Our neighboring emirate of Sharjah seems to be a bit of an enigma for some, the undisputed source of Dubai’s relentless traffic for others. And then there are those, including we at Savoir Flair, who see Sharjah for what it truly is: a city packed to the brim with cultural and culinary experiences just waiting to be discovered.
Here, we’ve put together a 24-hour itinerary – artistic institutions, hidden gems, a gorgeous hotel that feels more like a home, new openings, and all – that proves why you should drop some of your Dubai-based plans over the upcoming Eid holiday, and head northeast instead.
Have a light dinner the night before and arrive hungry at the impossibly chic Fen Café & Restaurant. Located within the premises of Sharjah Art Foundation, this veritable hidden gem places as much emphasis on the presentation of food as it does on its taste – rather apt considering the word “fen” translates to “the art of”. Here, contemporary furnishings contrast beautifully against the traditional surroundings, but it’s the breakfast dishes that you’ll rave most about.
Eggs are cooked perfectly to your liking, the avocado toast is drizzled with truffle honey and a balsamic reduction, and chia pudding is taken up a notch with yogurt flakes and dehydrated coconut crumbs. While the selection of tea and coffee is brilliant, the ‘Ube Latte’ is the one to try. Made with purple yam and condensed milk – which admittedly may not sound appetizing, but is – it has a rich violet color and feels like dessert.
Burn off the breakfast calories by taking a stroll around the Sharjah Art Foundation neighborhood, where urban gardens, multiple exhibitions, and endless photographic opportunities await – particularly as the art and cultural institution is located within the Heart of Sharjah heritage area.
Many of the buildings in this vicinity are former Emirati homes that have been restored over the years, so traditional courtyards, coral walls, narrow alleys, and hanging lanterns translate to a real sense of nostalgia.
Throwback vibes continue with a trip to Souq Al Arsah, which is located just minutes away. Considered one of the oldest souqs in the UAE – if not the oldest – it is home to old-fashioned little stores that sell antiques, handicrafts, herbs and spices, bridal chests, incense, and all manner of kitsch – all made easier to browse as the souq is now air-conditioned.
Especially popular is the discreetly located Al Omani Sweet Factory, which both produces and sells the beloved Omani halwa that pairs wonderfully with strong Arabic coffee, but be warned: it closes at about 2 p.m. unlike the rest of the souq, which is open until 9 p.m.
By now, you’ll want to cool off, and it just so happens that the UAE’s first ever soda is just a four-minute walk away. Dukan Namlet is the definitive stop at Souq Al Shanasiyah. For one, it’s one of the few places in the country where you can give Namlet a try. The drink – still unknown to most residents – dates back to the 1920s, when trade between India and UAE flourished. It had just about disappeared by the 1980s, and has only recently returned. Not only are some of the flavors downright creative – pomegranate and kiwi-lemon included – but the quirky codd-neck bottle also makes Namlet a culinary experience on its own.
And if you’re the type to consider a trip to a new city incomplete without a pitstop at a specialty café, the nearby Ratios Coffee is where it’s at. It overlooks Sharjah Creek and proudly features décor elements that have been reclaimed from a 60-year-old dhow that was used by traders moving merchandise between the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea – not a shabby spot in which to sip a cup of single-origin coffee.
For some, the name eL Seed needs no introduction. For others, here’s a brief one: the French-Tunisian artist uses his work to promote cross-cultural tolerance and specializes in what is known as “calligraffiti”. His larger-than-life murals can be seen everywhere from Cairo’s Garbage City to a bridge in Paris, a rooftop in Rio de Janeiro, and the minaret of a mosque in Tunisia – and Sharjah. An abandoned building serves as the canvas for the artist’s first piece of public art in the UAE.
His mural draws inspiration from a poem by 19th century Iraqi poet and calligrapher Ahmed Bu Sneeda, who spent most of his life in Sharjah. eL Seed has compared it to social media as the poem represents a one-sided conversation with a loved one. The building is located just next to Souq Al Shanasiyah, but enter Al Arabi Toys Centre into Google Maps if you get lost.
It’s time to check into Al Bait Sharjah hotel – also located within the Heart of Sharjah heritage area – where multiple “Welcome home!” greetings will set the tone for how, well, welcome you feel throughout your stay. The check-in process here isn’t like any other, either. Not only will you sip on a lavender-hued drink that features seven different types of syrup and – wait for it – specks of edible silver, but you’ll also be treated to what Al Bait refers to as “magic chocolate”. But what makes it magical? You’ll just have to wait and see.
Once you’ve settled in (and by that we mean, gushed over your room and the various courtyards you’ll cross to get to it), make your way to The Café. Here, pages and pages of herbal teas, soda-based creations, smoothies, juices, and coffee concoctions make placing an order a tricky endeavor, but the ‘Tray for Two’ is a must-try. A feast for both the eyes and the palate, it’s heaped with sweet and savory creations that look more like art – and taste even better.
Sharjah hasn’t gotten nearly enough love as it deserves, but that’s slowly changing thanks to the opening of the Rain Room. A mere three-minute drive from your new home will get you to this site-specific installation that provides an immersive experience of continuous rainfall.
Getting drenched is not a concern though; your movements will trigger motion sensors to pause the rainfall as you walk through the room. You can buy your tickets once you get there, but the Rain Room is incredibly popular (read: usually fully booked), so we highly recommend buying them online here. There’s also a smaller branch of Fen Café here if you need a place to wait your turn.
As temperatures cool, it’s time to head to the 45,470-square-meter Al Noor Island, which is best explored just before and after sunset. Art installations, lighting, literature, and nature collide at this leisure destination that is intended to nurture a sense of peace and serenity – and a rather unexpected discovery in a city as frenzied as Sharjah.
There’s quite literally something for everyone: the egg-shaped “OVO” sculpture offers a multi-sensory experience using water and light, the Butterfly House is home to nearly 500 different species of butterflies in an ornately designed building inspired by its inhabitants, while the Literature Pavilion provides a plush space adorned with calligraphy and cushions to the city’s bibliophiles. The island also hosts jazz performances, photography exhibitions, yoga sessions, and more, so keep an eye out on the upcoming events before your trip to Sharjah.
An eight-minute drive will bring you to Al Majaz Waterfront, the epicenter of entertainment in the city according to virtually every Sharjah resident. It’s here that you can hop aboard a City Sightseeing Sharjah tour bus, ride a water kart or traditional abra in Khaled Lagoon, dine to your heart’s content, and visit a musical fountain. Al Rawi, the new kid on the block at Al Majaz Waterfront, is also well worth a visit. Its name translates to “the one who tells stories”, so the multi-use space reflects Sharjah’s literary heritage – and its designation as World Book Capital 2019 – to a T.
Serving the city’s creative community as a restaurant, a retail space, and an events hub, Al Rawi is the definitive place to linger. Design enthusiasts, in particular, will appreciate the many details that accent the property: the woven texture of the handrails is based on the stitching that binds books, the bookshelves are in the center of the floor (and not against walls) to allow light and shade to enhance the space, and a sculptural installation suspended from the ceiling is made using wire-framed books.
A little culinary experimentation never hurt anyone, and the menu at Zushi – a foodie hotspot located in University City – is a prime example. Dinner at this contemporary sushi restaurant is not like you’d expect; the signature rolls are topped with the likes of melted cheese, alfredo sauce, Cheetos, Doritos, and Chips Oman – but they work. There are also plenty of conventional options such as ‘Dragon’ and ‘Avocado Royal Tulip’ alongside.
And while the selection of sushi is overwhelming in the best possible way, everything else on the menu is just as palatable. Skip the more traditional appetizers in favor of the ‘Masaman Wagyu Fries’ and ‘Cheese Potato Balls’ for starters with a novelty factor, and go straight for the ‘Hakka-San Spicy Noodles’ if tongue-scorchingly spicy is your MO. Sweet relief comes in the form of ‘Mango Sticky Rice’, a dish that Zushi has elevated through the likes of caramelized rose milk and meringue powder.
A word to the wise: wake up bright and early to enjoy your last few hours at Al Bait before check-out. Not only do the hearty breakfast dishes at The Restaurant span the globe, but there’s also plenty on the property to explore – a library, a museum, an ice cream parlor, a jewelry boutique, an original elephant door from India, architecture dating back to 1944, and the only circular wind tower in the country included.
Or maybe all you want is a little pampering and pool time? Enter: The Spa, where luxury organic brands such as Ila and SpaRitual reign supreme, complementing everything from reviving body polishes and elaborate bathing ceremonies to therapeutic massages and hammam rituals. However, we can’t help but steer you in the direction of the ‘Voya Organic Seaweed Leaf Envelopment for Detoxification’ that will rid you of big-city grime (both literal and metaphorical) with the help of a scrub, a wrap, a scalp treatment, and a body massage – all featuring the finest seaweed hand-harvested from the Atlantic Ocean. Share our love for Sharjah yet?