Introduction

Al Ain is known as the green city because of greenery that you see, which is fairly uncommon for a desert area. You can take a tour with a tour operator to see Al Ain and other sites along the way and near Al Ain.

General Tips

There’s a few hotels in Al Ain, but not a whole lot. Most of them, including a Hilton and a Rotana are clustered near each other. Because Al Ain is on the border of the UAE and Oman, there are some (non-chain) hotels on the Oman side, but fewer than in the UAE side. I’m not sure of the entry and exit rules for Oman, so you’ll have to consider that if you’re thinking of staying on the Oman side of the border.

There are is also the Mercure Hotel on Jebel Hafeet. It’s very posh and has nice views, but can be available at decent rates. The only downside to it is lack of easy accessibility to food options outside of the hotel.
The roads to Al Ain from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai are pretty straightforward, and take roughly the same amount of time (about 90-120 min).

Most foreign tourists visit Al Ain via tour operators from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The tour operators for the Al Ain Tour vary slightly on where they take you. The one that I went on took us to a camel race track near Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Palace Museum, Al Ain National Museum, Al Ain Oasis, the camel market, Jebel Hafeet, and hot spring.
There’s some restaurants in Al Ain, but nowhere as much selection as Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Since I went on with a tour operator that included lunch, we were taken to the Rotana Hotel’s restaurant, where there was a lunch buffet.

For tour operators that don’t include lunch in their tour package or for tourists who are seeing Al Ain on their own - I believe the prices for lunch are no more than $15 (that’s on the high end of the spectrum).
Credit card acceptance is generally poor in Al Ain. You need cash for admissions to the sites that have entrance fees, though you can use a credit card for some lunch places.
The climate in Al Ain is pretty much like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but drier since there’s no large body of water nearby.
There’s not anything to add for Al Ain from the UAE’s Health and Safety section.
Overall, the tour was ok. I could have done without the Oasis and the hot spring (which was really just sulfuric water coming out of a pipe), but the best parts of the tour for me were the camel racing track and Jebel Hafeet, a mountain that lies partly in the UAE and partly in Oman.
Re-posted here, in case you didn't see the UAE page.

Local Laws and Customs

Though this country is one of the most progressive countries in the middle east, it’s still a traditional Islamic country and some laws must be followed strictly. This is most apparent during Ramadan, when everyone, including tourists, must abide by the “no food and no beverage” rules in public (they are lenient with people eating in the privacy of their own rooms, and perhaps in hotel lounges).

Other laws that should be observed in the UAE are dressing modestly in public, though some sites, especially religious sites, require more covering, and most importantly – not disparaging the royal family. The latter is severely punished, regardless of who you are or where you’re from.

Sites

Cost: N/A, but must be arranged and accompanied by tour guide.

Hours: Unsure

Time to spend: 45-60 minutes

Description:

The camel racing track is one of the tracks where owners have their camels practice for upcoming races. Camel racing, as it turns out, is a big sport in the Middle East, just as horse racing is in some places. It’s so big in fact that winners win cash (the amounts are undisclosed, but rumored to be quite substantial) and premium sports cars, like a Ferrari. When I was there, camels were practicing in groups that included young, older-than-baby camels. When I was there I didn’t see actual races because it wasn’t the season for races. I was there during practice season.

Verdict: Worth it.
Cost: Free.

Hours: 8:30AM to 7:30PM. Fridays: 3PM to 7:30PM. Closed Mondays.

Time to spend: 45-60 minutes

Description:

The Al Ain Palace was the home of Sheik Zayed and his family. This is the very same sheik who built the eponymous mosque (aka Grand Mosque) and the airport in Abu Dhabi. The sheik lived in this palace until 1966.

This palace is Bedouin and unlike anything I had seen before. Compared to the opulence that I had seen in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or anywhere else, this palace is small and simple, but that’s what made it all the more interesting. It was indicative of the sheik’s background – the palace is Bedouin, and that’s how the sheik grew up. What surprised me though was that the palace was able to hold the sheik’s large family – his mother, 6 wives, and his 38 children.

Verdict: Good to see.
Cost: AED 3 (AED 1 for children under 10).

Hours: 8:30AM to 7PM. Friday: 3PM to 7PM. Closed Monday.

Time to spend: 30-45 minutes.

Description:

This is the oldest museum in the UAE. It has historical and cultural artifacts of the UAE like jewelry, coins, weapons, and pottery. The museum has three sections: archaeology, ethnography, and gifts.

What I found remarkable from this museum was the pottery. They were just as old as the ancient Greek pottery – around 5,000 years old to be exact) – and yet they were in fantastic condition. If I recall correctly, these were found accidentally by utility workers when they were in the desert either surveying or digging for installation (can’t remember if it was water or electricity installation).

Verdict: Ok, but skippable if short on time.
Cost: Free.

Hours: 8:30AM to 7:30PM.

Time to spend: 20-30 minutes, with tour guide. Could be longer if you’re there on your own.

Description:

The Al Ain Oasis is one of seven oases in Al Ain. The oasis brings water to the date palm trees, and is diverted on a schedule to different sections of the date palm trees. The dates from the trees are collected once they’re ripe.

Verdict: Skippable, since there’s not a whole lot to see.
Cost: Free for general public. AED 30 for tour groups.

Hours: 6AM to 7PM.

Time to spend: 15-30 minutes.

Description:

This camel market is a market that doesn’t just sell camels – they sell other stock animals, like goats, cows.

Verdict: Skippable.
Cost: Free for general public. AED 30 for tour groups.

Hours: 6AM to 7PM.

Time to spend: 15-30 minutes.

Description:

Jebel Hafeet is a mountain near Al Ain that is halfway in UAE and Oman. The peak of the mountain is in UAE, and you can see Oman from there.

Verdict: Worth it – Don’t miss.
Cost: Free for general public.

Hours: N/A.

Time to spend: 15-30 minutes.

Description:

The park and hot spring is nearby Jebel Hafeet, where warm, sulfuric water comes out. In my opinion, calling it a hot spring was overstating it, since the water comes out of a pipe and creates a small stream, but the park was pretty.

Verdict: Skippable.

 

Gallery

 

(Trip made in November 2016)

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