The morally strict Sharjah is the emirate of museums and markets and was declared the Islamic cultural capital in 2014. There is no alcohol here, but a rich cultural heritage, much tradition and history, and a thriving theatre scene.
Only 30 minutes away from Dubai, the emirate of Sharjah has the reputation among connoisseurs of being a lot cheaper than Dubai, but hardly less worth seeing. Here, too, excellent hotels, interesting museums and historic buildings await, but without the lavish luxury and megalomania familiar from the Middle East.
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PICTURES: Sharjah City
Holiday in Sharjah - in the shadow of Dubai?
Tourism is also growing in Sharjah, but in the shadow of the famous Dubai it is rather unspectacular. The hotels are usually just as good, but a lot cheaper than in the world-famous metropolis. Many Dubai holidaymakers take advantage of this, book their hotel in Sharjah and make day trips to Dubai.
Decency rules "Local Orders
Inexperienced UAE travellers should be told that there is not a drop of alcohol to be bought in Sharjah, nor is it allowed to be consumed in public.
There is also a strict ban on smoking in all public places and knees and shoulders should always be covered for both men and women.
Sharjah is increasingly managing to become an attractive holiday destination with worthwhile sights. In recent years, numerous museums have opened in the city centre and its surroundings, and the Sharjah Biennial art exhibition has been held since 1993. Other tourist highlights are the markets, first and foremost the Blue Central Market, the Sharjah Fortress and the an-Nur Mosque.
Places of interest in Sharjah
Like Ras al-Khaimah, home and possession of the influential seafaring Al-Quasimi family, Sharjah was once a major maritime power with prestige and prosperity until its cities were destroyed by the British Empire in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Sharjah's buildings are a good deal older than those of Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But here, too, new buildings are being diligently erected on every corner and high-rise buildings are springing up almost like mushrooms from the desert floor.
Sharjah is above all the emirate of markets and museums, as well as technical schools and universities. In 1998, Sharjah was awarded the title "Arab World's Cultural Capital" by UNESCO.
The Organization of Islamic Conference also declared Sharjah City the "Capital of Islamic Culture 2014". The Art Area and Heritage Area contributed significantly to this award. The massive 42m high granite monument with 28 Quranic verses, 12 columns and a golden dome was erected to commemorate this designation.
The most beautiful area for strolling is the area around the Al Khaleed Lagoon to the Al Khan Lagoon, which forms the border to Dubai. Here, as well as on the Corniche, most of Sharjah's sights are to be found.
Tip: The Sharjah Light Festival takes place on 9 nights in February, during which illumination artists set the stage for striking buildings with a breathtaking light show.
Corniche - Sharjah Beach and Hotels
Sharjah's waterfront, the Corniche, stretches along the Old City, the Art and the Heritage Area. Here, on the extensive sandy beach, are the largest and best hotels in Sharjah.
In contrast to the more touristy emirates, holidaymakers in Sharjah mainly stay in comparatively affordable middle-class hotels. However, these are hardly inferior to the 5-star luxury temples Emirates Palace Hotel, Atlantis or Burj Al Arab in terms of service. The only things missing are ostentation and splendour, as well as the often enormous selection of additional services.
On the Corniche, right next to the Radisson Blu Hotel, is the palace of the reigning ruler of Sharjah. However, the huge building at the mouth of the Creek is well protected from foreign eyes by high walls.
For swimming, the eastern sandy beach at Khaleed Lagoon along the promenade to Ajman is the nicest. The rest of the beach is either the private property of the hotels or otherwise built up. However, the sea, which is around 30°C warm, hardly cools you down.
Attention bikini ban! The dress code of keeping shoulders and knees covered also applies on the beach, especially for women.
Museum of Islamic Civilisation
In the 200m-long market hall of the former Souq al-Majarrah on Sharjah's Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Civilisation has been established. The achievements of the Arab world in the fields of astronomy, geography, medicine and mathematics, as well as the history of Islam and its sanctuaries can be traced under its impressive golden dome.
Art Area, Al Hisn Fort and Heritage Area
Sharjah has a unique old town, considered by many to be the most beautiful in the United Arab Emirates. It is thanks to the reigning ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed al-Quasimi, that the historic buildings have been preserved to this day.
In order to preserve the old culture, he had the old city of Sharjah extensively restored and created the art centre of the Art Area and the Heritage Area, which focuses on folklore, on the Sharjah Corniche. Some of the old mansions have become museums, but some of them are still inhabited by private families. In its centre, the historic fortress of Sharjah, Fort al-Hisn, is the tourist heart of the city.
After the Heritage Area, the impressive al-Zahra Mosque with its richly decorated entrance portal follows along the Corniche.
King Faisal Mosque
The King Faisal Mosque was opened in 1987 as the largest mosque in Sharjah and can accommodate 15,000 worshippers. It was a gift from the Arab ruler King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Its two slender minarets rise diagonally into the sky opposite the Heritage Area.
Government House Square, Rolla Square and Kuwait Square
Just one block north-east of the King Faisal Mosque are three Sharjah squares worth visiting: Government House Square with a sculpture of the Koran, bordered by the Government Palace and Sharjah's central post office, the historically significant Rolla Square and Kuwait Square.
Rolla Square is home to the so-called Rolla Tree, a massive sculpture of a 200-year-old banyan tree that is said to represent the Tree of Life. Once upon a time, the influential families of the Emirates met under this Rolla tree on special occasions. Today, it is still the centre of events and folklore performances as part of the bank holidays on 2 December.
Kuwait Square is connected to Government House Square via Ibrahim Mohammed Al Medfa'a Street and is visible from afar thanks to the towering Kuwait Mon ument. The square and monument were inaugurated on 25 February 1990 as a symbol of the brotherly relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Tip: Away from the lagoons, Sharjah is strictly aligned in a chequerboard pattern, which can often lead to street confusion at intersections. The distinctive sculptures on the numerous squares and roundabouts are good landmarks.
Al Ittihad Park
Al-Ittihad Park opposite the King Faisal Mosque is one of the largest squares in Sharjah, covering an area of over 60,000 square metres. Here, amidst green spaces, stands the seven-armed Al-Ittihad sculpture, which symbolises the unity of the seven United Arab Emirates with oysters and pearls.
Souq Al Markazi (Blue Souq)
When people think of shopping in Sharjah (and at reasonable prices), they usually mean the Souq Al-Markazi ("Central Market"). The huge market hall of the Blue Souq is also called Central Souq or Gold Souq.
It is the city's largest market, a major Sharjah landmark and one of the most beautiful neo-Arabic buildings in the world. Inside, over 600 shops haggle for customers on two floors and a total area of 80,000 square metres.
Around the Al Khaleed Lagoon
Behind the Al Markazi Souq, it is worth walking along the Al Khaleed Lagoon. To the north, next to the Blue Souq, is Sharjah's fish and vegetable market. Between the two market halls, the flower-strewn "Smile You're in Sharjah" roundabout puts a smile on every passer-by's face.
From the shore, the view falls on Flag Island, inaugurated on 02.12.2012, which houses an amusement and water park as well as one of the tallest flagpoles in the world. The 15x30m UAE flag flies here at a height of 123 metres.
Tip: The floating Sharjah Dhow Restaurant is the perfect address for a romantic dinner with unforgettable scenery.
At the next island further south lies the magnificent an-Nur Mosquewhich is considered the most beautiful mosque in Sharjah and is the only one of the approximately 300 mosques in Sharjah that can also be visited.
At the apex of Al-Khaleed Lagoon, the picturesque Al Majaz Park with its green spaces and Al Taqwa Mosque makes for relaxing walks. Heading north again, past the Hilton Sharjah, is Al Majaz Island, where a modern Roman-style amphitheatre was built in 2014 when Sharjah was named the Islamic Capital of Culture. The 4500-seat theatre is the first of its kind in the region.
The Al Majaz waterfront promenade invites you to stroll and linger with gardens, cafés, restaurants and shops. Tourists, families and business people meet here at the 100 by 200 metre musical Sharjah Fountain, the promenade's distinctive landmark.
Al Quasba Canal
Along the 1km-long Al-Qasba Canal, the waterway from the Khalid Lagoon to the Al-Khan Lagoon and the city's most beautiful promenade, French bistros and Italian cafés provide a European flair. The 60m high Ferris wheel "Eye of the Emirates", which offers a fantastic panoramic view over Sharjah, is a huge eye-catcher.
Maraya Art Center
The Maraya Art Center is also located directly on the al-Qasba Canal. On the one hand, it presents contemporary art from the Arab world, and on the other, it functions as an event venue and exchange platform for up-and-coming artists. On two floors and in the Maraya Art Park outside the building, contemporary works of art of all kinds invite visitors to stroll, discover and marvel.
As a once important maritime power, a maritime museum in Sharjah is a must. It provides visitors with lively and interactive information about Sharjah's maritime traditions, including shipbuilding, fishing, pearl diving and maritime trade.
In keeping with the seafaring theme, the Sharjah Aquarium is located right next to the Maritime Museum. About 250 different species are on display here, so its size is no match for the Dubai Aquarium, which is not far away and much more spectacular.
Sharjah National Park
Just outside Sharjah City, near the airport, lies Sharjah National Park, the emirate's largest park. The 600,000-square-metre area is a popular day-trip destination for locals, with picnic and barbecue areas, cycle paths and a miniature representation of Sharjah City, including mini-lagoons.
Arabian Wildlife Center
Also close to the airport, in the extensive Desert Park, is the only zoo in the United Arab Emirates. Around 100 different animal species from the Arabian Peninsula can be seen in the Sharjah Zoo, which opened in 1999.