Emirate for the Soul
Harsh mountains and hot desert, national parks and museums, oriental bazaars and a modern planetarium: this emirate is ready to offer much. Sharjah primarily focuses on family holidays. Except for industrial areas, there are children’s playgrounds everywhere, as well as restaurants that have special menus, and museums welcoming mothers with strollers with open arms. Almost every hotel has a mini-club and provides nannies. Do not fear the language barrier: personnel here speaks many languages. As for entertainment centers, well thought-out interactive attractions will delight both kids and parents. There are cities and countries made for business, while Sharjah is obviously meant for the soul.
From a garden to a desert
There are many reasons to leave a cozy hotel and explore the emirate. For example, the natural reservation of Wasit Wetland Center. It is only half an hour’s drive from the sandy coast. The best time to visit it is autumn and spring when a massive migration of birds takes place. Still, there are also permanent residents in the Wasit Center: pink flamingos, pelicans, falcons, Goliath herons, guinea fowls and a few dozen more species of birds.
The second natural landmark, Al Noor Island, is located right in the center of Sharjah – in the Khalid Lagoon, near the most famous local promenade of Al Majaz Waterfront. The main part of the island’s territory consists of a small scenic park with pavilions and pathways. Interestingly, many trees that grow here (they are labeled with signs) have been preserved during the construction work on the island. But this place is famous primarily for the Butterfly House with its intricate golden roof. Inside the multi-level space, there is a pavilion where several hundred winged insects reside.
To explore the other two attractions, you need to delve deeper into the center of the emirate. You can see the real desert in the Mleiha Archaeological Center. The staff will show you the excavation sites, the Bronze Age sites and one remarkable rock: if you pour water on the stone, the outlines of ammonites and other inhabitants of the ancient seas will be clearly visible on the surface. The next part of the program is a visit to the Mleiha Museum, where the history of the Arabian Peninsula is conveyed with modern technologies, such as touch screens and light/sound installations (although stone tools, old golden items and ceramics are also there). Afterwards, you can try adrenaline-filled races on buggies or jeeps on the barchans.
You’ll have to move farther to the Gulf of Oman, towards Kalba, to visit the Arabian savannah. A year ago, the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center, created to protect endangered species of animals, was opened there. Today, at the territory of twelve square kilometers, there are Arabian wolves, gazelles, Arabian tahrs, caracals and South-Arabian leopards.
From a museum to a souq
About 80% of the inhabitants of the country profess Islam, but in the UAE there are also Greek, Anglican and Armenian churches. Several years ago, the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan III bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, allocated land for the construction of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Philip the Apostle. Even agnostics look at the symbol of tolerance with interest: so mirage-like is the sight of a tent-shaped church surrounded by mosques and skyscrapers.
An example of the government’s focus on preserving traditions is a grand-scale project, the Heart of Sharjah, which is already in operation. In the Calligraphy Museum, you can draw inspiration from the examples of intricate Arabic ligature, and then create your own work of art at a workshop. It is worth visiting the house of the influential family of Al Shamsi. Some 150 years ago, this mansion was famous for its interior design, and the restorers have scrupulously reconstructed it. There are more than 500 items in the collection of one of the largest art museums in the region, the Sharjah Art Museum, including paintings and graphics of Arab and European artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as works by acclaimed contemporary masters from the Emirates and neighboring countries.
What would the East be without bazaars? One of the oldest markets of the Emirates is Souq Al Arsah. Bedouins used to bring here camels and dates, salt and coal, and exchange them for rice, spices and silk. Today there is a bustling trade in souvenirs, decorations and antiques. To assess the scope of the modern market, visit the neighboring Souq Al Jubail. Half of it is occupied by counters with vegetables, fruits, dates of all sorts and seasonings. The other half is left to the seafood traders. Several times a week a colorful fish auction takes place (you can watch it from a balcony).
From dawn to dusk
The most famous landmarks of Sharjah are the Al Qasba Canal, which connects the Al Khan and Khalid Lagoons, and the 60-meter-high Eye of the Emirates with air-conditioned booths. The locals say that in good weather you can see the coast of the neighboring Dubai from the top of it. By the attraction there are dancing fountains – running between them is a great fun for children. If you want to explore Al Qasba, the heart of the city, best option is to rent a bicycle or go boating along the canal.
There are boulevards on both sides of the canal, and they bustle with life around the clock. In the afternoon, you can order a business lunch here, and in the evening visit a restaurant serving Italian, Lebanese, Japanese, Indian, Greek or Asian dishes.
The multi-level Maraya Art Center is famous for its exhibitions of contemporary Arab art. It also offers entertainment for children: play areas, a soccer field, and karting.
If you want to make your family holidays not only fun, but also informative, visit the Sharjah Aquarium, where the whole fauna of the Persian Gulf is displayed (reef sharks and stingrays are particularly impressive).
Another point of interest on this route is the Planetarium in the Center for Astronomy and Space Sciences. The main building (the Sun) and the surrounding eight sculptures (the planets) reproduce the exact proportions of the solar system. This is an interactive site called Cosmic Park, where you can learn the laws of mechanics, gravitation, optics and even fly a virtual spaceship, and then see the constellations, comets and galaxies on the screen-dome of the Planetarium. The second part of the program – educational films about mysterious black holes, the underwater world of the Earth and super volcanoes – are also shown directly “in the sky.”
- Beaches with white sand can be found both by the Persian and the Oman Gulfs, but the density of salt water is different. Please keep in mind that open swimsuits are allowed only at the hotel beaches.
- Alcohol is banned, it is prohibited to sell it here. However, you can bring drinks with you or buy some in the neighboring emirate Ajman (15 minutes by car).
- The dress code requires covering knees and elbows. Revealing attire will be treated disapprovingly, including on the territory of the hotel. To visit religious sites, fully covering clothing is required (this includes a headscarf for women).
- Kisses and hugs in public are forbidden even for married couples.
- Smoking in hotels and restaurants is allowed at special areas.
Sands of time
- Heritage Museum. Prior to the discovery of oil deposits, the region’s economy relied on fishing, maritime trade and pearl diving. The Sharjah Heritage Museum displays a magnificent collection of household items, such as costumes, weapons, coins, ceramics, ornaments, medical instruments, hunting gear.
- Maritime Museum. Among the curious artifacts at the Sharjah Maritime Museum are pearl hunting boats and a 7,000-year-old pearl, which is considered the oldest one in the world. Thanks to interactive stands the intricacies of the art of navigation are universally understandable.
- Museum of Islamic Civilization. The collection has more than 5,000 items and covers a period of fourteen centuries. The permanent exhibition is built on the principle of “the old and the new”: copper astrolabes coexist with robots, antique carpets contrast with the starry ceiling, and old clothes of nomads stand beside the current Muslim fashion.
All shades of fun
- Al Montazah Park. A compact park of water attractions is designed for family leisure. There are no extreme downslides the height of a 10-story house here, but an array of fun slides, along with an intricate canal for inflatable boats, and artificial grottoes will bring variety to a relaxed beach holiday.
- Discovery Center. In hot weather, children can be entertained at the Discovery Center, which is located near the airport. Its attractions are designed in such a way that children can demonstrate ingenuity and at the same time get acquainted with the world of biology, physics, chemistry, construction and engineering.
- Skate Gate Ice Rink. Skating can become a nice change in the sweltering heat. In order to help those who make the first steps on ice, penguin-type supports are provided, allowing you to keep a balance. While experienced skaters, who feel confident on the rink, can play hockey – all the necessary equipment is avaiable for rent right on the spot.
- Malls. Malls become the oases of coolness in the summer months. Discounts during sales periods reach maximum highs.
- Souvenirs. In addition to dates, incense and carpets, Sharjah is famous for the largest furniture warehouses in the Emirates.
Теxt: Yulia Akimova
Published on: August 24, 2018