Where is Bahrain?
The first time I heard of “Bahrain,” I had trouble picturing it on a map. It is a small dot on the Middle East Gulf; a tiny country tucked in between Qatar and the northern borders of Saudi Arabia. It is a collection of beautiful islands, with Al Bahrayn as its main one, filled with beautiful people and diverse culture.
Bahrain was the central location of the ancient Dilmun civilization. Its strategic location brought about trade and influence from other neighboring giants and is the known to be the center of pearl trading. Nowadays, Bahrain has become the hub of cultural diversity; where you can find a mix of Arabs, Europeans, Westerns, and Asians.
Island of Pearls
Bahrain is not only one of the more liberated Muslim country in the Middle East, but it is also one of the trendy places to visit in this part of the world. Islamic laws are more relaxed, and locals are more tolerant of other cultures. That being said, foreigners will get a chance to experience the authentic Muslim culture without the feeling of being strangled by the Sharia law.
Staying in Bahrain allows you to meet friends that are from other cultures. There are Americans, Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Filipinos and so much more – on top of Arabs. It is a joyful melting pot of cultures existing in harmony. You learn a lot as you go on exploring the different places on this tiny island.
But first, you need to know the following
Culture: Bahrain is a liberal country, but the majority of the locals are traditional and conservative. The practice of other religions is acceptable; they require you not to disregard local and religious traditions. Non-Muslims and foreigners, especially females, are expected to dress appropriately. There are social regulations between men and women. Therefore, public display of affection is discouraged.
Visa: You must have a passport valid for at least six months and a visa to enter Bahrain. More info here.
Language: English is widely spoken, so it’s effortless to communicate.
Temperature: It can be painfully hot!!! June to September are the hottest months reaching over 100F. You will find yourself running just walking from a mall exit to a taxi! Cooler months from November to April are the preferred months to visit and will range from a light jacket weather to a parka.
Transportation: Taxi, buses, rental cars are easily accessible. Carpool service is top-rated among locals and expats – and way cheaper too!
Food: They have diverse cuisine choices! Locals are not allowed to consume pork and alcoholic beverages, however, the sale and consumption are legal only for non-Muslim residents and don’t be surprised if some of the Islam faith will ask you to pack your own pork in a grocery.
Having stayed in Bahrain for four years, I have become accustomed to the expats’ weekend tradition which is “explore and enjoy.” Weekends are never dull; you can enjoy the beaches, sites, the heritage, its rich history and its urban jungle. There are tons of place to see in Bahrain and would recommend not to miss the following must-see places:
AL FATEH MOSQUE (THE GRAND MOSQUE)
Location: Al Fatih Highway, Manama, Bahrain
Times: Sat-Thu, 9:00am – 4:00pm Closed to non-Muslim Friday
The beauty of the mosque is in itself, beyond imaginable. A magnificent piece of architecture, with its humongous dome built on top of the Mosque. Constructed entirely of fiberglass and it is currently the world’s largest.
The moment you step inside, you will be ushered by volunteers (tour guides), who dedicate hours to show visitors around and teach a little about Islam. The guides made sure not to miss out on telling us a brief history of this masterpiece. As you go around, you will see magnificence in every corner – the marble floors, the giant wooden door and the piece de resistance, the Austrian Chandelier. It was a sight I’ve never seen before.
I highly recommend taking the guided tour. It involves a brief history lesson about the construction and the architecture. I am particularly impressed on how they define the Muslim faith, the visual aids draw you in and keep your interest high. I learned a lot, and they answer questions that are easily relatable. They also give out a lot of informative materials, and you get a chance to wear their traditional attire. How cool is that? This was indeed one of the highlights of my stay.
Bab al Bahrain and Manama Souk
Location: Bab Al Ave Manama Bahrain
Located in the heart of the city, Bab al Bahrain is one of the historical landmarks in Manama Bahrain and is also the gateway to the famous Manama Souq (Market). This place is a mix of the old and the new. Manama Souq is an outdoor market where locals and tourists alike shop, eat and experience the ways of the old Manama.
As you enter, you will be entranced in a cultural exhibit, with its vibrant collage of colorful and traditional shops, and restaurants, paying homage to the old trading days. They are in a way, telling us a story of the past and their heritage. They have everything from traditional dresses, unique toys, and spices.
Bahrain is widely known for its pearls because of their color and beauty, so make sure to stop by their jewelry shops and bring your haggling skills with you. Gold is relatively cheaper here than any other parts of the world. There will be a lot of walking involved, so don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and be sure to stop by one of their traditional coffee shops and get yourself a souvenir.
Bahrain Fort and Qalat al Bahrain Museum
Location: Karbabad Bahrain
Times: Mon-Sun 8AM to 6PM
Also known as Qalat al Bahrain and is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort is an archeological dig site which has been excavated over the past 50 years. The details display the rich trading background of Bahrain. As you walk towards it, you will see a castle-like wall of the ancient harbor and the remnants of the early civilization. You will get a chance to walk through the beautiful stone halls and passageways that were built by the Portuguese more than a thousand years ago; it’s a magnificent show of craftsmanship.
The museum is not free; when you get inside, you enter a labyrinth of history presented in stunning visual aids, figures, and well-preserved artifacts. Adjacent to the museum is a small cafe with the view of the fort, very convenient if you need to grab a bite to eat.
Times: Open all day, everyday
You get to see the “ship of the desert” at the Royal Camel Farm located at Al Junaibiya Bahrain. It houses over 600 camels and maintained by dozens of camel farmers. Technically, this is not an official tourist spot but a private property and a personal collection of one of the members of the royal family. You could get lost going there, so be sure to bring someone who knows the place. Who doesn’t want to see these magnificent creatures?
Bahrain National Museum
Location: Shaikh Hamad Causeway, Manama, Bahrain
Times: Mon to Sunday 8AM to 8PM
The most prominent and oldest museum in the country. Situated in Shaikh Hamad Causeway overlooking the bay. Before you reach the building, many beautiful and exotic sculptures line the walkway, and the bay view is to die for. The architectural design of the building is very modern with its minimalist design and lighting fixtures. There is an entrance fee, so make sure to prepare a couple of dinars with you.
The museum tells the whole story of how Bahrain came to be, from the Dilmun Era to how they first discovered oil. It showcases thousands of cultural treasures, a replica of ancient towns, their livelihoods and how they became known as the “Island of Pearls.” So do not forget to put this museum on your itinerary!
With its sandy shores and clear waters, Bahrain’s beaches have always been everybody’s favorite. Bahrain offers both private and public beaches. There are tons of beaches that you can go and enjoy, free of charge. Check out Bahrain Property World; they have put together a list of all the beaches in Bahrain. Friendly advice, do make sure to dress appropriately, especially when going to public beaches.
Manama Central Market
Location: Manama Bahrain
Times: Mon to Sun 5:30Am to 2:30PM
Underneath Manama’s skyscrapers and malls is a little gem; a breath of fresh air in the urban jungles of City. Located off Lulu Avenue, the fruit and vegetable market comprises the majority of the arena where you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with the entire Manama population who are making their regular trips to the market. An abundant selection of fresh fruits and vegetables every single day. This is why it’s one of my husband’s favorite places.
Off to the northwest corner is the Fish Market. Here you will see an overwhelming display of the Gulf sea’s treasures. The Fish Market is one of the busiest places in Manama. I would suggest getting there before sunrise to see local fishers bringing their fresh catch of the day or try the “late strategy” by going there later in the morning, between 8-9 AM, where some would just give the remaining stock for a bargain. Shrimps will be in season around summer and sometimes sell for just 4 USD in kilogram.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Location: Bahrain International Circuit
Times: Seasonal; between February to April
This is a Formula One Championship race that is sponsored by Gulf Air. It made history as the first Formula One Grand Prix to be held in the Middle East. There are tons of off-track attractions that everyone can enjoy. This activity is seasonal, it comes to life once a year, between the months of February to April. More information click here.
Bahrain International Air Show
Location: Sakhir Airbase, Kingdom of Bahrain
Times: Seasonal; November
Happens every November, the Bahrain Air Show is an event that targets Bahrain’s economic growth as well as provides jaw-dropping entertainment to the attendees. This is a fun way witness new aeronautical advancements and technologies. The show offers additional entertainment outside the runway such as rides and attractions.
Some of our Bahrain photos