One of the seven emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah’s cultural texture, museums, and quality heritage make me think that the city is intent on bringing tradition and the future together. Located in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, the city is one of the rare settlements that has managed to keep its 5,000-year-old heritage alive.
Meaning the “place in the east,” Sharjah bears scenes of the past, especially in the historic Heritage Area (Heart of Sharjah) included on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This area can be described as what Sharjah once was. In the heart of the city, it feels as if life chose to retreat into its own shell instead of following the times. The city texture of 50-60 years back is determined to continue its existence paying no heed to the skyscrapers up ahead. The air is filled with frankincense and perfume from the stores, creating a magical atmosphere that arouses a sense of curiosity and a desire to explore.
The historic structures surrounding the city walls in the center have been transformed into museums and culture centers with an approach loyal to their architectural past. The Calligraphy Museum with some of the finest examples of Islamic calligraphy, Bait al Naboodah Museum that reflects its ethnographic richness, and the inner parts of the castle walls are only a few of the 20 museums and culture areas in this delightful cultural oasis. The best part is that all of them are located within walking distance to one another. Furthermore, the lines of the unique traditional architecture have been successfully featured in many new structures, especially government buildings, in Sharjah.
The Ghost Town in Al Madam is one of the most interesting locations in the city. It's still a mystery how the houses in this uninhabited area are invaded by sand dunes. The sand-filled rooms of the houses offer extraordinary views to photograph.
Here, be prepared to meet a city that has befriended the sea, which embraces the entire city through canals stretching from the coast to the hinterland. A tour on these canals is one of the best and easiest ways to enjoy Sharjah. The blessings of the sea are not limited to the view, fish, and fresh seafood. The blue lukewarm waters of the sea have been giving the people of Sharjah pearls as gifts for thousands of years. The most favored source of income in the 18th and 19th centuries, pearls still ornament traditional jewelry signifying prestige and are beloved by the region. Make sure to visit the fish market to see the rich seafood products the gulf has to offer including colorful fish and dozens of shrimp and crab species. Accompanied by emerald-green parks lined with the widespread, pleasant-looking date trees, the coast becomes lively and colorful, especially in the evening. If you’re looking for some adventure and excitement, you can get to know the legendary and noble Arabian horse at the Equestrian Center. In Sharjah, you can see, touch, and even go on a short tour on this magnificent creature.
The significance Sharjah attaches to cultural heritage while keeping up with modernity was rewarded with the city’s declaration as Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998 and as Capital of Islamic Culture in 2014. There is no doubt that the Museum of Islamic Civilization played a major role in Sharjah becoming a cultural capital. The museum’s highlight collection comprises the exhibits displaying Muslim scholars’ contributions to the history of science from astronomy to medicine, chemistry to maritime. In addition to this wide collection, the museum also exhibits the reflections of a great civilization through Islamic artworks.
Sharjah is also a city of markets with many affordable options for shopping. The Gold Souk stands out with its eastern designs while the Central Market offers a rich variety from carpet to decorative objects, antiques to textiles -both are perfect for those interested in authentic souvenirs. You can find every local product at the open-air markets which lure you in with their traditional Arab architecture and narrow streets.
After cultural and shopping tours, it’s time for a colorful evening stroll. Al Majaz Square is the best place for fun. It actually looks more like a vibrant and energetic park with cafés, local and international restaurants, and entertainment venues. Al Majaz is very popular in terms of local delicacies, especially seafood. The water and light shows that begin in the evening hours are among the most entertaining events on the square. Families are especially fond of these shows judging from the happy and astonished expressions on children’s faces.
As an oasis in the desert, Sharjah also remembers its ancient friendship with the desert and has improved this connection over the years. I can give you a long list of activities to do. All you need to do is to buy a ticket from a tour agency to go on an adrenaline-filled desert safari on the reddish and fine-grained sand dunes. If you wish, you can also experience a day in the desert with private all-wheel terrain vehicles or camels. The safari also includes a local meal in the desert towards sunset. After this delicious break, you can enjoy the view of thousands of stars in the sky with music -a scene impressive enough to be remembered forever.
Since Sharjah is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, it also offers a chance to explore the other emirates with daily excursions. Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the recently opened Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, and entertainment centers for children are some of the places that are only a car ride’s away from Sharjah. For a more adventurous experience, you should definitely visit Jebel Jais Zipline in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. It’s home to the world’s longest zipline which enables you to glide -or fly!- at 150 kilometers per hour. Fujairah, where the shades of blue and green meet the desert sand, is perfect for a few days in tranquil nature with nearby lagoons and resort hotels. It also has a rich underwater world for diving enthusiasts. At only three or four meters deep, you can swim with sea turtles and explore the seahorses, different fish species, and corals.
Dubai is the closest emirate to Sharjah (only a 30-minute car ride), and it invites visitors to a world of shopping, entertainment, and gastronomy. Here, you can see the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 meters, and stay at the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel.
Sharjah and its surroundings are an oasis with a lukewarm, pleasant weather all year round except for very hot summers, friendly Arab hospitality, extraordinary culinary experiences, and the astonishing, sweet surprises of a different landscape paired with a feeling of safety. I suggest you fly from Istanbul with the comfort of Turkish Airlines before the end of spring. Ahlan wa sahlan!