UAE – Al Ain
Al Ain means “The Water Spring” in Arabic and, once you get there, it is easy to understand why: the city grew into an oasis that was initially a plantation of dates. Also known as the Garden City, Al Ain encompasses as much greenery as one can expect to find outside the desert, with a number of parks and oases and a specific concern of the authorities to highlight this green status. Among their methods is the limitation of buildings’ height to a maximum of seven floors.
Al Ain is 140 km from Abu Dhabi (it is also the second largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi) and 100 km from Dubai. Flying into either of these two cities makes more sense than flying directly to Al Ain, because there is a much more diverse choice of airlines from which to pick an advantageous option. From either cities, regular buses, clean and with air conditioned, take about 2 hours to Al Ain and cost anywhere from $2.70 to $6.
What to see
Touring some of the forts is definitely a way to spend the day, especially since the architecture has many interesting features that combine traditional military structures with ornaments specific of Arab palaces. Among the most interesting once are Fort Jahili (occasionally hosting open air concerts and the Al Ain Classics Chamber Music Festival), Fort Murabba and Fort Mujairib.
Be sure not to miss the Al Ain National Museum, which is the oldest museum in the UAE. The two sections of the museum, ethnographical and archaeological, contain spectacular displays, including a display of weapons and jewelry and a reconstruction of a traditional reception area. Specific sections are dedicated to some of the local activities, including fishing and pearl diving.
The Al Ain Palace Museum was the residence of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of UAE and one of the prominent founders of the state, between 1937 and 1966. Among the things you can visit are the reception room, where the sheikh welcomed foreign visitors, and the bed that he shared with his wife, as well as a wide range of paintings representing the sheikh and his family.
The zoo in Al Ain is also an interesting stop: it is quite large and has a wide diversity of animals.
Beyond these visiting recommendations, enjoy the particularities of Al Ain as an Arab oasis and try to taste as much of the atmosphere as possible, including the local food that abounds in vegetarian and bean-based dishes.