Whether you’re visiting the UAE or are a UAE resident who simply hasn’t had the time to plan a vacation, you should know that between its seven emirates, the UAE offers a host of experiences that go way beyond visiting shopping malls, watching movies, and the usual things you’d otherwise do on any given weekend. Don’t believe me? Just take one of many day trips from Dubai.
The emirate of Sharjah is a true cultural powerhouse in the UAE, and if you’re the kind that takes an interest in the stories of the many cultures of the world, Sharjah should definitely be on your radar. Sharjah also offers lush islands and serene waterfront developments with plenty of entertainment and dining options for the chance to unwind, relax and enjoy a bit of downtime with the family, all after a fun day of exploring. If you’re craving nature, you can drive 45-minutes to the east coast of the UAE and explore nature trails and go kayaking in Wadi Shees.
In 2014, Sharjah was declared a Capital of Islamic Culture by UNESCO, and with good reason. Not only is the city home to several interesting museums, from art and history to science, it’s also dotted with unique examples of modern Islamic architecture, often on unassuming street corners, that you aren’t likely to find elsewhere in the UAE.
If you have the time to stay a night, here’s my review of the Chedi Al Bait, Sharjah, a beautiful heritage property in the historic Heart of Sharjah district.
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How To Spend 48 Hours in Sharjah
1. Go Museum Hopping in Sharjah
Whether you’re interested in art, history or calligraphy, there’s most likely a museum in Sharjah that you’ll love. With over 19 museums in the city, many close to each other, museum hopping is a great way to spend time in Sharjah and learn about the lesser-known but impressive history of the emirate and the UAE.
The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization stands in the remarkable, almost palatial, building of the Souk Al Majarrah, which was once a traditional souk. It offers the chance to see thousands of rare Islamic artifacts and take a closer look at the growth and achievements of Islamic culture in various aspects such as religion, science, art, astronomy, and discoveries.
Art lovers will appreciate the Sharjah Art Museum that hosts permanent and temporary exhibitions showcasing the work of local, regional and international artists. Notable works here include paintings and sculptures by famous Middle Eastern artists such as Abdulqader Al Rais, Louay Kayali, and Jamil Hamoudi.
Visit the Sharjah Maritime Museum to see exhibits that tell the stories of Sharjah’s rich maritime heritage, such as traditional wooden dhows and a 7000-year old pearl, and learn about the city’s pearl diving and fishing heritage.
For something that’s a little different, visit the Sharjah Classic Cars Museum where you’ll see over 100 vintage cars made in the 20th century, including the oldest one- a 1915 Dodge and a 1957 Bedford probably used for military purposes.
2. Stay Cool at the Rain Room
Visit the Rain Room, that is easily one of the coolest art installations in the UAE housed in a permanent exhibition by the Sharjah Art Foundation. Here, you can walk under continuous rainfall without getting wet. Wait, what?
The installation that uses self-cleaning recycled water, is responsive, thanks to motion sensors. If you want to stay dry, you’ve got to move slowly around the dimly lit underground space. That will let your presence be detected and prevent the rain from falling on you. Move too quickly and you might get a few raindrops on you!
3. Lessons in Heritage in The Heart of Sharjah
Cultural preservation is integral to the distinct identity of Sharjah, and it’s worth exploring this especially in a country as dynamic as the UAE. Set in Sharjah’s charming heritage district, Heart of Sharjah is a massive historical preservation and restoration project that allows visitors to get a sense of what Sharjah felt like in the 1950s.
Here you’re surrounded by restored traditional architecture and some of the oldest buildings in the city- houses, markets and a fort, that now house various museums.
Begin at the Sharjah Fort or Al Hisn, that was built in 1823 as a defensive fort and was the seat of the government and the residence of the ruling family. Coral stones, teak wood, trunks, and palm leaves and fronds were used to build the fort that has high watchtowers and walls. Exhibits document the early structure of government and jurisdiction as well as general life in Sharjah.
Other sights around this district include the Sharjah Heritage Museum, Bait Al Naboodah Museum, a beautiful traditional house that once belonged to an illustrious pearl merchant, Al Eslah School Museum, Traditional Games House and Emirates Handcraft Center, all housed in heritage buildings.
4. Wander in the Souks of Sharjah
Whether or not you intend to shop, the souks in Sharjah are full of character- a fascinating mix of the traditional and the modern, and deserve a leisurely wander or two. You’ll want to bring your camera along because some of these- such as the Central Souk (built in 1978), boast spectacular architecture with intricate details and vibrant colors adorning their facades.
For a journey into Sharjah’s past, visit traditional souks such as Souk Al Arsah where you’re surrounded by coral brick walls, old lanterns and shops selling handicrafts, pearl chests, jewelry, oud perfume, dallah coffee pots, frankincense, herbs, sweets and more, or Souk Saqr where you’ll find shisha, oils, and traditional attire. In the Old Souk, you’ll find the Al Daleel Mosque (the oldest in the city) as well as art galleries.
The blue tile-adorned Central Souk, complete with two domed buildings with fountains at the entrances and connected with an embellished bridge, is worth a visit just for the architecture. Inside, you’ll find gold jewelry, Iranian carpets, antiques and pashminas from Pakistan.
Inside the Souk Al Jubail, standing on the water’s edge, you’ll find a bustling market selling everything from honey, dates and dried fruits to fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, and seafood.
5. Spend an Afternoon on Al Noor Island
Early evening, a couple of hours before sunset is the ideal time to wind up at Al Noor Island, a green, car-free island in the heart of the city, easily reachable by a walkable bridge, just outside the beautiful Ottoman-inspired Al Noor Mosque.
Here, a 3.5km long walking trail winds around landscaped gardens complete with a children’s play area, art installations, and meadows that sparkle with little lights after sunset. Rich birdlife makes this a great sport for birdwatchers, especially in the early mornings.
Here, the Butterfly House is a controlled tropical environment that houses around 500 butterflies of 20 species brought here from Brazil, the Philippines and other countries. On the other side of the island, the Literature Pavilion is a contemplative space for those looking to read, write, or delve into poetry in a quiet space in the heart of nature. There’s also a café here serving beverages and light snacks.
6. Explore Al Qasba
A lively, family-friendly development next to a canal with cafés and restaurants, shops, a kids play area, an outdoor adventure park, musical fountain and an arts center, Al Qasba is great for a fun evening out with the family. Take a boat ride on a traditional abra or hire an eco-friendly electric water kart to tour the Khalid Lagoon.
While you’re there, it’s also worth checking out the Maraya Arts Center that has a contemporary art space with exhibitions, events and workshops through the year.
Additionally, the Masrah Al Qasbah Theater also presents theater shows, meant to educate and engage children, with adaptations of well-known fairytales using dances, music and visuals. If you’re visiting with kids, it’s worth seeing if tickets to shows are available around your visit.
7. Dine at Al Majaz Waterfront
Not far from Al Noor Island and Al Noor Mosque, Al Majaz Waterfront is another promenade by the Khalid Lagoon that is full of great dining venues serving everything from wood-fired pizza and Emirati dishes to Lebanese cuisine. There’s a running track that gets busy with active residents in the evenings, a children’s playground and a mini-golf park.
This is also a great spot to enjoy the sights and sounds of the spectacular Sharjah Fountain, post sunset and other outdoor concerts and festivals through the year.
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This post was presented in partnership with Sharjah Tourism.