Festivals create a wondrous sense of community, allowing us to tap into our creative spirit, draw inspiration and weave a common bond with complete strangers. In keeping with its role as the UAE’s capital of culture, Sharjah boasts a full quiver of fun fiestas. Here are five festivals that let you easily plug into the local culture and enrich your trip.
Sharjah Light Festival
The magic of illuminations transcends time, borders, ages and faiths, which explains the success of light festivals, be they in London, Sydney, Seoul or, yes, Sharjah. Every February, landmarks across the bicoastal emirate erupt in a kaleidoscopic spectacle of light, colour and sound during the 10-day Sharjah Light Festival. Dazzling installations, video mapping and site-specific projections, dreamed up by a global roster of gifted artists, make you see such architectural gems as Al Noor Mosque, the Al Hisn Fort and House of Justice in an entirely new light. As day fades into night, join the throngs fanning out in search of the most enchanting visions gracing facades, domes, gardens and minarets. Many designs are poetic and inspiring interpretations of local culture, tradition, history and nature. To see all of them the easy way, hop on the festival bus that makes its merry round of the town. Even the east coast exclaves of Dibba, Khor Fakkan and Kalba get in on this glittering alchemy of art and technology.
The Sharjah Light Festival 2019 illuminates the emirate 6 to 16 February.
The Sharjah Biennial put the UAE on the art world map in the quiet, understated style so characteristic of the emirate. Founded in 1993 by Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, the exposition is considered the most important art showcase in the region. Piloting the event to such prominence is the ruler’s youngest daughter, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, who took over the Biennial’s helm in 2003. A respected artist in her own right, Qasimi paved the way for an accessible, artist-driven format and for bringing in renowned curators from around the world. Held in multiple venues throughout the entire emirate, the exhibit features emerging artists and heavy hitters across all genres – painting to installations, sound pieces to performances. Keep an eye out for commissioned and site-specific works and also check out the cultural programming of film screenings, talks and concerts.
The next Sharjah Biennial, entitled Leaving the Echo Chamber, takes place from 7 March to 10 June 2019.
Sharjah International Book Fair
The power of the pen is still alive and well in the digital age if the size and popularity of the Sharjah International Book Fair are any indication. With nearly four decades under its belt, the beloved lit fest crawls with over two million bookworms for 11 days every November. As the largest showcase of printed stories, voices and views in the region, the fair also acts as an important bridge for cross-cultural understanding and was a key factor in Sharjah being named Unesco’s World Book Capital for 2019. Fiction to histories, poetry to how-tos, cookbooks to graphic novels – the selection of tomes presented by 1800 publishers from 80 countries is truly mindboggling. In addition, you can feed your hunger for words in hundreds of workshops and readings or pose with your favourite author at book signings. Past fairs have drawn such celebs as AJ Finn, Bruce Parry and Bollywood stars Soha Ali Kahn and Prakash Raj.
The next Sharjah International Book Fair is held in November 2019.
Sharjah World Championship Week
A boat that roars from 0 to 180 kph in just four seconds, tearing up the water as it skids into hairpin turns, leaving nothing but a rooster tail of white spray in its wake? That’s F1H20, or Formula One powerboat racing, a fast and furious water sport that you can see live and in all its high-octane action during the Sharjah World Championship Week in December. Part of the UIM F1H20 World Championship series, the epic race takes over Khalid Lagoon and pits as many as 20 of the world’s best powerboat racers against each other in pursuit of trophy, money and glory. The lightweight catamarans are designed for high velocity and easy maneuverability and virtually fly across the water. Seeing them reach speeds of up to 225 kph on straights at full throttle is an exhilarating sight indeed. The competition is the marquee event of a week’s worth of water sport that also includes the UIM-ABP Aquabike Class Pro Circuit World Championship.
The next Sharjah World Championship Week is held in December 2019.
Sharjah World Music Festival
The top music event on Sharjah’s cultural calendar, the seven-day Sharjah World Music Festival is a series of goose-bump-inducing concerts held under the night sky. Spotlighting top talent from around the region and beyond, the lineup spans the entire arc of musical tastes. Groove to bouncy Arab pop, tap your toes to classic jazz or treat your ears to soul-stirring flamenco guitar. What began as a little outdoor event at Al Qasba in 2014 has grown into a citywide extravaganza in four scenic locations, including the Al Majaz Amphitheatre on Khalid Lagoon and the Flag Island Amphitheatre. Most concerts are free, the ambience is relaxed and there are happy vibes all around.
The next Sharjah World Music Festival takes place from 1 Feb to 9 Feb 2019.
Lonely Planet has produced this article for Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.