Al Ain is the second city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, a pretty large one with over 750,000 inhabitants. It actually lies closer to Dubai than to its own capital, Abu Dhabi. I had somewhat underestimated these distances during my trip planning, and also wanted to see the recently opened Louvre museum and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. So I cut my visit to Al Ain short to the Al Ain Oasis and National Museum to fit it all into a day trip from Dubai.
The oasis and national museum comprise only 1 out of the 17 inscribed Cultural Sites of Al Ain
. Both places are very conveniently located next to the bus station of Al Ain, which is served every 30 minutes or so by comfortable direct buses from Dubai’s Al Ghubaiba Bus Station. The oasis is easy to see near the bus station, and the national museum is signposted.
I started at the museum, which charges a 3 dirham entry fee. At 0.66 EUR this is only a nominal sum, comparable to the fees I paid at similar sites in Oman. I guess these public museums are heavily subsidized by the government. I never encountered many visitors, often I was the only one. This museum is quite interesting, displaying mainly the archaeological findings (lots of pottery) from the various Al Ain locations such as Hilli.
I peeked into the old Sultan Fort next door as well, but they were busy with maintenance inside and I don’t think there’s much to see.
Decorated box found at Hili, on display at the Al Ain National Museum
At the entrance gate to Al Ain Oasis I found a friendly soldier standing guard, with a pile of leaflets in front of him to hand out. Al Ain was the first venue during 2 weeks in the Gulf where I received a pretty ticket & a brochure worth keeping. It includes a map of the oasis, but it’s not terribly large anyway and there are signs at every intersection.
The palms in the forest supposedly are watered by a falaj irrigation system like the ones that I saw in Oman. But here no water was flowing through the irrigation channels - it would not surprise me if they keep the area green by watering with a garden hose. For the birds in the neighbourhood, so many trees together are a godsend and I heard many of them singing.
One can walk all the way across the oasis to the Al Ain Palace Museum, the Eco Centre and other interpretative elements. I turned right about half way, so I ended up near the bus station again. It's a pleasant walk but not exactly exciting.
Al Ain Oasis
This site lies only about 185 kilometers from Bat and Al-Ayn
in Oman, where I was the week before, and it has a lot in common with it. The same is true for the Aflaj irrigation systems
. Al Ain is much more urban though and less romantic than the 2 Omani WHS.
Finally a warning for future daytrippers: I did make it to Abu Dhabi in the end, but had not enough time left to see both the Louvre
and the Grand Mosque
. I choose the Louvre, and only saw the Mughal-extravaganza mosque from a distance. A one way trip by bus between Dubai and Al Ain or Abu Dhabi easily takes 2 hours, and the bus between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi even needed a very slow 2.5 hours.
Sorry you missed the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi, but that is a great reason to go back! I'm surprised there was no water in the irrigation canals at Al Ain; not all of them had water when I visited, but some of them did. I wonder if they ever employ water rationing.