The UAE’s third-largest emirate, Sharjah, offers up its myriad charms for the culturally-inclined, says Aftab H. Kola.
Named ‘Cultural Capital of the Arab World’ by UNESCO in 1998, Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, values its culture and heritage as two of its seven valuable treasures. Wedged between two lagoons, Sharjah has a vibrant art scene, is home to vibrant waterfront areas and leisure Islands. But what defines Sharjah from other destinations of the Emirates is the range of museums and its heritage preservation activities. The Sharjah Heritage area is known for its museums that include Bait Al Naboodah, Al Midfaa House, Al Hisn Museum and Souq Al Arsah. The fine architectural specimen of its time, Bait Al Naboodah is a two-storey heritage house (spanning 1,100 square metres) that offers an insight into the original architectural designs of traditional Emirati houses, as well as the lifestyles and values of our ancestors while spotlighting on Sharjah’s pearling history. Many stories of Sharjah’s history and culture of Islam unfold through its 26 well-maintained museums strewn across the city. It’s little wonder Sharjah was named the Capital of Islamic Culture in 2014 and the Capital of Arab Tourism in 2015.
Al Noor Island is home to an architecturally breathtaking Butterfly House, Literature Pavilion and contemporary sculptures by some of the world’s most famous artists. Among Kalba’s many charms are the restored ‘hisn’ (fort), a historic former royal residence, and a charming seaside promenade. The Sahara Centre is home to Adventureland, an indoor theme park with more than 20 rides and attractions plus go-karts and a huge soft play area. Arabia’s Wildlife Centre is interesting while a visit to Souk Al Arsa with quaint stores and Souq Saqr is a must. Organised by Sharjah Art Foundation, the Sharjah Biennial fosters international artistic exchange and dialogue through exhibitions and experimentation.
The 2019 edition is still on and concludes on June 10. The city’s food scene has always flourished with local Arabic fare and international cuisine.
My favourite place- Al Qasbah is the premier canal-side first class family leisure and cultural destination. Among its facilities are the 60-metre-high Etisalat Eye of the Emirates Ferris Wheel, Al Qasba Musical Fountain, Maraya Art Center, Kids Fun House, the 300-seat Masrah Al Qasba Theatre, Multaqa Al Qasba (Meetings & Conference Halls), fine dining restaurants and chic cafes and many more. Traditional boats are available for cruising along the canal if you want to savour the city skyline from the water and to the neighboring Khalid and Al-Khan lagoons. Alternatively why not just enjoy a romantic walk along the promenade.
Highlights- Feast on the amazing treasure trove of 5,000 masterpieces on the history, culture and art of the Muslim world at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. The exhibits are segmented according to themes over seven spacious galleries and well-lit display areas. In this handsome building, you can see inventions and working models, beautifully-decorated metalwork, leather-bound and gold-plated manuscripts, ceramics, coins, carved wood, textiles and costumes neatly showcased with explanations in English and Arabic.
Souvenirs- Gold jewellery, dates, saffron, golden playing cards, antiques, carpets, etc.
Getting there- Air Arabia offers direct flights from Muscat to Sharjah, UAE – or, if you prefer to make the road-trip, expect to make the journey in around five hours.
Where to stay- Although all major hotel chains can be found there, the Hilton Sharjah Hotel offers impressive views of the spectacular Khalid Lagoon and the city’s skyline from its rooms and facilities. For more accommodation options, try Booking.com, Trivago, Agoda, Kayak.com and more.
1. Stroll along the Al Majaz waterfront and enjoy its landscaped gardens, and many cafes.
2. View the Kalba Eco-Tourism Project, the largest of its kind in the development in the region.
3. Attend the Sharjah International Book Fair. This year it is from October 30 – November 9.
4. Dig deep into Sharjah’s desert past by visiting Mleiha Archaeological Centre.
5. Enjoy the Khorfakkan beach, backed by the impressive Al Hajjar Mountains.