Watch: A scenic tour of Garden City, Al Ain's many cultural wonders
What Ain wonderful world…
It doesn’t take much digging to uncover Abu Dhabi’s cultural bones. The emirate is a fascinating treasure cache of museums, monuments, heritage sites, archaeological excavations, galleries, religious centres, craft communes, sculpture, art installations and culture districts.
And at the heart of it all, is ‘the Garden of Abu Dhabi’ — Al Ain. In a new video created by Abu Dhabi Culture, we get to see some of these wonders in a spectacular new light.
تراثنا يربطنا بماضينا، وتقاليدنا ترسم لنا حاضرنا.
زوروا المواقع الثقافية في العين- المدينة التي تربط الماضي بالحاضر، في تناغمٍ نابضٍ بالعراقة. من الواحات والأفلاج إلى الحرف اليدوية التقليدية. تجسّد مدينة العين تقاليدنا، تحتفي بإرث أجدادنا.. وتحتضن مستقبلنا.
— Abu Dhabi Culture (@AbuDhabiCulture) May 5, 2023
If you’d like to find out a little more about Al Ain’s cultural credentials, and get some green on your ‘Gram the What’s On walking tour is about to depart. Please keep your eyes inside the margins, and the noise down to a whisper, off we go…
Al Ain Camel Market
You’ll find this dromedary expo about 15 minutes outside of downtown Al Ain. The camel is of central importance to the UAE story, and their trade still takes place in these bustling market places today. Lucky guests might get the opportunity to see camels flexing their A-game in demonstrations of racing pedigree. You’ll have to brave some pretty formidable scents, but it’s rare to find examples of traditional Middle Eastern life, this authentic and open to the public. It also affords a perhaps unmatched opportunity to catch a candid camel selfie.
Al Ain, daily 6am to 7pm (although most of the trading happens first thing). visitabudhabi.ae
Al Ain Oasis
This 1,200-hectare desert oasis is found in the middle of Al Ain and attained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011. It contains more than 147,000 date palms, trees bearing mangos, oranges, bananas, figs and jujube. With its whimsical shaded pathways beneath fractal canopies it’s a place that provides a shuddering contrast to the urban jungle of Abu Dhabi’s cityscape. If you fancy a trek round it, you can also swing by the Eastern Fort on the edge of the property, it was completed around 1910 by the late Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed. There’s also an Eco-Centre that offers insight into the conservation efforts at the oasis, and a look back at its history.
Al Ain, open daily 9am to 5pm. Tel: (03) 711 8251, take a virtual tour at visitabudhabi.ae
Al Ain Palace Museum
This re-instated fort was once home to the Founding Father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who lived here before moving to Abu Dhabi in 1966. The bedouin-style structure houses a culturally immersive experience of life in the emirate before the discovery of oil, exhibits that give insights into the origin story of the Founding Father, and a room devoted to the Holy Quran including teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), inscribed on the ceiling.
Al Ain, open daily 10am to 6pm, free. Tel: (03) 711 8388, visitabudhabi.ae
Al Jahili Fort
Home to exhibitions, surrounded by lush gardens and representing an entrancing architectural aesthetic, this Al Ain fort won a Terra Award for Internal Design and Layout in 2016. It was originally built at the end of the 19th century, on the orders of the ruling Al Nahyan family. There’s currently one permanent exhibition running at the fort, a celebration of the adventures of Sir Wilfred Thesiger (also known as Mubarak bin Landan, ‘Blessed One of London’), who made multiple crossings of the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali), in the 1940s.
Al Ain, open daily 10am to 6pm (Fri 2pm to 6pm), free. Tel: (03) 711 8311, visitabudhabi.ae
Al Qattara Arts Centre
Housed in a traditional mud-brick ‘BinʿAti Al-Darmaki’ tower house, the mission of this Al Ain-baed arts centre is to both provide a stage for the creative works of locally-based talent, and a place to create it. Inside you’ll find art, archaeological and heritage exhibits; studios for music, handicrafts, drawing and painting; workshopping space; a digital room for photography; and a Calligraphy Studio. In addition to the busy itinerary of classes, there are also ongoing cultural exhibitions.
Al Ain, open daily 8am to 8pm (closed Fri), free. Tel: (03) 761 8080, abudhabiculture.ae
Bait Mohammed bin Khalifa
Once the home of the late Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, father-in-law to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE — Bait Mohammed bin Khalifa has been renovated and transformed into a cultural community centre in Al Ain. Its new role, as well as preserving an important artefact of heritage, is to provide a space for community arts, crafts and creativity. *Curtain Drop* An integral element of the centre’s identity, Al Ain Theatre has established a permanent hub at Bait Mohammed bin Khalifa, offering authentic artistic and cultural events such as festivals, courses and workshops.
Al Ain, daily 10am to 8pm (Fri 2pm to 10pm), free. Tel: (03) 118335, baitmohammedbinkhalifa.ae
Hili Archeological Park
This site contains the largest collection of tombs and buildings from the Bronze and Iron Ages, found in the UAE. Visitors can see structures from an early agricultural settlement, with roots in the region’s past as far back as 3,000 BCE.
Al Ain, daily 9.30am to 6.30pm. Tel: (02) 666 4442, abudhabiculture.ae
Jebel Hafeet Tombs
Another important archaeological site in Abu Dhabi, these 5,000 year old tombs date from the very dawn of the Bronze Age. This necropolis is home to 500 or so rocky coffins, each made from mounds of unworked stone. Within the grounds of the tombs, several objects of interest were excavated, including ceramic vessels and items forged from copper. One of the best ways to learn about and experience these tombs is by joining up with a guided tour from the nearby Jebel Hafit Desert Park.
Al Ain. Tel: (03) 711 8362. jebelhafitdesertpark.com,
Qasr Al Muwaiji
The permanent exhibition at Al Ain Palace, Qasr Al Muwaiji is housed in a gorgeous glass building in the main site’s courtyard. Here you’ll be told the origin story of the palace and its most famous former resident, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The visionary Sheikh was born and raised in Qasr Al Muwaiji, which makes this very special location the perfect place for illuminating the life of the great man.
Al Ain, Khalifa bin Zayed Street, closed Mon, Fri 3pm to 7pm, all other days 9am to 7pm. Tel: (03) 767 4444, @qasralmuwaiji