The laidback inland city of Al Ain makes a great escape from the hurly burly of Dubai – and can also be easily reached from Abu Dhabi. It’s possible to visit on a longish day-trip from either, covering most of the major attractions. Alternatively, staying the night gives you the chance to visit additional attractions including the city’s excellent zoo and its photogenic camel souk, or to drive up the dramatically craggy mountain of Jebel Hafeet.
From here, head north to the junction of Zayed bin Sultan and Othman bin Affan streets, where you’ll find the quaint Al Muraba’a Fort, just one of the dozens of old mudbrick forts which still dot the sprawling city. Just east of here it’s worth having a wander amongst the picturesque stalls of the refreshingly tourist-free Al Ain Souk before diving into the sprawling Al Ain Oasis behind, losing yourself amongst the winding pathways between endless palms.
Bring a picnic and you can have lunch under the oasis palms. Alternatively, catch a cab to Khalifa bin Zayed Street in the centre, where you’ll find dozens of restaurants including a good selection of Middle Eastern restaurants (Al Diwan, about halfway along the street, is a good choice) along with several Western fast-food franchises and other places.
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Walk out of the western side of the oasis (or catch a cab from the town centre) to reach the Al Ain Palace Museum (junction of Al Ain and Sultan bin Zayed al Awwal streets), owned by the UAE’s ruling Al Hahyan family of Abu Dhabi. Visitors are allowed inside to explore the palace’s rambling complex of orange buildings – pleasantly shady and peaceful, although there’s not much to actually see inside.
From here, it’s a ten-minute walk west to the much more rewarding Al Jahili Fort – one of the finest in the country. After exploring the fort, head across the road to the big pink Al Ain Rotana hotel, which has several good restaurants and a coffee shop in which to rest your feet.