You may not have heard of it, but less than 30km from the cosmopolitan city of Dubai is an Emirate known as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. This lesser-known destination compared to its neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a beautiful coastal city where life continues in true Arabian tradition.
As the third largest Emirate, Sharjah is half the size of Dubai. It may be right next to Dubai but it feels a world away from the cosmopolitan Emirate.
From magnificent architecture and mosques to cultural museums and light shows and entertainment, there are many things to do in Sharjah and Sharjah attractions provide the perfect blend of Islamic culture and modernism. I spent 5 nights in Sharjah and was really surprised by the Emirate. Here are my favourite places to visit in Sharjah.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation
What I love about Sharjah is that it has some fantastic museums to visit and right in the heart of Sharjah stands the grand building of the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. This defining landmark of Sharjah is an interesting museum, especially for cultural solos.
This large museum has a fine collection of 5000 artefacts which includes ceramics, coins, sculptures, weapons and even swords. It gives you a detailed insight into the rich history of the United Arab Emirates and Islam’s contribution to both art and science.
Al Qasba is one of the best outdoor places to visit in Sharjah. Located on a canal, the Al Qasba Canal Sharjah is a waterfront community with something for everyone.
Maraya Art Centre has some beautiful paintings on display by some international artists or you can take a ride on the 60-metre-high Eye of the Emirates Ferris wheel located on the banks of the canal, which is visible from a distance. Masrah Al Qasba is an auditorium in Al Qasba which hosts cultural events and even hosts the annual Sharjah Film Festival.
This location is dotted with cafes and restaurants offering an eclectic mix of local and international cuisine. There are musical fountains and an indoor play area where you can see kids playing. Al Qasba in Sharjah is a great place to come for the sunset and the cool evening breeze.
The Blue Souk, also known as the city's Central Souk is a good option among indoor places to visit in Sharjah, if you want a break from the sweltering Arabic sun. Literally translated ‘Souk’ means an Arab marketplace. Here you can find some amazing and wide range of Arabic products like jewellery, clothing, home decor items, crafts, carpets and much more. With 600 shops within the complex, you will be spoilt for choice. The building in itself is regal and decorated with traditional blue mosaic tiles. Not a shopper? It is a great place for window shopping too!
Sharjah Heritage Area
Sharjah's heritage area is a medieval site and narrates a tale in itself. I love this area as it feels as though you’ve stepped back in time. The architecture here is traditional Arabic style and you will also come across some old family houses and souks with Arabic goods to buy as an authentic souvenir.
Within this area, you’ll find the Bait Al Naboodah Museum, Sharjah Heritage Museum, Al Midfaa House, Sharjah Fort (Hisn Fort), Sharjah Calligraphy Museum and Souk Al Arsah. If you want to understand Sharjah’s art and history, head to Sharjah’s Heritage area.
The actual Heritage Museum is located in a pearl merchant’s home which dates back to the 18th century. You can learn about old folk tales and proverbs here too. Even the Calligraphy Museum is worth a look inside.
Tip – If you are planning on visiting more than one ticket, you can buy a Heritage Joint Ticket to explore 5 of these museums. You may even get a friendly staff member who will direct you to the next museum to see.
Sharjah Art Museum
Established in 1995, Sharjah Art Museum is the largest Museum in the U.A.E. and is the main reason of Sharjah being declared as the ‘cultural capital of the Arab World’. The consistent theme of the Museum is the Arabic world. Mostly the displays are from the ancient or medieval period but the museum hosts exhibitions featuring modern and contemporary art too.
Some of the artwork here is stunning and the whole museum is well laid out. You can easily spend an hour walking along the floors admiring different styles of paintings and artwork. Plus, it is one of the free places to visit in Sharjah so you can spend as long as you like for free!
Sharjah Rain Room
If you’re at the Art Museum, just a short walk away is the fun attraction of the Sharjah Rain Room. I haven’t come across this concept anywhere else and where else would you think of experiencing rain except in a destination known for its dry desert?
This permanent art installation is definitely a first and there’s a reason why it’s popular among tourists. If you visit at peak times you may have wait a while as only a few people are allowed inside at a time.
Once inside, rain falls from the ceiling onto the floor and as you walk sensors detect your movement enabling the water to stop, so you can walk through the rain and emerge dry at the other end. You do need to walk slowly though to keep yourself dry. It will certainly put a smile on your face and you can ask the guide to record you as you walk through the magical rain.
For an indoor place to visit in Sharjah, the Sharjah Aquarium is spread over two floors with a wide range of marine life including beautiful colourful corals. The aim of this aquarium is to preserve the endangered species of the marine world whose numbers are continuously plummeting due to the global increase in marine pollution. There are more than 100 species here and the aquarium takes you on a journey into the deep blue sea.
Your ticket also includes the Sharjah Maritime Museum which is next door where you can learn about the Emirate’s coast, lagoons and ports. It's one of the ideal places to visit in Sharjah during summer and you get 2 attractions for the price of one!
Al Noor Island
Sharjah really has a lot to offer and even has as island! Al Noor Island is a serene oasis right in the bustling city of Sharjah. Located in Khalid Lagoon, it has a playground, a book pavilion and a cafe but it is the Butterfly house which is extremely popular. Butterfly House is a massive urban style structure housing hundreds of rare species of butterflies.
All over the island you can see contemporary art installations and landscaped gardens. At night you can experience the lights as they turn this island into a wonderland. It really is where technology meets nature.
Al Majaz Waterfront
What I also love about Sharjah is the promenade. Al Majaz Waterfront is such a gorgeous place to walk or even jog along. Overlooking the Khalid Lagoon it offers panoramic views of the city and you can stop along the way at cafes and restaurants around the lagoon whilst admiring modern skyscrapers and beautiful mosques that make up its skyline.
Al Majaz is free to visit and there are various recreational activities to do here. See the coloured fountains, explore the stalls at the Lagoon Garden in Al Majaz Park or take a boat ride across the lagoon at Fun World for just 50 AED.
Any time is good here to visit but it is even more spectacular at night when the sun goes down. Throughout the year Al Majaz waterfront hosts a variety of concerts and festivals, so if you are lucky, you might be able to attend one of them.
Make sure to visit the Al Majaz Amphitheatre that’s here too. Not only is it one of the outdoor venues in the Emirate but there’s a free running track around it so you can extend your run around the promenade along here too. The Palm Oasis also sits along the waterfront. This lush row of palm trees offers some shade from the sun and you can find people just sitting here chilling under one of the many palms.
Tip – I ran along the waterfront starting at Al Noor Island to the amphitheatre which took me approximately 45 minutes. I recommend doing this before 7 am in the morning when the weather is cooler and you also encounter others walking or jogging along it too.
Sharjah Desert Park
If you love wildlife, then one of Sharjah’s best place to visit to see animals and birds is Sharjah’s Desert Park. This park is set in a huge area of 1sq km and divided into various sections. The main three attractions here are the Botanical Museum, Natural History museum and a children’s farm where you can see kids feeding the farm animals.
Discover all about the flora and fauna of the Arabian world and learn about endangered desert species which you might not know even exists! Especially the Arabian Oryx, the national animal of the U.A.E.
Getting Around Sharjah
The Emirates are easier to visit if you have a car (you don’t find that many people walking within the Middle East). I enjoy walking and most of the attractions were within an hour's walk of the Act Hotel where I was staying so I explored this Emirate on foot.
The city is walkable but if you prefer to see the attractions on a bus, the Sharjah hop-on hop-off bus gives you unlimited one-day access to 13 stops in Sharjah. See the Al Majaz Waterfront, the Sharjah Aquarium, Fish Market, Islamic Museum and more.
* Check prices, dates and availability: Sharjah hop-on hop-off bus
From Dubai to Sharjah
Sharjah is really easy to visit if you’re staying in Dubai. If you don’t have a car and prefer to see the sights on a tour, you can take a Sharjah City Tour from various central hotels in Dubai. The tour takes you to the Fort of Sharjah, King Faisal Mosque and the souks to explore the treasure trove of Arabian goods.
The tour takes 4 hours so it’s easy to see if you have a spare day in Dubai and want to witness the contrast between this cosmopolitan Emirate and the Arabian coastal city of Sharjah.
* Check prices, dates and availability for Sharjah City Tour
Where To Stay in Sharjah
Sharjah has some fantastic accommodation and there are plenty of 5-star hotels in Sharjah to choose from. The standard of accommodation and the service is fantastic value for what you pay. I stayed at the Act Hotel and share my review below.
Just a few minutes' walk from the Act Hotel on the corniche is the Marbella Resort Sharjah. And for a hotel close to the airport, choose the Rotana Hotel Sharjah. For all other places to stay in Sharjah, click on the link below and check the review.
* Check prices, dates and availability for all Sharjah accommodation
The Act Hotel Sharjah
My stay at the Act Hotel was amazing. I had a partial lagoon view from my room which was huge and had a sofa area as well as a two-sided TV (which I had never seen before!) The pool area had sun beds and a stunning view and the wellness centre had a women’s only spa where I treated myself to a discounted massage and spent time in the sauna, steam room and plunge pool. The breakfast selection was great and there was also the option of room service. It is ideally located next to Al Majaz Waterfront too.
- Prices From £95 per night for a superior room
- Check prices, dates and availability: The Act Hotel
Is Sharjah good for solos? You do need to prepare yourself for a few stares here. I kept myself covered up and still received some looks but I never felt unsafe as a woman here alone. The attractions definitely make up for any stares that you may encounter alone. Being a dry state, there is no alcohol served here and you can’t bring any into the Emirate either.
My Tip – I was in Sharjah during Ramadan so cafes and restaurants were closed during daylight hours. I was still able to order breakfast within my hotel. Travelling during Ramadan does make it more challenging as you’re not permitted to eat or drink outside so I recommend planning a trip to Sharjah outside of Ramadan which takes place next year from 22 March to 21st April 2023.