A one-and-a-half-hour drive from Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, home to the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – Al Ain Oasis. The city abounds in picturesque forts, including one of the UAE’s most historic buildings, Al Jahili Fort. The structure was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect its precious palm groves and plays 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 space 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 materials on the ruling family. Visitors can come and 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 peak looming over the city – via its picturesque winding highway. Rising 1,240 metres, this is the highest peak in the emirate and the UAE’s second-highest overall. Other attractions include the Al Ain oasis with its cool, shady walkways and 3,000-year-old falaj irrigation system, as well as the camel market – one of the last few remaining.
Al Ain is more than just a pretty place. This calm oasis is home to one of the UAE’s most important football clubs. In 2003 Al Ain FC became the first UAE side to win the AFC Champions League. The club went on to progress to the finals in 2005 and 2016. The club’s domestic record boasts a series of accolades which include 13 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 sporting venue. The stunning exterior design of the latter stadium, which will be one of the two host venues for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018, was inspired to resemble a palm tree trunk, an important symbol of the UAE’s heritage and culture.