Sep 27, 2022
The word “Bahrain” means “two seas” in Arabic, indicating how the island kingdom’s geographic location – where freshwater springs and the saltwater ocean meet – has been integral throughout its history. Once the site of the ancient Dilmun civilisation, Bahrain’s rich culture can still be observed today, with centuries-old ruins sitting alongside gleaming skyscrapers. It’s also the fastest-growing economy in the Middle East, attracting numerous international brands and events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix – in fact, it is the first country in the region to host the renowned racing championship.
Not quite sure where to start your adventure? Consult our quick guide to both the ancient and the modern highlights of Bahrain.
A visit to the Bahrain National Museum is an excellent introduction to the kingdom’s 4,000-year history. When it opened in 1988, the museum was the first of its kind, housing displays that detail the country’s customs and traditions. Across nine halls, you’ll find art, burial mounds, ancient documents and more, labelled in both English and Arabic. The postmodern waterfront building is itself an impressive sight, so stay longer for lunch at the in-house Darseen Café, which overlooks the Arabian Gulf.
Located next to the Bahrain National Museum, the Bahrain National Theatre is one of the largest cultural centres in the Middle East. It features a 1,001-seat theatre – an homage to the One Thousand and One Nights folk tales. Overlooking the lagoon in Manama, the building appears as though it is floating on the water thanks to its distinctive architecture. The interwoven aluminium strips adorning its facade let in air and light, while evoking the roofs of traditional local homes. Inside, the auditorium’s curves contrast with its elm-covered walls to resemble pearling dhows (traditional sailing boats). Besides local cultural events, the venue has also hosted performances by the likes of Placido Domingo, Il Divo and the Bolshoi Ballet.
Prior to the discovery of oil, pearling was Bahrain’s principal industry – there were around 30,000 pearl divers by the end of the 1930s. The Bahrain Pearling Path includes three offshore oyster beds, the Bu Maher Fort and 17 buildings in Muharraq’s historical section – all strung along a 3.5km pathway. Experienced divers can opt for pearl diving tours: after attending a briefing, you’ll dive with a licensed company and collect up to 60 oysters. The pearls will be appraised for their quality and value upon your return to shore.
The UNESCO-listed Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain) is a dramatic 16th-century site built by the Portuguese, who dominated trade routes in the Indian Ocean at the time. Constructed on the remains of previous settlements that can be traced back to the Dilmun era (circa 2800 BC), it’s the most important archaeological site in the country. Here, you’ll find a museum with five exhibition halls and over 500 intriguing artefacts, including carved stone slabs and pottery.
Other forts worth seeing are the 15th-century Arad Fort (near the airport) and the 19th-century Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh Fort (also known as Riffa Fort). In addition, the Bu Maher Fort is easily reached via a boat trip from the Bahrain National Museum (see above), and also marks the start of the Bahrain Pearling Path.
Bahrain’s only waterpark, the Lost Paradise of Dilmun is – as the name suggests – themed around the ancient Dilmun civilisation. Sprawling across 77,000 square metres, it features more than 20 slides and attractions, so everyone in the family is guaranteed to have a splashing good time. Look out for the waterpark’s entertainers too, ranging from stilt walkers to unicyclists.
Bahrain is home to what is believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. Built between 2200 and 1750 BC and spanning over 21 archaeological sites, the Dilmun Burial Mounds are each as large as small houses, and thousands of them dot the Bahrain landscape. Built from stone, earth, plaster and wood, the mounds functioned as burial chambers, similar to how the ancient Egyptians used pyramids to preserve their dead. While most mounds contain bones and pottery, some house weapons and jewellery that tell the story of the Dilmun civilisation.
Tip: Head to the Bahrain National Museum before visiting the burial mounds to better understand their significance.
Free to visit every day except Friday and open to people of all faiths, the Al Fateh Grand Mosque is the biggest mosque in Bahrain – and one of the largest in the world. Built using marble from Italy, glass from Austria and teak wood from India carved by local Bahraini, it can accommodate more than 7,000 worshippers at any one time. Inside, visitors can marvel at its ornate chandeliers and walls, which are beautifully ornamented with Kufic calligraphy.
Located in Sakhir, 30km south-west of the island’s capital, Manama, the Hermann Tilke-designed Bahrain International Circuit hosts the world-famous F1 Bahrain Grand Prix each year. Even if the Formula One event isn’t on, you can sign up for a VIP Tour for a behind-the-scenes peek at the control towers and media centre and, of course, take a spin around the track. There’s also the popular three-seater Dragster Xperience, where you’ll get to whizz down the strip at an exhilarating 274kph with a professional at the wheel.
At the Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve, you’ll find over 100,000 plants and 500 animals native to the Arabian Gulf region, all of which have been protected for more than 30 years in the 400-hectare sanctuary. The kids will love seeing pelicans, flamingos, gazelles, Arabian oryx, wild sheep, ostriches and goats, all roaming freely. Bus tours are available throughout the day.
The pedestrian quarter of Block 338 is often regarded as the best district for dining in Bahrain. Here, you’ll find a wide range of cuisines that appeal to any palate – whether you’re craving traditional Bahraini food or some fine dining fare. The area is also home to art galleries and cute cafes with outdoor seating.
Tucked between Osama Bin Zaid Avenue, Bani Otbah Avenue and Shaikh Isa Avenue is Shawarma Alley. The entire street is chock-full of food carts dishing out generous servings of piping hot shawarma (wrap stuffed with shaved meat); you’ll also find several carpet retailers enticing you to shop for quality rugs.
Craving some Pan-Asian cuisine? Hit up Bushido Restaurant for sushi, sashimi, curries, grilled delights and more. The restaurant’s interior is adorned with the armour of samurai warriors, making for an atmospheric – and highly photogenic-setting.
If you want to savour some authentic Bahraini food, Haji’s Café is the place to be. This breezy, open-air café in Manama dishes up classic plates such as khobz (freshly baked bread), beef tikka, riyash (lamb chops) and mixed grilled meats, served alongside generous bowls of hummus.
Believe it or not, Bahrain is home to some of the best clubs and bars in the Middle East. In addition to an array of British pubs, the city’s nightlife hotspots include the Blue Moon Lounge by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck (a plush 50th-floor bar offering glorious views of the Bahrain skyline), as well as popular clubs like KLUB360º and Club Wrangler.
Located in the heart of Manama, Fraser Suites Diplomatic Area, Bahrain offers one-, two- and three-bedroom serviced apartments – many with superb sea views. Once you’ve finished your sightseeing or business meetings, you can relax at the on-site spa or enjoy a meal at the all-day restaurant, Da Rosa.
Fraser Suites Seef, Bahrain Situated in the financial district of Manama, Fraser Suites Seef, Bahrain offers 90 upscale serviced apartments ranging from cosy studios to opulent penthouses, as well as facilities including a temperature-controlled pool and a kids’ club. The property offers direct access to Seef Mall, which is home to a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
Also situated in the financial district of Manama, Fraser Suites Seef, Bahrain offers 90 upscale serviced apartments ranging from cosy studios to opulent penthouses, as well as facilities including a temperature-controlled pool and a kids’ club. The property offers direct access to Seef Mall, which is home to a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
Only have three days to spare in Bahrain? Here’s a detailed itinerary to get you started.