14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Sharjah
Sharjah is the arts capital of the United Arab Emirates, and its efforts to preserve the area's history garnered Sharjah the title of Cultural Capital of the Arab World by UNESCO in 1998. For museum and art lovers, Sharjah is crammed full of excellent sightseeing opportunities. The world-renowned Art Museum is the city's major tourist attraction and top of most visitors' things to do list, while the Heritage Area is full of interesting buildings dedicated to Emirati history.
This is also a wonderfully family-friendly destination, with lots to keep the kids amused, including the newly opened Al Noor Island, with its butterfly house, and the fun-packed exhibits at the Science Museum.
See also: Where to Stay in Sharjah For Sightseeing
1 Sharjah Arts Museum
The largest Arts Museum in the United Arab Emirates (for now, until the Louvre and Guggenheim open in Abu Dhabi), this state-of-the-art facility opened in 1997 and features a permanent collection as well as a program of temporary exhibits. The permanent collection includes valuable artwork from the collections of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, the Ruler of Sharjah. There are 72 galleries spread over three floors, with a focus on works by artists who painted the Arab world.
Many artworks are by 18th-century painters who visited the Middle East and became fascinated by the natural environment, architecture, and culture. The Ali Darwish gallery contains watercolors of Sharjah. The contemporary section consists of more than 300 works by local, Arab, and foreign artists. If you're an art-lover on a weekend stopover in Dubai, this is one of the top places to visit.
Address: Off Corniche Street, Sharjah
2 Central Market
Sharjah's Central Market is the city's most famous landmark. The intricate blue tile work on the exterior has given it the nickname the Blue Souk. More than 600 shops are inside, where shoppers will find sections devoted to gold and jewelry, perfume, clothing, food, electronics, and gift-type items. The upper floor has the atmosphere of an authentic Arabian bazaar, with vendors selling antiques, carpets, Omani and Yemeni jewelry, and all sorts of other exotic souvenirs. For downtime after shopping exploits, the market area is also home to plenty of cafés.
Location: Khalid Lagoon, Sharjah
3 Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization is a good place to dive into the deep roots of Arab and Islamic culture. A number of scientific and religious manuscripts as well as a collection of Islamic arts and craftwork dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries are on display. Features of particular note include the exhibit of clay, pottery, and glass as well as metallic handicrafts inlaid with silver, gold, and brass, and the collection of astrolabes. The museum holds items dating back to the Abbasid and Umayyad eras, including a coin collection of silver dinars and dirhams, but also traces the far reaching tentacles of Islamic culture, with exhibits of Mughal and Ottoman craftwork.
Address: Corniche Street
4 Al Noor Island
This public park, created in Khalid Lagoon and accessed by bridge from the central city Corniche Street, is Sharjah's top spot if you're looking for some tranquil downtime to recuperate from shopping and museum exploring. The island blends art and nature into its design and features gardens scattered with modern art sculptures and installations, created by some of the world's most renowned artists. Perhaps the premier attraction is Al Noor Island's butterfly house, where an approximate 500 different butterfly species can be seen.
Location: Khalid Lagoon, Sharjah
5 Sharjah Maritime Museum
As a settlement, Sharjah has always been linked closely to the water, and the Maritime Museum highlights the importance of the sea in the city's development. There are interesting exhibits on traditional wooden dhows as well as pearl collecting and fishing - all once important to the economy here. Highlights include the collection of glimmering pearls (including what is thought to be the oldest pearl ever collected in the world) and the beautiful wooden dhow docked outside the museum.
Continuing on with the water theme, next-door is Sharjah Aquarium, which hosts around 150 species of sea life including reef sharks and sea rays.
Location: Off Al Meena Street, Al Khan district
6 Souk Area
Sharjah's Souk Area is an excellent way to experience the bustle of traditional Arabian shopping. Join local shoppers as they do their weekly rounds at the Fish Souk - a stinky and busy mix of noise and color - and then dive into the Fruit and Vegetable Souk, always crowded with vendors shouting out their prices and customers bargaining for good deals. It's a prime opportunity to capture some vibrant photos of daily Sharjah life and see a shopping souk, which hasn't been dressed up for the tourists.
7 Sharjah Archaeology Museum
Sharjah Archaeology Museum has exhibits tracing the wide arcing history of humanity in the area. Displays in the Stone Age section include numerous flint pieces reflecting the technology of that period and old seashells. There are also ornamental gems and pottery shards from the Ubaid period that were found in Al Hamriyah and confirm the trade exchange of this age with Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
The Bronze Age Hall features archaeological finds of pottery, metals, stone, and jewelry, while the Iron Age Hall features two of the museum's prize pieces: a camel statue and a ceramic dome that both come from the Muweilah archaeological site. The museum has done a good job of making its exhibits user-friendly, and children will be kept entertained by a variety of hands-on games.
Location: Al Abah district
8 Sharjah Heritage Area
The Sharjah Heritage Area is a combination of several museums that include the Sharjah Heritage Museum, Souk Al Arsah, Al Midfaa House, Al Hisn Sharjah, and Hisn Fort. Souk Al Arsah is a large open courtyard souk, restored in its traditional style, that now includes a number of different shops featuring silver and wooden handicrafts, jewelry, traditional garments, and beauty products.
Bait Al Naboodah is a traditional family house once home to the Al-Shamsi family. Comprised of 16 rooms, it has been converted into the Sharjah Heritage Museum. Each room has a different aspect of Emirati culture, such as traditional clothing. Al Midfaa House is the restored family home of Al Midfaa - a prominent figure in Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates. The exhibits here cover the literature and culture of the region. Al Hisn Fort was the traditional residence of the ruling family of Sharjah. The fort was built 200 years ago and served as a defensive facility for the town. Exhibits feature the history of Sharjah through themed displays in each room.
Location: Off Corniche Street
The most southerly village in the United Arab Emirates, Kalba is a quaint fishing village with a lively fresh produce and fish market on the seashore. It's a charming place for a stroll that is worth the trip for the Al-Hisn Museum (built as a fort 200 years ago) and the fully restored House of Sheikh Saeed bin Hamad Al-Qassimi, with its displays of musical instruments and traditional furniture.
Just south of the village is the Khor Kalba Conservation Reserve, containing the most northerly mangrove forest in the world. This is a bird-watcher's paradise, especially during spring and autumn migrations. Visitors can spot the rare white-collared kingfishers that breed here as well as reef herons and booted warblers. Trips to the reserve are by hired boat or canoe.
Location: 112 kilometers east of Sharjah
10 Al Qasba
This waterfront quarter is Sharjah's top nighttime destination, with plenty of cafés and restaurants. The seafront road is a favorite for promenading and taking in the evening atmosphere, but Al Qasba's biggest attraction is the 60-meter-high Eye of the Emirates observation wheel. Head up on this big wheel to get a soaring perspective over the city. Views from the top can stretch for 30 miles. It's particularly good for nighttime shots of Sharjah's lights and many illuminated buildings.
Address: Corniche Street, Sharjah
11 Khor Fakkan
Khor Fakkan is the second largest town on the east coast. Although the main feature of town is the thriving and less-than-picturesque container port, the surrounding area is a top spot for divers and has some interesting attractions nearby. Shark Island is a famous diving spot, with many sites in the coral outcroppings. A popular sightseeing spot is the Rifaisa Dam, tucked away in the inland mountains. The dam was built over a village, and the tops of the houses are visible when there is a lack of rain.
12 Bait Sheikh Saeed bin Hamad al Qasimi
Traditional architecture fans shouldn't miss a trip to visit this beautiful heritage house, located along the beach in Kalba, which was once home to Sheikh Saeed bin Hamad and his family. Construction of the residence began in 1898 and finished in 1901, and the house is laid out in the traditional style of Emirati architecture, with separate wings for males and females. Inside, as well as admiring the interiors themselves, there is an eclectic collection of Islamic arts and crafts.
13 Sharjah Science Museum
The Sharjah Science Museum is the only interactive hands-on museum in the United Arab Emirates. The Exhibition Hall includes state-of-the-art elements, which have been designed to get children interested in science. You can test your flexibility, grip strength, and balance; make a cartoon; use a music synthesizer; build a puzzle of the human body; or visit Playspace (which caters to younger children). The on-site Planetarium takes you on a tour of the universe, from the Sharjah sky to deep space.
Location: Al Abah district
14 Al Noor Mosque
The Al Noor Mosque is the only mosque in Sharjah open to non-Muslims. Anyone interested in digging a bit deeper into the heritage of the United Arab Emirates and wanting to learn a little about Islamic beliefs would find a visit here a worthy addition to their Sharjah itinerary. Non-Muslims can visit the mosque on a tour, which takes place every Monday at 10am and includes a discussion on Islamic and Emirati history, culture, and traditions. The mosque itself is a modern construction (built in 2005) and modeled on classical Ottoman style, with slender, pointed minarets, typical of Ottoman mosque architecture.
Address: Corniche Street, Sharjah
Where to Stay in Sharjah For Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Sharjah, the best place to stay is in the beachfront area, near the city center. Shopping malls and restaurants lie a short hop from here, as well as attractions such as the Heritage Area, with its impressive museums; Central Market; Al Qasba entertainment zone; and the corniche. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this central location:
- Luxury Hotels: An eight-minute drive from the Heritage Area, and within walking distance of the Al Qasba entertainment zone, the Hilton Sharjah overlooks Khalid Lagoon and offers a complimentary shuttle to a nearby private beach. A popular upscale option for longer stays in the city center is the Ramada Sharjah, opposite a shopping mall and near the lagoon and corniche. Its one- and two-bedroom apartments come with full kitchens and laundry facilities. Also close to city shopping and entertainment, Radisson Blu Resort is an eight-minute drive from the Heritage Area and features a private beach and poolside cabanas.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A little further out from the city center, but fantastic for families, the Coral Beach Resort Sharjah rims a clean sweep of beach and offers plenty of pools and restaurants, while the TIME Ruby Hotel Apartments, walking distance to the beach and the corniche, is great for longer stays. A more affordable mid-range option is Lou Lou'a Beach Resort, right on the oceanfront, and only a nine-minute drive to the Heritage Area.
- Budget Hotels: With a pool as its focal point, Sharjah Beach Hotel offers great value, considering its prime location on the beach less than ten-minute's drive from the Heritage Area. In the heart of Sharjah, Spark Residence is convenient for longer stays with its one- and two-bedroom suites, while the Summer Land Motel Sharjah lies less than four kilometers away from the museums of the city center and the Al-Qasba entertainment zone.