres, the mountain towers above the city and the serpentine-like road up is regularly named as one of the world’s top drives by international car magazines. Go at sunset for the most amazing views or grab a table at the mountain-top Mercury Hotel (03 783 8888) for a memorable afternoon tea.
Pop over to Al Ain Wildlife Park to admire the rare white lions and tigers. The daily sunset bird show makes sure your Al Ain adventure draws to a close on a high note.
Once darkness falls, you have the option to either make your way back into Abu Dhabi or book into one of Al Ain’s classy resorts. Try Danat Al Ain (03 704 6000) or Al Ain Rotana (03 754 5111); both hotels feature beautifully manicured gardens and excellent leisure facilities, including pristine swimming pools so you can take a refreshing dip after the long day.
Afterwards, follow the locals’ lead and pop over to Danat resort’s Horse & Jockey Pub for a quick drink. Then tuck into some excellent Lebanese food at the Rotana’s Min Zaman. A fine selection of mezze and grilled mains is on offer and a belly dance show spices things up later on.