Bahrain City Guide

by Travelbag on 09 March 2018, 14:03PM

Bahrain City Guide

bahrain and dhow boat

Floating in the Gulf at a midpoint between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is Bahrain; Asia’s third smallest country. Once the Garden of Eden, it combines all the glitz and glamour of its wealthier (and bigger) neighbours (think a mini-Dubai) with a history that’s well steeped to say the least.

Most visitors won’t stray beyond the main island, attached to the Saudi Arabian City Al Khobar by the King Fahd Causeway. You could argue there’s no need to. The capital Manama (on the north of the main island) is interwoven with the heritage of the once lucrative pearling industry. Combine this with well placed investment in glitzy hotels and sleek restaurants and the appeal of a Bahrain holiday is hard to miss. But Bahrain is formed of 33 islands, so those in search of adventure should get out of the city and explore the little know archipelago. We’ve rounded up some key places to visit in Bahrain, from the treasures of museums and souqs to pearls hidden beneath the Gulf’s waves.

 

Fortified history

bahrain fort

Start in Manama, where the Bahrain International Airport is. Just around the corner is the Bahrain Grand Prix (8th April 2018), a flickering candle of sorts that draws the moths in. But there’s a lot more to this city than the annual visit of high-powered cars. Take your feet off the pedals and amble along the walls of the striking Bahrain fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s got a smattering of worldly fingerprints all over it from the Kassites and Greeks to the Portuguese and Persians. Historical feats such as these give an edge to a Bahrain holiday over other popular cities in the Middle East like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Qal'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) opening hours: daily 8am – 6pm

 

Bahrain National Museum and the Beit Al Quaran

bahrain museum

Take your history lessons a step further at this museum down on the waterfront. Some of its contents are collected from nearby burial mounds and stretch back some 5,000 years. The burial mounds are free to enter (various locations on the main Bahrain island) and the museum entry is a bargain at around £2. Housed in a post-modern building there’s an exhibit on storytelling and folklore, sculpture and art pieces and a sizeable satellite photo of Bahrain on the first floor. A couple of kilometres away from the water is the Beit Al Quran Museum that exclusively features Islamic arts with a focus on Qur’anic manuscripts. It’s widely regarded as one of the most renowned museums in the region and indeed the world.

Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday 8am – 8pm, closed Mondays

 

Pearling Trade

pearling trade

You’d be hard pressed to take a trip to Murharraq (northeast of downtown Manama) and not come into contact with some sort form of pearling heritage. Whether that’s the waters of the Gulf and the oyster beds that lie beneath or the shipyards, merchant houses and markets leftover from what was once a lucrative business. Diving excursions are available with local guides but fear not, you won’t have to have a weighted device strapped to your person nor will you have to remain submerged for more than a minute with little more than a nose clip. You can keep up to 60 oysters for yourself and get their contents valued aboard ship.

How: You need to purchase a pearl diving pass from Ras Rayyah, we recommend doing so in advance

 

Hotels and Accommodation

city centre

Bahrain is a good host by necessity, for hundreds of years it’s been an important point along vital trade routes between east and west. The only difference between then and now is that Manama’s skyline has become jagged and spiked with skyscrapers. The best hotels in Bahrain have put luxury and opulence to the foreground much like the accommodation options of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Just take a look at the luxurious and glamorous Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa that sits on its own island. The most opulent options are generally focused alongside it in the city centre with views of the gulf. Murharraq has more of an old town feel, room interiors are just as opulent but the building exteriors speak of times of old when wealthy pearling merchants built themselves fine houses with geometric design and engraved walls.

 

Shop: Pearls and Gold

pearls

For something local, head into Bab al-Bahrain where you can window shop without the glass. It translates as ‘gateway to Bahrain’ which is true historically as well as getting a feel for things locally today. Manama Souq has got the traditional perfumes, jewellery, carpets and cafes. Save purchases for after you’ve dropped into the Bait Khalaf, a typical example of a pearl merchants living quarters from the 20th century. There are numerous more restoration projects such as this one throughout the city, some still ongoing. Feast your eyes on precious commodities like gold in the Gold Souq where nuggets are weighed out on tiny scales. Al Hashimi Pearls is the place to be if you want to see some of the finest pearl jewellery specimens available such as necklaces, bracelets and brooches.

 

The Tree of Life

tree of life

Stranded far away from any other form of life, atop the highest point in Bahrain, is the mysterious tree of life. It’s 32 feet tall and defies reason by growing despite no obvious source of fresh water or nutrients (it’s roots cling to sand) in high desert temperatures. Beyond its following that claim it to be mythical, even magical, it’s one of Bahrain’s top tourist icons, adorning artist’s canvas’ and souvenirs alike. Enki the God of Water is said to water and protect the tree which according to tree rings studies is over 400 years old.

How to get there: The tree grows a mile or so outside of Jebel Dukhan and is signposted on an otherwise featureless desert highway.


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