Chill out in Al Ain, literally. An hour-and-a-half outside of Dubai, Al Ain features natural mineral springs and culture in abundance. The city has a much lower humidity level than the rest of the UAE, due to its altitude and lush vegetation, so it’s an ideal getaway in the scorching summer months (maybe something to bear in mind for next year?).
Often referred to as ‘The Garden City’, Al Ain offers a quick and easy escape from the intense Dubai heat. The area will be of particular interest if you want to help your children learn more about the history of the UAE. The city features the Al Ain National Museum, the Al Ain Palace Museum, several restored forts and the Hili archaeological site, where artifacts from the Bronze Age were preserved and are now on display in the National Museum.
The Al Ain Palace Museum dates back to 1937, and the building is actually the former home of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who accomplished so much and modernised a state in so little time. This museum tells his story and reveals what palace life was like.
Another experience to be indulged in is the camel market, where you can see the iconic animals of the UAE and the hustle and bustle of local traders (take the Zayed bin Sultan Road out of Al Ain town to the industrial area, then turn left off the Zayed bin Sultan Road and go straight at the roundabout). For more animal fun, there’s the Al Ain Zoo – the biggest zoo in the Middle East – with an aquarium building, reptile house, crocodiles and monkeys. Facilities include children’s playgrounds and a train to take you around the park – and it only costs Dhs5 to get in.
There’s also the Hili Fun City ‘theme park’, with basic rides and entertainment, or, for a more relaxing stay, just wander around Al Ain’s parks and stop off at one of the many cafés. And when you’ve finished with the town, head to Jebel Hafeet to see what the emirates look like from 1,300m up in the clouds.
Al Ain Mall
The mall is quite small compared to those in Dubai. Still, there are plenty of high street shops, including Paris Gallery, Splash, The Baby Shop, Next and Salam. Children can be kept entertained on the ice rink, and Starbucks and Second Cup are on- site if you need a break from the ambling and shopping.
Al Falaheya Street (03 766 0333). Open Sat-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri 10am-1am.
Al Ain Museum
The museum is split into two sections, ethnography and archaeology. Exhibits include jewellery, photographs, agricultural tools and weapons, such as Stone Age arrows.
Centre of town, near the bus station (03 764 1595). Open Sat-Thu 8am-7.30pm; Fri 3pm-7.30pm; closed Mondays. Admission Dhs3.
Al Ain Palace Museum
The palace is Sheikh Zayed’s former private residence.
Centre of town, near the bus station (03 751 7755). Open Sat-Thu 8am-7.30pm, Fri 3pm-7.30pm; closed Mondays. Admission Free.
Al Ain Zoo
The animals include ostriches, crocodiles, tigers, pumas, oryxes and various species of bird. There’s a daily bird show at 7.30pm.
(03 782 0121) Open 4pm-10pm daily. Admission Dhs15 adults, Dhs5 kids.
A visit should be top of your Al Ain tourist list and costs nothing. These days, it’s not just 4x4s climbing to the top; it’s also a popular route for anyone on a motorbike, or super-fit cyclists.