Sharjah is commonly known as the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates and has retained more of the traditional heritage than some of the other states.
Being the more conservative state in the UAE, Sharjah is sometimes overlooked but should not be underestimated as there are many things to do in Sharjah from learning about Gulf history, indulging in the art scene, and relaxing in the outdoor spaces in the parks and islands around the city.
The first stop to your culture fix in Sharjah should be the Museum of Islamic Civilization. Located on the Majarrah Waterfront, it houses over 5,000 Islamic artefacts in 7 galleries spread over 2 levels from ancient civilisation to modern history including Arabic contributions to science and technology over time.
One feature that makes the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation special is the golden dome adorned with an intricate mosaic depicting different zodiac signs. Remember to look out for it!
Step back in time at Al Hisn Fort Museum
Al Hisn Fort was built in 1823 with three protective towers. In the past it has served as a seat of government, a royal residence, a prison and now a museum. As you enter you can pop into the round prison to imagine how tough life must have been.
There are twelve galleries which present the history of Sharjah and its ruling family. Wander round to see old weaponry and take a look from the upper floor at the 360 view.
Be fascinated at Sharjah Heritage Museum
You will leave Sharjah Heritage Museum with a wealth of knowledge about Emirati cculture and traditions from celebrations, lifestyle, livelihood, style of dress and jewellery. The exhibition is well-laid out and captivating as it takes you through the diverse landscapes of Sharjah from desert, mountains and coastal, and how this has affected their lifestyle.
Visit Sharjah Calligraphy Museum
Sharjah Calligraphy Museum opened in 2002 and is set in a covered courtyard in the house of Hamad Al Midfa. The collection includes beautiful pieces by local and famous international calligraphers on various media from canvas to ceramic.
The museum delves into the history of calligraphy from early Kufic scripts to more modern styles. You don’t need to be an art-lover to appreciate this timeless Islamic art form.
Visit Bait Al Naboodah Museum
Built in 1845, Bait Al Naboodah (‘bait’ is ‘house’ in Arabic), belonged to Obaid bin Eisa bin Ali Al Shamsi, AKA “Al Naboodah”. The museum depicts the life of the renowned pearl merchant both in everyday life at home and giving an insight into Sharjah’s pearling history trading with foreign countries such as India, Africa and France.
The residence comprised of 16 rooms on 2 floors with a large courtyard. The walls are made of coral stone, traditional carvings in plaster and wood with many geometrical and floral patterns across windows, doors and walls. The house was equipped with an innovative cooling system designed to flow air along the internal walls to help mitigate high temperatures. It’s great to see a house restored to its former glory in the heart of Sharjah.
Be inspiried at Sharjah Art Museum
Since 1997, Sharjah Art Museum has been delighting art lovers with its unique collects by local and Arab artists. Spread over two floors, there is one permanent exhibition by renowned artists and a further three wings dedicated to inspirising temporary exhibitions.
What I love about art galleries is discovering new artists that give me butterflies and Sharjah Art Museum did just that. The temporary exhibition by Aïda Muluneh displaying photographic-based works since her return to her homeland Ethiopia after years of living in North America was simply striking and took me back to my travels in the Danakil Depression where many of her work was created.
Sharjah Arts Museum is free to enter but why not take a virtual tour of the permanent exhibition to give you a taster from home!
Get your modern art fix at Sharjah Art Foundation
Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) opened in 2009 to continue the momentum from Sharjah Biennial, the UAE’s longst running contemporary art event. SAF presents inspiring exhibitions featuring the work of local, regional and international artists across many restored and converted traditional buildings across the emirate. In the heart of Sharjah city, the heritage centre, SAF has taken root in two main spaces; Al Shuwaiheen and Al Mureijah.
With an ever-changing programme of exhibitions, you can help but be excited to visit again and again. I had the pleasure of seeing the thought-provoking Art in the Age of Anxiety depicting information, misinformation, emotion, deception and secrecy that invades online and offline life in the age of digital technology. The exhibition from international artists showed 60 works spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programs. Pretty cool stuff!
Feel dry at Rain Room Sharjah
The Rain Room was brought to Sharjah Art Foundation by Random International as a permanent immersive installation in 2018 after being on view in London, New York, Shanghai and Los Angeles.
The Rain Room installation uses 2,500 litres of self-cleaning recycled water, which is controlled through a system of networked 3D tracking cameras allowing you to walk through continuous rain and not get wet. If you’d never heard of the Rain Room before, I can understand why you’d be perplexed at this crazy concept. You need to really experience it to believe it!
Kick back at Chedi Al Bait
If you get the chance to stay at Chedi Al Bait, you will know exactly what I mean when I tell you how special this place is. The resort is part of an Emirati conservation project located in the heart of Sharjah which belonged to Al Midfa famil who played an important role in the pearl trade.
The resort is the epitimy of comfortable luxury, calming vibes and top notch service. It is all about attention to detail at Chedi Al Bat; you are served a lavender drink on arrival, you can press the ‘sweet button’ on the room phone for your daily delivery, brought rose & milk ice pops at the pool… the list is endless.
With a spa, pool, fitness centre, Arabic restaurant, majilis, relaxing courtyards, library and a museum outlining the history of the building they are quite rightly proud of. A stay at the Chedi in Sharjah is perfect for a romantic weekend or chill out time with the girls.
Shop in Sharjah’s souqs
Right by Chedi Al Bait you will stumble upon a maze of markets such as Souq Al Arash, Souq Al Shinasiya and Soq Al Masqoof which hold a place in history. Shop for all things traditional to the arabic culture such as perfumes, clothes, sweets, spices and clothes.
The most magnificent market and a huge landmark in Sharjah is the the Souk al-Markazi (Central Souq). Also known as the Blue Souq, owing to the decorative mosaic tilework on the exterior, it sells everything from gold and silver jewellery, to Persian carpets, souvenirs and clothes, traditional and modern and even electronics. A go-to for tourists!
Marvel at Al Noor Mosque
Al Noor Mosque is located on the Khalid lagoon at the Buhaira Corniche and you can get a fabulous view on the bridge as you wander to Al Noor Island. Amidst the 600 mosques found in Sharjah, Al Noor Mosque is one of the few that non-Muslims can visit.
The Al Noor Mosque was built by order of the wife of the ruler of Sharjah, her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed al Qassimi, and completed in 2005. The design of Al Noor Mosque was inspired by the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul built in the Ottoman-era.
Fun fact about Al Noor Mosque: In 2014, they set a Guinness World Record for the ‘World’s largest wooden charity box for their Ramadan donation campaign.
Visit Butterfly House & Al Noor Island
Head to the bridge by Al Noor Mosque over Khalid Lagoon to reach Al Noor Island, an oasis in the middle of Sharjah City that combines leisure, art and education. It is a popular spot for families but will appeal to all!
The main attraction on Al Noor Island is the Butterfly House where butterflies are imported from various countries around the world and you can walk amogst them. The fluid, gold roof design offers the correct amount of light that the butterflies require. In the same building, there is an educational room for the kids Stop off at the Noor Cafe in the same building for some organic refreshements
Wander round the island taking time to admire the gorgeous gardens that are brightened up with art installations and sculptures. Kick back in the Literature Pavilion near the Cactus Garden.
Wander around Flag Island
The Flag Island is located on the Khalid Lagoon and overlooks Jubail Market and govermental buildings across the water. The island stands as a celebration of the union of the UAE through its landmark 123 metre-high flag pole. The amphitheatre is the perfect spot for live shows, UAE Flag Day and National Day celebrations.
The Flag Island is occupied by Al Montazah Parks with iconic ‘Eye of the Emirates’ wheel, outdoor fitness area, restaurants and 1971 Design Space dedicated to the display and discussion of all forms of contemporary design.
SHARJAH CITY | TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Best time to visit the city of Sharjah
Summer months (April-September) are best avoided, they are hot and humid which isn’t conducisive to wandering around a city sightseeing. Temperatures can reach in excess of 46°C (115°F) but the humidity will make it feel even hotter. The humidity can vary from year to year but to be sure, it is best to plan to visit between November-March to be on the safe side.
Things you should know before visiting Sharjah
I don’t wish to scare any newbies but there are a few things you should be aware if you have never visited Sharjah before.
- DRESS MODESTLY – In public you will be expected to cover shoulders and to the knee – this goes for both men and women. It is not considered respectful to wear tight or transparent clothing. I wore a dress to the knee but felt uncomfortable so I jumped into the souq for some loose trousers. Around your hotel pool, swimear and shorts are acceptable.
- SHARJAH IS A DRY STATE – If you are big into the party scene, stick with Dubai. Sharjah has zero tolerance on consumption, possesion or being under the influence of alcohol, it can land you in prison. If you fancy starting your trip in Sharjah when you land in the UAE, don’t raid the duty free first or get sozzled on the plane.
- SHARING HOTEL ROOMS – If you are married it might be worth taking your marriage certificate in case you are challenged as all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is illegal in the United Arab Emirates.
- AVOID PUBLC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION – Whether married or not PDA’s (Public Displays of Affection) do not fit with local customs and culture.
- PRAYER TIME – Music will be turned off whilst the call to prayer is sounding and it is not unusual for shops to close for owners to pray.
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