A one and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, and contains the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country – Al Ain Oasis. The city abounds in picturesque forts. One of the UAE’s most historic buildings, Al Jahili Fort was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect precious palm groves and is home to a permanent exhibition of the work of British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger and his 1940s crossings of the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert. The redeveloped Al Qattara Fort is now home to an arts centre and gallery, offering hundreds of modern exhibits within its walls and with spaces for a variety of workshops – from pottery and painting to music and calligraphy. The former home of the late UAE founder, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Al Ain Palace Museum houses a large collection of material about the ruling family. Visitors can tour the private rooms and gardens once occupied by the ‘Father of the Nation’. For stunning views of the city, drive, take a cab or, if you have the stamina, cycle to the top of Jebel Hafeet – a rocky height dominating the city – via a winding highway. Rising 1,240 metres, this is the emirate’s highest peak, and the UAE’s second. Other attractions include the Al Ain oasis with its cool, shady walkways and a 3,000-year-old falaj irrigation system, and the camel market – one of the last few remaining.
Al Ain is more than just a pretty place. This calm oasis has lent its name to one of UAE’s most important football clubs. In 2003 Al Ain Football Club became the first UAE side to win the AFC Champions League. The club went on to progress to the final in 2005 and 2016. The club’s domestic record boasts a series of accolades which include 12 Arabian Gulf League titles.
Despite its relatively small size, this passionate city boasts three football arenas: Tahnoun Bin Mohamed Stadium; Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, one of the venues for the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003 and Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, the city’s largest stadium. The stunning exterior design of the latter stadium, which will be one of the two host venues for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017, was inspired by the trunk of the palm tree, an important symbol of the UAE’s heritage and culture.