It is an incredible destination, a modern metropolis with over 6,000 years of history, an emirate with coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Sharjah is actually the third largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, forming part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area. The climate is subtropical and arid, and there are plenty of sunny blue skies and high temperatures during most of the year.
From majestic mountains and desert landscapes to beautiful beaches, this location offers a distinctive blend of history and modernity, and a combination of east and west. I was impressed with how Sharjah embraces the old and the new, from numerous museums, a centre for Arabian wildlife, fantastic facilities for sports, ancient souks, modern shopping malls and luxurious hotels and resorts, right through to a variety of restaurants and dining experiences, which are all equipped to cater for the diverse needs of the individual traveller or families.
I found that cultural heritage plays a central role in society, with respect for religion and tradition underpinning every aspect of modern life to the extent that it is no surprise that Sharjah was named the “Capital of Islamic Culture” for 2014. I couldn’t help but soak up the local sights by strolling amongst the long established architecture and timeless dhows, whilst experiencing the hustle and bustle of the atmospheric souks. Incidentally, the souks are perfect places to bargain for souvenirs, and having always been a trading hub, there is a great array of goods to look out for.
I was delighted to discover the great variety of cuisines in Sharjah, with European and American options, as well as the more geographically local Asian and Arabian dishes available. These flavours reflect the emirate’s colourful history, and the common Arabic dishes are shawarmas (lamb or chicken carved from a spit and served in a pita bread with salad and tahina), falafel (mashed chickpeas and sesame seeds, rolled into balls and deep fried), hummus (a creamy dip made from chickpeas and olive oil) and tabbouleh (finely chopped parsley, mint and crushed wheat). I also had the opportunity to sample some traditional Emirati food too which consisted of fresh fish, rice and meat. Among the most famed Middle Eastern delicacies are dates and coffee.
Throughout the year, Sharjah hosts an impressive array of events, from well-respected international festivals to family-friendly shopping, entertainment shows and world-class sporting events. In fact, from January right through to December, there is something for everyone to experience in Sharjah. The standout festivals and attractions to look out for are the Sharjah Light Festival in February, the Al Qasaba Food Festival in March, the Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial in May, Camel Racing in October, and the UAE National Day, Sharjah Water Festival and F1 Powerboat World Championships, which all take place in the month of December.
During my time in Sharjah, I was able to experience the Sharjah Water Festival which is Sharjah’s premier all-action carnival which featured an enormous array of attractions. It is a kids’ playground with rides, shows, exhibitions and workshops, as well as a night souk and food court.
I also saw the climax of the F1 Powerboat World Championships which took place at the Khalid Lagoon. This major international sporting event marks the end of both the Sharjah Water Festival and the F1 Powerboat Season. Described as akin to driving a Formula 1 car across a ploughed field, it makes for one of the most spectacular and exciting events in the world, and Sharjah is its most dramatic home. The boats reach speeds of up to 130mph as they race around the buoyed course. It is a high profile global event and is broadcast to 150 nations worldwide.
After the thrills and excitement of the F1 Powerboat race, I was invited to the Gala dinner in the evening at the Water Front overlooking the Khalid Lagoon for the prize giving ceremony for the drivers and their teams which culminated with an outstanding water show and a breathtaking firework display.
Along the beaches, around the lagoons, and even over on the Gulf of Oman, Sharjah has great hotel options. I stayed at the luxurious Radisson Blu Resort which sits on the Arabian Gulf and overlooks the white sand beaches, shimmering sea, as well as the area’s many cultural highlights.
My room was a dazzling executive suite with a gorgeous view of the Arabian Gulf, fully equipped with a king-size bed, large lounge area and HD TV. There are several dining options with international menus to choose from, including one with an open roof, whilst poolside eating is also possible. The resort’s Bay Club consists of four swimming pools (two for adults and two for children), a fitness centre and a private beach, in addition to a wide range of water sports on the lagoon.
For the ultimate beach accommodation, guests can opt for one of the cabanas, complete with king-sized beds.This stunning resort in Sharjah is the perfect choice for both the corporate and leisure traveller thanks to its proximity to prime shopping and business areas. The Radisson Blu Resort in Sharjah offers a free shuttle service to Dubai City Centre, and the property is a 20 minute drive from Sharjah Airport and a 30 minute ride from Dubai International Airport.
The service and attention to detail from the staff at the exclusive Radisson Blu Resort were second to none, which made my stay in Sharjah all the more memorable. So whatever you do, or wherever you go in Sharjah, you will encounter a warm welcome that reveals a living tradition of courtesy and hospitality. Sharjah is an adventure like no other, and it is a haven that will leave you wanting to explore the United Arab Emirates’ most mysterious jewel and what this truly wonderful destination has to offer.