Sharjah seems to be a bit of an enigma for some, the undisputed source of Dubai’s relentless traffic for others. And then there are those who see it for what it truly is: a city packed to the brim with cultural and culinary offerings. Here, we’ve put together a list of things to do that are surprisingly affordable, proving why it’s time you head northeast.
Right as Rain
Sharjah doesn’t get enough love, but the opening of Rain Room is doing its part to draw Dubai residents. This site-specific installation provides an immersive experience of continuous rainfall, but getting drenched isn’t a concern – your movements will trigger motion sensors to pause the rainfall as you walk through the room. You can buy your tickets once you get there, but as the Rain Room is incredibly popular (read: fully booked), we recommend buying them online.
Cost: Free for children five and under, AED 25 for adults
Al Majarrah, 06 561 0095
Specialising in what is known as “calligraffiti”, French-Tunisian artist eL Seed uses his work to promote cross-cultural tolerance and his larger-than-life murals can be seen everywhere from Cairo’s Garbage City to a bridge in Paris, a rooftop in Rio de Janeiro, and the minaret of a mosque in Tunisia. In Sharjah, an abandoned building serves as the canvas for the artist’s first piece of public art in the UAE. His mural draws inspiration from a poem by 19th century Iraqi poet and calligrapher Ahmed Bu Sneeda, who spent most of his life in Sharjah.
Next to Al Arabi Toys Centre, Bank Street
The largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region, Heart of Sharjah is worth a visit for photography enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Many of the buildings in this heritage area are former Emirati homes that have been restored over the years, so traditional courtyards, coral walls, narrow alleys, and hanging lanterns translate to an air of nostalgia. Throwback vibes continue at Souq Al Arsah – considered one of the country’s oldest souqs – which is located just minutes away and home to stores that sell everything from old-timey antiques and handicrafts to herbs and spices.
Corniche Street, Mareijah, 06 511 2555
Art for Art’s Sake
Sharjah Art Foundation is to Sharjah what Alserkal Avenue is to Dubai – a.k.a. a hub for artsy types and a great place to while away a Saturday evening. Here await urban gardens, several art exhibitions, alfresco film screenings, and more. Our pick? The upcoming Vantage Point Sharjah 10, an annual photography exhibition that supports up-and-coming photographers from the region and around the world.
Al Shuwaiheen, Arts Area, 06 568 5050
A patisserie, a supermarket, a branch of Sharjah Co-operative Society, an outpost of Taza Chicken, and now an arts centre – meet the aptly named Sharjah structure with nine lives. Inspired by the Brutalist architecture style of the 1950s, The Flying Saucer was recently renovated by Sharjah Art Foundation and now features new exterior spaces, as well as community gathering spaces that include a multi-activity café around a sunken courtyard with a specially curated library and multiple screening walls. Today, the venue hosts film screenings, workshops, and other events accessible to the general public.
Corner of Sheikh Zayed St and Sheikh Humaid Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Square, 06 544 4113
Just about any architectural structure designed by award-winning architecture firm Foster + Partners is worth a visit, and House of Wisdom is no exception. Part-library, part-cultural landmark, this striking destination spans over 12,000 square feet and boasts a whopping 305,000 books across print and digital in different languages. It’s also the definitive spot if peace and quiet is what you’re after, courtesy of the library’s futuristic suspended private pods. Elsewhere around the premises? Lecture halls, outdoor reading spaces, an auditorium, an eatery, and uninterrupted views of ‘The Scroll’ monument that was designed to look like an ancient Arabic scroll looping 36 metres towards the sky.
Al Juraina 1, 06 594 0000
With cooler weather on the horizon, now is the perfect time to escape to to the 45,470-square-metre Al Noor Island, which is best explored around dusk. Here, lighting, literature, art, and nature collide, coming together to form a leisure destination that is intended to foster a sense of serenity – a rather unexpected discovery amidst the frenzy of the city. While there’s quite literally something for every age group, kids and adults alike are bound to love the Butterfly House that is home to nearly 500 different species of butterflies in an ornately designed building inspired by its inhabitants.
Cost: AED 10 for children aged 3 -12, AED 15 for adults
Buhairah Corniche Road, Khalid Lagoon, 06 506 7000
If there’s one thing that life in Dubai has taught us, it’s that expensive does not equal delicious when it comes to food. In fact, some of our favourite local haunts are shockingly affordable, much like Al Mukhtar Bakery in Sharjah. A beloved staple in the city’s casual eats scene, this bakery has been churning out pastries, pizza, fateer, and desserts since 1981. Having said that, it’s still the manakish that people rave most about. And with14 different varieties to choose from, there’s something for even the pickiest palate – Nutella included.
Cost: AED 10 for a Labneh & Zaatar manakish
Al Bustan Tower – Block B, Al Etihad Road, 06 531 2228
While Al Majaz Waterfront boasts several family-friendly attractions – think: countless cafés and restaurants, green spaces aplenty, a jogging track, a magnificent mosque, mini golf, Maraya Art Park, and more – it’s the spectacular Sharjah Musical Fountain at this epicentre of entertainment that enthralls kids every single time. Not only is it one of the biggest in the region, but it also pairs water that shoots up to 100 metres high and 220 metres wide with cutting-edge sound, light, and laser techniques. Add to that the sheer variety of shows, and there’s always something new to come back for.
Al Majaz Park, Khalid Lake Trail, 06 511 7000
New and Now
Between its trendy concept stores and traditional offerings, Souq Al Shanasiyah is a great place for an aimless browse. For starters, Dukan Namlet is one of the few places in the country where you can give Namlet a try. The drink – still unknown to most residents – dates back to the 1920s and had just about disappeared by the 1980s, only to return recently. Coffee aficionados, meanwhile, swear by specialty café Ratios Coffee. Overlooking Sharjah Creek and featuring décor elements that have been reclaimed from a 60-year-old dhow that was used by the traders of yesteryear, it’s our favourite spot in which to sip a cup of single-origin coffee in Sharjah.
Corniche Street – AlMerijah, Heart of Sharjah, 06 511 2555