Ajman, also known as the ‘Sunshine Emirate’, is the smallest of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE. Located only thirty minutes from Dubai, it feels like a world away from the congestion and urban sprawl. Ajman is still a relatively small and sleepy fishing town, with a very traditional feel, almost as though time has gone by unchanged for hundreds of years. We recently took a weekend trip to explore Ajman, and here are the things that we recommend that you see and do.
Ajman is separated into two parts by a large creek. The north side of which still remains vastly untouched and traditional, whilst the south side is where the city centre and majority of attractions are located. Ajman is a beautiful beach destination, whether you are staying in one of the many five star resorts or accessing the public beach (which is free!).
Ajman Corniche (GPS 25.410311, 55.433516) is the focal point of life in Ajman and families will flock here en-mass at the weekend. The beach is made up of pristine white sand and azure waters, looking like an image that you would expect to see on a postcard. The waters of the Arabian Gulf were calm and warm when we visited, and perfect for swimming – if you stay still you will encounter inquisitive fish (and if you’re really lucky sting rays). The beach is backed by a busy road which contains a number of seafood restaurants and cafes.
The best place to access the public beach is from the car park closest to the dhow roundabout (just pull in when you see the KFC) – this area of beach has sun loungers for rent and is perfect for people watching – the beach is a hub of activity with swimming, games of cricket and family picnics . Also of interest along the corniche is the Al Murabba Watchtower (GPS 25.404298, 55.429517), built in the 1930s as protection for the residents of Ajman, it still stands strong on the seafront in stark contrast to the glass tower blocks behind.
If you’re looking to soak up a bit of culture and the history of the emirate, then we strongly recommend the Ajman Museum (GPS: 25.413463, 55.445587), housed in an old fort (constructed in 1775), which was originally used for defense, and then became a police station. The museum displays a collection of archaeological finds and information about traditional life in Ajman. The museum is beautifully presented and fronted by a collection of cannons and a display on the construction of dhow boats. There are a number of rooms containing everything from ancient manuscripts, to traditional costume and weapons – all with a focus on the development of Ajman. Of note are the archaeological finds which contain pottery and other items found in the Moayhat area on the outskirts of the city, these items are believed to date back to 3000BC. Our favourite exhibit though, was the re-creation of a traditional market, which consists of an alleyway full of stalls, providing a fascinating insight into the past – including a gruesome barbershop scene! The Ajman Museum is a great place to spend an hour or so soaking up the information whilst strolling through the wonderful grounds. Open daily from 8am-8pm (closed on Fridays) entrance fee is 5 AED per person or 15 AED for a family ticket.
Ajman Fish Market (GPS: 25.400330, 55.453530) is worth a visit for its local flavour. This is a busy place especially in the early mornings, when you can see fisherman bringing in the daily catch. Feel free to stroll around and ask questions, as the people are friendly and accommodating. If you are looking to actually purchase, there is a vast selection including prawns, crabs, small sharks and a huge variety of fish (for a traditional dish ask for safi/rabbitfish) – just make sure you haggle hard! Once purchased, you take your fish to the cleaning room, where there are about fifty people sitting on stools gutting and shelling the various fish and crustaceans at the customers request. Best of all, you can then take your purchase to one of the restaurants located within the fish market, and they will cook it for you there and then – a truly unique experience making you feel just like a local. Head to the rear entrance of the market, where you can sit overlooking the water and watch the dhow boats in action as the catch is brought in – a very nice spot.
Heading to the north side of the creek on the outskirts of the city, you will get a look at a more traditional side of UAE life. A visit to the Dhow Yard (GPS: 25.399621, 55.461541) will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time, as the tradition of dhow building continues unchanged for hundreds of years. This is said to be the oldest and biggest dhow yard in the world, with more than thirty boats being constructed at one time. These wooden boats are at various stages of construction, so you will get a chance to see the whole process from start to finish – so take a walk around and marvel at the traditional shipbuilding art. Also of note is Al Zoah Nature Reserve (GPS: 25.425356, 55.497888). An area of wetlands and mangrove forest that is currently undergoing major renovation to become Ajman’s newest tourist attraction. The reserve is currently accessible but there is little infrastructure at the moment. Although you can get down to the water to see an abundance of bird life including flamingos. Finally you have Ajman City Centre Mall (GPS: 25.399473, 55.479569) which is the perfect place for shopping, the cinema or some bowling.
One experience we recommend is a meal at Themar Al Bahar (GPS: 25.411479, 55.435170), located on the Corniche. This is a very well known seafood restaurant in Ajman and is very busy no matter what time of the day you visit. You can order from the menu, or from the selection of fresh fish on offer and then wait for it to be grilled/fried to your liking. We opted for the Themar Al Bahar platter containing lobster, crab, squid, shrimp, oysters and fish – which was absolutely delicious. You will also receive complementary bread and pickles, which is a staple of Arabic cuisine. The prices are very reasonable and there is a family room upstairs, which is perfect for gazing out at the ocean as the sun goes down. Our only minor complaint was that the service can get a little slow at busier times. Open daily from midday. to midnight.
Historically, Ajman was a fishing and pearling centre and despite economical development, very little has changed today. It still retains its traditional charm and has a very relaxed small town feel. So why not get away from it all and take a visit to Ajman – it really is a wonderful place!
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.