Time Out takes a look at things to do in Al Ain, including car museums, Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain Zoo, shooting clubs and more
Just under two hours’ drive from busy Dubai Marina lies the greenest place in the UAE – and one you’ve probably never even seen.
Not boasting the coastal location of the likes of Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah, nor status as an emirate, the flourishing city of Al Ain is often forgotten by residents scanning the web in search of a staycation. Part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, this tranquil expanse of desert hosts an abundance of attractions beyond its pretty flowers and innumerable roundabouts. Dubbed The Garden City, Al Ain – which means “the spring” – is neatly filled with oases, gardens, amusement parks, exotic animals, museums and world-class sports facilities.
Here’s one for the petrolheads. Al Ain Classic Car Museum is home to a 2,000sqm air-conditioned unit that houses hundreds of vintage cars. These magnificent machines come from a wide range of manufacturers and previous owners have driven them across the world. When the collection first started in 2009, it was merely a tent with a handful of cars. Now, in its Al Fayda location, it features some incredible vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Mercedes, Ford and much more. There is also a restoration workshop, while the venue is the HQ of the Abu Dhabi Classic Car Club. Dhs5 (adults), free (kids under five).
Since it opened in September 2007, Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club has provided Al Ain residents and visitors the chance to enjoy its equestrian lessons, shooting, rugby and 18-hole and nine-hole golf courses. But that’s not all. The club also offers many activities to keep the whole family entertained, including outdoor pools, a gym, football pitches, beauty salon, tennis and basketball courts and even a climbing wall. And if it’s the shooting that really appeals to you, you’ll be glad to know the club is considered one of the UAE’s best in terms of Olympic and International Shooting Sport Federation standards. It’s perfect for beginners, corporate groups and experienced shooters alike thanks to its wide range of facilities, including a 25m pistol range, 50m rifle range and 10m air pistol and rifle ranges. Each of these is equipped with an electronic scoring system so you can challenge your pals and see the scores rack up. There are also four ranges for the clay shooting disciplines of skeet, trap and double trap. Pull! Prices and times vary.
You may think the sweltering heat has caused a mirage, but the Al Ain Oasis is certainly not a trick of the eye. It is one of several in the city and is located centrally, with eight entrances dotted around the 3,000 acres of land. Inside, you’ll be able to saunter around the walkways that are pleasantly shaded thanks to the palm trees – all 147,000 of them. There are almost 100 different varieties of date palm in the oasis, which are set out among the falaj irrigation system – a 3,000-year-old technique employed by the local population. So let the rustle of the palm fronds and trickle of the falaj waters distract you from the buzz of the city centre. Free.
If you’re craving some culture, Al Ain will have that box ticked in no time. There are a couple of museums here, with Al Ain Palace being a major draw for any visitor. Why? Well, it used to be home to the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the UAE, of course. The beautiful property, built in 1937, was once a political and social hub for local inhabitants. In 1998 it underwent renovations before finally becoming a museum in 2001. The venue is now open to the public and houses an impressive collection of material, giving visitors a greater insight into the ruling family’s history. You’ll be able to tour private gardens and even rooms that were once occupied by the ruling family. It’s a place you simply can’t afford to miss. Free.
Who’d have thought this peaceful city was ready to burn some rubber? Al Ain Raceway is a state-of-the-art karting facility with a fully floodlit circuit. It has several distinctive configurations, giving all drivers an exhilarating challenge, whatever your ability. The venue offers a range of experiences for both corporate and casual guests, including the Arrive and Drive experience, junior driving and tuition, as well as professional racing. If you’re really into this mini-motor madness, there are karts for sale if you fancy becoming the next world champ. The raceway is located about 20 minutes south east of the city centre and re-opens on Wednesday August 31 having closed for the summer.
Set near the base of Jebel Hafeet is where you’ll find a large collection of fascinating animals in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitats. And when we say large, we’re talking more than 4,000 animals, with at least 30 percent of its 180 species considered endangered. Along with plenty of green space for picnics, there are playgrounds, a cafeteria and a train tour of the wildlife area, making it a perfect day out for the whole family. For those wanting a more interactive experience, you can enjoy feeding giraffes treats such as carrots and lettuce five times daily. Plus the Elezba petting zoo, designed in the style of a local farm, lets families feed and play with sheep, goats, camels, llamas (watch out for the spitting), chickens and ducks. You can even take a ride on one of the camels. However, this attraction is so much more than just a zoo. The park’s new Al Ain Safari experience is destined to be one of the world’s largest man-made African-style safaris, with a range of native African animals and plant species, all of which you can learn more about thanks to the expert guides who will join you during the experience. Dhs30 (adults), Dhs10 (kids three-12), more packages available.
Arguably the most iconic building in Al Ain is Al Jahili Fort. It’s definitely a spot for shutterbugs as the sunsets make the perfect backdrop in which to capture the structure, which was built back in 1891. Initially, it was designed to defend the city and protect the palm groves, which were a key export for the local people. The fort is also the former headquarters of the Oman Trucial Scouts, the force that protected the regional mountain passes and kept inter-tribal peace. Since then, it has undergone several restoration periods and now houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, affectionately referred to locally as Mubarak Bin London. Thesiger was known for crossing the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter desert area) in the 1940s.
The UAE boasts some spectacular terrain, with Jebel Hafeet being one of the most popular landmarks in The Garden City. It is the second highest peak in the UAE, rising 1,240m and formed from craggy limestone. Most of its visitors take the drive up to its peak, although some fitness fans choose to cycle or even run up the 11km of winding road to reach the summit. But once you’re at the top, you’ll be breathless either way thanks to the stunning views of Al Ain city and Oman over the border. At the peak, you’ll find a small café that sells refreshments and light snacks to help you refuel before your descent. The area is also home to the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Hotel, an upmarket four-star venue 3km from the mountain itself. The silence and views go hand in hand, making this a peaceful stay for any family or couple. Archaeologists are also drawn to Jebel Hafeet and over the years they have discovered more than 500 burial tombs in its foothills, some of which date back 5,000 years or more, while the unearthing of fossils keeps adding to the area’s intrigue.
This amazing structure is both pleasing to the eye as well as having a history that makes it an enthralling place to visit. The birthplace of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, Qasr Al Muwaiji is now open to the public as a museum with a permanent exhibition. It was built in the early 20th century and originally used as a diwan (a council) and as a place for the community to gather. In 1946 the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the UAE, converted the diwan into his family home. Today, an exhibition housed in a glass-walled construction in the Qasr’s courtyard tells visitors about the creation of the fort, its inhabitants and the restoration process that has returned it to its former glory. Tours are available for individuals and groups.
An amusement park with family rollercoasters and gentle rides for little ones, plus an amphitheatre, 3D action cinema and a range of attractions for teenagers. Dhs200 (annual pass per person) Dhs1,000 (annual family pass for six people) Dhs100 (lady’s annual pass – valid on Wednesdays only). Daily rates, Dhs50 (Wed-Sat) Dhs45 (Mon-Tues) and Wednesday is ladies only day.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has recognised Al Ain as a World Heritage Site. This means locations across the city, including the six oases, archaeological sites, buildings, palaces and tombs are to be preserved and maintained to a Unesco standard. For a taste of what to expect, you can take a 360-degree virtual tour around the Hafeet Tombs that date back to 2,500 BC at www.visitabudhabi.ae.
An ideal day out for family, friends and groups, Wadi Adventure is located at the base of the picturesque Jebel Hafeet mountains and surrounds the hot water springs. With the most unique adventure-based water sport activities around, there’s just so much to do here.
With everything that the state-of-the-art facility has to offer, all you need to bring is a sense of adventure and you’re sure to head home with an experience to be reckoned with. But, it’s not all about thrills and spills – you can cool off and relax here, too. This is what you can expect from the park’s myriad attractions...
1 Jump into a raft and speed down the longest man-made white water channels in the world. This activity is usually the highlight of the day for most thrill-seekers. You never know what the water is going to do, so each time you go around the channel, it’s a new experience. You may even think the boat is about to flip over, but you’re always in safe hands. If you’re a complete novice at this sport, don’t worry, it requires no previous experience or skill. There are three white water channels, each providing a different thrill factor to cater to all levels of rafters. So there’s no fear… kind of! Dhs100 for a one-hour session.
2 Go for a refreshing splash in the pool or relax at the open beach lounge. The family pool and kids’ splash area are available throughout the day and are the perfect spots to cool off in and soak up the sun. During specific hours of the day, the world-famous surf pool is open for swimming sessions, while the beach area is near the surf park and family swimming pool. There’s no actual sand as it interferes with the filtration systems, but there are plenty of shade structures and beach loungers. Dhs50 for adults; Dhs25 for kids (below 1.2m in height). The price includes admission to the family pool, open beach and kids’ splash area.
3 Challenge yourself at the airpark and take a trip down the zip line. Each level of the airpark obstacle course takes about 20 minutes to complete. The high ropes course is an adventure challenge in which you are suspended 20m in the air. The goal is to navigate different elements such as stepping stones and rolling logs. There’s also a very popular giant swing. Once released, you feel a sense of weightlessness and then lots of speed, as you whizz through the air like Tarzan to the other side. Don’t forget to unleash your infamous jungle roar! Meanwhile, a zip line crosses from one side of the park to the other. The cable is suspended about 20m above ground level and stretches out over an open area of 200m. It’s exhilarating to be flying through the air and eyeing up the scenery below. Live for the moment. Dhs50 for a one-hour session.
4 If you’d rather hit the water on your own, then grab a paddle. Kayaking is a great experience, paddling along, observing the landscape and letting your worries melt away. With the longest combined channels in the world, you can go from the easy class one to the very challenging class three-plus, all in the manageable confines of the conveyor access channels. If you’d rather take a few lessons first, then there are instructors to take you through all the basics to get you on your way. All equipment is included in the class and all you need is your swimsuit and a pair of shoes. Dhs150 for an all-day pass.
5 Head to the surf pool and start riding the waves. Unlike learning to surf in the sea, Wadi Adventure will tailor the size of the waves to your skill level. This allows you to develop at a much faster pace than you would in the ocean, at the whim of the natural elements. As you grow in confidence, so will the waves – they can reach up to 3m. Take a lesson with one of the experienced surf instructors in the largest surf pool in the world, or hire the whole thing and keep the perfect break all to yourself. With state-of-the-art Wave Pool technology, there are waves for every level of surfer – from small, rolling waves for beginners to 3m-plus lefts, rights, A-Frames and close-outs. Don’t worry about the jargon, you’ll learn as you go along. Dhs150 for a 55-minute session.
6 Wadi Adventure has the infrastructure to host world-class events such as the upcoming World Rafting Championship. For the first time in the sport’s history, the championships will take place here in the UAE. The World Rafting Championship is an R4-level competition open to four-man rafts covering sprint, head-to-head, slalom and downriver rafting disciplines. Enjoy the entertainment, visit the food festival and leave little ones at the kids’ zone, while you watch 86 teams from 28 different countries battling it out to be crowned world champions. Free. Nov 1-5. 8am-5pm. www.wadiadventure.ae/wrc2016.
7 Jump, grind, flip and ski your way through Wadi Adventure’s newest attraction, the cable wake park. Experience the thrills of wakeboarding, knee boarding and skiing in a safe and controlled environment. There are more than 350 metres of running cable, two unique features and you can reach speeds of up to 45km/h. The wake park is a fun experience for all ages and levels, and there are lessons available too, for those who would like to learn a new skill. Passes are sold per hour for up to eight people and all safety equipment and boards are provided. Dhs50 for a 30-minute session of wakeboarding.
8 Get face-to-face with the climbing wall. At 13 metres high and with seven colour-coded routes to choose from, this vertical wall has something to challenge every level of climber. The wall uses an auto belay system, which helps climbers to easily move down at any point of the climb. It’s an ideal activity for anyone looking to stretch their mental and physical powers. Dhs30 for a 20-minute session.
9 Don’t forget to replenish your energy with food and drinks. There are plenty of food and beverage outlets to cater to everyone’s tastes. Enjoy a range of menu options, from finely plated international dishes to hotdogs and fries and freshly made smoothies and milkshakes. Restaurants include the Surf Café, Tiki Hut, Rafter’s Grill and Mango Mango. Opening daily 11am-8pm.
10 All types of groups are catered for here. Whether you are planning a private party, a business pow-wow or an exciting day out of the office, there’s a package to suit your needs. The versatile events space at Wadi Adventure provides a completely unique centre for your chosen events. With picturesque Jebel Hafeet as a backdrop, the Summit Events Centre is perfect for business lunches, corporate meetings or social events. All event planning, catering and the provision of all audio and visual equipment are done in-house, so you’ll have a hassle-free time. Wadi Adventure is also the perfect place to host a children’s birthday party. With activities for children both young and old, and customisable party menus, it’s a great destination for little ones celebrating their big day. And they’re sure to burn some energy through all the activities. Open daily Sat-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri 10am-8pm. The Open Beach is open daily Sat-Thu 1pm-2pm 5pm-7pm; Fri 2pm-7pm. Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain (03 781 8422).
All about Wadi Adventure
3 The number of world-class white water and kayaking runs with a combined length of 1.1km with grade3+ rapids.
350m The length of the wakeboard running cable.
130,000m2 The total size of the park. 2.4 million gallons The total volume of water.
If you’re not planning a trip until later in the year, you’ll be able to experience an age-old shopping trip to Souq Al Qattara. This was essentially a mid-20th century shopping centre, founded by the late Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former Ruler of Abu Dhabi. It has been renovated and is open for business from October to May on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This market was introduced to encourage local families to promote and preserve Abu Dhabi’s traditions. Expect to see plenty of handicrafts, artworks and more in the 30 internal and 20 external shops. The souk is connected to Al Qattara Fort, also known as the Al Qattara Arts Centre. Organised by TCA Abu Dhabi, the arts centre was originally designed to be a place for Emiratis to immerse themselves in cultural and creative studies, but has since become a space for all Al Ain residents and visitors to enjoy. There are also workshops, a café and a library to check out. Prices vary.