If luxury is the hallmark of UAE, then Sharjah, surprises by adding new dimensions to this theory. Whether it is exploring centuries-long art and history at fabulous museums in the ‘Cultural Capital of the Middle East’, a brush with nature along its rugged coastline, shopping at a traditional market, or culinary indulgence, the third largest emirate is much more than glitzy soaring skylines.
Taking you beyond the museums and art exhibits, we turn the spotlight on an array of interesting experiences that await the traveller in UAE’s third largest emirate.
The surreal walk through a room where you witness a downpour without getting wet is one of the most fascinating experiences in the city. In the Rain Room, sensors track where you are standing and stop the water from falling there. This is your chance to get that perfect silhouette shot. The 20 minutes that bring the sound of rain into the desert will pass in a jiffy. Opened barely a year ago, it has already climbed the popularity charts.
Cross over a bridge near the Al Noor mosque to see the delightful Butterfly House where you can watch the delicate, colourful creatures fluttering in a glass house. It is just one of the many attractions here. Meander to the tropical, landscaped garden with art sculptures and a literature pavilion, an outdoor seating area with soft music and a fountain where you can spend time reading a book. Children don’t fret, there is a playground where they can spend time jumping around.
Even if museum hopping is not on your list in a city replete with them, don’t miss this. Situated in an erstwhile souk, this grand museum with a gold-plated dome and a mind-boggling collection of over 5000 artefacts is a perfect introduction to the art, history and of course the culture of the Islamic world. Admire the gorgeous zodiac mosaic in the central dome.
You might have to occasionally duck your head as the winged creatures swoop down as they flap around from one end of the amphitheater to the other during a one-hour free flying demonstration. As the name suggests, these are birds of prey such as the barn owl, falcons, eagles and the lappet-faced vulture. One of its kind in the UAE, the fascinating show showcases different bird species in the Arabian region including migratory ones since Kalba falls on a major avian flying paths. It is two hours away from Sharjah.
Shop & Stay
The luxury eco lodges with intricate woodwork and a private plunge pool at the patio overlook the ocean take glamping to a different level. Lying just two hours away from Sharjah close to the Oman border, they spell luxury all the way. Spend time cycling around, kayaking through the mangroves, watching sea turtles, finding that perfect spot for your next Instagram picture and eating some great Middle Eastern food. Don’t forget to go for a walk along the beach and early risers don’t miss the sunrise.
Definitely one of the city’s most posh stay options, this hotel has a private beach and huge luxury rooms. Opt for those that overlook the sea and take a dip in the huge pool before stepping out. The outstanding spa offers a range of treatments, there are as many as six dining options, but for those who enjoy seafood, head to the Marasea, one of the best seafood restaurants in the city. Choose your fish and they will make it just the way you like it.
No mall can replace the charm of this traditional souk – it is like stepping back in time. One of the oldest markets in the country, the small alleys here have traditional shops on either side selling souvenirs and Arabic bric a brac – think lanterns, carpets, Arabic coffee and perfumes. There is a shop selling Omani halwa and one can even see the entire process of how it is made.
While Dubai is usually regarded as the mecca for mall crawlers, this is an excellent option in Sharjah – after all it is one of the biggest ones in the UAE. While you shop here, leave the kids at Antic’s Land, which happens to be the first indoor theme park in the Middle East. There’s also a cinema hall here, a food court and cafes.
Located by the Al Qasba Canal, this is one of the city’s finest Arabic restaurants. The Lebanese dishes get a modern twist to offer you something offbeat apart from the staple dishes. Think hummus, melt in the mouth lamb kebabs, Lebanese sausages, perfectly grilled salmon, tenderloin and much more. The chic interiors and floor to ceiling windows add that special, grand touch. There’s also a baking station where you can witness fresh Arabic bread being made.
You go here not just for the coffee, but the experience. After all you will be sipping traditional Arabic coffee in one of the most luxurious hotels in the city which has a lot of history to it since it was the former residence of Ibrahim Bin Mohammed Al Midfa, who contributed to the cultural development of UAE. It has a museum and is designed like a maze and you can easily get lost in the small alleys. Located in the heart of Sharjah, the oldest part of the city, the cafe opens out to the souk.
When you palate craves an international flavor this is where you should go. This chic cafe has a walk-in cheese room and charcuterie and the menu has a mix of salads, meats and pastas. Those who enjoy a juicy beef burger, the Jones Signature wagyu burger is quite good. Don’t miss the delicious truffle fries and for those with a sweet tooth, there is a tantalizing display of desserts.
One of the best options for Emirati food in the city, the bonus is the restaurant’s excellent location by the Al Mazaz waterfront. Among the wide choice, my pick would be Biryani Laham – mutton with yellow rice, and Jasheed, which is baby shark. Polish it off with some fantastic Emarati desserts such as Leqaimat, deep fried dough balls with date syrup and Khabisa which is similar to halwa but made of flour and molasses mixture. For palates which prefer Indian, this food is similar to that back home.
All images: Courtesy brands