Sharjah UAE, The Culture Rich Emirate
Sharjah the city is increasingly populated by people who work in Dubai but can't afford to live there. However, this is far from being a dormitory town. (The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority are at pains to warn motorists about the dangers of camels wandering into the road, so perhaps "dromedary town" would be more appropriate in any case.)
Sharjah city is to be found inside the emirate of the same name, and it's fairly easy to get to from Dubai. It is about a fifteen-minute drive, unless you hit traffic. (To avoid this, don't travel between 5pm and 7pm or at lunchtime.) You can get a taxi or a minibus from Dubai, but there are no minibuses on the return route, so you will have to get a taxi back. There is no bus network within the city, but it is quite a compact area, and you should be able to walk everywhere. Alternatively, take a taxi around.
This city is known for its cultural attractions, and with good reason. The Heritage Area of the city features buildings built from traditional materials, to traditional designs. This area is home to the Islamic museum, which contains coins, handwritten Korans and other Arabic treasures. Admission is free, and it's well worth a look. Near Cultural Square, you will find the Archaeological Museum, which is also free to enter. This includes reconstructions of houses. Each of its five galleries covers a different era of the emirate's documentable past.
Children and adults alike will love the Sharjah Desert Park. It contains the Children's Farm, where children can feed farm animals and have pony rides. More famously, the Desert Park contains the Arabia's Wildlife Centre, thought to be Arabia's most important captive breeding centre for endangered species. If your children enjoy the gross-out factor, there are plenty of disgusting animals to scare them here: a family of puff adders, sand snakes, scorpions, lizards and a camel spider. There is also a large indoor aviary, as well as outdoor enclosures featuring large animals, including Arabian wolves.
The Desert Park also contains the Natural History Museum with interesting gardens.
Sharjah is definitely worth a visit, but you should remember a few words of warning: firstly, if you're planning to visit the Desert Park, remember that it is about 16 miles outside the city, and there is no public transport. A taxi would be very expensive, so you will save money by hiring a car. Secondly, the town centre can be confusing to get around, particularly in a car. Walking at a leisurely pace and reading street names very carefully is probably the best option. Finally, Sharjah is probably the most conservative of all the emirates, which is something to remember if you are coming straight from comparatively liberal Dubai. There is a ban on alcohol, and strict laws governing the dress code and relations between the sexes. No-one is quite sure how far the rules go, but short skirts, tight clothing and unmarried couples sharing hotel rooms are all definitely out.
Remember these simple rules, and your trip to the cultural capital of the UAE should be a welcome break from Dubai.