Al-Ain Oasis, UAE
A one and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain city is one of the World's oldest permanently inhabited settlements, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was built around an impressive oasis filled with palm plantations, many of which are still working farms. The cool, shady walkways transport you from the heat and noise of the city to a tranquil haven; all you'll hear is birdsong and the rustle of the palm fronds.
Employing a 3,000-year-old falaj irrigation system, Al-Ain Oasis features a series of mesmerizing water channels that give life to the palm plantations in this inner-city paradise. Spread over 1,200 hectares (nearly 3,000 acres) and containing more than 147,000 date palms of up to 100 different varieties, choose one of eight separate entrances to explore how countless generations have tapped into underground wells to keep the beautiful city green.
The date palm oasis is one of a growing number of ecosystems that have been formally recognized by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for their importance as repositories of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
The oasis has been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) and the FAO has praised the UAE's active conservation efforts. Entry is free.
Al-Ain National Museum
On the edge of Al-Ain Oasis, this museum showcases the city's unique heritage and history. It is housed in the same compound as the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort (also known as the Eastern Fort). Divided into three main sections - archaeology, ethnography and gifts - its presentations illustrate various aspects of UAE life and include an interesting collections of Bedouin jewelry, musical instruments, weapons, and a reconstruction of a traditional majlis (setting place).
The archaeology displays are extensive, and include many artefacts from the nearby Hili Gardens so it is helpful to visit the museum before the gardens. Some of the displays, such as the one from Garn Bint Saud (12 kilometers north of Hili), date back to the first millennium BC. The gifts section houses an unusual collection of gifts that Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan received during his lifetime. It includes golden swords, silver daggers and a golden palm tree. Displays are labelled in English and Arabic.
Opening Times: Daily 8:00 to 19:30; Friday 15pm to 19:30pm. Closed Monday.
Rising 1,240 meters, Jebel Hafeet is Abu Dhabi's highest peak, and UAE's second. This towering rocky height, which stands guard over Al-Ain and borders Oman, is forged out of craggy limestone that has been weathered over millions of years. Significant fossil discoveries have been made in the area, which are vital pieces in the jigsaw of the city's ancient history. Over 500 ancient burial tombs dating back 5,000 years have been found in the Jebel Hafeet foothills.
You can drive or, if you have the stamina, cycle to the top via a winding highway, which edmunds.com (the automotive information online source) describes as "among the world's greatest driving roads". Once you reach the top, you'll be rewarded with magnificent views over Al-Ain, where you can take a break at the Mercure Jabal Hafeet hotel near the Jabal's peak.