Why Sharjah Deserves a Stop on Your UAE Itinerary

Sharjah – UAE 7 Emirates travel guide

It is stylish and modern, a former UNESCO-designated Capital of Arabic Culture, and only a stone’s throw from Dubai. So why did it feel as if we were the only tourists visiting Sharjah?

Visiting Sharjah, Dubai’s Lesser Known Neighbour

Most people will tell you the reason is very simple: Sharjah is dry. Not in the literal sense – although rain is indeed rare – but in the sense of a strict prohibition on the sale or drinking of alcohol. Far removed from the cocktail-swilling culture of Dubai’s hotels, Sharjah is quiet and dignified, and largely ignored by tourists. Which is a pity.

The city manages to combine modern architecture and souks with traditional Arabic design and old-fashioned hospitality, making it a great place for a day out from the glitz and brashness of Dubai.

Sharjah Heritage Area

We walked alongside the lagoon, noting the old dhows (fishing boats), the high-rise buildings, and the Big Wheel (presumably intended for tourists, although not running today).

Our destination was the heritage area, which apparently boasts 22 museums. Here we spent some time wandering around the courtyard of the Heritage Museum before walking across the road to the wonderfully named Calligraphy Square.  

This is the gateway to a cultural complex built along classic Arabic lines, with narrow passages and small, closely packed buildings, walls gleaming in the brilliant sunlight.

We lingered beside an open-air sculpture before scuttling into the nearest building for some modern art and a welcome blast of air conditioning.

At the back was a small souk area. It was quiet and we walked around largely undisturbed, stopping at a stall selling pashmina scarves in every imaginable color.

We were quoted 20 dirhams each, which seemed too good to miss as I was reliably informed they can cost up to 300 dirhams elsewhere in the country – one of the many reasons for moving outside of the tourist areas occasionally.

I bought three and carried on around the souk. Another stall was selling similar scarves. “Lowest price for pashminas, 120 dirhams,” the owner called after us.

The Blue Souk of Sharjah

It was lunchtime and we were readily distracted by the sight of an interesting-looking Iraqi restaurant. As with everywhere else in Sharjah, it seemed that tourists were a rarity here, and we got a very friendly welcome, even though hardly a word of English was spoken. (We managed “salaam” and “shukran” but not much else).

A bottle of water and bowls of lentil soup appeared almost as soon as we sat down, together with three rounds of Arabic bread. Then bowls of salad and beetroot pickles, and enormous plates of chicken, fish, and shrimps with rice and bread.

Suitably refreshed, we set off for the Central (Blue) Souk, so named because of the blue-tiled domes that rise from its vaulted roof. This is an enormous structure, built to traditional Islamic design, of two parallel rows of shops on two levels, linked by bridges.

There are 600 shops in all, selling all manner of items including carpets, jewelry, and luxury goods.

By now we were a long way from where we had parked our car, so we negotiated with a boat trip operator to take us around the lagoon and across to the other side.

A final chance to take in the city’s architecture, old and new, mosques and public buildings; to note the greenery and the desert island in the middle of the lagoon, and to reflect once again on the undeserved neglect of Sharjah by tourists.

Karen Warren is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and novelist. She writes about travel on her website WorldWideWriter. She also took most of the pictures on this article.

Visitor’s Guide to Sharjah

Hopefully, it’s evident by now that a visit to Sharjah is time well spent. Continue reading to learn how you can make the trip a reality.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Sharjah is between November and April, when the weather is cool and pleasant, making it ideal for exploring the city. The winter months also coincide with several cultural events and festivals that showcase the emirate’s rich traditions.

Top 10 Must-See Attractions in Sharjah

Explore Sharjah’s most captivating sights, from architectural marvels to hubs of art and history.

  1. Al Noor Mosque – Attend a guided tour to admire this beautiful example of Islamic architecture.
  2. Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization – Explore a vast collection that traces the roots and impact of Islamic culture.
  3. Rain Room – Experience the unique art installation where you can walk through a room of raining water without getting wet, created by Random International.
  4. Al Mamzar Beach Park – Relax by the beach or enjoy a family picnic at this scenic park by the sea.
  5. Sharjah Art Foundation – Delve into contemporary art within heritage buildings of the arts area.
  6. Al Qasba – Ride the Ferris wheel for panoramic views and enjoy the waterfront promenade.
  7. Central Market (Blue Souk) – Shop for souvenirs, textiles, and jewelry in this iconic market.
  8. Arabian Wildlife Center – Learn about local wildlife and see rare desert animals up close.
  9. Sharjah Archaeology Museum – Uncover the ancient history of the region through fascinating exhibits.
  10. King Faisal Mosque – Marvel at one of the largest mosques in Sharjah and its grandeur.

Best Areas to Stay

For proximity to cultural sites and museums, the Corniche and the areas around the Central Market are ideal. For a luxurious stay, the Al Khan area offers upscale accommodations with sea views.

Getting Around

Renting a car is a popular option for flexibility, but Sharjah also has a reliable public bus system. Taxis are widely available, and many attractions are accessible by foot in the city center.

Local Dishes to Try

Savor the flavors of Sharjah with a guide to the emirate’s most beloved culinary delights.

  • Al Harees – A traditional dish of meat and wheat cooked slowly for hours.
  • Shawarma – Enjoy this Middle Eastern staple of grilled meat wrapped in a pita.
  • Knafeh – A sweet cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup, perfect as a dessert or with coffee.

Day Trips from Sharjah

Extend your adventure beyond the city limits with these enriching and accessible day trips.

  • Ajman: Visit the nearby emirate, its cultural sights, and beach areas.
  • Al Ain: Explore the UNESCO World Heritage sites and the local camel market.
  • Dubai: A short drive away, the bustling metropolis offers endless shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Both tourists and expats love it!
  • Fujairah: Discover the beautiful coastline, pristine beaches, and the Hajar Mountains.
  • Ras Al Khaimah: Enjoy adventure activities, historical sites, and natural hot springs.
  • Khor Fakkan: Experience the scenic beauty of the East Coast and outdoor activities like snorkeling and diving.
  • Dibba: Explore the small town on the coastal area, perfect for a quiet getaway and watersports.
  • Hatta: Head to the Hajar Mountains for hiking, kayaking, and visiting the Hatta Heritage Village.
  • Umm Al-Quwain: Delve into simpler times with a visit to the old fishing villages and the UAQ National Museum.

Each destination offers a unique glimpse into the varied landscapes and cultures within the United Arab Emirates. From mountains and deserts to beaches and modern cities, there’s a diverse array of experiences waiting just a short drive from Sharjah.

Is Sharjah worth a visit?

Sharjah may often be overshadowed by the glitz of Dubai and the prominence of Abu Dhabi, yet it holds its own as a bastion of culture, art, and serene living. For those who appreciate a rich cultural tapestry, an engaging art scene, and the charm of a more relaxed tempo, Sharjah offers countless treasures worthy of acclaim.

Is Sharjah safe?

Sharjah is widely regarded as a safe destination for travelers and residents alike. The United Arab Emirates, in general, has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and Sharjah is no exception.

Its well-lit streets, visible security presence, and strict laws contribute to a feeling of safety among visitors. As with any travel destination, it’s advisable to take standard precautions, such as securing personal belongings and being aware of your surroundings.

The emirate’s commitment to upholding law and order means that Sharjah can be enjoyed with peace of mind, whether you are strolling through its historic souks or admiring its modern skyline.

Solo female travel in Sharjah

While common sense precautions are always recommended, women can expect a welcoming experience throughout the emirate. Observing local customs, including dress codes, will further ensure a comfortable stay.

Cultural Etiquette and Tips

Navigate Sharjah’s cultural landscape with ease and respect by following these essential etiquette tips.

  • Dress conservatively, especially when visiting mosques or local neighborhoods.
  • Avoid public displays of affection.
  • During Ramadan, be respectful of fasting customs and refrain from eating or drinking in public during daylight hours.
  • Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially local women.
  • Learn a few Arabic phrases; it will be greatly appreciated by the locals.
  • Respect prayer times. Be mindful of the five daily prayer times, as some shops may close briefly and locals will appreciate your patience.
  • Accept hospitality graciously. When offered tea or coffee, it’s polite to accept, as this is a sign of hospitality and friendship.
  • Use your right hand for eating and greetings: In line with local customs, use your right hand for eating and when shaking hands or passing items to others.
  • Remove shoes when required: If you’re invited into a mosque or someone’s home, it’s customary to remove your shoes before entering.
  • Queue respectfully: Whether it’s for a bus or at the supermarket, always queue and wait your turn. Patience and politeness are valued in the local culture.
  • Be modest in conversations: Avoid controversial subjects and use polite language. Being loud or boisterous is often frowned upon in public spaces.
  • Stay informed about local laws: Familiarize yourself with local laws, which can be strict regarding matters like internet use and behavior in public. This will help you avoid inadvertent offenses.

Conclusion

Sharjah may be less known than its glamorous neighbor Dubai, but its cultural richness and authentic Emirati experiences make it a destination that shouldn’t be overlooked. By venturing into this emirate, visitors have the chance to immerse themselves in a vibrant cultural tapestry, enjoy local cuisines, and explore an array of historical and natural wonders.

With careful planning and a respectful approach to local customs and traditions, a trip to Sharjah can be both memorable and enlightening, offering a deeper understanding of the United Arab Emirates beyond the usual tourist trails.

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