Family daytrips to Al Ain
Take a break from Dubai in a green city only 90 minutes away Discuss this article
Known as the ‘garden city’, Al Ain is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Abu Dhabi to enjoy some fresh air, blue skies and plenty of greenery. Just a 60-minute drive from the capital, it’s a great day out for families, with heaps of fun and well-maintained activities to try – from the wildlife park to Hili Fun City – not to mention plenty of wonderful historical forts to explore.
7.30am Let’s go!
Time to set off. From Abu Dhabi, it’s pretty much straight all the way once you get on the Al Ain Road. Once you get to Al Ain, tourist attractions are well signposted, so you’ll have no problem finding your way around.
9.00am Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo
Al Ain’s attractions open bright and early, so start the day at the famous Al Ain Zoo and Wildlife Park (open from 9am to 8pm, www.alainzoo.ae, 03 782 8188), to make sure that you catch the animals before they get sleepy in the midday sun. Known for its conservation efforts, Al Ain Zoo is also a super cheap family day out, costing Dhs15 each for mum and dad, Dhs5 for kids aged three to 12 and free of charge for kids under three. There’s heaps to do and see, so you’ll want to spend a good few hours roaming the enclosures (but there’s also plenty of park areas and kids’ adventure playgrounds, should your own little monkeys need to run off any energy). Don’t miss a visit to the rare white lions, as well as the new, state of the art hippo enclosure, or try the giraffe feeding station (you can buy tickets to feed them at the nearby kiosk). The new petting zoo, Elezba, is laid out like a local farm, with all manner of goats, chickens, camels, llamas, rabbits and a Shetland pony to get up close to. You can buy feed at the food and drinks kiosk near the entrance to the farm.
12.00pm Lunch time
After a thorough hand washing session, it’s time for lunch. Seeing as you’re still at the zoo, why not try their recently refurbished Zarafa Café, which has plenty of pizzas, salads, fast food and sandwiches to choose from. Alternatively, there are lots of kiosks serving the basics dotted around, so if weather permits, enjoy an al fresco lunch in one of the wildlife park’s many picnic areas.
1.00pm Explore the fort
After lunch, head back to town to check out Al Jahili Fort, one of Al Ain’s largest castles, which was built in the late 19th century and was used as a royal summer retreat by sheikhs and their families. Restored to its former glory back in 2008, it’s often used for cultural exhibitions and classical concerts, plus there’s a shop, small café and a visitors’ centre to browse. Al Jahili Fort is generally open from 9am to 5pm, but be aware that it’s closed on Mondays and has reduced opening hours (3pm to 5pm), on a Friday.
2.30pm Discover the city’s history
From the fort, it’s a short hop to see Al Ain National Museum (email firstname.lastname@example.org, 03 764 1595), the oldest museum in the UAE, which was built under the direction of Sheikh Zayed. Next to the Eastern Fort (which was once home to Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s family), it’s a great way to find out more about the emirates’ origins, with Stone Age archaeological finds from Al Ain’s earliest inhabitants, eight millennia ago, to black and white photos from the 1960s. Entrance costs just Dhs3 for grown ups, while kids under ten are Dhs1.
4.00pm Time for a break
If your feet are getting weary it’s time for a rest. Head back out of town, to the foot of the Jebel Hafeet mountain. Here you’ll find Green Mubazzarah, a vast public park that covers 1.6 million square metres.
It’s also home to natural hot springs, with four pools to unwind in, so don’t forget those swimming costumes (men and women swim separately). Access to the park is free, and all-day pool access is Dhs5 each.
5.00pm Go for a drive
About an hour or so before it gets dark, make your way up the winding Jebel Hafeet route, which has been dubbed the ‘greatest road in the world’. Nearly 12 kilometres long, it has plenty of twists and turns before you reach the top, and some great opportunities for photographs along the way.
6.00pm Dinner time
Sitting atop Jebel Hafeet, the Mercure Grand (email H3573@accor.com, 03 783 8888) is the perfect vantage point to watch the sun go down. Grab a bite to eat at the Eden/Rock On Terrace next to the pool, where they host tasty evening BBQ buffets.
7.30pm Head for home!By Angela Beitz
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