Anyone interested in a United Arab Emirates holiday will have heard of Dubai, but for decades Sharjah lagged behind its glitzy neighbour. Now the third largest emirate of the UAE is bidding for its share in the lucrative Arabian Gulf tourism market. Sharjah Municipality in particular has been rapidly expanding its tourist-related, commercial and shopping development in the last few years, particularly along the Dubai/Sharjah Highway.
The pace of change is such that Sharjah City, where around two-thirds of Sharjah emirate’s population live) now runs almost seamlessly into Dubai along the Highway and Corniche Road. Even taxi drivers can get lost as older neighbourhoods suddenly become part of a new high-rise development.
Day-tripping from Dubai is one way of seeing what Sharjah has to offer. However, increasingly short-break and long-stay visitors are being attracted by a broadening range of holiday accommodation from beach resorts to self-catering apartments and villas, and other shopping and entertainment facilities at budget and mid-range prices.
Attractions of Sharjah City
Sharjah City lies on three lagoons bordering the Arabian Gulf, each with islands at their centre. The oldest part of the town grew up along the south bank of the largest of these, Khaled Lagoon, and this is now the Heritage Area. Khaled Lagoon has now been joined to Al Khan Lagoon by an attractively constructed waterway, the Al Qasba canal.
In 1998, Sharjah City won the UNESCO Cultural Capital of the Arab World Award, and its urban architecture, development and ambience reflect Islamic traditional design and values. In spite of an increase in high-rise buildings, its skyline is still dominated by the graceful minarets of its 300 mosques. Sharjah City is divided into well ordered residential or commercial neighbourhoods.
The dress code for men and women is conservative, with most men favouring the white, ankle-length dishdasha with a head-cloth or skull cap. Women wear the black abaya, with some older women still preferring the traditional canvas face mask to a face veil. Entertainment tends to be family-oriented and the sale, possession or consumption of alcohol is forbidden and violent crime is rare.
- The Heritage Area and Sharjah Creek – for a feel of the past, with the its souks, the fort, remnants of the dhow trade and traditional music festivals.
- Al Qasba – the new fun-filled location, including the Eye of the Emirates revolving wheel (Etisalat), abra (wooden boat) rides, gardens and Al Qasba Musical Fountain.
- Sharjah Museums – 17 in all, including the Aquarium, Maritime, Heritage, Art, Natural History and Archaeology Museums, Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, a Children’s Farm and Old Cars Club.
- Malls and Shopping Centres- 13 are listed, the biggest being Sahara Centre, Sharjah City Centre, Sharjah Mega Mall and Safeer Mall.
- Souks and traditional open-air markets, including the famous original Blue Souk and Central Souk, for a wealth of authentic handicrafts, Bedouin jewellery and furniture to spices, perfumes and everything exotic.
Sharjah Hotel and Resort Accommodation
Around one hundred are listed, with more to come. Most large resort hotels are on the Arabian Gulf coast, with a beach front and gardens. Suites for families, self-catering apartments and furnished apartments are also very popular, as this suits local culture. Prices are generally lower than Dubai.
Coastal resorts bordering the Indian Ocean are also being developed for their scenic, wildlife and beach attractions, including snorkelling and scuba. They are easily accessible for a day excursion or overnight stay from Sharjah City. Non-guests near the Oceanic Hotel and Resort in Khor Fakkan can use the fine beach for a small fee.
Sharjah tourism offers reasonably priced holidays with good facilities, in a traditional ambience that is all its own. It may lack Dubai’s pace and glitz, but this makes it particularly suitable for young families, especially in the cooler ‘winter sun’ months.