You’ve got 24 hours to spend in Sharjah. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to soak in the culture, eat to your heart’s content, and have fun!
Disclaimer: I’ve lived out my formative years in what’s now considered the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. Sharjah, my home for the longest time yet, is the third-largest and most suburban of all emirates in the country.
The charm of it all, however, lies in what it has come to be. While development for most places almost always looks like erasure of cultural identity, it’s quite the opposite here. The geographic advantage Sharjah enjoys allows residents and tourists to experience a variety of starkly contrasting experiences. So, if you’re looking for a day in the sun, retail therapy, an intellectual evening at a museum or simply a stroll along the waterfront, the emirate’s got you covered.
The next time you find yourself in UNESCO’s cultural capital for the Arab World, here’s a list of experiences you can cross off your bucket list!
There’s nothing like starting your day surrounded by a light, pleasant rainfall. Now imagine it without the unpleasantness of actually getting wet. And that’s what you get at the Rain Room.
A unique modern art installation, the Rain Room offers you a magical chance to slow down. Created by the London and Berlin-based Random International, it’s now here to stay in Sharjah, and is widely considered one of the most fun attractions of the city.
The experience is centred around audience interaction, enveloping a person in water without wetting them. With 2,500 liters of self-cleaning, recycled water, the Rain Room uses trigger sensors to pause the falling water wherever it senses motion. The contemporary art installation is supported by the Sharjah Art Foundation and is associated with the Sharjah Art Museum. And it doesn’t hurt that it makes for great Insta-worthy shots too!
Souq Al Jubail
Once you’re done with the social media fodder, there’s nothing better than walking into the heritage of Souq Al Jubail.
Growing up in the Sharjah of early 2000s, the souq was always on the weekend agenda. Rife with the day’s freshest catches, meat, and farm produce, you’d always find the place bustling with families out on their weekly errand run.
The place has come a long way since then, however, and has now evolved into a far more aesthetic and developed version of the same. The spirit, however, remains the same — evident in the chatter with grocers and the six am auction of the day’s catch. Families can leave their kids to their own devices in the central atrium, and browse through row after row of pristinely laid out fish and colourful aisles of veggies. Once you’ve narrowed in on your meat/fish of choice, you can also have it cleaned and cut according to your preference at one of the many outposts they have located at the souq. While you wait, the souq now also has a cafe where you can relax and grab a bite!
Post-grocery shopping, the Central Souq with over 600 shops selling textile and gold is just one road across. From rich carpets to precious stones, gold to the cutest souvenirs, there’s something for everyone here. The entire area is the perfect illustration of UAE’s shopping culture, and definitely worth a visit for those looking to trod the path less taken.
Al Noor Island
You have to believe me when I say that Al Noor Island is like heaven floating in the middle of Sharjah. Since the island’s official opening in 2015, it’s come to be one of the hottest tourist attractions. And given the plethora of activities on the table, it’s hardly surprising.
Its Butterfly House remains the star attraction, boasting 22 different species from Costa Rica and Thailand. They are contained in a glass house to maintain the appropriate temperature and humidity for their survival. Upon entry, you get to walk amongst them flying without abandon, and even witness the actual hatching of the imported pupae!
In addition to the butterflies and the adjacent cafe, there’s over 40 different types of plants on the island. A mix of native and imported plants, they’re mostly tropical and definitely breathtaking to walk amongst. What makes the stroll all the more appealing are the 8 different art installations located across the island. Each made with a completely different vision and theme, they just make sense all together, and make for one hell of a fun walk!
What puts Al Noor Island on the top of a ‘things to do in Sharjah’ list is the versatility of experiences. There’s a reading area for those looking to catch some solitude amid nature. There’s a private dining space right by the water for a special occasion, and a playground for children. While a visit during the day will have you in awe of the Butterfly House, post sunset experiences come with the promise of a spectacular light show. Either way, you’re guaranteed a great time!
A full day of fun, culture, intrigue, and indulgence later, why should you settle for anything less gobsmacking than the Moon Retreat?
If you’re looking for a break from the traditional hotel stay, this glamping cum DIY experience has your name written all over it! Since it’s launch in October 2021, the moon shaped domes have garnered a lot of eyeballs, evident in their fully booked status.
What sets this experience apart is not just the carefully constructed and visually stimulating exterior. It’s the feeling of luxury minus the abundance of amenities, all balanced in the most perfect way. With the most relaxing mountain views engulfing you, you’re free to cook your own food however you wish, sans the hassle of housekeeping or kitchen services.
While guests can request for precooked food in advance, there’s nothing quite like grilling your own meat on coals in the true lap of nature. Domes apart, there are also bigger tents for families. Some of the rooms have their own private pool, so you can take a midnight dip at your own leisure with nothing but the stars above and mountains around for comfort.
It really, truly is something. The Moon Retreat is currently closed and scheduled to re-open in October, so be sure to claim your dome at the earliest!
In addition to the aforementioned experiences, there’s a lot more to explore in the Emirate that’s only recently begun to claim its rightful place in the spotlight. From open air movie nights, to visiting the glorious Sharjah mosque; the cultural capital has unarguably managed to evolve for modern times without compromising on its true essence.