Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum and Islamic Botanical Gardens

Although many people visit the Arabian Wildlife Centre, not many seem to visit the other parts of the Desert park. As with all of Sharjah’s museums, they’re very well done and you’ll notice something different with each visit.

The Natural History Museum takes you on a journey through millions of years of history of the area of Sharjah before exploring fossils, different stones, etc. As it covers so much, I find it’s a place we return to again and again depending on what topic is being covered at school and there’s something for all ages.

During your visit, you will learn about the beginning of the Earth, tectonic plates, creatures from long ago, fossils, marine life, fungi and many other topics. For younger children, the dinosaur exhibition is usually their favourite part.

It has a lot of interactive stations where you can test, for example, the difference of a human, goat and camel foot walking on the sand, the effect of black and white on temperature, the effect of wind direction on sand dune formations.

Sharjah is not only rich in its love of knowledge, science and culture, but is also known for its adherence to Islam and many of their events have an Islamic flavour to them. And so reference is made throughout the exhibition to verses from the Quran and early Islamic scholars and scientists. This may come as a surprise to non-Muslims as it is a common misconception that there is a contradiction between Islam and science.

Once you leave the natural history museum, you’ll pass some of Sheikh Sultan’s butterfly collection and enter the botanical museum which has a lot of interactive stations. At the time of writing, halls G8 and G9 (see floor plan above) are closed for work.

There is a gift shop at the entrance to the Botanical Museum where you can buy science kits and related items. There is a small cafe which now only sells ice creams and cold drinks and isn’t always manned.

You may want to have a rest, picnic or play before moving on to your next stop. The grassy area continues over to the right so there’s plenty room to find a quiet spot.

The next stop is the Islamic Botanical Gardens. Again reference is made throughout to the Quran as many plants are mentioned in its verses. It also make mention of traditional medicine, particularly in the early Islamic days.

Notice the geometrical designs, the water and canals, all a main feature of Islamic gardens.

There is a cafeteria which serves coffee and nice cakes, muffins and savoury snacks. There is also a wall display within the cafeteria.

Of course, if you have time left, you can go on to the Wildlife Centre and the Children’s Petting Zoo or save it for another day. That will be covered later, but in the meantime, here’s a little taster.

  • Entrance to the Desert Park including all museums, Islamic garden, Wildlife Centre and Petting Zoo: Adults 15.75 dhs, children under 12 free. School trips 2dhs.
  • Sunday – Thursday 9am -6:30pm
  • Friday – 2pm – 6:30pm
  • Saturday – 11am – 6:30pm
  • Tuesday: closed
  • Location – Dhaid Rd/Airport Rd intersection 9.
  • Cafeteria selling hot meals and snacks in Wildlife Centre with a view of the outdoor animals.

Hamriyah Beach, Sharjah

Hamriyah lies on the coast between Ajman and Umm al Quwain and is mostly known for its free zone and industry, but it’s also home to a beautiful 3 km beach with white sand and clear, clean water which may be a shade of turquoise, green or silver depending on the weather and time of day.

There are two sections to the beach each with a separate entrance. The lower part has a 2km rubberised jogging track that runs along the beach and shades and a few gazebos. It also has toilets with a shower and POD toilet. There is also an entrance to the beach for People of Determination nearby.

The upper beach has a few seating areas, two children’s play areas, shaded barbecue areas and individual unshaded barbecues. There are no toilets at this end but it tends to be quieter, has a nicer view and there are lots of shells to collect. If you have a camper van, you’ll need to park at this part of the beach. You can park right on the shore.

There are lifeguards stationed all along the beach but there are currents and shelves along all of Sharjah and Ajman beaches so care should be taken.

To access the lower beach, look out for a gate in what looks like a park fence. You can park right at the shore. For the upper beach, take the off road entrance. The first is marked as Hamriyah Public Beach and the second as Hamriyah Town Beach on Google Maps.

There is a breakwater between the two so you can only walk the full length of the beach by climbing over it.

Hamriyah Town also has a nice park and a heritage village where cultural events are often held. Sharjah Waterfront, a new development, is currently under construction south of the beach.

Buhais Geology Park

Buhais Geology Park sits on the plains at the foot of Jebel Buhais near Al Madam. Although it may look small it has a wealth of information in the exhibition halls and a great outdoor trail. I often drive through the mountains and sand dunes in awe of some of their formations and across gravel and rocky plains and after my visit to the park, I understand them so much better.

Hall 1 explains the overall history of the land surface on the earth such as tectonic plate movements and geologic timescale, with a special focus on the areas of the emirate of Sharjah.

Hall 2 is very interactive and explains different types of rock and their formations, types of sand and sand dunes, formation of alluvial plains, fossils, climate change, etc. There are interactive stations to suit all ages.

The outdoor trail takes you through Wadi Suq tombs (Bronze Age) and various rock formations. Spot fossils in the rocks. At the peak of the trail you can see right across al Faya and Aqabah Mountains and the plains to the Hajar Mountains. There are a couple of rock benches along the way to stop and just sit and enjoy the scenery and tranquility.

The exhibition is fully bilingual and there are guides to take you around if you wish. There may not be an English-speaking guide but the information is so complete, you really don’t need one and you can go at your own pace.

After you’ve finished your tour, you can have some refreshments in the cafe overlooking Jebel Buhais. (The menu is mainly burger type meals from what I saw and delicious cakes and fresh juices.)

If you prefer, you can find a spot on the plains along the main road to have a picnic, spot birds and butterflies and identify trails left by birds, animals and insects.

You can also visit the other archeological sites further down at Jebel Buhais. Here are a couple of them.

Note that the climate in this area is different from the coast. It’s cooler than the Gulf coast in the winter and hotter in the summer, but there’s no or little humidity which makes it more pleasant in the summer. You may need something warm in the winter.

I had a very enjoyable and extremely informative afternoon at Buhais Geology Park and I hope you do too!

  • Entrance fee: Adults 10.5dhs, children under 12 free
  • Opening hours: Sun-Thurs 9am-7:30pm, Fri 2pm-7:30pm, Sat 11am-7:30pm, closed Tuesday
  • Wheelchair accessible (outdoor trail has a wheelchair accessible path going directly to the peak but you can do around 2/3s of the trail itself before getting to steps and turning back.)
  • Prayer and ablution rooms
  • School/university trips 2 and 5dhs per student respectively

Water is freely available for topping up your bottle. Well done, Sharjah!

  • What’s nearby?
  • Discover Mleiha
  • Al Faya Retreat
  • Jebel Buhais Archeological sites

Sharjah Art Area and Sharjah Art Foundation

If you love art, or you just love wandering through traditional buildings, Sharjah Art Area is the place for you. Set back from Sharjah Corniche, it consists of several buildings. From the Corniche, enter Bait al Shamsi which was built in 1845 and was most recently the home of Obaid Al Shamsi. It was renovated in 1997 and has since also been known as The Hall of Arts. Of the many rooms off the courtyard, 13 have been designated as studios and contemporary artists from around the world are invited to exhibit their work there. In the evening, artists gather their to discuss their work.

Next walk through the side entrance past the Emirates Fine Arts Society and you will come to Sharjah Art Museum which hosts temporary exhibitions. At the time of writing, Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival was underway. A few of the exhibits can be seen below. The Museum also has a library, a cafe and a small shop.

Opposite the Art Museum and next to Sharjah Art Foundation office is Bait al Serkal, home to another gallery. The building itself was built in the 19th century and was originally the home of the British Commissioner and in the 1960s it served as the first hospital in Sharjah. It was restored between 1993 and 1995.

Alongside art exhibitions, Sharjah Art Foundation also organise film festivals, film screenings, music and performance programmes, residency programmes for artists, opportunities for interns and volunteers to gain experience. They also offer workshops and events for the general public such as ceramics, painting and drawing, sculpting, engraving and printing and mural painting.  The workshops are free and aimed at adults, children, families and families with disabilities and take place on Saturdays whilst the courses cost around 500 dhs and run weekdays with morning and evening options.

Sharjah Art Foundation runs activities across the emirate include the central and eastern regions. It’s definitely one of Sharjah’s many cultural activities not to be missed.

To view current exhibitions and other events visit Sharjah Art Foundation.

Opening hours: Saturday – Thursday 8am -8pm, Friday 4pm-8pm

Entry: Free

Al Noor Island and the Butterfly House

Their own words from their wesbite really sum up Noor Island well – “A microcosm of modern vision and Arabic inspirations, the Island offers the best mix of recreation, art, education and entertainment for the entire family.”

Noor Island is situated in Khalid Lagoon and is yet another of Sharjah’s nature spots where you can just completely forget that you’re in the middle of a built-up city. It boasts a lush landscape with a wide variety of plants and habitats including a small meadow of long grasses and a cactus garden. There are several impressive Silk Floss trees dotted around along with a variety of species which have been saved and planted on the island. Whilst walking through the gardens, enter the maze and try to find your way out, admire the sculptures and art installations, wonder at some of the fossils such as the 35 million year old stone tree from Indonesia and the amethyst crystal from Brazil and the rock crystal, take a selfie in the golden egg-shaped sculpture or take a seat on the artistic benches and watch the many birds flying round the treetops. Once you’ve done all that, take time to relax in the Literature Pavilion with a good book or if you have children, head to the playground which has a stretch of ropes forming walkways, climbing walls, etc. There is also a trampoline walkway to bounce along (but it is currently closed for work).

Of course, a vital part of the island is the Butterfly House with 22 different species. Walk through the trees and see the butterflies fly around and they might land on you too. Search the stalks for caterpillars and see the different stages of pupae and cocoons in a special hanging area. If you visit in the morning, you might see a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. If you go later in the day, you’ll see butterflies already emerged hanging out to slowly open their wings and dry before taking flight.

There is also a cafe inside the Butterfly House structure with both indoor with a small activity area for children. The cafe also has outdoor seating.

It’s open until 6pm weekdays but stays open late at the weekend and the gardens are lit up in different colours making it seem even more like an enchanted island. It’s the perfect place to spend a few hours and just relax and forget the hustle and bustle of city life. It can also be booked for venues. What a great location for a wedding, birthday party or team-building event!

Noor Island has won several prestigious international awards and The Butterfly House has won multiple international awards for Architecture and Design and you won’t be disappointed.

Admission to the island is 35 dhs (20 for children 3-12) and 15dhs (10dhs for children) to the Butterfly House (Combined ticket available for 2 for 1 in The Entertainer). There are various other activities with extra charges such as Yoga at Sunrise (ladies only), Junior Butterfly Keeper, Skywatchers after sunset. See their website for more details.

The entrance is next to Al Noor Mosque on Buhairah Corniche and there is plenty parking. Have fun!

Mleiha

Mleiha has long been one of my favourite places and should really be on everyone’s must do list.

The scenery in Mleiha is simply stunning from mesmerising rock formations, rolling sand dunes, desert meeting mountain on Fossil Rock to sandy plains and lush gardens.

Take a stroll through time, choose one of the many exciting activities on offer, or just relax and enjoy the view.

Archeology

There are numerous sites scattered around that go through various ages starting all the way back to the Palaeolithic Period 130,000 years ago. Visit caves used in the Stone, Iron and Bronze Age and Faya Cave which was used by peoples through all periods including the Ice Age when it was used as a shelter. In front of the visitor centre, you can also find the restored tomb dating back 4000 years to the Bronze Age.

Whilst there are information boards at many of the sites, your visit should include the museum located in the visitor centre where you can see some of the artefacts discovered in the digs carried out by teams from Australia, Spain and the UAE amongst others.

Don’t forget to visit the many other archeological sites on the other side of the main road including Mleiha Fort and the horse cemetery.

Activities

Why not spend the night camping in the desert? Discover Mleiha have their overnight stays in tents at the foot of the mountains including trekking, stargazing, barbeque dinner and breakfast and after watching the sun rise. All this for only 350 dhs and 250 for a child. You can also add on horse-riding or a dune buggy adventure. And if you don’t wish to stay overnight, you can opt for the Sunset Lounge package.

Other activities include dune-bashing, dune buggies and for the kids there’s a ride through the desert on an awesome UniMog (see workshops.) Take a guided tour to the top of Fossil Rock or Camel Rock and watch the sunset.

You might also choose to go horse-riding on a hack through the desert. Or you if you’re a beginner, take a training session at the arena.

Workshops for children and adults in and out the museum. Learn to be a palaeontologist,  or learn about geology, astronomy and the local flora and fauna. Several packages are available but should be booked in advance.

Finally stop off at the Bistro in the visitors centre where they serve delicious smoothies, juices, cakes, sandwiches and you can enjoy a beautiful relaxing view from both indoors and outdoors.

Whatever you choose, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing day!

And finally here’s just a few more photos!

Al Rafisah Dam

Al Rafisah is another of my favourite places to go. It has recently been developed as one of the many areas created for families to enjoy in the emirate of Sharjah.

It has been beautifully landscaped and is a real riot of colour. Bees, butterflies and other insects can be seen amongst the foliage along with many species of birds. Gazelles live on an island on the opposite side and ducks, herons and other aquatic birds live on the lake.

The water level of the lake fluctuates according to the rain and the ruins which can be seen in the summer months are partially or wholly under water in the winter months.

There are several types of boats such as kayaks and pedal boats which can be rented out at very reasonable prices.

There are many seating areas, picnic areas and four play areas, two for toddlers and two for older children. There is also a cafe and a small co-op selling snacks and drinks.

As it may get busy in the holidays and weekends, you can follow the signs to The Walk, a path along the foot of the mountains with many sheltered benches where you can rest and enjoy the view or sit and chat with friends or family.

Be sure to drop in to the tourist office too to discover the other gems the Emirate of Sharjah has to offer.

Location: Khor Fakkan Rd, Khor Fakkan. Emirate of Sharjah.

 

Sharjah Light Festival 2019 – A Journey of Lights

February 6 sees the start of the annual Light Festival. Art works can be seen on prominent buildings across the emirate of Sharjah for ten days. Just when you think the beautiful Arabic architecture of Sharjah’s government and university buildings can’t be any more beautiful, the elaborate light shows prove us wrong.

You can try and see as many as possible yourself but you will probably see more if you use the new route of the Sharjah Sightseeing Bus.

You could also grab a bite to eat at the Sharjah Light Festival food truck area opposite University City Hall.

Visit the website to see a full list of venues.

https://www.sharjahlightfestival.ae/en/

Churches in Sharjah

 

There is often a misconception that other religions cannot be practised in Muslim countries and that there are no churches or temples. However, the government of Sharjah allotted land to various churches in the Yarmook Area of the city and several different churches of different denominations can now be found there.

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