SharjahCopyright: zohaib anjum/Shutterstock.com
SharjahSharjah, the not-so-obvious UAE destination for many, unjustly remains in the shadows of its glistening immediate neighbour of Dubai. In the meantime, few are aware Sharjah was named the Capital of Islamic Culture (2014) and Cultural Capital of the Arab World by UNESCO sixteen years prior. Sharjah's Heritage Area is home to multiple historic sites and museums, and the Emirate itself boasts recent, modern additions to its art and entertainment scenes enough to compensate for the strict "no-alcohol" regulations.
The EmirateThe Emirate of Sharjah has received worldwide acclaim as the one that best preserves Emirati culture and traditions, which rings out loudly through the city's Heritage Area packed with sights and museums. The possible downside to such deep-routed connection to the past might be the ban on alcohol sale and consumption (allowed for "alcohol license" holders only, which have to be non-Muslim, locally employed and relatively well-paid). Unlike in other Emirates, drinks cannot be served even at some of the most upscale hotel bars, and modest clothing is required for both men and women. However, Sharjah has managed to embrace modernity while still firmly holding on to its heritage, which makes up for some of its shortcomings on the nightlife front. Unique new cultural centers, such as the Al Noor Island project, are turning Sharjah into an entertainment hub in its own right. The Corniche and waterfront areas come alive after sundown, and the multiple modern shopping centers and traditional souqs offer unlimited shopping opportunities. The Sharjah Emirate is not geographically restricted to the North of Dubai - it reaches to the Gulf of Oman on the eastern coast of the UAE via its seaside territories of Dibba Al Hisn, Khor Fakkan and Kalba.
Do & See
Tradition meets modernity in Sharjah, where museums and architectural monuments compete for visitors' attention with modern high-tech venues such as the recently inaugurated Al Noor Island. The Sharjah Heritage Area is where most museums and historic sights are concentrated. Sharjah also boasts a few places where one can get close to nature - marine life is best observed at the local Aquarium, and the Arabian Wildlife Center allows for close contact with and observation of animals native to the area.
Modern Emirati cuisine is quite cosmopolitan, and contains elements of a whole variety of Middle Eastern and Asian culinary traditions. Dishes traditionally include a grain (rice is most common) and some variety of meat (often chicken or lamb, no pork) or seafood (which is abundant). Alcohol is not served anywhere in Sharjah, so meals are normally followed by hot drinks (spiced coffee or tea) or fruit juices.
Due to a seizable expat presence in Sharjah, Western-style cafés serving foods like burgers, salads and pizza are not uncommon. There are, however, quite a few traditional establishments that function as evening venues for locals, where coffee, teas and juices are served instead of alcoholic drinks, and backgammon is played in the outdoor seating areas.
Bars & Nightlife
One will not find much in the way of bars and clubs in Sharjah, since alcohol sale and consumption is banned in all of the Emirate. Most visitors looking for vibrant nightlife head to neighboring Dubai, where alcohol regulations are much more lax and party venues are aplenty. Evenings in Sharjah itself are mostly spent at restaurants or outdoor cafés, enjoying a meal accompanied by freshly squeezed juices. One of the most popular after-sundown spots in the city is the Al Majaz Waterfront, where quite a few establishments located right by the water offer unobstructed views of the daily fountain light show in the lagoon.
The unmissable shopping venue in Sharjah is the covered Central Souq, also called "Blue Souq" for the sky-blue color of its domes. This souq is Sharjah's largest and busiest, and sells a variety of items ranging from local handicrafts and rugs to gold and jewelry. There are, however, quite a few modern malls in and around Sharjah. These sell items at a fixed price, and often house entertainment centers and even amusement parks.