Sharjah and Ras-al-Khaimah (RAK) are the most popular resorts among Russian tourists. Holidays here are much calmer and more measured than in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, there is no human commotion and noise around the clock. But the main thing is that a family vacation will be much cheaper with consistently high quality services and a variety of entertainment. And all this is surrounded by beautiful nature and the flavor of Oriental life. This article is about what is better to choose for a vacation – Sharjah or Ras al Khaimah.
Location and accessibility
Sharjah is the third largest city in the UAE, it borders the Emirate of Dubai and is located just a 40–minute drive from the city. At the same time, the atmosphere in Sharjah is the direct opposite of Dubai. It is a place with a milder climate, picturesque beaches and a rich culture. It is the only emirate washed simultaneously by the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Winters are warm and dry, summers are hot and humid.
Ras al Khaimah is the northernmost emirate, but you can get to Dubai from it in 40-50 minutes. It is comfortably located on the shores of the Persian Gulf at the foot of the mountains. In some places, they approach the shore itself, forming amazing landscapes. They also protect the resort area from the winds that blow from the desert in the winter months. However, in summer, the thermometer columns keep rising above the forty degree mark. The situation is worsened by high humidity. All this makes staying outside unsafe for your health.
Both centers have airports. From Russia, you can get a direct flight to Sharjah only from Moscow, and you can fly to RAK from St. Petersburg. Hotels arrange transfers, so you can be sure that you will be met at the airport. In addition, you can fly to Dubai, and from there get to your resort by taxi or regular bus. The road connection in the UAE is excellent: public transport runs frequently and exactly on schedule. A bus ride from Dubai Airport to Ras al Khaimah will cost about 40-50 AED, by taxi – 200-220 AED. Unlike Sharjah, RAK has only taxis from public transport.
Beaches and water activities
Both resorts have ideal conditions for a relaxing holiday with family or friends who prefer a healthy holiday with sports and gaming entertainment to hanging out in bars and restaurants around the clock. It is quite difficult to say which is better in Sharjah or Ras al Khaimah. Both resorts are favorite places for the elderly and young people looking for romance and adventure.
In both emirates, travelers will find wide, gently sloping beaches with soft white sand that stretch for tens of kilometers. The descent into the water is gentle and safe everywhere, even for toddlers, the water is amazingly azure in color, and the sky is bright blue all year round.
Most of the hotels are located on the first line, so they have their own beaches. They are beautifully equipped. Vacationers will find sun beds, umbrellas, changing rooms. You can also relax in the shade of the spreading palm trees. At the same time, there is no human bustle on the beaches. Tourists have the opportunity to be located far from each other, which enhances the effect of privacy and merging with nature.
There are also public beaches. A lot of locals come here on weekends, so tourists have to follow the dress code. This is especially true in Sharjah, which has the strictest Muslim laws. Men can only wear long shorts on the beach, and women can only wear closed swimsuits.
A favorite place for outdoor activities in Sharjah are the beaches in the Al Khan Lagoon and Al Corniche. On both, tourists are offered yacht cruises to the open sea with fishing, scuba diving, and sunset. Off the coast, you can have fun riding jet skis, doing parsing, or scuba diving among coral reefs. Diving near Martini Rock, you can watch moray eels and reef sharks. And north of Khor Fakkan, extreme sports enthusiasts will be able to swim through the cemetery of cars that were flooded here several decades ago, making it a tourist attraction for divers. The instructors of the diving centers offer many interesting underwater excursions, as well as a full scuba diving training course.
Surfing and canoeing are also available in Ras al Khaimah. By the way, the guides arrange interesting canoe tours of secluded uninhabited islands lost in mangroves. Such trips are especially popular with lovers of romantic adventures.
A distinctive feature of the RAK is the large number of barbecue areas located right on the shore. Another significant difference lies in the attitude towards alcohol. In Sharjah, it is banned everywhere, even in hotel restaurants. No beach parties with drinking alcoholic beverages are arranged here. But such events are often organized in RAK.
Cultural attractions and entertainment
Both emirates are distinguished by their rich culture. Sharjah is not just a seaside resort, it is a real museum center. It is worth visiting the Art Museum of Modern Art, which exhibits more than 5,000 exhibits by local and foreign artists. You can learn more about the culture of Islam at the National Heritage Museum, and tourists will be told about the daily life of the local nobility on an excursion to Fort Al-Hish. All museums are located close to each other in the Old City.
But even walking around the city can be an amazing entertainment, the architecture of the city is so diverse and good with preserved oriental flavor. And if someone gets bored with history, you can visit the automobile museum, which contains rare cars, including rarities older than 100 years, or go to the Desert Park – reserve, where endangered representatives of local flora and fauna are collected. Or visit the Museum of Shoes and Natural Sciences.
Evenings are recommended to be spent in the pedestrian area of Al-Kasbah. This is a promenade along the canal, where there are also many entertainments, for example a 60-meter Ferris wheel or a dancing fountain 100 meters high. There are many cafes and restaurants in the area.
The history and culture of Ras al Khaimah can be found in the National Museum, housed in an ancient dilapidated fort of the 18th century, climbing the ancient watchtowers or visiting the mosque in Jazirat al Hamra, built of coral blocks. These are the main historical sights of the Emirate.
Excursions to the old town of Digdad, to the healing mineral springs in the Haat zone, to the Iron Age tombs in Wadi Kavr or to the palm groves in Wadi Azima with picturesque reservoirs will be no less interesting. Desert safari tours by jeep or camel can be found at both resorts.
In 2010, a modern water park with many interesting and exciting attractions was opened in RAK. It has become a favorite vacation spot for families with children.
Hotels and accommodation
Most of the Sharjah hotels were built about 30 years ago and they all managed to acquire their own traditions, unique offers, and types of service. Here you can choose any accommodation option: from a three-star budget to an elite five-star. The latter will offer guests rooms with panoramic views, huge terraces, balconies, as well as a host of on-site services. You will have to pay at least 700 dirhams per day for this luxury. Three and four star hotels are less luxurious but much cheaper. You can spend the night here for 180-250 dirhams. At the same time, the level of service is not inferior to five-star ones, and most often you can walk to the sea in a few minutes. It is even cheaper to get a job in the private sector. Locals rent rooms for 70-90 AED per day. An overnight stay at the guest house will cost 120 dirhams. There are no hostels in Sharjah: this type of accommodation contradicts strict Islamic rules.
Holidays in Ras-al-Khaimah will be more expensive, since most of the hotels here belong to the premium class. All of them are located by the sea, and some on the islands. The hotels are luxurious, the rooms are spacious with terraces, Jacuzzi, private water parks. The three-star Bin Majid Beach Resort and the four-star Bin Majid Beach Hotel are more budget-friendly.
At both resorts, you can find interesting options for hotels decorated in traditional Arabic style, which will add exoticism to the resort holiday and allow you to get to know the subtleties of Arab life more closely. But you can also stay in a multi-storey hotel with modern architecture. The choice is up to the traveler and it is huge.
Cooking and restaurants
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and snack bars in both cities. They are located in hotels, on beaches, along embankments and are everywhere tourists can look. The mainstay of the local cuisine in Sharjah is a lot of meat (but not pork) and tortillas. In small eateries where locals eat, you can have a hearty lunch with shawarma or kebab for 25-35 AED. At the same time, the portion will be huge, 50 dirhams will cost lunch for two.
Bars and restaurants serve more refined and expensive dishes of Arabic cuisine, but their cost is much lower than in Dubai or the capital emirate. Fish restaurants located on the embankments are very popular. Various dishes from all kinds of marine life are served here. A dinner consisting of soup, lobster, shrimp and rice costs about 200 dirhams.
Arabic coffee is served from traditional drinks. To prepare it, the grains are fried with cardamom. Such a drink costs 15 AED.
But even those who prefer ordinary European cuisine will find their own restaurant. Many of them employ world-class chefs.
At Ras-al-Khaimah, guests can also choose between Arabic or European cuisine. For example, the Al Shafah Bakery restaurant prepares excellent pizza, and the Lebanese House cafe serves traditional lentil and pigeon soup on the Egyptian grill. Chefs prepare special dishes for vegans.
Budget and cost of rest
The cost of a vacation depends on many factors that must be considered in advance. First of all, this is the time of the year. In the summer, trips to any Arab resort are cheap, regardless of whether you book a hotel room yourself or book through a travel agency. This can significantly save your budget. But summer in the UAE is an extremely difficult period in terms of weather conditions: there is heat everywhere above +40°C and high humidity. Sunbathing on the beach or traveling around the country in such weather is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous to health. If you go to the Emirates in the summer to save money, be prepared to spend your entire vacation at a hotel, one of the shopping malls and an indoor pool.
The best weather conditions are set in the winter months, but the cost of tours increases accordingly. Vouchers are even more expensive for New Year and Christmas.
The next point is accommodation. As mentioned above, there is a choice. You can choose from a fashionable five-star hotel to a simple three-star hotel, while not losing anything in the level of service, but saving well on accommodation. It will be even cheaper to stay in a guest house or in the private sector, but it is better to book them in advance.
If you want to travel, go on excursions, to museums, scuba diving, then you need to allocate a separate item of your vacation budget for this. Don’t forget about transportation. If you can travel by public transport in Sharjah, then in Ras al Khaimah – only by taxi.
Even if you live in an All-inclusive hotel, evening walks along the embankments and just around the city will invariably lead to some restaurant where you want to have a snack, spend time, relax. This is also an important expense item. And, of course, save some money for souvenirs and purchases that can be made not only in the shopping center, but also in authentic oriental bazaars.
Which is better than Sharjah or Ras al Khaimah, you can decide only after visiting both resorts and comparing personal impressions.