Things to see and do in Sharjah
Beyond its natural attractions of glittering deserts and sun-drenched shores, Sharjah is the most culturally-rich of all the emirates. You can find more than a dozen museums in Sharjah City alone and a wealth of heritage sites that give a good sense of the emirate's Arabian and Islamic history and identity.
With plenty of attractions and activities geared towards families, Sharjah is also one of the best destinations in the UAE for children. You can find water parks, aquariums, theme parks and wildlife centres dotted around the emirate that provide fun and entertainment for people of all ages.
Active travellers can enjoy activities in Sharjah's lagoons and desert hinterland too including the whole range of watersports, camel safaris and four-by-four adventures. Across the winding roads of the high Hajar Mountains, the emirate has three exclaves on the east coast including beautiful Khor Fakkan. It's worth visiting one of these little Sharjah outposts on a day trip as the drive reveals wonderful scenery and the beach at Khor Fakkan is said to be one of the best in the emirates.
Sharjah City and its resort suburbs have the added bonus of being sandwiched between the glamorous attractions of Dubai and the low-key luxury of Ajman, so travellers have plenty to explore further afield.
Arabian capital of culture
Most of the tourism development in the emirate is centred on Sharjah City and its beach and lagoon suburbs. A city of parks and culture with special quarters dedicated to heritage and the arts, it is a pleasure to explore on foot, unlike other places in the UAE. Though very clean and modern, it has a certain authenticity and sense of heritage that's sometimes missing in UAE cities.
The city first grew up around a creek, and today many of the traditional homes have been restored and the buildings converted into museums showcasing Emirati customs and Arabian culture. Known as Sharjah's Heritage Area, it contains the heritage museum, archaeology museum and it's also home to Al Hisn Sharjah Fort, a 19th-century royal residence turned local history museum.
Housed in a beautiful old souk, the Museum of Islamic Civilization is a real highlight and gives a marvellous insight into the region's heritage and culture. The exhibitions take you from the dawn of science and technology in the Islamic world to the present day, deftly demonstrating how progressive Islam was, with interesting artefacts such as ancient compasses and water raising devices. The history of creativity and craftsmanship is also shown with intricate and beautiful examples of vases and rugs.
Travellers interested in Arabian artwork and the modern UAE art scene should not miss a visit to Sharjah's wonderful art museum, part of the city's Arts Area, which is the largest of its kind in the Gulf. It gives a great overview of eastern, Arabian and Islamic art through the centuries to the present day, and there are temporary exhibitions showcasing works by regional contemporary artists.
There's a hop-on hop-off city sightseeing bus tour that's ideal to see all these fascinating places in one go.
Shopping and leisure
Sometimes a simple stroll is the best way to get to know a place and fortunately Sharjah is a really pedestrian-friendly city with walkways rimming its trio of lagoons. For a leisurely scenic walk, head for the Al Khan corniche or the Khalid Lagoon trail that follows the green corridor around the lake with views of the fountains.
The trail links up with Al Majaz Park beside the lagoon, which is a verdant landscaped oasis with a Splash Park, a big play area for kids, and facilities to hire bikes and trikes. It's also the perfect location for viewing the spectacular fountain sound and light show at intervals after sundown, plus there are lots of places to eat nearby. From Al Majaz Park, the Corniche Street wraps its way around the lagoon, passing souks, squares, shops and eateries, and stretches all the way to Ajman Beach.
In-between Al Khan and Khalid lagoons, there's a pretty palm-lined creek that is fast becoming a hot tourist spot in Sharjah. Al Qasba, with pretty arabesque buildings either side of the waterway linked by little curving bridges, is a purpose-built recreation and entertainment centre for both locals and visitors. There are funfair rides and the huge Eye of the Emirates observation wheel, a musical fountain, and shops and restaurants spilling out from the arched alcoves onto the waterside walkway. The complex includes Maraya Art Centre, where you can see contemporary art from the emirates. You can also board boat tours or hire water carts from here to explore the creek and lagoons.
While you can enjoy high-street shopping at Sharjah's excellent malls such as the Sahara Centre, perhaps one of its most atmospheric Arabian experiences is offered at the Blue Souk. The large azure-tiled central market shelters hundreds of shops under its blue vaulted roof. Like Sharjah's other souks, it's situated near the Corniche Road that skirts Khalid Lagoon, and is the perfect place to go hunting for precious jewellery, local handicrafts and souvenirs. Stop at a cafe for refreshing mint tea and a plate of dates, as many locals do, and try bartering for a bargain as is customary in the Middle East.
Beyond the city, one of the emirate's chief attractions is the Desert Park and Arabian Wildlife Centre between Sharjah's capital and the city of Dhaid, an oasis city known for its fruit-growing. Close to the airport, the park is a haven for more than 100 rare Arabian creatures that are well cared for in spacious natural enclosures. The area also includes the fascinating Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum.
World-class watersports and desert adventure
Sharjah's large sea-facing lagoons have become a hub for motorized watersports enthusiasts. With shores dotted with resorts and hotels, both Al Khan and Al Mamzar Lagoons have excellent facilities for water-skiing and jet-skiing in particular. Families looking for fun aquatic activities and themed rides can visit the Al Montazah Amusement Park on the mid-lagoon Flag Island that's geared towards young children. To explore Sharjah's lagoons without getting wet, there are some fantastic boat tours on traditional abra boats that can be taken both during the day and at sundown to see the city lit-up at night.
The east coast of the Arabian Peninsula is well known for its sub-tropical dive sites, and Sharjah can boast some of the best bases for diving in the UAE at its little enclaves of Khor Fakkan and Al Dibba. Scuba divers can explore rich coral reefs and spot turtles, sharks, moray eels and many more marine species. Shark Island, off Khor Fakkan, is a popular dive destination, while there are other fantastic underwater sites up and down the east coast. The area is also a great place for whale and dolphin spotting with more than a third of the world's species frequenting its waters.
Tourists hankering for a spot of desert adventure can find a whole host of tours in Sharjah offering dune-bashing safaris and camel rides through the desert. One of the best places for desert driving is the Fossil Rock area, and there are a range of safaris available of varying lengths, some with overnight camping included.
Rest and relaxation
If you are in need of some rejuvenation and relaxation after a long flight to Sharjah, the huge Body and Soul Health Club and Spa in the Al Qasba area is ideal. Its skilled contingent of courteous staff includes skincare specialists and massage therapists ready to help you indulge in high-quality beauty, wellness and relaxation treatments. Alternatively, stay at the new Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort and Spa to enjoy its fabulous signature Shine Spa, or choose from a selection of other Sharjah hotels with their own on-site spas.
Of course, one of the main reasons to visit the emirate is to kick back and relax in the sunshine on its fine sandy beaches. The Al Corniche and Al Khan beaches are ideal for some peace and quiet, as no motorized watersports are allowed. Al Mamzer Beach Park's trio of sandy bays facing the open ocean offers an idyllic setting with plenty of facilities, but for a real away-from-it-all feel, the natural sandy bay of Khor Fakkan, on the east coast, is said to be the emirate's most beautiful.
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