Explore the Heart of Sharjah

heart of sharjah

The Heart of Sharjah is the oldest part of the city and it’s such a quiet haven that I sometimes forget I’m in a bustling town. Home to several museums, a fort, theatres, old souqs, a beautiful hotel, gardens, cafes, art spaces and events, it draws me back again and again. Join me on this tour through the charming Heart of Sharjah.

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Heart of Sharjah Museums

There are several museums in the area – Sharjah Heritage Museum, Bait Al Naboodah, Sharjah Calligraphy Museum and Al Hisn (Sharjah Fort). Entrance is AED 10 to each you can buy a combi-ticket for AED 20 for all. While this usually includes Al Eslah School Museum, this may still be closed for renovation.

Sharjah Heritage Museum 

The Heritage Museum, in Bait Saeed Al Taweel Al Shamsi, is full of exhibits depicting the Emirati way of life in the not-so-distant past, from clothing to cooking, games to fishing and so on. In addition, there is a curious section on some spine-chilling childhood stories or what we may now call urban legends. 

Exterior and entrance of Sharjah Heritage Museum

Pre-2020, the Heritage Museum was one of the frequent locations for some excellent community programmes such as basket-weaving or cooking Emirati food. At the time of writing, these hadn’t yet resumed, but, hopefully, they will soon. Sharjah Museums’ website or social media is the best source of information for this. 

  • Opening times: Sat–Thurs 8 am–8pm, Fri 4–8pm 
  • Entrance fee: AED 20 for combi-ticket, Adults AED 10. Children (2–12) AED 5, resident senior citizens plus one companion free, PoD free.

Al Hisn, Sharjah Fort 

Al Hisn, which means the fort, was originally built in 1823 and was home to the Qasimi family, the ruling family of Sharjah. Like other coastal structures, coral was one of the primary building materials.

The fort was partially demolished in 1970 but restored more than two decades later on the original foundations, using authentic materials and items. It reopened in 1997, looking regal once again. 

Circular tower at Al Hisn Sharjah Fort

Like many forts in the area, it consists of a large square fortified building with watchtowers at the corners, three in this case, and an extensive central courtyard. The main building has two floors, but the towers have three and one contains a jail where many prisoners were held for their crimes. 

Exhibits in the museum include an array of weapons, some fascinating old photos and official letters and many everyday objects and maps. 

  • Opening times: Sat–Thurs 8am–8pm, Fri 4–8pm 
  • Entrance fee: AED 20 for combi-ticket, Adults AED 10. Children (2–12) AED 5, resident senior citizens plus one companion free, PoD free. 
  • Accessibility: Mostly accessible, large wooden frames on doors near the entrance, ask for assistance, ramps in place to other rooms, some areas not accessible by wheelchair, elevator to the upper floor, accessible toilets, audio guide and tour guide available. 

The Heart of Sharjah is included in some of the walking tours and itineraries in my book, Exploring the Emirate of Sharjah – Walking and cycling tours and itineraries in the city and Central and Eastern RegionsBuy your copy now

Al Eslah School Museum 

Al Eslah School was the first modern school in Sharjah, as there had only been informal religious schools previously. It was founded by Sheikh Mohammad bin Ali Al Mahmood, a religious scholar and son of Sheikh Ali Al Mahmood. Sheikh Ali also founded the earlier, more informal Taymiyyah school in Al Heera. 

Its most famous pupil is the current ruler of Sharjah, HH Sheikh Dr Sultan Al Qasimi, who joined the school in 1948. In his childhood memoir An Early Life, he describes the original school as made of palm leaves in the shape of tents and tarred sacking on the roof. It was the former home of his uncle and the ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, who ordered it to be converted into a school. 

Teacher's desk with books and implements at Al Eslah school museum

In 1950, the school moved to a building made of coral where the museum is now. Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr bought the former home of a merchant Ismail Al Buraimi to provide a better and more weatherproof learning environment. 

Although it was originally for boys, girls were allowed to attend from the 1950s, making it the first school in the region to encourage education for females. 

This museum gives a great insight into schooling at the time. Before this, education had primarily been an Islamic one. However, several other schools opened in Sharjah in the 1950s, and Al Eslah became less important. 

Note: The museum is currently under restoration. 

Bait Al Naboodah and Majlis Al Naboodah

Bait Obaid Al Naboodah in the Heart of Sharjah was first built in 1845 by his father and later extended as the family grew. Obaid traded in pearls, among other things, making him a wealthy man travelling far and wide.

Traditional bedroom at Bait Al Naboodah with four poster bed, chest and floor food mat

Other merchants, sheikhs and foreign dignitaries often visited his home and a majlis (Majlis Al Naboodah) was added next door, allowing him to extend generous Arab hospitality. It is now the Heart of Sharjah Discovery Centre and houses a small museum on The Gateway to the Trucial States.

exhibits in museum in Majlis Al Nabooda

One of the most noticeable aspects of the house is the intricate architectural designs, which reflect his wealth and social status. 

If you visited the museum a few years ago, it’s worth another visit as it underwent renovation in 2018. 

  • Opening times: Sat–Thur 8am–8pm, Fri 4–8pm 
  • Entrance fee: AED 20 for combi-ticket, Adults AED 10. Children (2–12), AED 5, resident senior citizens plus one companion free, PoD free. 
  • Accessibility: Partly accessible

Traditional Games House

The Traditional Games House, by Sharjah Heritage Institute, displays a wide variety of games and toys that were traditional pastimes for both children and adults. It’s interesting to visit and free entry. It’s in one of the sikkets leading off Calligraphy Square.

Centre of Emirati Handicrafts

Another Sharjah Heritage Institute venue, the centre aims to train young Emiratis in traditional crafts to create new artisans and keep the crafts alive.

Sharjah Square – Calligraphy Museum and Calligraphy Centre 

To get to Calligraphy Square you’ll have to walk through one of sikkets, or narrow tapering alleys, going off at the corners. Around the square are several buildings we’ll look into below and sometimes the square itself is used for art exhibits.

Sharjah Calligraphy Museum is within another old home, that of Hamad Al Midfa. Its exhibits tell the history and development of the art of calligraphy. Various styles are apparent in works from different parts of the world. Temporary exhibitions are held from time to time and there is a library with many books on calligraphy and other art forms. 

Sharjah Centre for the Art of Arabic Calligraphy and Ornamentations is in another and holds classes open to anyone. If you’ve ever wanted to master the art of calligraphy, this is the place to come.

The other restored houses are the Ceramics House, Dar Al Nadwa, Calligraphers’ Studio and Society and the Emirates Society for Arabic Calligraphy and ornamentation. Some of these are venues for art events, such as Sharjah Biennial and Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival.

  • Sharjah Calligraphy Museum Opening times: Sat–Thur 8am–8pm, Fri 4–8pm 
  • Entrance fee: AED 20 for combi-ticket, Adults AED 10. Children (2–12), AED 5, resident senior citizens plus one companion free, POD free. 
  • Accessibility: Generally accessible 

Heart of Sharjah Souqs

Souq Al Arsah was the trade hub in the past and residents came from near and far to buy necessities and maybe something extra if there was money left over. It was also a place to catch up on news meet old friends.

The souq is around 200 years old and some of the items for sale, such as silver daggers, helmets, and Omani jewellery may be even older. There are also newer items that are now considered retro like old telephones, gramophone players and typewriters. More modern souvenirs are now also for sale, like pashmina shawls, silk scarves and postcards.

In the indoor courtyard of Souq Al Arsah, as well as some shops, is a traditional cafe where you can buy a quick sandwich or some tea. Further along the corniche is Souq Al Shanasiya and Souq Al Sagr.

See more of these souqs and Central Souq at Old Souqs in Sharjah.

More places of interest in The Heart of Sharjah

Chedi Al Bait Hotel

Chedi Al Bait is the perfect spot for a tranquil getaway and for exploring old Sharjah. Set in restored buildings with traditional Emirati decor, this boutique hotel provides luxury blended with Arabian hospitality. Beautiful rooms, a spa, a restaurant, a cafe and a courtyard lounge await you.

Chedi Al Bait boutique hotel in Sharjah

Chedi Al Bait is part of Shurooq’s Sharjah Collection brand and now also has a wing Al Serai in another nearby restored home, Bait Khalid bin Ibrahim. The house belonged to one of Sharjah’s many pearl merchants, Khalid bin Ibrahim, has been restored and is nestled between the art spaces in Al Mureijah. Book Chedi Al Bait or Al Serai Wing now.

You can drop in for a coffee or a meal if you are not a guest and book yourself into the spa. 

  • 5-star, Exceptional 9.4 on Agoda, 9.4 on Booking
  • Travel sustainable level 3
  • Restored merchant’s homes with traditional decor
  • Spa, pool, restaurant, fitness centre, business centre
  • In the Heart of Sharjah, walking distance of fort, museums, Art Area, Sharjah Corniche and close to other sights

➡️ Book Chedi Al Bait now

Arabian Tea House 

The Arabian Tea House is a perfect add-on to your trip to the Heart of Sharjah, Sharjah Art Area or Sharjah Corniche. Serving both traditional Emirati food and choices from other Arab cuisines, the restaurant has something for everyone. 

In the morning, you can choose from one of several breakfast trays or order one or more individual dishes. The breakfast trays are a collection of several small bowls, each containing a different speciality and are usually enough for two to four people, depending on your appetite. 

Plenty of options are available for lunch, dinner or even just snacks, including a children’s menu. There is also a good choice of drinks from various teas, coffee, fresh juices and milkshakes. Drop in between 4 and 7 pm and enjoy an afternoon tea with savoury and sweet delicacies and a pot of karak tea (strong tea made with milk.) 

I always choose Emirati dishes and recommend others to do the same! One dish every visitor should try on their visit to the UAE is legemat – deep-fried dumplings drizzled with date syrup (dhibs). You can have this with breakfast, lunch, dinner or just with tea or coffee. 

Emirati dumplings coated in date syrup and sesame seeds at the  Arabian Tea House Sharjah

The iconic white and blue decor, Khaleeji-style furniture and tableware provide just the right setting to try out Emirati delicacies. 

  • Opening times: Daily 7am–11pm 
  • Accessibility: Indoor may be less accessible by wheelchair as it has a gravel floor. Seating is available outdoors. Accessible toilet with entry from the souq. 

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Sharjah National Theatre

The theatre host plays, discussion forums and workshops.

Al Jami’ Mosque

Opposite the souq entrance and Bait Al Naboodah is a small old-style Friday Mosque.

Theatrical Association 

Sharjah Theatrical Association headquarters, in the old home of Mohammed bin Jassim Al Midfa, is a meeting point for actors, playwrights and artists to meet and exchange ideas while sitting in the calm of the courtyard. They sometimes hold seminars and participate in festivals. 

Opening times: Daily 9am–1pm, Fri closed. Accessibility: Small thresholds on doors 

Falaj Art for All Centre 

Falaj Art for All was established to make the arts more accessible to People of Determination and empower them. These include various subjects, such as calligraphy, sculpture, dance, fine art and sign language. They also hold exhibitions. 

Opening times: According to programmes Accessibility: Fully accessible 

Al Mureijah Gardens

The nearby small gardens are a quiet spot to relax and reflect or wait for children playing in the nearby playground or little traditional houses. There is also a paid play area next to it with wooden play equipment.

Al Mureijah Art Spaces and Mirage City Cinema (outdoor)

Al Mureijah Art Spaces comprise six galleries in new buildings, an outdoor cinema and some older buildings housing a restaurant, cafe and an urban garden. The spaces host temporary exhibitions, so check what is on during your visit.

Temporary exhibition at Al Mureijah Art Spaces Heart of Sharjah

Mirage City Cinema is an outdoor art venue in a quiet courtyard. Its atmospheric setting makes it a very relaxed spot to watch an independent film projected on the wall of the two-storey Gallery 5. Sharjah Art Foundation shows movies during film and art festivals and other times. Check their events page to see more.

For tasty food or cakes in a charming setting, visit Fen Restaurant or Fen Cafe next door. Both have indoor and outdoor seating.

Outdoor terrace at Fen cafe in Al Mureijah Art Spaces
  • Opening hours: Sat–Thurs 9am–9pm, Fri 4–9pm 
  • Entrance fee: Free, but you have to register at the Visitor Centre first
  • Parking: large parking area near the visitor centre for AED 2.5 per hour
  • Accessibility: New buildings are fully accessible. Old buildings may require a ramp – ask for assistance if needed.

Urban Garden

The Urban Garden is an initiative created for the community by Sharjah Art Foundation. Located next to Al Mureijah Art Spaces, the garden is within the wall of an old building.

You can find a variety of plants inside and can go along and sit and enjoy the tranquility, practise your gardening skills or attend an art workshop.

Al Zahra Mosque

The entrance to Al Zahra Mosque is on the corniche but it backs on to Al Mureijah. Its blue mosaic tiles and minarets make it instantly recognisable.

Sharjah Heritage Hostel

Sharjah Heritage Hostel is in yet another restored traditional building. Recently renovated, it’s been beautifully done and in traditional style. Separate dorms are available for men and women and rooms can be less than $25 a night, including charges.

Inside it has a lovely courtyard and a gym. Book Sharjah Heritage Hostel now

Sharjah Heritage Hostel - Sharjah Itinerary

Sharjah Wall

Part of the restored old wall of Sharjah is on the side away from the Corniche. It separates the Heart of Sharjah from the main road.

Sharjah Institute of Theatrical Arts

This impressive looking building is both a theatre and a place of learning for budding thespians. The theatre seats 475 people and is often rented out for private productions and events.

Events in the Heart of Sharjah

Many events take place throughout the year including Sharjah Heritage Days in Al Qasaba Square and Union Day and Eid activities. Various locations may also be venues for events such as Sharjah Biennial and Islamic arts Festival.

Take me to the map

The Heart of Sharjah is included in some of the walking tours and itineraries in my book, Exploring the Emirate of Sharjah – Walking and cycling tours and itineraries in the city and Central and Eastern RegionsBuy your copy now

Buy Exploring the Emirate of Sharjah – walking, cycling tours and itineraries

exploring sharjah book cover and sample

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What else to do near The Heart of Sharjah

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