Home to some of the most stunning museums, art galleries, souks and archaeological sites – we know now, why Sharjah was titled the ‘Cultural Capital of the Arab World’ by UNESCO back in 1998. I visited the land of mysticism recently for a four-day trip, thanks to Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) who invited me to explore the hidden gems of this Arab city. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
A short three-and-a-half-hour-long flight from Delhi will help you reach Sharjah. It’s also a 30-minute drive away from Dubai. Now, if you have been to Dubai before, you’ll probably remember the sparkling tall buildings, huge shopping malls and all things exorbitant; on the contrary, Sharjah is a different world altogether. The rich history and deep-rooted culture seem to ooze out of every nook-and-corner of this city. Sharjah has ditched the glitz and glam to embrace layers and layers of elegance and aestheticism. In this article, I am listing down some of the most stunning places I explored in this Emirati jewel.
1. Al Majaz Waterfront
Located right by the gorgeous Khalid Lagoon, this lush green space attracts people from all walks of life to douse in soulful sunsets, enjoy Emirati cuisine, and soak in the stunning views of the Al Noor Mosque (situated right across the lagoon). I truly enjoyed my evening boat ride here and the most elaborate and satisfying dinner at Al Fanar Restaurant and Café. You can come here for a little family picnic or just a regular evening walk. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants here for you to choose from.
This one deserves a special mention! Among the most spectacular of Sharjah’s 600 mosques, Al Noor Mosque is an architect’s fantasy come true. Flaunting traditional Ottoman design elements, this mosque overlooks the Khalid lagoon like a dream.
Call it an Arabian dream come true, this landscaped garden island right opposite the Al Noor Mosque is home to countless species of plants and butterflies. In fact, right after you cross the bridge on Khalid lagoon to reach the entrance, you will be startled at the sight of the curvy-shaped butterfly house. Hosting several species of these beauties, I loved photographing them and walking around in this wonderland. Another spot that I loved here was their literature pavilion. This island also flaunts quirky art installations, play area, and a café. The greenery and stillness of this island will transport you to a different world altogether. Now, if you happen to visit this place in the evening, be ready to witness the magic! Post sunset, the entire island lights up like a fairytale. Think of neon-hued, lit flowers and gleaming cacti! Need we say more?
4. Al Qasba
Call it the culture and lifestyle hub of Sharjah, this canal-side body is the perfect spot to explore art galleries, cafes, amusement parks and more. I would say, visit Al Qasba post sundowner to immerse in the beauty of the twinkling skyline. Also, one of my most stirring experiences here was visiting the Maraya Art Centre. And, I was very fortunate to witness Palestinian artist Dana Awartani’s work ‘The Silence Between Us.’ If you are a sucker for modern art, check her out!
Every place has that one spot that sets the pulse of the city, resonating its emotions and spirit, and Heart of Sharjah is most definitely that spot. It’s one of the greatest historical restoration projects in this city. If you want to get completely immersed in the rich history of the Emirate, head to the Heart of Sharjah. This place will instantly ferry you back to the world of glorious souks, traditional houses, museums, art galleries, eateries and so much more! As I meandered through the narrow lanes of this place, I was fascinated with the small shops, local food stalls, stellar tapestry, jewellery, art and the vibe in general! In fact, it’s a great idea to shop for handicrafts here – perfect souvenirs for your folks back home!
If you love visiting museums as much as we do, this place will ensure it lingers on your mind for a long, long time. It is here that the mysticism of Emirati culture completely unfurls. Each gallery here portrays different aspects of local life. You can witness various religious values – right from birth to burial, wedding traditions, ancient medicines, local folklore and more.
7. Rain Room
This place is literally a symbolism of desert rose! At this installation, you can walk beneath a never-ending cloudburst of 2,500 litres of water without getting drenched! Sounds impossible? Well, thanks to technological advancements, a super-efficient system of cameras tracks your movements to ensure you are dry throughout your journey. However, if you walk or move quickly, chances are, you’ll get drenched.
8. Mleiha Archaeological Centre
It has been proved that humans from the Paleolithic era passed through this place on their way to Asia. In fact, reports have proved that a Neolithic community lived here back in 8000 BC. Moreover, evidence of life from the Bronze, Iron and pre-Islamic eras have also surfaced here. Now, if information like this doesn’t pull you to Mleiha, we don’t know what will! This is where the ancient world wrapped in contemporary times, come alive. One of the most crucial historical sites of UAE, it is here that you can get a first-hand glimpse into the world of ancient civilizations. An hour-long drive from the main city of Sharjah, this desert land engulfs you in a warm hug amidst an endless expanse of saffron sand dunes and a starlit sky. I would strongly recommend an overnight desert camping and stargazing, followed by an early morning dune-bashing session! P.S – check out Al Faya Lodge if you are looking for stay options close to Mleiha. It’s a beautiful resort set against the gorgeous backdrop of the desert landscape of Mleiha. It is also an advocator of sustainable eco-tourism and thus, has our vote!
A short drive from Mleiha, this eco-lodge has about 25 luxury tents with a private swimming pool in each tent. Think of sitting at the porch watching the Indian Ocean glisten as the sun sets in the evening, and the mangrove trees accentuate the beauty of this place. Perfect for a weekend getaway from the main city, this lodge is apt for unwinding in nature’s lap. Right from kayaking to getting a massage, and from practising outdoor yoga to indulging in delicious international cuisine – Kalba is a total winner.