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While Dubai, United Arab Emirates, may have risen to world fame due to its extreme propensity for extravagance, Sharjah — its more subdued neighbor — is slowly gaining recognition for its commitment to authenticity and history.
The third-largest metropolitan area in the UAE, Sharjah sits perched on the Arabian Gulf, about a half-hour drive from downtown Dubai.
Sharjah is not just Dubai’s southern neighbor, but a dynamic city, widely considered to be the cultural capital of the UAE. More traditional than Dubai, Sharjah is in the midst of its own renaissance, inviting visitors to discover the past and embrace the future. Here are four experiences that help clients sample the best of the city.
Stay at Al Bait SharjahThe newly opened Al Bait Sharjah, a GHM hotel, surely delivers on the UAE’s reputation for luxury. The property comprises a refurbished collection of four houses once owned by local families. And with 53 luxury rooms and suites and more than 180 staff members, the hotel particularly focuses on the guest experience.
While visitors will certainly experience the UAE’s top-notch hospitality, Al Bait also delivers a unique element not all hotels in the area provide: a commitment to regional authenticity. The library has an extensive book collection documenting the local history; multiple dining rooms offer many Middle Eastern dishes; and late-night hookah can be paired with a craft mocktail under the stars. (Sharjah is a dry Emirate; even luxury hotels cannot serve alcohol.)
Explore Sharjah’s Eccentric Art SceneAttention New York, London and Paris: Make way for Sharjah. Its up-and-coming art scene is diverse in its offerings. Especially unique to the city are curated workshops on crafting, papermaking, pottery and glassblowing. For those who prefer spectating, Sharjah is also home to world-class museums and art galleries that utilize creative mediums to showcase the Islamic Cultural Capital of the Arab World, as UNESCO dubbed the city in 1998. The Museum of Islamic Civilization, for example, is replete with a wealth of ancient artifacts significant to Islamic history. And each June, the city hosts The Sharjah Biennial in conjunction with The Sharjah Art Foundation.
This multiday event unites the communities within Sharjah through a wide variety of contemporary art and culture programs.
Learn About History on Sharjah Heritage ToursThe labyrinth of maze-like hallways are the veins of The Heart of Sharjah, the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Meandering the area is perhaps the most authentic way to glimpse into the UAE’s past, prior to the influx of wealth, grandeur and oil. Time and stories are frozen in the sandy archways and breezy corridors of Sharjah’s five architecturally acclaimed heritage buildings. Tours guided by locals create a sense of familiarity for guests — they enrich understanding of national dress, religion and the general culture within Sharjah, melding together past and present.
Experience the Thrills of Sharjah WildImagine a radio blasting Arabian-French techno music as a white Land Cruiser picks up speed. An experienced guide smiles mischievously as he accelerates through a stunning natural oasis. Few activities spike adrenaline more than a safari in a four-wheel-drive vehicle through Sharjah’s vast desert, which is a short ride from downtown. Looking out the window during these safari drives is necessary — Sharjah is the only Emirate with both east and west coastlines, thus offering diverse scenery.
If dune-bashing seems too hardcore an adventure, visitors can also trek through the mountains; kayak in the most northern mangrove forest in the world; or dine underneath the stars at Mleiha Archaeological Centre’s traditional Bedouin-style majlis (Arabic for a“place of sitting”).
The DetailsVisit Sharjahwww.visitsharjah.com