Family fun and historic sites in Al Ain

Al Ain, the UAE’s “Oasis City” sits on the United Arab Emirates southern border with Oman and makes for a brilliant mix of outdoor adventures and cultural exploration.

Al Ain with Kids

Far more than just a stopping point on a Dubai to Muscat road trip, there is plenty to see and do in Al Ain on winter weekend break.

Sitting approximately 160kms from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is easily accessible by both private car and by public bus (although to get the most of everything we mention here, you will likely need your own vehicle, or consider a guided tour from one of the larger cities on a full day trip)..

Al Ain viewed from above Jebel Hafeet
View from Abu Dhabi’s highest point Jebel Hafeet over Al Ain

For anyone who complains that the big cities in the UAE lack culture and history, you are sure to see a different side of the country when you visit Al Ain.

In this post we will talk you through:

  • Fun places to take the kids (and all the family!) in Al Ain
  • Historical and cultural sites of Al Ain
  • How to get to Al Ain
  • When is it best to visit Al Ain
  • Where to stay in Al Ain

Explore Al Ain by map here


Family Fun in Al Ain

Al Ain makes the perfect big city escape for a weekend packed full of fun activities for the kids. Pack your sunscreen and hats as you’ll be getting a lot of fresh air and outdoor adventures!

Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort (Al Ain Zoo)

One of the absolute highlights of Al Ain for families has always been the zoo, and it keeps getting bigger and better!

It has recently renamed itself due to its expansion to include a safari (additional charges apply) as well as on-site lodgings. It is a spacious zoo, with (most) animals in keeping with the arid climate and plenty of hands-on opportunities.

The Al Ain Zoo is one of the best value family attractions in the UAE

Recent additions have seen a Children’s Discovery Garden with splash area and mini Falaj added, as well as the simply amazing Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre.

The SZDLC alone is worth a trip out to Al Ain and we highly encourage all UAE visitors to try and fit in a visit. It contains one of the best educational displays in the country explaining everything from geology to Bedouin life, falconry and pearl diving through to a sustainable future for the UAE.

Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre Al Ain Zoo
Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre inside Al Ain Zoo

Go early in the day, it can get super crowded by the afternoon. Cart services are available but they will disappear by late in the day and there are big distances to cover. It remains one of the UAE’s best value attractions too.

Adults 30AED, kids 10AED |Learn more at alainzoo.ae

Hili Fun City

Get ready to head into a theme park time-warp! Once billed as the”Disneyland of the GCC”, it’s probably a bit of a long shot description since the opening of the mega theme parks on Yas Island, however, if you like a flashback to 1985 and some cheap fair-style rides, there’s still a lot of fun to be had at Hili Fun City.

Old-style fairground rides at Hili Fun City

Entry 50AED all-inclusive (under 90cm free) | Open 4pm-10pm (possibly 12pm in winter TBC) – Closed Sunday & Ladies only Wednesday | Learn more at hilifuncity.ae

Wadi Adventure

Thrill-seekers big and small seek out the action at Wadi Adventure, an outdoor water sports park. You can try kayaking to white water rapids, ziplining to climbing walls. For younger children, there are splash areas and a beach to enjoy.

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Entry packages vary on activities or general admission, discounted rate under 1.2m, under 2yo FREE | Open Daily 11am to 7pm, beach 4pm-6.30pm | Learn more at wadiadventure.ae 

Jebel Hafeet

The highest point in Abu Dhabi emirate (second highest point in the UAE), it is well worth the 30 minutes or so drive up the incredibly steep and winding road to the peak at 1240m.

Jebel Hafeet Peak Al Ain
The peak of Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain

There are plenty of pull-over viewing points along the way (and some seriously dilapidated playparks, use at your peril). A small cafe at the top is sometimes open. From the top, on a clear day you are rewarded with breathtaking views over to Oman.

Green Mubazzarah

A hot spring oasis found at the foot of Jebel Hafeet. The greenery here is in stark contrast to the surrounding desert. Weekends here are very busy, as families come from Al Ain and the big cities, even from over the border in Oman to enjoy the parklands and dip their feet in the supposed healing waters.

There are some onsite cabins here as well if you fancy bringing a group and staying overnight.

Learn more about staying overnight in the Green Mubazzarah chalets

The Camel Market

To really get involved in the sites, smells and noise of Al Ain, a visit to the Al Ain Camel Market is bound to give your cultural taste buds a run for their money!

Tourists are permitted, but do ask permission before taking photographs and remember it’s a working market – but otherwise, get involved with the chaos and enjoy!

Entry Free (anyone touting a tour is looking for you to give some $$)


Want more camels?  For a true UAE cultural experience, you need to attend the Al Dhafra Festival held in Madinet Zayed, Western Region, each December, the highlight is a Camel Beauty contest – here’s our detailed guide to help you plan this experience of a lifetime in the UAE desert. 


Exploring Historic Al Ain

Al Ain is the country’s most historic city, which can be dated back some 5,000 years to the Neolithic Period.

In more recent years, it is the place of birth of the country’s founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nayhan and the UAE’s present ruler HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nayhan.

The combined sites of Al Ain Oasis, Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and the oases of Al Ain gained UNESCO World Heritage inscription in 2011 – we’ll look at each of these in more detail below, and what is actually easily accessible to visit.


Please bear in mind planning a trip to Al Ain, things can change! Museums and parks have been closed for unexplained reasons and no fixed timelines given for reopening! Advertised times aren’t always correct.


Al Ain Oasis

Almost compulsory for everyone who lives in the UAE to understand the way of life as it was for thousands of years. Restored and re-opened to the public in 2016, it’s one of seven oases in the city but the largest and most significant spread over 1200 hectares.

there are seven oases in Al Ain, the largest Al Ain Oasis in the centre of the city

The site includes more than 147,000 trees and a 3000-year-old falaj irrigation system  – a grid of waterways for channelling fresh clean water from off the mountains and into the oasis.

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The Al Ain Oasis Plaza includes restaurants and shops. You will also find the miniature Oasis which is an interactive display breaking down the workings of the oasis.

Entry Free. Open daily 9am to 6pm.  Shops and restaurants 12pm-9pm

Al Ain’s Museums

Al Ain’s claim to be the cultural capital of the UAE is supported by several museums that help piece together a picture of the UAE’s fascinating past. (Opening times correct at time of publishing but can be subject to seasonal changes and will likely differ during the Holy Month of Ramadan)

Al Ain Palace Museum

Al Ain Palace Museum

On the western side of Al Ain Oasis, you will come to Al Ain Palace, home of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nayhan and his wife HH Sheika Fatima Bint Mubarak until 1966, when they move to Abu Dhabi. 

The Palace has been restored and turned into a museum of the Al Nahyan families history, delving further into Sheikh Zayed’s personal and political life. It gives you a good taste of what Bedouin life was like before the discovery of oil. 

Entry Free. Open daily Sat-Thu 8.30am-7.30pm; Fri 3pm-7.30pm

Qasr al Muwaiji

Birthplace of current UAE leader, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, this newly restored building takes you on a tour through the family home and more of the country’s recent history. There are monthly Family Day workshops held and free activity guides for kids to try and make this a more interactive experience.

Entry Free. Open Tue-Thu, Sat 9am-7pm; Fri 3pm-7pm. Closed Sunday-Monday

Al Jahili Fort

Al Jahili Fort is one of Al Ain’s most notable landmarks

Perhaps one of the UAE’s better-recognised landmarks, the Al Jahili Fort, constructed in 1891 and lovingly restored gives you a glimpse into the UAE’s desert and military past. It has also previously served as the royal family’s summer residence. 

There’s a permanent exhibit showing the works of acclaimed traveller and photographer Wilfred Thesiger from his journey’s through the Arabian Peninsular in the 1940’s, as well as temporary exhibits.

Entry Free. Open daily Tue-Thu & Sat-Sun 9am-5pm; Fri 3pm-9pm. Closed Monday’s

Al Ain National Museum

{Currently Closed For Refurbishment – No known re-opening date}

Al Ain Museum near the Al Ain Oasis is where you will find archaeological artefacts dating back to the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. You will also see more exploration into the traditions and cultures of the Emirati people – not huge but a great insight into the way life was, with the few physical artefacts the Bedouin people had.

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Entry 3AED adults, 1AED kids. Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-7pm; Fri 3pm-7pm

Jebel Hafeet Bee Hive Tombs

Based at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, these prehistoric tombs are thought to be over 4000 years old.

They form part of the Al Ain UNESCO sites. and can be viewed without restriction, though of course, appreciation for the age and importance of the site. 2WD accessible for most, though be careful after bad weather the tracks can wash away.

Hili Archaeological Park

This outdoor museum is the most accessible of Al Ain’s historic sites, though the most important of artefacts have already been moved to the Al Ain Museum, where you will also find the detailed explanations, there is no real explanations in the park but you can see the ancient walls.

The archaeological park is open only limited hours in the afternoon and evening and is more so used by picnicking families.

Entry Free | Open Daily 4pm to 11pm

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Grand Mosque

A much newer addition to Al Ain, and still yet to open to the public is the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Grand Mosque – or Skeikh Khalifa Mosque.  It stands on the same grand scale as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and when complete will house 20,000 worshippers. 

The completion date for this dramatic new opening keeps moving. It is unclear as yet whether it will be open for non-Muslims to tour inside.

We will update here when we learn more.

Souk Al Qattra

This historic souk in the Al Qattarah area of Al Ain has been restored and now includes an arts centre, as well as the restored Al Qattara Fort. 

This is the place to come if you would like to see traditional cultural events such as Ayla commonly called “stick dancing”. You will also find here a handicrafts market where local crafters can be seen in action and the opportunity to try Middle East delicacies.

Free Entry. Open Thu, Fri & Sat evenings October to May


Have you joined our family-travel chat group Family Travel in the Middle East?  A great way to connect and share ideas with other parents keen to explore the region


How to get to Al Ain

Al Ain sits 160km south of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Oman Border.

The easiest way to get to Al Ain is in a private motor vehicle, though there are also public transport options. From Abu Dhabi you can take the X90 bus from Abu Dhabi Central Station, or from Dubai, since April 2019 Route 201 operates from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira.

We have a detailed guide on how to get to Al Ain from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi here.

There are large, fast freeways that take you between the major cities of the UAE and Al Ain

Anyone attempting to self-drive, be aware of very fast-moving traffic, and the roads leading into Al Ain can be susceptible to fog.

If you’d prefer the private tour and driver option, here is a selection available with our preferred provider, Get Your Guide:


When to visit Al Ain

Like much of the UAE, it’s hot pretty much year-round – despite being described as an Oasis City! 

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It does have some redeeming features in the hotter months though such as Green Muffazah and the Oases, as well as less humidity which make it moderately cooler than being on the coast.

The best time to visit remains over the cooler winter months from late October through to April.

As mentioned above, be aware in winter of fog that can hang around until as late as lunchtime before it burns off. You will get the best views from Jebel Hafeet at sunset.

Due to museum opening times, if you are visiting for more of the culture and history avoid Monday’s as many places will be shut. Friday prayers are also strictly observed with many attractions and businesses shut until late in the day Friday.


Where to stay in Al Ain

There are several fairly reasonably priced resorts and hotels based in Al Ain, albeit not as shiny and modern as their coastal counterparts!

Family Fun close to town – Al Ain Rotana Hotel

Rotana is highly rated, in an excellent central location and provides large rooms perfect for families, including interconnecting rooms. On-site, they also have several dining options including Trader Vics making this one of our central Al Ain favourite.

Check Prices on Booking.Com | Compare search prices on Hotels Combined

Al Ain Rotana

Amazing views on top of Jebel Hafeet – the Mecure Grand Jebel Hafeet

The only hotel on Jebel Hafeet the Mecure commands some spectacular views over Al Ain.

Check Prices on Booking.Com | Compare search prices on Hotels Combined

Resort life in Al Ain – Danat

Danat Al Ain is a good old family favourite, known for its extensive choice of restaurants and leisure facilities.

Check Prices on Booking.Com | Compare search prices on Hotels Combined

Luxury Desert Resort  – Telal Resort

If you are happy to stay a little bit out of town, a not to miss experience is staying at Telal Resort. Maybe best for the romantic retreat rather than the kids as this one is pure tranquillity.

Check Prices on Booking.Com | Compare search prices on Hotels Combined


Further Reading on the UAE

Before you go, check out these guides to family fun and visitor information for the United Arab Emirates.


 

Al Ain Oasis City

Have you been to Al Ain? Are there any more family-friendly venues or secret cultural gems you would recommend are worth a visit? 

This post has been adapted and updated from an original guide to Al Ain published on Our Globetrotters family travel blog in October 2018. All information used with permission.

This post is no way sponsored by any of the attractions or hotels mentioned. This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase via one of our links we may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. You can read our full website terms of use here.

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