Sharjah – The Culture Capital of UAE
Though this emirate is quieter than its neighbour, Dubai, Sharjah has the distinction of being the designated cultural capital of the UAE, by UNESCO, thanks to its efforts to preserve, maintain, and promote a number of sights and experiences that highlight the culture of the emirate and the country at large. The city was named the ‘World Book Capital’ by UNESCO in 2019, thanks to its continuous efforts to promote literacy in the country, and has established itself as the source for the region’s publishing sector, along with being the hub for book-related events and organisations within the UAE. The city is also famous for its older architecture, for its many museums and heritage spots, and for the popular tourist spots as well – desert trips and sandy days at the beach.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation
The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation first opened its doors in 2008, and is a must-visit for guests to understand the ancient history of Islam, with rare and important Islamic artefacts that depict the historic achievements of the Islamic civilisation. The museum contains knowledge and information on the Islamic faith, on scientific discoveries made during the Islamic era, and on Islamic culture, while also portraying stunning Islamic and Arabic art to the public. The museum contains seven galleries, with permanent collections that display an introduction into Islam and the Holy Quran, along with influential achievements in the field of science by Islamic scholars, and art galleries that portray a wide range of Islamic artefacts like pottery, metalwork, woodcarving, manuscripts, and textiles, that date back to 7th century AD. The museum is also known for its temporary exhibitions, featuring Islamic art from other museums twice a year.
Sharjah International Book Fair
For those looking to visit Sharjah during one of their cultural events, try and plan your trip around the Sharjah International Book Fair, an annual 11-day international book fair held in the city. Debuting in 1982, under the patronage of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, the event has grown to become one of the world’s top publishing events, and is the largest in the Arab world. The festival is traditionally filled with a host of activities and cultural programmes, from children-friendly reading corners to book signing stations hosted by authors from around the world.
The Blue Souk
The Souk al-Markazi (Central Market), more popularly known as the Blue Souk, is one of the main shopping hubs in the city and serves as one of Sharjah’s impressive landmark. Designed by British architects Michael Lyle and Partners, under the guidance of the ruler of Sharjah, the Blue Souk was first completed in 1978. The market consists of two large buildings connected with bridges, containing vaulted ceilings and a stunning skyline of 20 wind-towers. Thanks to the blue tiles on the walls outside, the market has earned the title ‘the Blue Souk’, and covers an area of approximately 80,000 square metres, filled with over 600 shops that sell a variety of goods, from gold and jewellery to souvenirs and gifts, along with electronics, clothes, cosmetics, and household goods. The Souk is located on the shore of the Khalid Lagoon, and its architecture perfectly captures the essence of a traditional bazaar, but on a larger scale. The Blue Souk is a must-visit for any tourist, not just for the items available inside, but for its architecture and design; the Souk is particularly stunning at sunset, when seen across the water of the lagoon.
Sharjah Natural History Museum and Desert Park
This museum is a popular place for children to learn about the diverse flora and fauna of the Arabian Desert, and is a perfect place for an educational and entertaining experience. The museum is also home to a zoo with four venues; Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, the Sharjah Botanical Museum, the Sharjah Natural History Museum, and the Children’s Farm. The Sharjah Dessert Park also serves as a breeding centre, though the breeding centre is not open to the general public. The Natural History Museum features Sharjah’s various climates throughout history, providing a rich description of how flora and fauna have survived and evolved over time, to create the rich ecosystem that thrives in the emirate today. The Botanical Museum contains many interactive displays of plants, herbs, and trees, with infographics that provide details about plant life – this museum is a great visit for children as well as botany enthusiasts, thanks to the museum’s detailed history of plant life from millions of years ago, to the present day. The Wildlife Centre contains five different sections, each dedicated to a particular animal class – reptiles, birds, nocturnal animals (including a few cats and rodent species that are found within the peninsula), endangered animals (like wolves, cheetahs, Arabian leopards, and other carnivores), and the Arabian Onyx (UAE’s national animal). The Wildlife Centre allows guests to observe endangered species, mammals, reptiles, and other animals in their natural habitat, making it a fun visit for animal enthusiasts and those willing to learn more about animal life within the UAE. The Children’s Farm is a great experience for family members to have a hands-on experience with animals, and is geared towards encouraging children to learn about the environment and the ecosystem. The farm encourages children to feed and pet their favourite animals outdoors, and go for pony or camel rides, with other activities geared towards raising awareness about the ecosystem that’s suitable for all ages.
Sharjah Heritage Area
Sharjah Heritage Area represents the essence of the emirate before the expanse of Western urbanisation, and the area is filled with older Emirati architecture built in traditional Arabian styles, with buildings, souks, and older family houses. The Heritage Area also contains a number of tourist attractions that represent the culture of the city, and is close to the Corniche, making it an interesting space for history buffs and guests looking to learn about the history of the city and of the emirate at large, and learning more about Emirati culture as a whole.
One important attraction is the Souk Al Arsah, an authentic open-courtyard Arabian marketplace where traders sell a variety of goods, from traditional garments to wooden crafts and souvenirs. This souk is one of the oldest in the country, and is particularly known for its traditional coffee houses, making it worth the visit for coffee enthusiasts looking to try some traditional gahwa (Arabic coffee). The Heritage Area also contains Bait Al Naboodah, a fully restored traditional family home that once housed the Al-Shamsi family. The house is a great opportunity for guests to gain a deeper understanding of traditional Emirati culture, and discover what life was like before urbanisation and before the oil boom. The restored house also maintains older ways and rituals of Emirati life, making it a fascinating space to pay a visit.
The Heritage Area also contains the Sharjah Heritage Museum, which houses a number of artefacts from Sharjah and Arabia, providing visitors with information on older rituals and cultural practices held in Sharjah, from older marriage rituals to practices around hospitality. The Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, too, is worth the visit as the exhibits on display portray stunning Islamic calligraphy through time, as calligraphy is a widespread art, particularly in Islam. Though it does seem to cater to a smaller audience, the styles portrayed are visually pleasing, making it a work of art in its own right.
Al Noor Island
Al Noor Island is a popular hub for tourists and residents alike in Sharjah, and caters to those looking to unwind after a busy week at work, or for tourists who are looking to explore the city and enjoy a number of attractions while overlooking a clear blue lagoon. One of the popular attractions at Noor Island is the Butterfly House, home to over 500 butterflies that belong to approximately 20 different species. The house is in a nature-inspired structure that is designed to retain humidity, while still allowing lots of natural light in, for the benefit of the butterfly residents.
The island is filled with various sculptures and artwork as well, and the island itself is dedicated to nature, art, and creativity. The island contains six different installations, each one designed to integrate with the environment on the island. The island also houses the Literature Pavilion, a calm, quiet space filled with comfortable seats and cushions, with soft music being played in the background encouraging people to sit and read or create literature.
Those looking for artistic creation once the sun sets must visit Al Noor Island at night. The art installations and natural environment are lined with LED lights, making the place brightly lit and visually stunning in the night sky. With bright neon lights and twinkling fairy streamers lighting up the installations, sculptures, walkways, and trees, visiting the island at night gives you a stunning glimpse into the beauty of the island – and the city – after dark.
Souk al-Jubail, Sharjah’s largest fresh produce market, first opened in 2015 and is a state-of-the art market that also serves as an architectural icon, thanks to its stunning blend of Islamic architecture with modern elements. The market is worth the visit thanks to its distinctive experience, both as a shopping destination and a place to visit with friends and family. The market covers approximately 400,000 square feet of space, and includes three sections – a space for fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and meat, and a tasting section, where visitors can taste fresh seafood and sample some of the produce available, while also opting in for some barbecue of the fresh catch of the day. Visitors to the emirate can come and check out the traditional live fish auction that takes place every evening.
Those who are looking to explore the city’s outskirts and gain a deeper understanding of the emirate’s natural environment must schedule a day trip to Kalba, a mangrove forest that is also the country’s most famous wildlife sanctuary. Eco-tourists will particular enjoy a trip to Kalba, thanks to the opportunity to go wildlife spotting and partake in a number of adventure-sports, including kayaking, scuba diving, and trekking through the mangroves. Many come to spot the Arabian onyx in its natural habitat, while others come to enjoy the clear blue waters. The beach on Kalba is over seven kilometres long, and is an idyllic place to enjoy the soft sand and warm waters while avoiding the crowds of the city. The reserve is also a popular place for picnics on the beach, thanks to its remoteness from the city and its proximity to nature; bird-watchers will enjoy the visit to Kalba, and can spot falcons at the Kalba Bird of Prey Centre. Kalba is also home to a number of historical sites as well, particularly the Bait Sheikh Saeed bin Hamed Al Qassimi Museum, a restored fort and seaside promenade. The museum was first built in 1901 and initially served as a residence for the royal family, before being converted into a museum and opened to the public.
Sharjah’s distinction as the country’s cultural capital and as home to a number of wildlife reserves makes it popular amongst tourists who are looking to better understand the UAE, and guests who aim to get away from the hubbub of city life and enjoy a quiet weekend soaking up some traditional Emirati culture. The emirate is worth the visit for museum and art lovers as well, as the city is packed with galleries, museums, and cultural spaces that feature the city’s vast history, from the museum of Islamic Civilisation, to Art Museums, to Heritage Areas. The emirate is a family-friendly destination as well, from the Butterfly House on Al Noor Island to the many aquariums, zoos, and science museums that are in the city. Whether you come to attend Sharjah’s numerous cultural festivals or take a safari out onto the sandy dunes, the emirate truly does have something to offer to everyone.
How to Get to Sharjah from Dubai
Getting to Sharjah from Dubai is very easy.
1) Public Transport – (more info on Dubai Public Transport)
You can take an intercity bus from Union Metro Station or Al Ghubaiba bus station. The RTA Bus E311 or RTA Bus E306 should take you there. The price of a ticket would be around 10 AED (2.5$)
2) Ride-Hailing or Dubai Taxi
It’s quite easy, just use the Uber or Careem app and find your way. Other alternative is finding a taxi along the road, not too hard and much cheaper than a Ride-Sharing app. Dubai taxi does come in different types too, such as pink taxi exclusively for women and families, driven by women.
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