When you think of Sharjah, termed the ‘cultural capital’ of the United Arab Emirates, your mind usually drifts to the museums, the government buildings in traditional Arab-Islamic design, and the alcohol ban.
In the last decade, however, this city has built amusement centers brick by brick, steeped in nature, that are welcome changes for laptop screens.
Aside from the vast desert on the outskirts of the city, Sharjah is also home to two easily-accessible hotspots: the Sharjah Aquarium and Maritime Museum, and the recently-opened Al Noor Island.
I admit, before I entered Sharjah Aquarium, I didn’t have very high expectations. While the architecture is quite impressive, with a tiny playground for kiddies and wide open spaces next to the shore, I’m not big on fish. They’re one step up from colorful floating rocks.
Sure, there are tons of wondrous, terrifying, fascinating creatures in the sea, but frankly, I didn’t expect to see any of them in a small aquarium in Sharjah.
I was wrong.
First you think: Wow, it’s dark in here.
Then, you’re left with: Wow.
Fluorescent and beautiful, the blobby jellyfish elegantly swim in the floor to ceiling tank. It was like being inside a lava lamp, but prettier and more alive.
There’s a large anteroom past the jellyfish, filled with fish of the most colorful and curious variety. Lionfish, seahorses, crawfish, all swimming in tanks akin to miniature oceans. Even I, in all my fish-apathy, was drawn in.
The setting is cool and calm, like you’re snorkeling and underwater, without all the scuba gear. It is a refreshing change of pace. My heart rate slowed down in its midst.
When I think about it, the Dubai Mall Aquarium has an underwater tunnel, with water that surrounds you with fish – Think Moses and the Red Sea – for AED 100 per person.
The Sharjah Aquarium has an underwater tunnel, and including the Maritime Museum, costs AED 25 per person.
I know which one I choose.
At the accompanying Maritime Museum, there’s so much to learn about the ocean and UAE’s historic relationship to the sea. The most impressive bit is it makes you want to know more.
As for Noor Island, my expectations were set high. The pictures looked gorgeous, the website promised greenery and hundreds of butterflies fluttering in the Butterfly House.
While the architecture and the bridge are awe-worthy, the island could use fluffing with a bit of green landscaping to live up to its promotional material.
The island in its size is smaller than you may expect. If you have a brisk walk, you can cover the island in twenty minutes.
While we were there, the reading area was closed for cleaning, with no sign of the books promised [perhaps, an upcoming attraction?]. As we stepped into the Butterfly House, we recognized at once that the habitat area was small.
The space is quite kid-friendly, however, with an uplifting trampoline and an intriguing playground with a complicated mass of ropes in different arrangements.
For the art enthusiasts and architects, the sculptures are a definite hit. I suspect, however, they are more impressive at night since they involve light as a crucial element.
At night, you can see the island from any part of the cornice, lights twinkling and sculptures accentuated.
Well- suited to an afternoon outing, these two places – one that out-did my expectations and one that needs a bit of work – reminded me of a simpler time, away from skyscrapers, traffic, and mobile screens.
Worth a shot, huh?
What did you think of these two spots? Tell us in the comments below.