Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that form the United Arab Emirates – it is actually the 3rd biggest and most populous one, following Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Its closeness to Dubai (about an hour by bus) makes it a perfect destination for a day for those who seek to get away from the bustling city of Dubai and its skyscrapers and luxury.
That does not, by any means, suggest that Sharjah is a dead city, there is nothing there, it is boring, or things like that. It does not have the dazzling glamour of a metropolis, it is rather a cultural and historical “capital” of the Emirates. It is worth to mention that Sharjah takes its laws very seriously – also those that relate to decency. It is therefore advised to dress modestly for both men and women, and cover the shoulders, back, belly and knees. Alcohol is not sold in this emirate either.
In a historical perspective, some settlements already existed in this area for more than a thousand years. Over time, the emirate evolved to be one of the wealthiest towns in the region. It became an independent city in 1797, and joined the UAE roughly 200 years later, in 1971.
How to get there
Compared to Dubai, Sharjah is more like a residential area – and many of those who work in Dubai actually reside in Sharjah and commute from there to their work location. It is quite a trip to do every day there and back, especially in the rush hours when the roads tend to get way too busy, so it is best for visitors to leave Dubai after the rush hours and head back before – or, well, after – the evening rush hour.
By public transport, takes you 10 AED (1,7 USD) and around one hour to get to Sharjah from Dubai. The bus (E303) departs from Union station (also known as Etihad square), which thankfully lies on the metro line and is easily accessible. It is not a bad ride at all, but you have to bear in mind one thing, which is applicable for the whole country: people don’t seem to be too fond of warmth. Therefore, since it is practically always hot outside, they tend to over-compensate it with cranking the AC on like it blows your hair off your head. So if you are someone like me who doesn’t enjoy heavy air-conditioning, make sure you carry a pullover, a jacket or at least a scarf that you can wrap around your shoulders if you go anywhere inside.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Heritage
So when we arrived to Sharjah – I got hungry. It was after noon already and we have left without having breakfast other than a coffee, and we were facing some good walk in the heat. Should you feel hungry, there is a little food stall at the station, they make a delicious chicken sandwich for a reasonable price that you can eat on the go. Our first destination was the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. The building itself is huge, and is impossible to miss. The museum dubs itself as a state-of-the-art cultural venue, which it is in the inside, but on the outside you’ll find it built in a more classical style.
At the entrance, you will be asked to fill in a form of a few questions regarding your nationality and occupation, supposedly only for statistical purposes. It is not allowed to carry your water with you inside, but they will happily keep it for you at the reception. The museum has a ground floor and a first floor, all filled with items related to Islamic history, culture and civilization. Do not miss to enter into the rooms opening from the wide corridor on the ground floor. Already, the corridor features some items, but the majority is in the rooms. Then continue to the first floor. There isn’t any particular order you should follow; you can wander around as you wish.
The items kept in the museum range from irrigation system models, surgery tools, chemistry tools and astronomy related items to textiles, Quran copies, tiles, weapons such as swords, daggers and guns, and household items like jars, mugs, ceramics and cosmetic products. This is likely to be the biggest collection of such items I have ever seen before, presented in a well-organized and informative way.
To Noor Mosque
Once we have left the museum, we were to head down to Noor mosque. You can do the walk either on the corniche street, or across the city. The corniche in that area is not very pleasant, mind you, it looks more industrial. We have walked from the station to the museum on that side, being under the impression that it would be a real “corniche”, as in a pleasant seaside walk. We have decided to take another way to come down to the mosque. You also have a better chance finding restaurants if you take the roads inside the city, but you might have to contend with Indian and Pakistani food here. Or a snacks.
This walk is about 4 kilometres, so if you prefer not to tire yourself too much walking in hot weather, it is best to take a taxi, which you can find easily. They will certainly know where to go if you tell you are going to Noor Mosque, so you won’t be taken to a whole different location – which may happen in some other cases, if you pick less well-known destinations.
On the outside, the mosque definitely looks like it was imported right from Turkey: it draws heavily on the Ottoman architecture style with the dome structure and the decorative details.
Noor mosque offers guided tours on Mondays only. Other than that, it is open for worship in the regular timings. I did not attempt to enter as it was around prayer time then, but if your attire is mosque-compliant, you may attempt to sneak inside for a look. If you want to make sure you can enter, it is best to visit on a Monday.
It sits on the waterfront on Buhaira corniche. Now this is a REAL corniche. It is a nice, long, paved walkway with parks and palm trees all around. You will see many people biking or jogging in this area, as well as families having a walk. Right in front of the mosque also there is Noor island, an artificial island built in this little bay. We did not have enough time to go in and wander around, but it is definitely on our to-do list for the next visit. It includes a butterfly house, sculptures, and playgrounds for the little ones, which makes it ideal for families to visit.
We followed the corniche further down until we reached Al-Majaz waterfront. If you are looking for cafés with a view, this is your place. There are many cafés on the waterfront, you only need to pick your favourite. Have some snacks, drinks or sweets while you admire the bay from the top balcony. This is especially inviting after sunset, when they start their own smaller version of dancing fountain with all kinds of colourful lights and music. If you are there at night, you have hopefully had a chance to do the corniche walk at sunset. It really is a great place for that period of the day! If you are at least a bit of a photographer, it will offer countless of opportunities to take photo of the reflections of sunlight and the high-rise buildings sparkling on the water.
If you have time until your departure, visit the central souq – or blue souq, so named after the color of its decorative elements – which is right behind the bus station. It is not only an impressive building, but also offers a wide variety of products – basically anything. You can find local products as well as items that are clearly intended for tourists, like small souvenirs, and also foodstuff and jewelry. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, it is still worth a visit in your idle time. On the outside, it features an interesting architecture, on the inside, it houses a number of equally interesting traditional items. If you have plans to shop, it might be a good idea to do it here as prices may be lower than in Dubai shops.
Here you can see our route on the map: