Bahrain

Introduction

Bahrain, lying in the Persian Gulf and consisting of some 33 islands, is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. The name Bahrain translates from the Arabic as ‘Two Seas’, defined by the shallow waters surrounding the country and the main island’s natural-spring water. Located here are the capital, Manama, and the country’s international airport.

Bahrain is a draw for residents of the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, which lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway, opened in 1986. Qatar lies to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain and the planned Qatar–Friendship Bridge is destined to become the longest fixed link in the world. Bahrain’s major attractions are its nightlife, first-class restaurants and bars, historic places and natural surroundings.

The country’s wealth is based on oil, discovered in the 1930s on what is now its Formula 1 racetrack. However, Bahrain has been prosperous throughout its history, being strategically well placed for trade and with good fishing and a lucrative pearl industry. Today, the pearl-producing shallows are part of an ambitious project featuring high-rise buildings and man-made islands.

Bahrain has much to offer. Behind its wealth and impressive skyscrapers lie more than 5,000 years of civilisation, revealed by its ancient burial mounds, fortifications and towering temples. Key to discovering this ancient past is a visit to Bahrain National Museum at Manama, while numerous archaeological sites can be reached speedily and easily thanks to a new road network.

Shopping in Bahrain should always include a visit to at least one old-world souk, and for luxury items – including gold in every form imaginable – a shopping-mall trip. Although a little exhausting there are consolations: English is spoken widely, and afterwards you can always relax by a pool in the virtually-guaranteed hot and sunny climate.

Bahrain has few public beaches - the best belong to the hotels and private clubs – but there are some companies offering boat trips to offshore islands for sunbathing and swimming.

To get back to nature, take a boat ride to the Hawar islands to see dolphins and flamingos, or enjoy a trip to Al-Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve to glimpse the harsh realities of desert life.

The currency of Bahrain is the dinar (BHD). Visitors are advised to take traveller’s cheques in US dollars. Major credit cards are widely accepted although cash is preferred in some smaller shops and in the souks. ATMs are available in Manama and larger towns.

 

 

See & Do

Bahrain has a surprising number of attractions. Here are some highlights:

  • Bahrain National Museum, Manama – the place to discover the country’s history and home of the Museum of Pearl Diving

  • Manama Souk – for a true flavour of the country visit these markets

  • Adliya – Manama’s bohemian quarter with restaurants, bars and art galleries

  • Tombs of Sar and A’Ali – ancient burial mounds and tombs

  • Muharraq – Bahrain’s second largest city, known for its souks and  atmospheric back streets

  • Formula 1 Racetrack – take a tour and drive a lap

  • The House of Beit al-Jasra, Jasra Village – a fine example of a traditional Bahrain home

  • Diraz Temple, East Diraz

  • Bahrain Fort, Karbabad

  • Al-Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve

  • Jebel Al Dhukan and the Tree of Life – visit the highest point in Bahrain, a hill with caves, and sit under an ancient tree standing alone in the desert

  • The Oil Museum near Jebel Al Dukhan

  • Boat trip to the Hawar islands

  • Luxury shopping, Gold City, Manama

  • Golf (three courses), diving, snorkelling, fishing, horse riding, horseracing

Shopping

Top of many visitors’ itinerary is shopping, because Bahrain offers a wide range of opportunities for acquiring luxury goods, browsing for ethnic gifts and souvenirs in souks and rummaging for bargains in huge discount emporiums. Although not quite in Dubai’s league, shopping is now one of Bahrain’s major leisure activities. You will find many large, modern complexes in Manama’s Seef district, such as Seef Mall and the Al Alali Shopping Complex, and both Exhibition Road and the Adliya district are popular, with plenty of souvenir shops. For budget shopping try the Central Market area.

Most people like to browse the souks, the best known being Manama Souk, which greets you with a heady mix of spices, textiles, perfumes and electronics. Located here is Gold Souk. For all fresh produce go to Central Market. Night shopping in Manama is a great way to spend an evening: wander and enjoy the atmospheric streets and watch as animated locals barter for goods of every kind.

Worth seeking out as examples of genuine Bahrain products are red clay pottery from A’ali village, hand-woven cloth from Bani Jamrah and textiles from Al-Jasra.

Recommended buys are gold, pearls, carpets and antique Arabic furniture. Popular too are Arabic jewellery, models of local fishing boats, dhows and picture frames; also spices, textiles and pottery.

 

Food & Drink

Many visitors eat in Bahrain’s 5-star hotels, but there are lots of other opportunities to enjoy local specialities. The typical Gulf state menu consists of lamb, rice and a selection of mezze (hors d'ouvres) but there are plenty more to try, including local seafood. Some national dishes include:

Machbous: steamed fish or meat served with rice.

Muchammar: brown, sweet rice served with sugar or dates.

Baba ghanoush: smoked aubergine, pureed garlic, yoghurt and sesame paste.

Shawarma: lamb or chicken carved from a rotating spit and wrapped in flat bread. 

Sambousa: crisp pastry cases filled with meat, cheese, sugar or nuts.

Being a Muslim country, Bahrain is alcohol-free although it is available for non-Muslim adults in most upmarket restaurants and hotel bars. However, drinking in public outside these establishments is prohibited. Fruit juices are a delicious option or you could try the national drink arak, a grape spirit flavoured with aniseed. Gahwa is a traditional coffee often served with cardamom.

Here are a few restaurants to try:

  • Al Sawani Restaurant, Manama – Lebanese and Bahrainian

  • Bam Bu, Adliya, Manama – Chinese

  • The Conservatory, Manama – hideaway for a refreshing tea and a rest

  • Seafood Hut, Yacht Club, Sitra – from lobster to fish and chips

  • La Cave, Adliya, Manama – if you are missing your steak or need a salad this is a great option

  • Cantina Spanish Court, Manama – considered one of the finest restaurants in Bahrain with superb seafood dishes and delicious deserts.

  • Monsoon, Manama – for Asian delights

  • Café Lilou, Manama – great for brunch or lunch in Parisian-style balconied surroundings

  • Tamarind, Al Areen – get away from it all at this elegant restaurant out of town, which specialises in seafood

  • Schwarma stands, Manama – for takeaways

  • Try a dinner cruise on a traditional dhow

 

Entertainment

Not always considered a nightlife destination, Bahrain is actually buzzing with entertainment. In Manama and other main towns choose from restaurants and nightclubs or cinemas showing both English and Arabic films. Residents, ex-pats and visitors all flock to Mamana’s excellent restaurants and the district of Adliya is a particular focus for a night out with friends.

There are plenty of opportunities to dance the night away to the music of your choice. If you like intimate surroundings try Likwid in the City Centre Hotel – but check what’s on in advance. For a real mix of people try one of the city’s pubs, such as Fiddler’s Green or JJ’s Irish Pub.

Live music, from jazz and pop to classical recitals, is also on offer – see the English-language newspapers for what’s on. Remember, hotels often host quality acts from abroad.

Ideal for all the family is Adhari Park, a new attraction adjacent to Adhari National Park. Spread across 165,000 square metres, it has plans to become the Gulf’s number one family attraction, with 38 outdoor and indoor rides, an entertainment centre, shopping and food outlets.

 

 

Excursions

Outside the capital, Manama, there are exciting trips to be made, some of which are highlighted in the See & Do section. They provide an opportunity to experience the other side of modern Bahrain, its history, culture and natural landscape.

 

Health & Safety

Check with your doctor for recommended vaccinations as these can change at short notice. Medical facilities are good in the major cities but medical insurance is recommended as costs are high. An emergency health service is provided free or at a nominal charge. Pharmacies are well equipped.

Water is considered safe to drink but most visitors prefer to drink bottled water, which is widely available. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish during the extremely hot summer months.

Take precautions against the extreme heat, drink plenty of water and guard against sunburn and sun stroke.

Bahrain is a safe country and crime rates are low. Petty crime is, however, on the increase and parked cars are the most likely targets, so do not leave valuables. Do not flaunt cash or valuables in public. Take care on the roads as driving can be erratic and locals tend to drive aggressively. Always have your licence with you.

 

 

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