Al Ain City (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

Page update - Oct 17, 2022

The city of Al Ain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is inland. For UAE residents it is a popular weekend destination, and for tourists a sightseeing destination. Excursion to Al Ain gives you the opportunity to see a harsh Arabian desert and an oasis-garden in the desert.

Warning. The city of Al-Ain is now (October 2022) open to tourists. Al Ain is located in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Starting February 28, 2022, travel between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is free, meaning no more tests or vaccinations are required.

As of May 19, 2022, the E201 Dubai-Al-Ain bus is running again. The E201 route was temporarily closed from 2020 due to the coronavirus, but now runs again. Bus X90 Abu Dhabi-Al Ain is running. Bus 490 from Abu Dhabi Airport is NOT running yet. Bus 118 from Sharjah is running.

The climate in the desert is different from that of the coast. The humidity in the desert is lower, and the summer heat is easier to endure. For this reason, Abu Dhabi residents buy houses and villas in Al Ain for weekends. The second reason is the quietness of Al Ain compared to the bustling and hurried Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

The city of Al Ain is located on the border with Oman, 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Abu Dhabi and 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Dubai. See the map near, click on the map to enlarge to full screen.

Facts and figures

Al Ain is the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE's first president and "father of the nation".

Al Ain has the highest concentration of citizens in the United Arab Emirates at 30.8%. Only Ras Al Khaimah can boast a close figure.

The rest are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, and other countries. Recall that on average in the country, citizens make up about 10% of the population, as we discussed in detail on the page "UAE population".

The name Al Ain is translated from Arabic as "stream" (meaning the water stream).

The city of Al Ain is also called the "Garden City of the Persian Gulf". The city is full of oases and parks with trees and flower beds planted along the streets.

The city of Al Ain has a population of 766,936, according to a 2017 estimate by the Abu Dhabi Statistics Center. Now (note: this page was updated in October 2022) the population is already estimated at 800,000+. It is the 4th largest city in the UAE after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.

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It is forbidden by law to construct buildings higher than 4 floors within the city. There are a few exceptions, but a special permit is needed for such construction.

Selling alcohol in Al Ain is prohibited except for five locations. These are the bars of hotels Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet, The Al-Ain Rotana, Danat Al-Ain Resort, Hilton, Al Ain Equestrian Shooting & Golf Club. Public drinking and being drunk is punished to the fullest extent of UAE laws. Read more in our review "Laws of the United Arab Emirates".


The city of Al Ain is popular among tourists as an excursion destination. One day trips are most common.

The program of the tour includes: a visit to Jebel Hafeet mountain, hot springs, the local zoo, and Al-Jahili Fort (on the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge). Lunch is usually included.

The tourists are picked up from the hotel in Dubai or Abu Dhabi at 7-8 am (7-00 to 8-00) and brought back at 7-8 pm (19-00 to 20-00). The price of the tour is from USD 90 to 120.

Of course, such a tour will not show you even half of everything interesting in Al Ain. To see the city completely and deeply feel its charm, you have to go on your own. It's not hard to get to Al Ain as the intercity transport in the UAE is well established.

How to get there on your own

The city of Al Ain has its own international airport, Al Ain International Airport (code: AAN), but it is not of interest for tourists. Only planes from India, Pakistan, and Egypt land there. This airport serves mostly for the exchange of the city's guest labor with the rest of the world.

The easiest way to get to Al-Ain is by bus.

Warning! As of October 2022, the E201 bus (from Dubai) is running again (re-starting May 19, 2022). The X90 bus (from Abu Dhabi) is running. Bus 490 from Abu Dhabi Airport is NOT running yet. Bus 118 from Sharjah is running.

From Abu Dhabi, the X90 bus runs from Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station. It departs every 30 minutes from 7:30 am to 2:30 am. The buses on the X routes are air-conditioned and have comfortable seats. A photo of such a bus is below, click on the photo to enlarge.

It takes about 2 hours to travel. The fare is 25 UAE dirhams (AED). See our review "Money in the UAE" for the current exchange rates.

Download X90 timetable (2022).

The E201 bus runs from Dubai from AL Ghubaiba Bus Station. This route has been launched since April 2019, until then mini-buses were running. Frequency is 30 minutes, the price is 25 dirhams, travel time is about 2 hours, payment by NOL card.

Download E201 timetable (2022).

From Sharjah, bus 118 runs from Sharjah's Al Jubail Bus Station. Departs every hour from 7 am to 11 pm. The trip takes over 2 hours and the fare is 30 dirhams.

If you want and are able financially, you can take a cab and the trip will cost 200-300 dirhams. Read about the fares in our review "Taxis in the UAE".

The trip there and back will take about 4-5 hours. You can't see everything interesting in the city and its surroundings during one day. To fully enjoy all the attractions and sightseeing in Al Ain, you have to stay there in a hotel for a night or two.

Al Ain hotels

There are 19 hotels total. Prices are low, ranging from USD 50 to 130 per night. These hotels are not suitable for tourists, but rather for business travelers.

There are no super-luxury hotels there. There are only 4 five-star hotels: Hili Rayhaan by Rotana, Al Ain Rotana, Danat Al Ain Resort, Ayla Grand Hotel.

Tourists are interested in entertainment and attractions first of all. To understand the value of local parks, museums and excavations, it is useful to know the history of the city.

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A bit of history

The settlement at the site of Al Ain has existed for 4,000 years. The fact is confirmed by the excavations at Al Hili sites and at the foot of Jebel Hafeet mountain where ancient tombs were found.

No significant historical events took place in Al Ain before the 20th century. In the 7th century, the local population converted to Islam and legend has it that Islam was brought there by Kab al-Ahbar.

The forts that are now seen by tourists in the city were built in the late 19th century. They protected the oasis from raids and served as a pillar of power for the emirs of Abu Dhabi. In the 40's, the famous British traveler Wilfred Thesiger visited the town and they met with Sheikh Zayed.

In 1952, an interesting event took place. An armed squad of Saudi Arabia captured the oasis of Al Ain. The forces of Oman and Abu Dhabi, together with the British, took back the oasis. The land was disputed territory. Oman and Abu Dhabi did not finally agree on borders until 1972, with Al Ain going to Abu Dhabi and neighboring Al Buraimi to Oman.

In 1971, Queen Elizabeth II visited Al Ain and stayed at the Hilton Hotel. After the establishment of the UAE in 1971, the city of Al Ain began to grow rapidly with investment flowing in from Abu Dhabi.

In the 90s, the city of Al Ain became famous for sad events. The riots of guest workers broke out there in the Al-Sanaya area, and the rioters had to be suppressed by the army and police. All the rioters were detained and deported.

What to see and do

Al Ain has a lot of tourist attractions. Tourists should keep in mind that all these attractions are aimed at local UAE citizens. For example, the tour of interest can only be conducted in Arabic, it may not even be in English.

Jebel Hafeet mountain

This is the second highest peak in the UAE, the height is 4,396 feet (1,340 meters). Recall that the highest peak of Jebel Jais at 6,270 feet (1,911 meters) is located in the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah.

There is a road 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) long to the top, and tourists are taken to see the view of the surrounding area. The observation deck gives a 360 degree view. The most beautiful views are seen at dawn, when the rays of the rising sun reflect off the dunes.

The road to the top itself is an interesting attraction. It is illuminated, and at night looks like a snake crawling into the sky. The sight is unusual and beautiful.

Al Khair Camel Market

This unique place is the last remaining market of its kind in the UAE. Not only camels are sold there, but also bulls and sheeps. Entrance is free. Hours of operation: 6 am to 7 pm (6-00 to 19-00). Guided tour of the market costs 30 dirhams. You can ride on camels for an extra fee (negotiable). The market is located near Bawadi Mall and you can take bus 950.

By the way, you can even buy a camel. It is officially allowed to take a camel out of the UAE, but to bring it into other countries is hardly possible. The customs authorities will not let. See our review "What you can and not take out from the UAE".

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National Museum in Al Ain

This is the first museum in the UAE, founded in 1969 by Sheikh Zayed himself. The museum is located in the fort, which is called the "Western Fort" or "Sultan's Fort". It is where Sultan bin Zayed lived from 1910 to 1922.

The museum contains artifacts illustrating the history of the United Arab Emirates from the Stone Age to the independence of the UAE. The museum is divided into three exhibitions: Archaeology, Ethnography, and Gifts.

The Archaeology exhibition features ancient ceramics, artifacts from the Great Tomb in Healy and the Al Qattara Tomb. Copper and bronze objects have been found in these tombs, proving the high level of development of the ancient cultures that once flourished in this region.

An Ethnography exhibition shows everyday objects used in Al Ain decades ago. One can see pictures taken before the "oil era" and understand how the country has changed since oil production began.

But the most interesting part of the museum for tourists is the Gifts exhibition. There is a stone from the Moon which NASA gifted to the United Arab Emirates after the Apollo 17 expedition. Almost all the gifts that were given to Sheikh Zayed by ambassadors and leaders of other countries are on display in the museum.


This is the largest zoo in the UAE. The numbers are impressive: 2,200 acres (900 hectares) of land at the foot of Jebel Hafeet mountain, 4,000 animals, 180 endangered animal species.

There are plenty of activities for children: a contact zoo, giraffe feeding, camel rides, playgrounds, and children's excursions.

Al-Jahili Fort

Built in 1891. This fort was the headquarters of the viceroy of the region and the base of the Omani Scouts - a special unit guarding the mountain passes and keeping peace among the nomadic tribes. You can see an exhibit of black and white photographs by traveler Wilfred Thesiger.

Oases and the Falaj Irrigation System

The city of Al Ain is built on the site of seven oases: Al Ain Oasis, Al Jahili, Al Qattara, Al Mutared, Al Jimi, Al Muwaiji, and Al Hili.

These oases have 147,000 date palms on 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) and more than 100 species of date palms. The palm groves are irrigated with falaj systems, and some of them are more than 1,000 years old.

Hili Fun City entertainment complex

28 rides for children and adults, performances in the local amphitheater, areas for games, and picnics. Admission is 45-50 dirhams, the ticket allows you to ride 25 of 28 rides (other 3 require additional fee).

Wadi Adventure Park

This is a water sports park, where all the attractions are artificial. These are: an artificial surfing pool with waves up to 10.8 feets (3.3 meters) high, an artificial river for rafting 1 mile (1.7 kilometers) long, cable cars, and bungee jumping.

What else

Al Ain has many other attractions: the camel race track; Al Ain Palace, the former residence of Sheikh Zayed and now a museum; the fort of Qasr Al Muwashji, the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed; Souk Al Qattara market; go-kart track; thermal springs; and much more.

Malls and shopping centers

Al Ain has four main shopping malls: Al Ain Mall in the city center; Al-Jimi Mall in Al-Jimi district; Bawadi Mall in Al Khrair district; and Hili Mall in Hili district. All of them are small compared to the largest in the UAE Yas Mall and Dubai Mall, but they are homely and interesting in their own way.

Good to know

- Domestic buses in Al Ain cost the same as in Abu Dhabi - 2 dirhams, paid with the same Hafilat card. And the features are the same, read our review "Buses in the UAE" about them;

- Al Ain grows the best date fruits in the UAE, and you can buy them cheaper there. Read our review "Dates in the UAE" about what varieties to choose and what to look for when buying them;

- Since there are many places in Al Ain associated with the life and legacy of Sheikh Zayed, it will be useful to read the review "Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan".

Enjoy your trip to Al Ain, and read our interesting pages about the UAE (watch the list of the pages below).


Tips for Tourists in the UAE


What to Take for the UAE

What You Should Not Do in the UAE

To the UAE with Kids

Sharks in the UAE

Weather in the UAE by Month

Holidays in the UAE

Are Unmarried Young Women
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All-Inclusive in the UAE

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Hotels in the UAE with Own Beach


The UAE - Info, Facts, Figures

What Language is Spoken in the UAE

Population and Citizens of the UAE

History of the UAE

Flag of the UAE

Friday and Weekend in the UAE

Ramadan in the UAE

Sheikh Zayed - Father of Nation

Sheikhs of the UAE


What to Bring from the UAE

What You Can and Not Bring In the UAE

What You Can and Not Take Out the UAE

VAT Refund in the UAE

Shopping in the UAE - Why is Cheap

Date Fruits in the UAE

Camel Milk and Dairy Products

Bakhoor and Oud


Money in the UAE - Emirati Dirham

Currency Exchange in the UAE

How Much Money to Take to the UAE

Food Prices in the UAE

Tourist Taxes in the UAE

Alcohol in the UAE

Cigarettes and Smoking in the UAE

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