Why Visit Sharjah, UAE: The Pearl of the Gulf

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A complete travel guide on visiting Sharjah, UAE

It is the last ball of the match and the entire stadium is on its feet clapping and chanting. The batsman anxiously looks up to the sky and prays. The bowler starts running towards the wicket. He wants to bowl a Yorker but ends up delivering a waist-high full-toss. The ball is mercilessly hammered out of the boundary line into the crowd.

It’s a six! The match is over. Overnight Javed Miandad becomes a Hero in Pakistan and Chetan Sharma a villain in India. Even after 22 years, this match played at Sharjah Cricket ground between arch rivals India-Pakistan, is discussed with the same fervour. Over the years, Sharjah and cricket are said in the same breath. However, there’s more to Sharjah than cricket.

The largest Emirate of UAE might not bedazzle you like Dubai or Abu Dhabi but will leave you mesmerised with its culture, archaeology, and adventure. Exploring Sharjah is like taking a heritage walk through the timeless souks, awe-inspiring museums, elegant mosques, romantic waterfront, and elegant heritage buildings. Sharjah offers innumerable attractions.

Sharjah Waterfront,

Here are the top attractions that make Sharjah the Pearl of the Gulf:

1) Culture Custodian

Sharjah is an embodiment of cultural diversity with onion-like layers representing chapters of rich and varied history, from the atmospheric streets in the Heart of Sharjah to the ancient archaeology sites deep in the desert. These treasures have led the city to be declared as the 1998 Cultural Capital of Islamic Culture and the 2015 Capital of Arab Tourism by none other than UNESCO itself.

Al Noor Mosque, Sharjah, UAE in B&W

a) The Heart of Sharjah, UAE

The Heart of Sharjah Miniature City Plan, Sharjah, UAE

The Heart of Sharjah Miniature City Plan, Sharjah, UAE

As the name suggests, the Heart of Sharjah sets the heartbeat of the city, reflecting its history, echoing its ethos and mirroring its spirit. Walking through the long winding alleys, I realise how committed Sharjah is to preserve and restore its heritage and culture. Planned over a 15-year period, to be completed by 2025, it seeks to revitalise the heritage district as a vibrant cultural destination by unraveling a glorious past. A district, where historical buildings are restored and new structures are constructed following the traditional Arabic Architecture.

Traditional shops in Heart of Sharjah, UAE

The experience was so real, I felt I had time travelled to the 1950’s. The icing on the cake was my interaction with the senior Emiratis, who have lived through that glorious past to tell us the real-life tales over a cup of brewed Karak chai at the Majlis.

Must Visit Places

Souk Al Shanasiyah (the oldest souk in the area), Al Hisn Fort (past seat of government), Al Eslah School (first formal school), Sharjah Art Foundation and Sharjah Art Museum

b) Museums of Sharjah, UAE

Inside Sharjah Heritage Museum, Sharjah, UAE

Inside Sharjah Heritage Museum, Sharjah, UAE

Museums are the guardians of the past and nannies of the future. And, I must say both are in safe hands at Sharjah. The magnificent museums stand quietly today to retell the story of the past. There are 22 museums in the city documenting all aspects of life from the dawn of Islamic civilisation to aviation. My favourite was the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation that shed light on the growth of Islam and has 5,000 exquisite and extremely rare artifacts.

Sharjah Heritage Museum, Sharjah, UAE

Sharjah Heritage Museum, Sharjah, UAE

Must visit Museums

Sharjah Classic Cars Museum, Maritime Museum, Calligraphy Museum, Natural History and Botanical Museum, and Space center for Astronomy and Space Sciences.

c) Mosques of Sharjah, UAE

Al Noor Mosque, Sharjah in B&W

I was a little apprehensive before entering the Al Noor Mosque, which is inspired by the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. However, all my doubts were put to rest as soon as I entered the tranquil environs of the stunning structure. With a capacity of accommodating 2200 people, it is one of the 3 mosques out of 600 mosques in the city open to the public. Not only it is a place to worship but it imparts valuable knowledge about Islamic culture.

Inside Al Noor Mosque, Sharjah, UAE

Must do

Relish the Arabic coffee with dates after the tour

2) Archaeology Treasure 

I was so enthralled by the cultural experience in Sharjah, I had no clue a bigger surprise was waiting for me at my next pit-stop. Less than an hour’s drive from Sharjah city, a desert centre boasts of 135,000 years of human history and stunning desert-scape.

a) Mleiha Archaeological Centre, Sharjah, UAE

Along with my guide Shada, I ventured deep into the deserts of Sharjah to uncover the secrets of the region’s ancient Bedouin culture and early man’s settlement that took place millions of years back. The exhibits, interactive displays, artifacts and information points brought history to life at Mleiha Archaeological Centre history. The museum Historian Anurag Amin, gave a crash course into archaeological relevance and treasures of the region starting from the Palaeolithic Age to the late Pre-Islamic period with the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages lying in between.

Mleiha Archeological Centre Museum, Sharjah, UAE

b) Mleiha Archaeological Sites, Sharjah, UAE

After finishing our exhibition tour, I got an opportunity to experience the actual excavation sites where the work has been undergoing since last forty years to unearth the timeless remains.

Jebel Faya Mountain, Mleiha, Sharjah, UAE

Jebel Faya Mountain, Mleiha, Sharjah, UAE

Must Visit Sites
  1. Umm An-Nar Tomb located within the Mleiha Archaeological Centre premise dates back to 2300 BCE and is estimated to have housed up to 500 bodies.
  2. Fossil Rock with fossil remains from 65,000 billion years old past
  3. Jebel Faya Mountain has live fossils and remains from as old as Stone and Bronze Ages.
  4. Mleiha Fort was part of the ancient city of Mleiha and constructed sometime towards the end of the 3rd century CE.

3) Adventure Playground

If you think being an Emirati brimming with culture and archaeology Sharjah is dull and boring, you are absolutely wrong. Sharjah completely blew me away with its adventurous side. Whether it was the Dune bashing at Mleiha or watching the nail-biting Formula 1 Powerboat World Championship race at Sharjah waterfront; the modest city satiated all my adventure cravings.

Fun during Mleiha Desert Safari Sharjah, UAE

a) Mleiha Desert Safari

Two 4×4 Land Cruisers greeted us on the gates of Mleiha Archaeological Centre for the Dune bashing excursion. Being an adventure junkie, my happiness knew no bounds. Within no time, our 4X4 safaris were somersaulting in the Sharjah desert with expert drivers at the wheel. Sometimes we would soar the peaks of the dunes and within a flick of a second we would come down thumping, with sand flying in all directions.

Mleiha Dune Bashing, Sharjah, UAE

Mleiha Dune Bashing, Sharjah, UAE

Must visit Site

The camelback mountain where the red sand dramatically juxtaposes with a tall rock formation.

b) F1H20 World Powerboat Championship 

Sharjah World Championship, Al Majaz Waterfront, Sharjah, UAE

It is hard to imagine a quaint and culturally conscious city could successfully organise a high adrenaline event like Grand Prix F1H20World Powerboat championship. But Sharjah believes in throwing surprises. Although, the race was in its 34th year yet it was my first time experiencing the F1 thrill on water. Watching the turbo-charged boats finish their 45 laps was a spine-chilling experience.

F1H20 Powerboat Championship, Sharjah, UAE

Must visit time

Don’t forget to visit Sharjah during World Championship Week when F1 boats and aqua bikes add action to the Khaleed Lagoon every December.

Team Abu Dhabi’s Alex Carella cruised home to win the UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of Sharjah and become World Champion for the fourth time in eight years, Sharjah, UAE

c) The East Coast for great outdoors

Al Khan Beach, Sharjah, UAE

Sharjah is the only emirate in the UAE that stretches along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Thanks to the 7th-century discovery of unusually pale pink pearls in the seas off the coast of Sharjah, the Emirate grew wealthy. Pearl divers once braved shark and jellyfish in hopes of surfacing with oysters. East coast is one of the most beautiful areas in UAE, with a range of landscapes from mountains and mangroves to sandy white bays. The warm clear blue waters are perfect for swimming, snorkelling, water sports, and diving.

Al Khan Beach, Sharjah, UAE

Must visit site

Al Khan beach for water sports and beach fun

4) Wholesome Fun & Entertainment

a) Shopping

Although I am not a shopaholic, you can’t say no to Sharjah, where shopping options are abundant – from sprawling malls to traditional souks. My favourites were the Central Souk, Souk Al Arsah, Souk Al Bahar, and Souk Al Shanasiyah for buying quality goods at unbeatable prices.

Central Souk or Blue Souk, Sharjah, UAE

 b) Food

Sharjah is a foodie’s paradise. From Turkish, Arabic, Lebanese, Asian, Italian, Iranian, Indian to Moroccan; Sharjah spoiled me with its finest eateries and cuisines. Living up to its family-friendly reputation, chefs often went out of their way to take care of my vegetarian food requirements. The places I recommend for trying different fares are Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba, Al Meena Steet and Muweilah area.

Sharjah Waterfront from the Bridge, UAE

 c) Entertainment

If you think being an Emirati brimming with culture and archaeology is dull and boring, you are absolutely wrong. Sharjah completely blew me away with its indoor and outdoor action. I loved exploring the Butterfly Garden at Al Noor island, watching powerboats and water bikes race at Al Majaz Waterfront, riding the Sharjah Eye at Al Qasba and strolling on the Al Khan Beach among scores of other activities I did.

Al Noor Island, Sharjah, UAE

Sharjah Al MajaZ waterfront

 d) Festivals

The best time to visit this desert rose is during festivals when it’s completely decked up and happiness is all around. While I could only attend the Sharjah Grand Prix held in December, I would love to go back for these amazing festivals – Sharjah Light Festival (February), Sharjah Ramadan Festival (May-June), Sharjah Arts Biennial (March), Sharjah Heritage Days (April) and Sharjah Shopping festivals (January & August).

Gala Dinner at F1 Water Championship, Sharjah, UAE

 e) Day tours

Although Sharjah has a lot to offer within its boundaries, I combined my visit by planning day tours to nearby places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Mleiha.

With so much going on in favour of the emirate, do you still need reasons to visit Sharjah? It won’t be wrong to say Sharjah is the “Pearl of the Gulf”.

Practical Travel Tips

How to get to Sharjah, UAE

While there are a plethora of options to get to Sharjah from anywhere in the world. I flew in with Air Arabia. The flight is a budget airline, therefore, the service is as per budget airlines standards only. Make sure you carry Dhirams or dollars to buy food and water.

Where to stay in Sharjah, UAE

Royal Tulip, The Act Hotel, Sharjah, UAE

  • Royal Tulip, The Act Hotel: a 5-star luxury hotel
  • Ramada Hotel & Suites, Sharjah: a centrally located 4-star hotel

Where to eat in Sharjah, UAE

  • Emirgan Sutis, Al Majaz waterfront: Turkish delights with outdoor fun
  • Al Qasba: Lebanese, American or café food with Venetian canal feel
  • Al Meena Street: Iranian, Pakistani & Iraqi Cuisine at budget prices

Where to unwind in Sharjah, UAE

Central Souk, Sharjah, UAE

  • Enjoyment: Al Noor Island, Al Qasba, Al Majaz Waterfront and Al Khan Beach
  • Shopping: Souk Al Arsah, Central Souk, Souk Al Bahar, and Souk Al Shanasiyah

When is the best time to visit Sharjah UAE

Given the city’s desert setting, the best time to visit Sharjah is from November to February.

Fireworks at Sharjah Gala Dinner, UAE

Published on:

A section of this story has been published in following Publications:

Sakal Times: Up Close with the Pearl of the Gulf

Sakal Times: Take this Dip 

DB Post: Hummus – More than just a dip


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Related:

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Offbeat Dubai: Beyond the Burj Khalifa and Desert Safari

Disclaimer

I was hosted by Sharjah Tourism but all the views expressed above are solely mine and based on my personal experiences. All pictures posted above are clicked by me. Nobody is allowed to use them without my written permission.

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35 Comments

  • You mentioned at the beginning of your post – how when it comes to the UAE, most people gravitate to or are familiar with only Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I’ve never been to the UAE, but Sharjah seems it has so much to offer, I wonder why I’ve not heard much of it. Great read!

  • Abhimanyu says:

    Sharjah seems so astonishing and picturesque, Archna. Thanks for stunning pictures, I am adding it to my bucket list.

  • Val says:

    Wow, Sharjah looks like a fantastic place to explore with such a great variety of things to see and do! Your pictures are beautiful, the Al Noor Mosque particularly caught my eye, the interiors are stunning!

  • Denny George says:

    My parents live in Dubai and so I visit the UAE often. I have also occassionally gone into neighbouring Sharjah to visit friends and relatives. However I never realised that Sharjah had so much to offer visitors. I’ll make sure to spend more time there the next time I visit.

  • Medha says:

    It’s good to read a post about Sharjah. People usually visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah gets neglected (I live in the UAE by the way) because it is not as glamorous and glitzy as the other two cities. However, there are a lot of museums and cultural places to visit and also, the Mleiha safari is quite unique. Al Noor Mosque is one of the prettiest mosques in the UAE in my opinion and I love your pictures, especially of the sunset at the corniche.

  • Eva says:

    Uh, wow, I always only associated Dubai with the UAE, which I did not have a great urge to visit. Sharjah, however, is definetly a place I want to see. Especially the Al Noor Mosque fascinates me. Thank you for sharing!

  • Danijela says:

    You’re right, I am one of those who went to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and didn’t get to other emirates. I wanted to see all seven of them, but I just didn’t have the time. Next time maybe! 😉
    To tell you the truth, didn’t even know that the city looks so modern. And I would love to visit the Al Noor Mosque. I had a chance to see the actual Blue Mosque of Istanbul and would love to look for the resemblance.
    Thanks, you’ve given me a task for my next UAE trip! 🙂

  • Catherine Salvador Mendoza says:

    Sharjah, UAE looks like it almost has everything. From great outdoors, fine dinings, shopping, entertainment and many more. It’s a good read for me about this place as I usually don’t get to see many posts about it. So whenever I get the chance to visit here, I won’t miss Al Khan Beach as I’m a beach lover anywhere I go, I always look for beaches! Plus the architectures of Sharjah are no doubt world class!

  • Danik says:

    OK, you sold me! I so want to check this city out now. Hoping to do UAE later in the year but looks like I am gonna have to add this place to the list as well. Love the post and loving the photos.

  • noel says:

    I would love to explore all the historic and cultural gems and also to visit the desert there, it looks pretty amazing. The skyline looks so surreal – I would love to see what it looks like from above.

  • Athi says:

    Its my first time reading about this `emirate – I always visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi but this seems like quite a formidable alternative to these even though lesser known. Really nice pictures – thank you for sharing

  • This isn’t really a place that has ever appealed to me but your pictures have certainly given me food for thought. The powerboating looks cool.

  • Marvi says:

    Wow.. I’m impressed with Sharjah’s commitment to revitalise it’s heritage district. It’ll be exciting to see the development over the years for sure!
    Sharjah looks like an amazing city to explore. Like most cities in UAE, the architecture are really impressive and the archeological sites sounds interesting, too. I’d love to try thhe Dune bashing excursion too. I’ve tried the sand dunes adventure here locally and it was pretty fun! I’m sure dune basin at the Mleiha Desert Safari is even more exciting!

  • Leah says:

    WOW! I just learned something new today. I’d never heard of Sharjah, much less knew it was part of the UAE. I’ve been to Dubai and liked it, so this might be a place I should consider. I love the mosque and the skyline is pretty spectacular, too.

  • Abigail Sinsona says:

    I have never been to the UAE or even the Middle East, but you make a strong case for Sharjah. I have been curious with Dubai especially with its architecture. But I love that Sharjah has all of that and an immensely preserved culture. I love how you described it in this post too – it makes me all the more curious and wanting to explore it.

  • Soraya says:

    Sharjah does sound very interesting and a bit off-the beaten track from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I can’t believe theres over 22 museums to learn all about the culture and history – how to choose! I love Butterflies so I totally would love to visit the Butterfly Garden at Al Noor island.

  • Danila Caputo says:

    I really don’t think Sharjah has anything less than Dubai or Abu Dhabi: it looks fantastic! And I particularly love that they preserved the traditional shops in the heart of the city!

  • Neha says:

    This is a complete guide on Sharjah. There’s so much to do from museum to mosque to day trip. Glad that you planned a day trip to Dubai. The picture of Burj Khalifa skyline is stunning. Congrats for the feature in the magazine too.

  • Marissa says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Sharjah before! There is SO much to do here. I love history, so I’d be thrilled to explore all the archaeological sites and museums. I can’t believe how old their artifacts are!

  • Lynne Sarao says:

    You’ve convinced me. I would love to visit Dubai someday and it seems like adding on a trip to nearby Sharjah would be a smart idea. I’d love to go find adventure in the desert and try the arabic coffee with dates. It looks and sounds amazing!

  • Sharjah looks a very interesting place to visit with all those museums and archaeology, far more cultural than the shops and beaches of Dubai. Didn’t realise it was the largest emirate in the UAE.

  • This article is great to get some inspiration to visit Sharjah. The mosque and the safari in the desert just took my breath away! It’s good to know that you can use a budget airline and there are some supermarkets around to shop. Every time I think about UAE I imagine it is a super luxurious and expensive experience, but it’s nice to hear that you can make some savings.

  • Rosemary says:

    Sharjah, UAE is somewhere to add to my must-visit list. I’m quite impressed at the diversity of activities – from the food, adventure, shopping, cultural sites. Truly, something for everyone.
    The powerboat championships sound crazy fun…I’d love to see that in action 🙂 Great overview of Sharjah.

  • I have never heard of Sharjah before and I have been to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There certainly are more than enough things to see and do to keep you busy. The fact that there are so many archaeological sites has me hooked already.

  • Swati Jain says:

    I have been to Dubai for a short while but it didn’t impress me. The reason that I didn’t explore it further but your blog elaborates quite a bit. Hopefully I shall make another to this country again and get to change my perspective 🙂

  • Janine Thomas says:

    I have been to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi but I have never heard of Sharjah. It certainly looks like a fascinating place to visit with more than enough things to keep everybody entertained. I was hooked when I read about the archaeological discoveries.Great to know that you have the option of a budget airline to get there as well. I am going to bookmark this as a reminder for future travel plans.

  • Heidi says:

    I’m sure the experience in Sharjah is more authentic of the true UAE than Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It looks and sounds like an amazing city and so much to do. Not to mention all the old history to explore. And it’s close enough to stay here for the more “real” feel and day trip to the others.

  • Suruchi Mittal says:

    A well written detailed post like always. I never knew Sharjah has so much to offer. The place seems to have a rich history with great architecture and adventure. Honestly, we never thought of visiting it earlier, but surely gonna check this out now, after your post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Juliette S says:

    I’d still go to Sharjah just for the cricket ha ha! I’m a mad cricket fan. Having only transited through the UAE briefly, I got a glimpse of the Emirates and it really blew me away. So I was intrigued to read about all the things Sharjah has to offer. I would be so intrigued to visit those archaeological sites! It’s very hard to comprehend seeing such ancient remains. A desert safari sounds like a must and I’d be very keen to head East for a beach that offers snorkelling and diving. Great read!

  • Jenna says:

    I’d never heard anything about Sharjah before, but you made me want to visit! The culture and history sound really fascinating-that’s really neat that it’s been dubbed the Cultural Capital of Islamic Culture and the Capital of Arab Tourism by UNESCO. So cool that you got to experience actual excavation sites-I would love to do that sometime! The desert safari sounds really cool, too. The color of the sand is so pretty! Sounds like a lot of great adventures to do there!

  • Tami says:

    I really enjoyed your quite thorough essay on Sharjah. Your photos are captivating, too. Your writing style is very poetic and descriptive, so I felt like I was there alongside you at the close of the Cricket Match and as you drove the 4 x 4 Safaris in the sand dunes. Very curious about the photo from the Sharjah Heritage Museum — are those glasses with moustaches that the women are wearing?!

  • Ami Bhat says:

    Sharjah was my weekend destination when I stayed in UAE and I always loved it for its small souqs and non-crowded beaches. I never managed to see Meliha and I guess I will have to go back for it. Al Noor mosque opened after I moved back to India and so that remains pending. Hoping to manage it sometime this year again!

  • Bhusha says:

    The only times I’ve been in Middle east were for flight transfers. I’ve never explored the countries. Happy to read about Sharjah in your blog. Its the Cultural Capital of Islamic Culture? Wow, that definitely makes it a must visit destination. New Year fireworks would be awesome there I guess!

  • Niels Thomas says:

    I lived in Dubai for years and always loved visiting Sharjah. The fishmarket and the aquarium are some of the best places. Also the Chinamarket is great which is similair to dragonmall but much less busy!

  • During my Dubai stay, I had visited Sharjah a couple of times. I like its connect with history. This post took me back to all the good memories from there but I did not get to experience Grand Prix F1 H20 World Powerboat championship. I would love to see it sometime.

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