Smile, you’re in Sharjah…

Sharjah might not have the glitz, culinary glamour and entertainment pedigree of Dubai; it might fall slightly short of Abu Dhabi’s reputation for cultural grandeur; and its own rocky peaks may be narrowly overshadowed by those of Ras Al Khaimah – but where Sharjah comes alive, is in combining all these traits and wearing them with humble integrity. It’s an emirate that’s quietly and deliberately evolving its portfolio of attractions, and it has not gone unnoticed. And because Sharjah is a firm believer in demonstrating value for money, you can often enjoy its many sparkling entertainment gems, for free, or at least significantly less.

These are the best things to do in Sharjah

Hanging Gardens

Located in Kalba this brand new alfresco destination is a blooming marvel. We’re not 100 per cent sure where the ‘hanging’ in the name derives from, but with more than 100,000 trees and flowers – they have the garden aspect covered. Its most striking feature is the calming cascade of the step waterfall – head up the hiking trail for rare and privileged views that will set your Insta artwork project apart. Hanging around (maybe that’s where it’s from)? Nearby you’ll find a running track, skatepark, play areas and two restaurants. There’s also a mini excursion train complete with its own stations running along the base. It’s stuff like this that makes it easy to choo-choose Sharjah.

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Hanging Garden
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Khorfakkan
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Prison Island
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Sharjah Planetarium
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Sharjah Safari Park
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Big Balloon Ride at Al Majaz Waterfront
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Khor Kalba Mangrove Centre
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Adventureland
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Sharjah Science Museum
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Khor Kalba Fort
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Al Mamzar Beach
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The Mleiha Archaeological Centre
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Al Noor Island
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The Flying Saucer
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Najd Al Maqsar Village
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Sharjah Aquarium
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Sharjah Discovery Centre
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Al Rafisah Dam
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Souq Al Shanasiya
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Yalla Bowling
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The Sharjah Mosque
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Hanging Garden
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Khorfakkan
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Prison Island
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Sharjah Planetarium
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Sharjah Safari Park
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Big Balloon Ride at Al Majaz Waterfront
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Khor Kalba Mangrove Centre
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Adventureland
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Sharjah Science Museum
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Khor Kalba Fort
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Al Mamzar Beach
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The Mleiha Archaeological Centre
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Al Noor Island
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The Flying Saucer
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Najd Al Maqsar Village
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Sharjah Aquarium
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Sharjah Discovery Centre
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Al Rafisah Dam
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Souq Al Shanasiya
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Yalla Bowling
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The Sharjah Mosque

Kalba, free

Rain room

Rain might be a sensitive subject for some at the moment – but come the summer, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll be dreaming of the raw and fierce beauty of a tropical monsoon. Rain Room Sharjah is a permanent art installation that makes the enticing promise of allowing you to walk through the eye of a dimly lit storm, without the use of an umbrella, and yet somehow staying dry. Mostly. We experienced dribble quantities approximating an overstimulated labrador on our visit. It’s not an all-day activity – but does provide a fun half hour or so, and the cleverly curated staging is just perfect for snagging artsy profile snaps.

Al Sharq, Al Mujarrah, open Sat to Thu from 9am to 9pm, Fri 4pm to 10pm, Dhs25 per ticket. Tel: (0)6 561 0095 rainroom.sharjahart.org

Khorfakkan town

No visit to Sharjah’s coastal stunner, Khorfakkan would be complete without completely candid, absolutely not posed, pictures by the waterfall, and nearby amphitheatre. There’s more historical sightseeing available at the Portuguese Fort (a 400-year-old relic from a European invasion), in exploring the vibrant stalls of Souk Sharq, and a visit to the 200-year-old Salem Al Mutawa Mosque.

Khorfakkan, free

Prison Island

Your opportunity to live out those Prison Break fantasies awaits in City Center Al Zahia Sharjah. Here a series of Crystal Maze-style escape rooms require you to flex your muscles, brain and problem solving skills in an effort to ‘Beat the Bars’. Just remember the five Prison Island ‘Cs’ – crawl, code-break, clamber, communicate with your team, and cheat whenever the guards aren’t looking. Inmate, you have your orders.

City Center Al Zahia Sharjah, from Dhs99 (juniors, Dhs125 for adults), prisonisland.ae

The Rabi Trail

khorfakkan

Hiking is undoubtedly one of the best free things to do in Sharjah. The Rabi Trail is a gentle entry-level hike, which means that a) those pointy ski pole things are entirely optional; b) no sherpas or altitude training are required to participate and most importantly; c) it’s accessible for debutants and children, but most parents will already know they’ll be on the shoulders before the second kilometre. This walk begins at Al Rabi Tower, built in 1914 to watch over Khorfakkan, and takes you through the rugged mountainscape of the Hajjar Mountains. It’s a 5.3km marked trail with a roughly 300 metre ascent which should, excluding snack breaks and tantrums, take you around two-to-three hours. Your end goal is the Al Rabi flag pole – perfect for a quick selfie and making your social media followers feel guilty about their own Sunday morning choices.

Khorfakkan, free

Sharjah Planetarium

The stars have aligned in Sharjah to offer a fascinating focus on the local and distant ends of our cosmic manor. Serving up educational exhibits, a collection of meteorites, laser shows, and dome-projected theatrics covering topics such as black holes and the birth of planet earth – there’s more than enough awe to inspire any knee-high deGrasse Tysons.

University City, Mon to Thu 9am to 3pm. saasst.ae

Sharjah Safari Park

Exploring the savannahs just got a whole lot easier. Deemed the world’s largest safari park outside of Africa, Sharjah Safari Park is home to around 50,000 animals including birds, gazelles, giraffes, African wild turtles, crocodiles, lions, African rock pythons, elephants, flamingos and more. The park has a large natural lake, African trees plus restaurants, cafes, a conference hall, a safari visitors camp and more.

Sharjah Safari Park, daily 8.30am to 6.30pm, tickets start from Dhs40. Tel: (0)6 803 7777 sharjahsafari.org

Wasit Nature Reserve

If you’re the type that likes to get right up close to wildlife – without having ethically problematic bars or fingers smeared plexiglass in front of you, Wasit – is your sort of place. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise, with 200 species of feathered friend visiting the natural dunes, salt flats, ponds and lakes. For your spectating convenience, there are eight hides on sight – with their own static binoculars. The more keen-eyed amongst you might also spot wild oryx.

Mon to Thu 9am to 6.30pm (closed Tue), Fri 2pm to 6.30pm, Sat to Sun 11am to 6.30pm, Dhs15. visitsharjah.com

Big Balloon Ride at Al Majaz Waterfront

Big Balloon Ride Majaz Sharjah

Located in the cultural capital, this new Montgolfier marvel offers a falcon’s-eye view of the evolving Sharjah skyline. Landmarks to look out for include the majestic Sharjah Mosque, and Al Majaz Water Fountain show. The helium-inflated balloon ride is tethered to the ground, and will take you up, up and 200 feet away in the sky. Your Phileas Foggian adventure lasts six minutes and will cost you Dhs100 per person. Although, pro tip: if you hold a valid Emirates ID, you’ll pay just Dhs70 per person. Book your spots here.

Al Majaz Waterfront, Khalid Lake Trail, Sharjah, launching over Eid, Dhs100 per person and Dhs70 if you are a UAE resident, @bigballoonride

Islamic Botanical Gardens

Part of the Sharjah Desert Park, the Islamic Botanical Garden is an oasis of calm, set in lush green abundance that allows you to explore the various plants mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the prophetic Sunnah. There are interactive smart screens dotted around the shaded paths to help enhance the educational experience, along with soothing water features.

Sharjah Desert Park, Mon to Fri open 24 hours, Sat to Sun 11am to 6.60pm, Dhs15. visitsharjah.com

Khor Kalba Mangrove Centre

This ecotourism project in Kalba is located within close proximity to gorgeous glamping spot, Kingfisher Retreat by Sharjah Collection. The centre invites visitors to tour one of the oldest mangrove forests in the Emirates, with ornithological opportunities to spot rare breeds of bird such as the Arabian Collared Kingfisher. There is also an abundance of marine life, including green turtles and crabs. Maps around the grounds guide you as you make your way around so you don’t miss something important.

Kalba, Dhs15 per adult, children under 12 free, Tue to Thur 9am to 6.30pm, Fri 2pm to 6.30pm, Sat and Sun 11am to 6.30pm, closed on Mon.

Adventureland

Inside Sharjah’s Sahara Centre, Adventureland is a free-to-enter (but pay-to-play) indoor amusement park with rides, climbing walls, bowling, arcades, zip lines, a trampoline park, soft play, mirror maze, VR games and… A skating rink. The perfect chill respite to counteract that fiery summer swelter, you can get out onto the ice for just Dhs30 (per 30-minutes). After that – why not explore the visceral and virtual wonders that lie in the twinkling lights and shrieking speakers of the rest of Adventureland.

Sahara Centre, Adventureland, Al Nahda Interchange, Sun to Thu 10am to 11pm, Fri 1pm to midnight, Sat 10am to midnight. adventurelanduae.com

Sharjah Science Museum

There’s nothing like a bit of hands-on science for inspiring young minds, and that’s exactly what’s on offer at Sharjah’s own Science Museum. Across more than 50 interactive exhibits, kids can gain insights into the laws of nature, thermal physics, physiology, aerodynamics and electricity. Absolute one of the best family days out in Sharjah.

Al Abar area on Sheikh Rashid Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Road, Sat to Thu 8am to 8pm, Fri 8am to 4pm, Adults Dhs10, kids Dhs5. sharjahmuseums.ae

Al Madam Ghost Town

Charge up those proton packs and hop in the Ectomobile, because we’re going Ghostbusting. Actually an SUV might be more appropriate with a smidgen of off-roading required to get to this location in Sharjah. Al Madam is a deserted desert village in Sharjah, part reclaimed by sand and nature with an eerie stillness and multiple buildings to explore. Entry is free, but are you brave enough to explore its shadowy corners? Of course you are… You ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Plus, the term ‘ghost town’ is just colloquial vernacular for describing a community that is no longer inhabited. The real story behind the village’s construction and subsequent abandonment requires no supernatural explanation. It was built in the 1970s to house a formally nomadic Bedouin tribe. The precise timing and reason for it being deserted is less clear, but it’s probably as simple as the resident tribe moving en masse to another location in the expanding townscapes of the UAE.

Khor Kalba Fort

This spell-binding architectural relic may date back to an impressively distant 1745, but it houses a range of artefacts, uncovered by archeological excavations in the surrounding area, that are significantly more ancient. Visitors can peruse the millennia-old ceramics inside the four unequal walls. Just next door you’ll find Bait Sheikh Saeed Bin Hamad al Qassimi, which boasts exhibits from the Kalba royal family. The bait reflects authentic Emirati architectural style and was the residence of Sheikh Saeed and his family. There’s a lot of history under that roof.

Sat to Thurs 8am to 8pm, Fri 4pm to 8pm, Dhs10 per adult and Dhs5 per child ages two to 12, sharjahmuseums.ae

Laser Island

Part of the Prison Island (see above) collective – Laser Island is a rootin’, tootin’, phaser-shootin’ hoedown of an attraction. Inside groups of up to 24 can lock and load for a battle royale – running and gunning in a neon-lit free-for-all. This would definitely make it on to our list of essentials for a fun family day out in Sharjah.

City Center Al Zahia Sharjah, from Dhs59. prisonisland.ae/laser-island

Al Mamzar Beach

mamzar-park

Sharjah’s beach scene is highly underrated, and whilst those crystal clear waters of Kalba are worth the trip, it’s Al Mamzar that makes our list purely because of its nostalgic value. Beyond the shoreside grains, visitors can also access a 99-hectare park, which comes with large manicured lawns, swimming pools and bicycle paths. There’s also a clutch of barbecue pits and a gnarly skatepark.

Al Mamzar, Dhs5

The Mleiha Archaeological Centre

Another precious jewel in Sharjah’s historical trove – a visit to the Mleiha Archaeological Centre includes access to the Umm an-Nar tomb, a circular Bronze Age grave. There are also stone age and neolithic sites; and Fossil Rock allows us to look yet further into the past with artfully preserved marine fossils on display.

Sun to Wed 9am to 8pm, Thu close, Fri to Sat 9am to 9pm, adults Dhs25, kids Dhs15. discovermleiha.ae

Al Hefaiyah Lake

You’ll find this chocolate box aquatic expanse up in the Kalba mountains, about five minutes away from the Hanging Gardens, past Al Hiyar Tunnel. Tour the lake by boat, head for the hill trails, or wear out the little ones in the play area. It is also home to Al Hefaiyah Mosque, which features a women’s prayer hall, an outdoor courtyard and an Islamic library. All that exploring can be hungry work, so make a pit-stop at the Al Hefaiyah Rest House, which comes with lovely views of the lake and Kalba’s mountains.

Kalba, free

Sharjah Desert Park

Split across several different experiential zones, this desert park celebrates the wilder side of Sharjah. Literally. Arabia’s Wildlife Centre offers opportunities to get right up in the whiskey face of endangered indigenous animals such as the Arabian leopard, the oryx. There’s a Natural History Museum, a breeding centre (not open to the public) and children’s farm.

Mon to Thu 9.30m to 6.30pm (closed Tue), Fri 2pm to 6.30pm, Sat to Sun 11am to 6.30pm. epaashj.ae

Al Noor Island

Sharjah’s Khalid Lagoon is home to Noor Island, which is known for its beguiling gardens and outdoor art installations. One of the main scenic spots is the Butterfly House, which is home to hundreds of colourful and exotic butterfly species from around the world. Visitors can walk through the enclosed exhibit, which is designed to recreate the natural environment of the flappy exhibitionists, and learn about their lifecycle and habits. The island’s landscape is designed to create a serene and relaxing atmosphere, with plenty of benches and seating areas where visitors can sit and enjoy the scenery.

Al Noor Island, butterfly house open from 9am to 6pm, from Dhs50. alnoorisland.ae

The Flying Saucer

sharjah flying saucer

This other worldly looking building has been host to an impressive variety of functions and business operations over the years, but has a new lease of life under the Sharjah Art Foundation. Now restored to former glory, its comprised of an exterior exhibition and performance space, and an underground ‘Launch Pad’ with a sunken courtyard, library and cafe to explore.

 Dasman, Sat to Thu 9am to 9pm, Fri 4pm to 9pm, free

Najd Al Maqsar Village

Najd Al Meqsar Village

For our money, this is up there with one of the best free things to do in Sharjah. Carved into the craggy peaks of the surrounding mountainscape, the weathered stones of Najd Al Maqsar Village whisper from a range of epochs that stretch back more than 4,000 years. The area is currently being renovated, with some of the buildings being converted in luxurious lodgings, but if you’re keen to see more of the historical bones of the village (and have calves of steel) – you can make a trip up to the defensive stronghold, the old fort.

Najd Al Maqsar Village, free

Sharjah Aquarium

A network of 21 aquarium tanks that are home to more than 100 marine species including clownfish (Nemo), seahorses, moray eels, sea rays and reef sharks. The aquarium also operates a turtle rehabilitation programme.

Al Khan Old area Sat to Thu 8am to 8pm, Fri 8am to 4pm, Adults Dhs25, kids Dhs15 (includes entry to Sharjah Maritime Museum).  sharjahmuseums.ae

Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center

Located at the base of the Hajar Mountains a little outside Kalba city lies the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Center. As the name suggests, the centre focuses on the conservation and celebration of the region’s mountain habitats. Inside, visitors can marvel at the vast range of the flora and fauna of the mountains. Expect to see cheetahs, Arabian tahr, Arabian rock hyrax, Arabian wolf, deers, hyenas, and more.

Dhs15 per adult and children under 12 free, Tue to Thur 9am to 6.30pm, Fri 2pm to 6.30pm, Sat and Sun 11am to 6.30pm, closed on Mon

Sharjah Discovery Centre

The home of learning-led edutainment in Sharjah – the Discovery Centre is split into experiential zones under the headings Water World, Airport, Body World, Build Town, Drive Town, Sports World, and TV Studio. Kids can get their hands on a range of interactive challenges, have a great deal of fun – with a lot of learning snuck in through the side door.

Airport Road, Sat to Thu 8am to 8pm, Fri 8am to 4pm, adults Dhs10 kids Dhs5. sharjahmuseums.ae

Al Rafisah Dam

Although this pretty natural beauty spot has existed since the 1980s, it was only recently that it was redeveloped and enhanced to become quite the tourist attraction. Everything is arranged around the star of the show – the shimmering lake, which is in turn enveloped in the craggy Hajar mountains. Around the area, alongside stretching views of the scenery, you’ll find a manmade waterfall, a mosque, outdoor play areas, a supermarket, and a restaurant with a view of the lake. The restoration has also seen Wadi Shea Fortress enhanced, and is well worth a visit. As is the 1km palm tree lined walkway, which winds its way around the dam, along the mountain edge, through the plantations up to the fort.

Close to Khorfakkan, free

Souq Al Shanasiya

One of the oldest souks in the region was given a dramatic facelift, and now Souq Al Shanasiya is bustling market space with vendors selling furniture and homewares, Arabic perfumes, and high-quality clothing including bespoke kandoras and handcrafted abayas.

Junction of the Corniche Road and Al Hisn Street, free

Yalla Bowling

Bowling party women's day EBV

Ahh the old 10-pin knockdown, the strike hike, a tour through split city, a bit of the old rock rolling, a turkey hunt, gutter dodging – whatever euphemism you want to hurl down the alley at it, bowling has emerged to be one of the world’s most popular pastimes. And at City Center Al Zahia Sharjah’s Magic Planet, Yalla Bowling is kingpin. The great news for those seeking to strike it lucky is that, games start at just Dhs45 per person.

City Center Al Zahia Sharjah, from Dhs45. magicplanetmena.com

Sharjah Art Foundation

A visit to the Sharjah Art Foundation collection of buildings might include a tour around the temporary exhibitions from featured art maestros; taking part in some enwisening arts and crafts workshops; watching a movie or live performance; or just appreciating the stunning art that’s displayed across its expanse. Keep your eyes peeled for news on events and exhibitions via the sharjahart.org website.

House of Wisdom

Great name for a library. As part of the celebrations for Sahrjah being awarded UNESCO World Book Capital of 2019, the House of Wisdom is romance novel to the written word. The 12,000sqm space was commissioned by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates, Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah.

Al Juraina 1, Sharjah, open daily 10am to 8pm. Tel:(0)6 594 0000. @sharjahhow

Sharjah Mosque

A beautiful tribute to the bygone era of Turkish Ottoman architecture, Sharjah Mosque stands as the largest mosque in the Emirate and an icon for historic Islamic architecture. The mosque is open for all to visit. Inside, can find a library of numerous Islamic books and even a separate entrance and prayer room for non-Muslim visitors. The structure is very much an echo of  Turkey’s Blue Mosque and holds a total capacity of 5,000 worshippers.

Sharjah Mosque, Al Riqaibah, Sharjah, daily, 4.30am to 6am, 11.40am to 9pm, @visit_shj

Shees Park

Another brilliant natural beauty spot that’s recently been developed is Shees park. Spanning over 11,300 square metres, it features a children’s play area and dedicated BBQ pits, so pack a picnic and head out for the day. Located between the towering mountains, the park includes several palm tree lined paths, and plenty of fauna and foliage to marvel at.