Just 10km down the coast from Dubai, the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah provides an interesting day-trip from the city – and a very different taste of life on the Gulf.
Although Sharjah and Dubai have now virtually fused at the edges into a long and unbroken expanse of concrete, culturally they remain quite separate. Where Dubai follows a relatively liberal version of Islam, Sharjah is notorious for its hardline regime. This is the only Emirate in the UAE where alcohol is not sold, for example, while the local “decency laws” keep a tight rein on public and private behaviour.
For the visitor, Sharjah’s main attraction is its string of excellent museums devoted to traditional religious and cultural matters. It’s worth the trip just to visit the superb new Museum of Islamic Civilization, while the fine Sharjah Art Museum is also worth a look, as is the colourful Dhow Wharfage nearby.
There’s also Sharjah’s fine old fort, Al Hisn, to explore, as well as the interesting Heritage Area next door, home to a handful of further museums and the quaint little Souk Al Arsa, one of the prettiest in the country. The landmark Blue Souk, on the Dubai side of the centre, is also worth a visit, and is one of the best places in the UAE to shop for traditional carpets.
Regular buses for Sharjah leave from Al Ghubaiba Bus Station in Bur Dubai (just behind Shindagha Tower) and from Al Sabkha Bus Station in the middle of Deira. The journey takes between 45 minutes and over an hour, depending on the traffic, which can be horrible. Alternatively, catch a taxi, although note that this will cost you a 20dh surcharge over the normal fare, and some drivers may be unwilling to take you.