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.
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.
a) The Heart of 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Must Visit Sites
- 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.
- Fossil Rock with fossil remains from 65,000 billion years old past
- Jebel Faya Mountain has live fossils and remains from as old as Stone and Bronze Ages.
- 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.
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.
Must visit Site
The camelback mountain where the red sand dramatically juxtaposes with a tall rock formation.
b) F1H20 World Powerboat Championship
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.
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.
c) The East Coast for great outdoors
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.
Must visit site
Al Khan beach for water sports and beach fun
4) Wholesome Fun & Entertainment
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.
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.
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.
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).
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: 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
- 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.
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
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.