From tech installations to natural landscapes, Sharjah makes for a family-friendly destination. While the day has a sandy view with sprawling buildings, mosques, Hummers and Maseratis zooming past, it is the neon city lights at night that give the city a fairytale spin
Sharjah is the capital city of the emirate of Sharjah. The third largest of the seven emirates, Sharjah has land on the Persian Gulf Coast and the Gulf of Oman. With a population of over 1,400,000 (2015), Sharjah has been ruled by the Al Qasimi dynasty since the 18th century. A constitutional monarchy, its current ruler is Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi (since 1972). It also happens to be the only emirate where liquor is banned.
The family-friendly destination was named the ‘Arab Capital of Culture’ by UNESCO in 1998. In 2014, it was hailed as Islamic Culture Capital by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). So, here the 5 places that make Sharjah an ideal getaway:
Heart of Sharjah
This is where the story of Sharjah begins. In this restoration and redevelopment project lies history, culture and the social fabric of the emirate. With an ancient souq going back almost 100 years and a collection of homes turned into a luxury, boutique hotel, time takes you back to how the settlement began.
The Al Asrah souq is where traders from different countries such as Oman, India, Persia came to exchange their goods. Now, you find exciting souvenir shops here and the factory where Omani halwa with cardamom and rose water is made. Even the ruler of Sharjah orders the halwa from here. A small café serves the traditional coffee and it’s a must-have with the snacks available. You can bargain for perfumes and trinkets, even bookmarks.
The interesting part is that the souq has an entrance to the luxurious Al Bait hotel, which comprises the homes of Al Midfa and Al Naboodah families, closely intertwined with Sharjah’s history. The 53-key hotel is quite a maze but showcases the way Arabs lived well. Discreet lighting, local pathways and walls, a traditional wind tower to show how air circulated in homes in desert areas, a museum showing the treasures and history of the Al Midfa family, it gives the feel of being back in time where things were more intimate and people met in more open areas.
The 15-year project will be completed by 2025, making this area a cultural hub with cafes, art galleries, restored buildings, markets. Here, you can sit an experience the slow life, watch the shows in the waterfront, or walk to the Sharjah Fort nearby or simply read a book. The Fort, built in 1804, was the seat of the governing Al Qasimi family earlier.
Ever longed to walk in the rain without getting wet? Well, this is the room where you can experience the rain without a drop falling on you. This art installation has sensors and 3D tracking cameras. When the sensors find you, the area you are standing in is free of water but the rain keeps pelting around you. You can dance, try some Bollywood moves in slowmo but not a drop falls on you. The ambience, a dark room and one strong light, will transport you to all the romantic rain scenes that you find in the movies.
The Rain Room has been installed by London-based art group Random International in association with Sharjah Art Foundation. This experiential artwork explores man’s relationships with man and nature through intangible technology. The first such permanent installation in the Middle East, it uses 2,500 litres of self-cleaning recycled water. The Rain Room has been on view at the Barbican, London (2012); MoMA, New York (2013); Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2015) and LACMA, Los Angeles (2015–2017).
Single people get 15 minutes inside but groups can get a longer time. Tickets are sold online and on site.
Al Noor Island
From land to the island, a gated bridge is the entrance. While the island did exist, it was turned around into an art and sculpture zone with a butterfly park in 2015. More shrubs and trees were planted and LED installations across the island give it a surreal feel. You can see important landmarks of Sharjah from here such as the amphitheatre, waterfront.
A walk around reveals sculptures done by artists from across the world. From metals to flags and old trees, this is an aesthetic outing. There is a fun area for kids and the butterfly garden has 20 species of butterflies. Not only do you get to observe the butterflies up close, but kids can also paint the pretty insects in an area outside. There is a café and a literature pavilion too. The ideal time would be to go around 4 pm, before the butterfly garden closes and hang around till the evening lights come on, making it a fairyland.
Since its opening in December 2015, Al Noor has won many international awards, including the Best Leisure Architecture in Africa and Arabia 2016 as part of the International Property Awards, and IF Design Award 2017 and German Design Award 2018. The Butterfly House was awarded the WAN Metal in Architecture Award 2016.
Al Majaz Waterfront
This is quite a city hub with restaurants offering international cuisine, a beautiful walkway, jogging track, mini golf course, musical fountain and seagulls. The gentle waters of Khalid Lagoon are a refreshing sight as you dine on the waterfront. We relished traditional Arabic cuisine at Al Fanar restaurant. It’s also a place where families and small groups can spend some quality time together.
Launched by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority in 2010, it overlooks a beautiful mosque and has recreational facilities for children. There is the Maraya Art Park and Splash Park with a playground. It is also a popular spot for hosting events, for we saw the concluding parade of the Sharjah Light Festival here. It ended with a state banquet and the yummiest date pudding. There are facilities for the elderly and challenged ones, charging area for electric vehicles and free Wi-Fi.
Dates & Gold at souqs
The sprawling and clean souqs offer a cool shopping experience. With rows of vegetable vendors, Al Jubail souq is a delightful way to see what is eaten in an Arab home. There is a dedicated area for meats and fish. And there’s another area for veggies, dates (which are really affordable by the way), honey and other edible items. Everything rests in an organised manner. The varieties of dates and honey will leave you a little dazed. The price starts at AED 20 for a kilogram.
There are chocolates with dates too. A jar of white honey might be an exciting thing to bring back home. Around 4 pm, a fish market is held here. Different varieties of fish are auctioned in a very quiet and clean manner and we got to see catfish and sharks too. Sharks are a delicacy here.
It’s in the Blue Souq that you find gold, souvenirs, carpets and décor items.Around this area is the waterfront from where you can see the Sharjah eye, watch the families enjoy a picnic on Fridays and Saturdays which are the off days. And then you get to see all those supercars too in the parking lot.
Things To Keep In Mind
- Dress conservatively for the world is not flashy here.
- Bargaining is the key to getting the best price in souqs.
- Most people understand Hindi and English and loud voices are not welcome.
- It’s perfectly safe to walk around at night. Public transport is available around the clock.
- You can explore the city via Sharjah tourism buses too. The open-air double-decker buses have 17 stops.
- Young girls and boys don’t mingle in public, staring is not allowed and there are different nationalities working here, such as people from the Philippines, Africa, Pakistan, India and more.
- Carry your passport and visa with you all the time.
How to Reach
Air Arabia, Indigo, Spicejet, Air India operate flights from India.
To know about visa, click here