If you’ve been too afraid of the traffic to venture beyond the borders of Dubai and into the confusing grid-style road network that is Sharjah, then worry no more. Believe us when we tell you that negotiating your way around this interesting city is easier than you might think – and well worth the effort. For a cultural foray into the heart of Sharjah, we recommend you factor in a visit to the Al Mahatta Museum, the Sharjah Aquarium and Maritime Museum, the Science Museum and the Sharjah Art Museum – plus some additional stop-offs along the way to keep everyone in the car happy!
8.00am Bye-bye Dubai
As it’s still pretty humid, plan to get out and about early – you’ll miss the heavy traffic and it will be a cooler, less stressful start to the day. The good thing about the museums in Sharjah is that they generally open up at around 8am and stay open until 8pm (with the exception of Friday, when they are only open from 4pm to 8pm).
For all timings and prices visit www.sharjahmuseums.ae.
If you didn’t manage to grab a bite at home, pop into Caffe Undici for a spot of brekkie at the four-star Marbella Resort on the edge of the Khalid Lagoon. They serve a delicious selection of coffees and full cooked breakfasts, including good old porridge, cornflakes, beans on toast and boiled eggs, as well as gourmet breads, pastries and sandwiches. Even better, it costs just Dhs45 per person.
www.marbellaresort.com (06 572 6050).
9.30am Head to Sharjah Creek
If you stopped off for brekkie at the lagoon, you simply need to continue along the Corniche Road to get to the heart of Sharjah’s cultural district – the Arts and Heritage area. It’s home to a myriad of historical gems, including the Art Museum, the Heritage Museum, the Museum of Islamic Heritage and lots of other, smaller exhibitions, all costing around Dhs10 for adults and Dhs5 for kids – or nothing at all – to visit.
10.30am Go fish!
By now, you’ll be all museumed out, (for now at least) so get back in the car and make your way to the Sharjah Aquarium. This involves a slight trek across the city – but if you follow your map properly, you’ll be there in no time. This place really is a treat for kids – packed full of interesting exhibits (all alive of course) there are over 250 different species of sea wildlife living at this well-run centre. We particularly rate it because it has interactive information boards by every display, telling you all about the inhabitants, what they eat, where they live and if they are endangered or not. Our favourite part of the aquarium tour is the walkway above the main exhibition (a huge aquarium) where some of the fishy residents are so large, that they will often end up splashing you with their tails as they swim past.
Dhs50 for a family ticket. www.sharjahaquarium.ae (06 528 5288).
By now, all tummies will be grumbling – and if you’ve managed to escape the aquarium without being caught inside the very tempting gift shop, it’s time for a spot of lunch. Head to the Sammach – the Lebanese seafood restaurant in the aquarium compound – and discover the culinary joys the sea has to offer, as well as the usual hot and cold mezze starters to take the edge off your starvation. For little ones, the fish and chips are delicious – and naturally, there are no processed fish fingers here! Dishes range in price from Dhs50-200.
1.30pm Leg stretch
Let the little ones run off some steam on the ship-shaped adventure playground at the front of the Maritime Museum (opposite the aquarium). You could also take a quick tour around this very interesting exhibition, which concentrates on the UAE’s seafaring connections. However, it’s not suitable for very young children as they tend to get bored and climb all over the displays.
2.00pm Flying high
Make your way to the Al Mahatta Aviation Museum – and prepare to be surprised. This fantastic little compound in the heart of Sharjah was – back in 1932 – the very first airport in the UAE and Gulf region. Amazingly, it’s been kept almost exactly as it was, only this time, the aircraft hangers are filled with planes that are no longer airborne. Plane-mad dads and kids will love it – and once you’ve explored the rest of the exhibits, including a section of the actual physics behind flight, there’s a fascinating short film by Pathe News (made way back in the 1930s) all about the airport. It’s well worth the visit.
Find out more at www.sharjahmuseums.ae.
3.30pm Souk shopping
Head to Sharjah’s famous Blue Souk in the Al Sharq district (drive further along the Corniche road towards the Radisson Blu – then head for Al Qassimi Road) and explore the many little stalls and shops nestled inside. The Blue Souk is a brilliant place for practicing your bartering skills – and you’ll find all sorts of Arabian antiques and trinkets (original ones) going for bargain prices in the Open Gallery on the first floor. We especially rate the carpet traders. They really know their stuff, and you can buy wonderful quality rugs for a snip of the price that you’d get them for in neighbouring Dubai. Once you’ve had your fill of shopping there, why not take the kids for a run about on the grassy knolls surrounding the souk? These areas are popular picnic spots for many Sharjah residents.
6.00pm Dinner! And the big wheel
Finish off the day at the Al Qasba Canal (the other side of the Khalid Lagoon) by treating yourselves to bite to eat at one of the many waterside cafes followed by a trip on the Eye of the Emirates – the largest observation wheel in the Gulf region and Africa. All the cabins are air conditioned – and what better way to end your day than with a sunset view of the city from 60 metres up the air? It’s open from 4pm to midnight, Saturday to Wednesday, and 3pm-1am on Thursdays and Fridays.
Dhs30 (for adults) and Dhs15 (for kids). Find out more at www.alqasba.ae/eyeofemirates (06 556 0777).
7.30pm Head for home!
Yawn! What a day!