Beyond the Desert – What makes Sharjah different from the other Arab Emirates?


May 2, 2023

Beyond the Desert – What makes Sharjah different from the other Arab Emirates?

From its rich cultural heritage to its contemporary art scene, Sharjah sets itself apart from its neighbouring emirates.

As soon as you leave Dubai and enter Sharjah, you can see how different it is from the UAE’s hotspots. Skyscrapers are replaced with libraries and museums, and the city’s cultural heritage is evident everywhere you go. Walking through the historic Heart of Sharjah district feels like being in a place that has not changed architecturally for decades, where culture preservation is a priority. Additionally, places like the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization provide a fascinating glimpse into the history and traditions of Islam, while the Sharjah Art Museum showcases the city’s thriving contemporary art scene.

Sharjah’s appeal extends far beyond its cultural offerings. This emirate is also a hub for outdoor activities, with pristine beaches, sprawling parks, and stunning nature reserves. The Sharjah Safari, the largest safari outside Africa, and the Al Qurm Nature Reserve provide a serene escape from the bustling city. Of course, no visit to Sharjah is complete without a trip to the iconic Al Noor Island, where you can wander through lush gardens, marvel at stunning sculptures, and watch the sunset over the sparkling lagoon.

Traditional Emirati outfit
Emiratis made me feel very welcome in their country.

Before you go:

  • Sharjah is known as the “cultural capital” of the UAE due to its numerous museums and art galleries.
  • The Sharjah Light Festival is an annual event that illuminates the city’s landmarks with colorful lights and projections.
  • The Heart of Sharjah is a heritage district that showcases the city’s traditional architecture and cultural heritage.
  • The Sharjah International Book Fair is the largest book fair in the Middle East, attracting visitors and exhibitors from all over the world.
  • Sharjah is the only emirate in the UAE to have a coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
  • The Sharjah Safari is the largest safari outside Africa.
The mosque in Sharjah
VIew of the Sharjah Corniche from the Hilton Hotel in Sharjah

Sharjah is a Cultural Haven

Sharjah is a cultural hub with a rich history spanning thousands of years. Visitors can explore the city’s past at the Sharjah Heritage Area, home to several museums and traditional Emirati architecture. The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization is one such museum that offers insight into the Islamic world through its various galleries, including astronomy, medicine, and science. For a more modern approach, the Sharjah Art Museum showcases contemporary and classical art from local and international artists.

Literary enthusiasts will enjoy the annual Sharjah International Book Fair, a platform for publishers, writers, and book lovers from around the world to showcase their work and participate in literary discussions, debates, cultural programs, workshops, and seminars that promote reading and writing.

Kids learning arts and crafts in Sharjah
Kids learning arts and crafts in Sharjah

Sharjah is a destination off the beaten path

Often overshadowed by its more popular neighboring emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah is a hidden gem with a unique experience. Unlike the bustling metropolis of Dubai, Sharjah has a slower pace of life, making it perfect for those who want to escape the crowds and relax in a peaceful setting.

Al Noor Island is one of the top attractions in Sharjah, a serene paradise with several botanical gardens, a butterfly house, and a literature pavilion. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the city skyline and participate in various outdoor activities, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and zip-lining.

Another unique attraction is the Heart of Sharjah, a restoration project aiming to revive the city’s historic district. The project combines traditional and modern architecture, including cultural centers, museums, art galleries, and traditional souqs. Visitors can immerse themselves in the city’s heritage by exploring the narrow streets, admiring the traditional buildings, and sampling the local cuisine.

Desert camping was one of my highlights in Sharjah
Desert camping was one of my highlights in Sharjah

In Sharjah, Traditions come First

Sharjah is a city that holds its traditions dear. As one of the seven emirates, Sharjah takes great pride in preserving its cultural heritage. Visitors to Sharjah can experience a glimpse of the city’s traditional way of life by visiting various museums, such as the Sharjah Heritage Museum and the Sharjah Islamic Museum, both of which provide insights into the history, culture, and traditions of the emirate.

But not everything is about museums and galleries. Sharjah is the place to go for those who want to try authentic Emirati cuisine. Additionally, for those wanting to explore a deeper and more culturally traditional side of the emirate, a visit to Khor Fakkan is a must. Here, you can learn more about Emirati traditions, taste delicious local food, and learn more about life before the UAE became a big player in tourism.

Emiratis serving Coffee in the proper way
Emiratis serving Coffee in the proper way

Sharjah is a Natural Destination that Surprises

Sharjah may be known for its vibrant culture and heritage, but it also has its share of natural wonders. Visitors can explore the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which offers a glimpse into the prehistoric era and a chance to discover fossils and ancient artifacts. The Mleiha Desert Safari is another popular attraction, where visitors can explore the desert in a four-wheel drive, ride camels, and even try sandboarding.

For those seeking adventure, the Khor Fakkan Beach is a must-visit destination. It is a popular spot for water sports, such as jet skiing, parasailing, and snorkeling. The beach offers breathtaking views of the Hajar Mountains, and visitors can enjoy a picnic or barbecue while taking in the scenery.

Read more: What are the essentials you need for a safari?

Lions at the Sharjah Safari
Lions at the Sharjah Safari

Sharjah in a Nutshell

  • Due to its location, you can even visit the city of Sharjah using an Uber from Dubai (20 EUR).
  • Visiting Sharjah during the Sharjah Lights Festival is a highlight.
  • Unlike the glamorous Dubai or the festive Ajman, Sharjah does not sell any alcohol.
  • Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly, especially during the summer months when temperatures can soar.
  • Stay along the coastline. It’s nicer for doing walks at night.
  • You can get a traditional “kandura” at the Heart of Sharjah for only 50 EUR.I was warmly welcomed by the Emiratis during my visit to their country.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Sharjah Lights Festival

View of the Sharjah Mosque during the Sharjah Lights Festival
View of the Sharjah Mosque during the Sharjah Lights Festival




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