My home town: an insider's guide to Sharjah, UAE

The emirate is constantly changing, but its many museums keep its heritage thriving

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES- March 10:  View of Buheirah Corniche in Sharjah. (Pawan Singh / The Nation) *** Local Caption *** PS294- SHARJAH.jpg
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I was born in Sharjah, back when you could count its shopping malls on one hand and before its traffic jams. Unesco still hadn't named the city 1998 Cultural Capital of the Arab World. The restaurants and cafeterias were few and scattered.

Al Wahda Street was the place to spend your weekends, second only to the Corniche. The Gold Souq was where you could get bootleg tapes and PlayStation games. The city outgrew me at a stunning pace. New restaurants and malls sprung up everywhere I looked. Buildings flocked to the once-expansive horizon. And when Sahara Centre and Al Qasba opened, it was something to celebrate.

My favourite sights

At the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, you'll find old coins, textiles, scientific instruments, daggers and swords inlaid with precious stones. Not to mention a whole lot of maps and manuscripts. It'll take you at least an hour to go through all the galleries. Make sure you don't miss the miniature models of the holiest shrines in Islam. The museum is located on Corniche Street next to Sharjah Creek, which in itself is a wonderful place to walk.

If you're a petrolhead, you have to visit the Sharjah Classic Car Museum. Located next to the airport, it's a haven for vintage cars, from old Chevrolets to jalopy Fords you had to wind to start, plus Rolls-Royces that still ooze luxury and Dodges with menacing grills. There's even the Ghostbusters Cadillac Miller-Meteor. Entry price is Dh10 for adults and Dh5 for children and those under 2 can get in for free.

The Sharjah Art Museum is a must-visit
The Sharjah Art Museum is a must-visit

Perhaps most impressive of all is the Sharjah Art Museum, the flagship of the Arts Area. Tucked behind the bazaar, close to Al Boorj Avenue and the waterfront, the museum has two floors, a roof deck and a basement car park. It houses some of the most impressive contemporary artworks by regional artists. Make sure you visit the Barjeel wing on the second floor. Entrance to the museum is free.

My top eats

For the best manakish in town, head to Al Mukhtar Bakery on Al Etihad Road. It is one of the oldest bakeries in the emirate. I remember going to its older location in the industrial area with my father for cheese and zaatar mankoushes. Somehow the bakery has managed to retain the flavour and quality even after more than two decades. The croissants and manakish taste as good as they did when I was aged 5.

For the best shawarma head to Al Farooj. There was a time when the restaurant had branches on every main street. We had one under our building on Al Etihad. The restaurant was immensely popular so I'm a bit mystified why most of the branches have closed down. In fact, there is only one in Sharjah now. Make sure you go there to try its Mexican shawarma while you still have the chance.

My best advice

There's a nice stretch of beach located behind the Sharjah Aquarium in Al Khan area. It's a public beach, which makes it free to access. Make sure you take your own towels and foldable chairs, though. While you're there, visit the aquarium. With two floors, and 20 separate tanks housing more than 150 different species of marine life, it's one of the best educational aquariums in the UAE. Tickets start at Dh15, but entrance is free to children and seniors.