In The Heat at Al Jahlili Fort, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates


Instead of staying another day at Dubais’ beaches, we rented a car and headed out into the United Arab Emirates’ heartland. We headed to Al Ain to see one of the United Arab Emirates most historic sites at the Al Jahlili Fort. The fort used to be a summer residence belonging to the the ruling Sheikh’s of the United Arab Emirates and now stands as part of the countries fledging history.

This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates. This trip was redeemed through American Airlines AAdvantage & Alaska Mileage Plan. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Attraction: In the Heat at Al Jahlili Fort, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

“Our day off took us to the Shiekh’s summer residence at Al Jahlili Fort in Al Ain for an interesting walk down the United Arab Emirates’ history”

Since we’d visited the United Arab Emirates on several visits before, I was looking to explore a little bit more in the region. We had previously visited the Empty Quarter south of Abu Dhabi, the Shiekh Zayed Mosque and Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, along with several visits to Jumeriah Beach, the Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifi along with the dhow rides in old Dubai. It was time for something different a visit to the heartland. We rented a car for the day from the National in The Grosvenor House Hotel itself and drove ourselves to Al Ain.

Getting to Al Ain:

Al Ain was an easy 2 hours drive south of Dubai on E66. As with most roads in the United Arab Emirates, the highways were excellent. We departed The Grosvenor House hotel and had an easy drive to Al Ain. We passed by the entrance to the Al Maha resort on our way (not pictured).

Driving to Al Ain
Wide Open Freeways in the United Arab Emirates

Arriving to Al Ain:

We eventually arrived to Al Ain, even finding a mirrored Starbucks in the area to get ourselves a drink before we set out exploring. We parked near the Starbucks near the angle parking on the street and walked through the park to access Al – Jahlili. Most amusingly to me, there was a long line of Range Rovers in the drive through waiting for their coffees in intense desert heat.

Range Rover Line Ups for Starbucks near Al Ain
Starbucks Coffee Snacks at Al Ain

The main purpose of visiting Al Ain is to visit the Al – Jahlili Fort. The fort holds a lot of history for the United Arab Emirates ruling family. At the end of the 19th century, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was ruled by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa. During summer, Abu Dhabi’s rulers left the intense humidity of the coast for the more temperate weather of Al Ain. Sheikh Zayed owned a farm in Al Ain, and he ordered construction of Al Jahili Fort to control the tribes who lived in the area. He also would use the fort as his summer residence. Work on the fort began in 1891 but it was not completed until 1898. When Sheikh Zayed died, his eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed died, chose not to become ruler of Abu Dhabi and instead remained in Al Ain. He lived in the fort with his family. In 1985, early restoration work was done on the fort, while in 2007-2008, the fort underwent a major rehabilitation project.

We crossed the park on foot as we approached the massive sand castle like structure.

Al Ain Gardens
Al Ain Gardens

Visiting Al – Jhalili Fort:

The Al-Jahlili fort looks like a large sandcastle on both the first impression and after continued observations. It was definitely one of the more interesting buildings that I’ve seen in my travels since the structure is very different looking.

Approaching the Al Jahlili Fort
The Towers of the Al Jahlili Fort
Towers of the Al Jahlili Fort

I was glad that we picked up some bottled water at the Starbucks. The temperatures were a warm 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheight) as we were walking towards and around the fort. It seems that no one walks around in the heat and, I’m guessing, the area is more lively after the sun goes down.

The Al Jhalili fort was completely deserted and we were the only visitors during our time there. The inside was somewhat austere in its presentation.

The Imposing Front Entrance Gate
Inside the Al Jhalili Fort
The Al Jahlili Fort Grounds
Intriguing Round Cake like Columns’
Castle Fortresses
Empty Grounds
Sand Stone Walls

The inside of the fort featured a photography exhibition from Sir Wilfred Thesigner, who crossed the Empty Quarter desert twice in the 1940’s. There were lots of photographs and stories of him, his camels and his guides.

Al Ain Visitor Center: Exhibition from Sir Wilfred Thesigner,

All in all a peaceful and serene visit that was completely empty of any people. . .


Walking in the Peaceful Al Ain Oasis:

We continued with our self guided driving tour as led by the Lonely Planet guidebook. We drove a short distance into town and went to explore the Al Ain Oasis. The Al Ain Oasis is an area of over 150,000 date palms. The trees are irrigated by a unique canal system. There isn’t much else here, but we did take a 20 minute walk through the area in order to gain an appreciation for the place. It was, like the Al Jahlili Fort; completely deserted.

Souvenir Shops near Al Ain
Walking the Al Ain Oasis
A Peaceful Walk in the Al Ain Oasis
Irrigation in the Al Ain Oasis
Quiet Parks in Al Ain Oasis

After our walk in the Oasis, we headed back towards the car with a brief walk through Al Ain. It was far less commercialized than Dubai, and gave a feeling of being in the midst of town. There was even a “contemporary mosque” with digital prayer timings in the minarets.

Walking through Al Ain
A Contemporary Mosque
The Streets of Al Ain

Trying to Locate the Camel Market:

One of the attractions of Al Ain is the camel market where you can see a traditional market where camels are sold and bartered. It was a little ways out of town on the south side. We passed by some photos and structures of the Sheikh’s on our way there.

Images of the Sheikh’s on Local Highways
Images of the Sheikhs

Unfortunately, the camel market appears to have moved on from the version of the Lonely Planet that we had. I tried with google maps to find it, but instead we were led to a newer looking mall. We walked through the mall and it contained a variety of unexciting western stores. We did have a lunch at the mall before taking the drive home.

Lunch at the Local Emirati Mall
Heading Home
Approaching Dubai

We filled up the car with gas. It cost 0.45 USD cents a liter or $1.72 a gallon for our trip and as a result, was a remarkably cheap way to get around.

My thoughts on our visit to Al Ain:

In closing, the day trip to Al Ain was interesting and a break from the usual commercial (and artificial) Dubai. It was a good break from the usual attractions of Dubai and gave us something different to look at. I found the history of it really interesting, although admittedly, it might not be for everyone.

If you’ve visited Al Ain in the middle of the UAE, did you find it worth the trip?

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