The beautiful stained-glass dome at the Beit Al Quran museum mosque.
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Bahrain Travel Guide

Welcome to the taste2travel Bahrain Travel Guide!

Dates Visited: February 2019 / October 2019 / November 2021

Introduction

Bahrain is unlike any other country in the Gulf region. A bastion of liberal hedonism, home to an annual Formula 1 Grand Prix and a thriving art and foodie scene, Bahrain is full of surprises and perfect for a short stopover.

Colourful cushions on sale in Manana souk.

Colourful cushions on sale in Manana souk.

Officially known as the Kingdom of Bahrain, the country is ruled by King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa who has been the monarch since 1999.

A reflection photo of the Manama skyline!

A reflection photo of the Manama skyline!

The Kingdom has a rich and complex history and was the centre of the Dilmun civilisation, one of the World’s greatest which at one stage controlled all trade routes through the Gulf. Reminders of this glorious empire can still be seen today.

Bahrain Bay’s iconic United Tower, home to the Wyndham Hotel.

Bahrain Bay’s iconic United Tower, home to the Wyndham Hotel.

I spent a week in the Kingdom which allowed me to explore the many hidden treasures of the capital, Manama, and the surrounding countryside.

The National Theatre of Bahrain, whose architectural design was inspired by the tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights has a seating capacity of 1,001.

The National Theatre of Bahrain, whose architectural design was inspired by the tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights has a seating capacity of 1,001.

Unlike its neighbours, Bahrain has not embarked on a spree of monument building. The country is very low-key and will appeal to travellers who seek an unpretentious, yet confident, modern country.

Liberal Bahrain

Interior of the Al Fatih mosque, Bahrain.

Interior of the Al Fatih mosque, Bahrain.

Bahrain’s historic role as a regional trading centre has meant that, over the centuries, this small island nation has not only been exposed to outside influences but its people have developed an outward looking nature.

This characteristic was further strengthened by education reforms started at the beginning of the 20th Century which spurred the development of the Kingdom’s middle class and thus gave the country a very different class structure to its neighbours.

As a result, and despite it being an Islamic nation, Bahrain today is the most liberal country in the Gulf. While its neighbours have placed strict bans on alcohol, beer flows freely in Bahrain and, like thirsty camels who have stumbled upon a dessert oasis, Arab tourists (mostly from Saudi Arabia) flock to Bahrain for a weekend of boozing (and more) in one of the many hotel bars. Wednesday is the eve of the Saudi weekend when thousands of Saudi Arabians cross the causeway to Bahrain to escape strict laws at home.

Sunset over Bahrain Bay.

Sunset over Bahrain Bay.

With a deluge of free-spending Arab tourists pouring into town to party, you can be sure alcohol is not the only vice on the menu. Prostitution in Bahrain is illegal, but a blind eye is turned, and the country has gained a reputation in the Middle East as a major destination for sex tourism. While not on public display, all girls work inside bars, hidden away inside the various hotels with certain bars ‘specialising’ in different nationalities – Russian, Thai, Filipino, Chinese and Ethiopian.

This liberal tolerance is not easily accepted by all and has become very divisive with Bahrain’s majority Shia population opposing alcohol and prostitution on religious grounds. Bills banning such activities have been passed by Shia parliament members in the lower house, but these are then overturned by the more liberal Sunni–ruled upper house.

Location

The Kingdom of Bahrain is the third smallest country in Asia, after the Maldives and Singapore. An island nation (featured in my World Islands quiz), Bahrain is located in the Arabian Gulf to the north of Qatar and east of Saudi Arabia, which it is connected to by the 25-kilometre (16 mile) King Fahd Causeway.

Once a stronghold of the powerful Dilmun empire, Bahrain Fort, and the adjacent museum, is a sightseeing highlight.

Once a stronghold of the powerful Dilmun empire, Bahrain Fort, and the adjacent museum, is a sightseeing highlight.

Due to its strategic location, Bahrain has always served as an important trading centre, with a history which dates back at least to the fourth millennium BC. Bahrain was home to Dilmun, an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

One of the sightseeing highlights is the beautifully restored Bahrain fort which was constructed near the entrance of Manama harbour to protect vital trading activities.

People

Artwork at the Bahrain National Museum.

Artwork at the Bahrain National Museum depicting the woman of Bahrain.

In 2019, Bahrain’s population was 1,632,616 which is comprised of approximately 46% Bahrainis and 54% (non-national) ‘guest workers’. The largest expatriate community in Bahrain is Indians, numbering about 290,000.

The Indian ex-pats run many businesses in Bahrain, including numerous, reasonably priced tailoring shops inside Manana Souk.

Currency

The Bahraini Dinar is issued by the Central Bank of Bahrain.

The Bahraini Dinar is issued by the Central Bank of Bahrain.

The currency of Bahrain is the Bahraini Dinar (BD), which is divided into 1000 Fils. Bank notes are issued by the Central Bank of Bahrain in denominations of BD 12, 1, 5 ,10 and 20.

The Dinar is pegged to the US Dollar at a rate of 0.376 Dinar = 1 USD. One Bahraini dinar is valued at US$2.65, making it one of the World’s strongest currencies, along with the Kuwaiti Dinar. 

Saudi Riyals in Bahrain

Saudi Arabia Currency

The Saudi Riyal is worth 1/10th of the Bahrain Dinar.

The Bahraini Dinar is worth approximately 10 Saudi Arabian Riyals. This rate was made official in 2001 and, due to the high number of Saudi visitors to the country, Saudi Riyals are accepted in Bahrain at any point of sale.

The Saudi Riyal freely circulates in Bahrain and often you’ll receive them as part of your change. Since the Saudi Riyal is worth one tenth of the Bahraini Dinar, you should always carefully check any change handed to you. In the dark of night, the notes can look very similar and there’s nothing worse than later realising someone has handed you 5 Saudi Riyals instead of 5 Bahraini Dinars!

Costs

Due to the strength of the currency, costs at first glance seem reasonable but, once converted, can be surprisingly expensive (e.g. something that costs BD10 is actually US$26.50).

The best way to maximise your time on this small island nation is with a rental car, and with daily rates as low as BD10 for a compact car, hiring your own wheels can be far more economical than taking taxis. A number of car rental agencies, who are very keen to undercut each other on price, line Shabab Ave which is next to the huge American Naval base.

Hotel rooms can be surprisingly cheap due to the fact that so many new hotels have been built in recent years. Supply currently outstrips demand and, apart from the Saudi weekend period, many hotels have low occupancy rates. I stayed at the brand-new, deluxe Arch hotel for less than US$60 per night (see the ‘Accommodation‘ section below).

Typical daily travel budgets:

  • Budget: BD40 (USD$106)
  • Mid-Range: BD40-120 (USD$106 – US$318)
  • Top-End: BD120+ (USD$318+)

Sample costs: 

  • Coca Cola (0.33 litre bottle): BD0.22 (US$0.58)
  • Water (0.33 litre bottle): BD0.13 (US$0.34)
  • Cappuccino: BD1.75 (US$4.65)
  • Bus Ticket within Manana: BD0.30 (US$0.80)
  • Car hire (compact car per day): BD10+ (US$26.50)
  • Litre of fuel: BD0.18 (US$0.48)
  • Meal (inexpensive restaurant): BD2.50 (US$6.63)
  • Meal for 2 (mid-range restaurant): BD15 (US$40)
  • Big Mac Meal at McDonald’s: BD1.80 (US$4.77)
  • Room in a budget hotel (Quarters Youth Hostel): BD12 (US$32)
  • Room in a mid-range hotel (Arch Hotel): BD22 (US$60)
  • Room in a top-end hotel: BD120+ (US$318+)

Flag

The flag of Bahrain, which is very similar in design to the flag of neighbouring Qatar.

The flag of Bahrain, which is very similar in design to the flag of neighbouring Qatar.

The national flag of Bahrain features a white band on the ‘hoist’ side and a larger red band on the ‘fly’ right, with a serrated line of five triangles separating the two fields.

The Bahrain flag is very similar in design to the flag of neighbouring QatarOn both flags, the white field symbolises peace. However, the maroon field on the Qatar flag symbolises blood shed during the several wars Qatar had fought, while the red field on the Bahrain flag symbolises the beliefs of kharidschitsche – an ancient Islamic sect.

The flag of Qatar.

The flag of Qatar.

The five serrations on the Bahrain flag represent the five pillars of Islam, while the nine serrations on the Qatar flag indicates that Qatar is the 9th member of the “reconciled Emirates” of the Persian Gulf. Further differentiating the two flags is the size. The Bahrain flag is more squarer, while the Qatar flag is an elongated rectangle.

While they are neighbours, relations between Bahrain and Qatar have been strained in recent years. As a result, you will rarely see the flag of Qatar flown in Bahrain. While the flags of the other gulf states flutter proudly outside of many buildings in Manama, the flag of Qatar is conspicuously absent.

Sights

Marking the entrance to Manama souk, Bab Al Bahrain lies at the heart of Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

Marking the entrance to Manama souk, Bab Al Bahrain lies at the heart of Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

There are enough sights in Bahrain to keep an inquisitive visitor busy for about a week.

Bahrain Island

Bahrain National Museum

The entrance to the Bahrain National Museum.

The entrance to the Bahrain National Museum.

The Bahrain National Museum is the country’s most popular attraction, with slick displays accompanied by signage in English and Arabic. Located on the waterfront east of downtown Manama, the museum provides an excellent insight into the Dilmun civilisation and includes a cross-section of a reconstructed burial mound.

My favourite display at the museum is the enormous, 1200-square metre, aerial view of the Kingdom which covers the entire ground floor.

Covering 1200 square metres, this huge satellite photo of Bahrain covers the entire lobby floor of the Bahrain National Museum.

Covering 1200 square metres, this huge satellite photo of Bahrain covers the entire lobby floor of the Bahrain National Museum.

The museum complex includes four halls: one devoted to archaeology and the ancient civilisation of Dilmun, while two halls depict the culture and lifestyle of Bahrain’s recent pre-industrial past, and the fourth is devoted to natural history, fauna and flora.

A rich collection of Bahrain's ancient archaeological artefact's is on display at the Bahrain National Museum.

A rich collection of Bahrain’s ancient archaeological artefact’s is on display at the Bahrain National Museum.

Once you’ve learnt all there is to know about Bahrain’s history and culture, the excellent Darseen Cafe is the perfect venue for a little respite (refer to the ‘Eating Out‘ section below for more details).

One of the displays at the Bahrain National Museum is this shiny 1932 Buick which was owned by Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa.

One of the displays at the Bahrain National Museum is this shiny 1932 Buick which was owned by Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa.

The cafe is located behind the sparkling Buick which once belonged to Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the first Emir of Bahrain. This perfectly kept classic car was gifted by the US government to the late Emir, himself a keen collector.

Bahrain National Theatre

The very contemporary Bahrain National Theatre is one of the largest theatres, and the 3rd largest opera house, in the Arab world.

The very contemporary Bahrain National Theatre is one of the largest theatres, and the 3rd largest opera house, in the Arab world.

Sitting alongside the National Museum, the National Theatre of Bahrain was designed by the French firm, Architecture-Studio, and was inaugurated in 2012 with a performance by the Spanish opera star Plácido Domingo.

Built on an area of about 12,000 m2 overlooking the sea, the design of the theatre is inspired by 1001 Arabian Nights. The seating capacity of the main auditorium is exactly 1,001-seats! The roof of the theatre is covered with gold-coloured, stainless steel, panels. The French architects wanted the roof to create a “shimmering gold jewel” effect, which is best observed at sunset.

An art exhibition at the National Theatre of Bahrain.

An art exhibition at the National Theatre of Bahrain.

The theatre also serves as an urban and cultural centre, with the lobby hosting art exhibitions (free entrance) which feature Bahraini artists.

Art exhibition at the Bahrain National Theatre.

Art exhibition at the Bahrain National Theatre.

Beit Al Quran

The beautiful stained-glass dome at the Beit Al Quran Museum mosque.

The beautiful stained-glass dome at the Beit Al Quran Museum mosque.

One fascinating sight which shouldn’t be missed is the Beit Al Quran Museum which is located in the Diplomatic Area of Manama. Beit Al Quran, which translates as ‘House of Quran’, consists of ten galleries, spread over two floors, which exhibit rare Qur’anic manuscripts from different periods, starting from the first century Hijra (700 AD). Included in the museum complex is a mosque which is fitted with the most dazzling stained-glass dome.

One of the many antique, hand-written, Quran's on display at the Beit Al Quran museum.

One of the many antique, hand-written, Quran’s on display at the Beit Al Quran museum.

The museum features some of the first Quran’s written and the first Quran translated into Latin in 955 AD. Some of the more amazing exhibits are microscopic, hand-written Quran’s which can only be viewed with the aid of a magnifying glass. Some of the more bizarre exhibits include grains of rice and tiny sesame seeds which have Surah’s engraved into them.

Bab Al-Bahrain

Bab Al Bahrain lies at the heart of Manama old town.

Bab Al Bahrain lies at the heart of Manama old town.

Bab Al Bahrain translates as the ‘Gateway to Bahrain‘, a fitting name for a handsome twin-arched gate that stands at the entrance to the capital. It’s true to say that in Bahrain, all roads lead to Bab Al Bahrain, a place where you’ll taxis, buses, Tourist information, a Postal Museum and the sprawling Manana Souk.

The gateway was built in the 1940s by Sir Charles Belgrave, British adviser to the Emir, to house government offices. It fronts Government Road and was originally located on the waterfront; however, land reclamation has since pushed the shoreline several kilometres north.

Bahrain Travel Guide: Cultural displays at the Bab Al Bahrain Information Centre.

Cultural displays at the Bab Al Bahrain Information Centre.

The Bab Al Bahrain Information Centre is the main tourist information office for Manama. Operated by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities the centre is light on content but offers interesting cultural displays.

Postal Museum

The Postal Museum at Bab Al Bahrain.

The Postal Museum at Bab Al Bahrain.

Located at Bab Al Bahrain, the Bahrain Postal Museum displays stamps from Bahrain as well as stamps from around the world. The museum was established by Bahrain Post and features historical items related to postal services.  

A display at the Postal Museum features the first stamp issued by Bahrain in 1953.

A display at the Postal Museum features the first stamp issued by Bahrain in 1953.

A complete collection of Bahraini stamps forms a large part of the display and include the first stamp issued in the name of Bahrain, which was released in 1953 and featured a portrait of the late Emir, His Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Prior to 1953, stamps of British India, which were overprinted with ‘BAHRAIN’ were used for postage.

Manama Souk

Colourful lanterns on sale at Manama Souk.

Colourful lanterns on sale at Manama Souk.

The atmospheric Manama Souq is a warren of narrow streets and alleyways sprawling southwards from Bab Al Bahrain. Whether you’re looking to buy a souvenir of Bahrain, electronics, spices or colourful lanterns, you’ll find plenty of shops selling wares from around the region and beyond.

Golden lanterns at Manana souk.

Golden lanterns at Manana souk.

The souk is also home to many tailor shops which offer custom-made shirts and suits at reasonable prices. Each time I visit Bahrain, I have new shirts made for me by the competent team at Washington Tailors (email: washingtontailortex@gmail.com) who can be found inside the main entrance of the Souk at 429 Manama Road.

The friendly team of Indian tailors from 'Washington Tailors' in Manama Souk.

The friendly team of Indian tailors from ‘Washington Tailors’ in Manama Souk.

When it’s time to take a break from the shopping, the excellent Bab Al Bahrain Mall offers some of the best cafes in town (see the ‘Eating Out‘ section for more details).

The entrance to Manama souk.

The entrance to Manama souk.

Al Fatih Mosque

Able to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time, the beautifully designed Al-Fatih mosque is the largest mosque in Bahrain.

Able to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time, the beautifully designed Al-Fatih mosque is the largest mosque in Bahrain.

The Al Fatih mosque is Bahrain’s grand mosque, built in honour of the founder of modern Bahrain, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Muhammad Bin Khalifa, who was known as ‘Al Fatih’ (the conqueror).

The Al Fatih mosque is the principal mosque in Bahrain.

The Al Fatih mosque is the principal mosque in Bahrain.

Located in the Juffair neighbourhood, the mosque was built at a cost of US$20 million and is one of the largest mosques in the world, having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time.

The interior of the Al Fatih Mosque, the largest place of worship in Bahrain.

The interior of the Al Fatih Mosque, the largest place of worship in Bahrain.

In a region where mosques are often closed to visitors, the Al Fatih mosque is very welcoming, offering free, informative tours throughout the day by multi-lingual guides. The mosque is one of the premier tourist attractions in Bahrain and is open to visitors from 9 am to 4 pm daily, except on Friday.

Exterior of the Al Fatih Mosque, Bahrain.

The austere exterior of the Al Fatih mosque belies the ornate interior.

Bahrain Fort & Museum

A view of Bahrain fort at dusk.

A view of Bahrain fort at dusk.

Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Bahrain Fort (also known as Qal’at al-Bahrain) sits atop a 12 m (39 ft) deep tell (an artificial mound created by centuries of urban rebuilding) from which antiquities dating back as far as 2300 BC have been recovered. The archaeological findings, which are unearthed in the fort, reveal much about the history of Bahrain. The area is thought to have been occupied for about 5000 years and contains a valuable insight into the Copper and Bronze Ages of Bahrain.

The area occupied by Bahrain fort has been occupied by various occupants from 2300 BC.

The area occupied by Bahrain fort has been occupied by various occupants from 2300 BC.

One of the highlights of Bahrain, the fort is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is believed to have been the capital of the ancient Dilmun Empire.

Displays at the Bahrain Fort Museum are arranged in chronological order, covering 5 different periods of history.

Displays at the Bahrain Fort Museum are arranged in chronological order, covering 5 different periods of history.

This is where the most important Dilmun finds have been made in Bahrain, with many of those treasures now housed in the adjacent Qala’at Al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) Site Museum. The museum’s collection showcases five different historical periods which are arranged chronologically, each within its own separate gallery.

Across the courtyard from the museum, the GB Cafe offers excellent meals and drinks, either indoors or outside on the terrace overlooking the sea – an excellent place to watch the sunset.

World Trade Centre

The iconic the World Trade Tower.

The iconic the World Trade Tower.

Every city in the Gulf has its one iconic building and in Bahrain, it’s the 240 m, 50-floor, World Trade Towers (WTC). The tower uniquely integrates three large wind turbines into its design which, together with numerous energy reducing and recovery systems, make this one very sustainable building.

A’Ali Royal Burial Mounds

Royal Mound, A'Ali town, Bahrain.

One of the seventeen royal mounds in the town of A’Ali, Bahrain.

The Dilmun civilisation flourished in Bahrain from the 3rd century BC and, during its zenith, controlled all Persian Gulf trading routes. Today, there are more than 100,000 Dilmun-era burial mounds scattered across Bahrain.

A mock burial mound can be seen at the Bahrain National Museum.

A mock burial mound can be seen at the Bahrain National Museum.

The most magnificent of these are the 17 royal mounds which can be found in the southern suburb of A’Ali, a modern, bustling town which was an important place in antiquity.

A view of Royal Mound 8, the one mound which has been excavated.

A view of Royal Mound 8, the one mound which has been excavated in the town of A’Ali.

The mounds were constructed almost 4000 years ago, with the most impressive being royal mound 8 which has been excavated to reveal five separate chambers.

Dilmun-era Burial Mounds, Bahrain.

An ancient burial ground – hundreds of Dilmun-era burial mounds line the highway south of Manama.

Formula 1 Bahrain

The entrance to Bahrain International Circuit.

The entrance to Bahrain International Circuit, the venue for the annual Bahrain F1 Grand Prix.

Held at the end of March each year, the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix is certainly the biggest annual event in the Kingdom. The race is held on the purpose-built Bahrain International Circuit which is located on the southern outskirts of Manana.

Various events are held at the track throughput the year, providing visitors with an opportunity to gain access to the track.

Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve

Pink Flamingos at Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve.

Pink Flamingos at Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve.

The Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve is located next to the Bahrain International Circuit. Ideal if you have children, I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit what is a mostly uninspiring zoo. The park is home to a total of 80 species of birds and 45 species of mammals, including the majestic Arabian Oryx.

A popular attraction at Al Areen Park, the Greater flamingo is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

A popular attraction at Al Areen Park, the Greater flamingo is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Tree of Life

A lone green desert dweller, the Tree of Life.

A lone green desert dweller, the Tree of Life.

Located 40 km south of Manama, on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, the Tree of Life has long been shrouded in mystery. How old was the tree? How did it survive in an arid environment which was otherwise devoid of trees?

This lone, green specimen stands 9.75 metres (32 feet) high and is a Prosopis Cineraria (a type of Acacia tree) which draws 65,000 visitors every year. Historically, the tree stood in an isolated location but today is surrounded by makeshift campgrounds and the oil and gas installations. A walkway marked by 19 carved silhouettes of other famous trees around the globe circumnavigates the Tree of Life.

Drill holes from dendrochronology sampling can be seen on the lower trunk of the Tree of Life.

Drill holes from dendrochronology sampling can be seen on the lower trunk of the Tree of Life.

As for the mysteries? Analysis of the root system has shown that the roots descend to a depth of 50 metres which could allow the tree to tap into the water table. As for its age, Dendrochronology sampling (removal of a core sample to allow the counting of tree rings) has shown the tree was planted around 1583.

Muharraq Island

For centuries, Muharraq Island was the capital, and centre of everything on Bahrain. As a result, this tiny island is full of interesting sights, including a World Heritage Site – The Pearling Trail.

Jamal Showaiter Halwa

Sweaty work in a hot country! Halwa production at the Jamal Showaiter factory in Muharraq.

Sweaty work in a hot country! Halwa production at the Jamal Showaiter factory in Muharraq.

Throughout the region, Bahrain is known for its sweet tasting, gooey, Halwa candy with visitors from neighbouring Gulf states buying up large quantities to carry home. Originating from Zanzibar, Halwa was introduced into the Middle East by Omani traders who use to sail between Zanzibar and Oman. From Oman, Halwa production spread to Iran and other countries throughout the region.

Hussain Mohammed Showaiter was a Bahraini merchant and pearl diver by profession. During his stay in Najaf, Iraq, he saw sweets made of caramelized sugar, oil and water which caught his attention. After learning the production process, he decided to setup a factory in Muharraq. Importantly, he tweaked the recipe by adding Bahraini ingredients like cardamom, Bahraini spices, nuts, rose water etc. This simple modification has set Bahrain Halwa apart from all others.

For 150 years, the Showaiter family have been perfecting their recipe and today produce a product which is sought after throughout the region. Most halwa stores in Bahrain bear the name of the Showaiter family, with all production taking place at the family factory in the heart of Muharraq Island.

Halwa production at the Jamal Showaiter factory in Muharraq.

Halwa production at the Jamal Showaiter factory in Muharraq.

If you would like to view the production process (highly recommended), you can arrange a factory tour, which will normally be scheduled for a Saturday morning. I was fortunate to have the factory supervisor, Mr. Mohd Al-Ghareeb, as my tour guide.

The production technique for Halwa involves cooking ingredients inside large copper vats which are heated by four gas burners which are placed under a raised platform.

The production technique for Halwa involves cooking ingredients inside large copper vats which are heated by four gas burners which are placed under a raised platform.

The production technique, which has remained largely unchanged over time, involves heating ingredients inside large copper vats which are heated by gas burners which are placed under a raised platform.

The ingredients for Halwa are:

  • corn starch
  • sugar
  • cardamom powder
  • corn oil
  • rose water
  • nuts
With summer temperatures reaching 50 degrees in Bahrain, constantly stirring heated vats of Halwa is a punishing task.

With summer temperatures reaching 50 degrees in Bahrain, constantly stirring heated vats of Halwa is a punishing task.

All ingredients are heated together in the large vats, which bubble away furiously. The one production room contains four vats which were all being used at the time of my visit.

In order to achieve the correct consistency (like a molten hot, gooey jelly) the production team must constantly stir the molten halwa with wooden paddles. While they each sit under a fan, the heat inside the production room is stifling with four gas burners constantly heating the vats, which then produce steam and smoke. Not an ideal job in a country where summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

Once the desired consistency has been achieved, the gooey mix is ladled into containers where it sets. These containers are then distributed to the various Showaiter shops around Bahrain.

The two most popular Halwas are:

  • Saffron Halwa – an orange coloured Halwa which is loaded with cashew nuts.
  • King of Halwa – which is green in colour and loaded with almonds.
The beautifully designed shop at the Jamal Showaiter Halwa factory was created by the factory supervisor.

The beautifully designed shop at the Jamal Showaiter Halwa factory was created by the factory supervisor.

Once you have finished the tour, you can step into the colourful shop, where you can try the different varieties of Halwa. The interior, including all the artwork was created by Mr Mohd Al-Ghareeb himself.

Arad Fort

Once a key part of the fortifications of Bahrain, Fort Arad today lies across the road from a modern shopping mall.

Once a key part of the fortifications of Bahrain, Fort Arad today lies across the road from a modern shopping mall.

Dating from the 15th-century, Arad Fort is located across the road from the sprawling Seef Mall Muharraq. Once a key part of the fortifications of Bahrain, the fort was built in the typical style of Islamic forts during the 15th century, which is a square design with cylindrical towers on each corner.

Surrounding the fort is a defensive moat which is now empty but previously was filled with water from wells that were drilled especially for filling the moat.

The interior is open until after sunset with an entrance ticket costing 1 BD. Tickets can be purchased from the guard in the unmarked white building in front of the fort.

Rahimi Dhow Ship Yard

A newly completed boat at the Rahimi Dhow Ship Yard on Muharraq Island.

A newly completed boat at the Rahimi Dhow Ship Yard on Muharraq Island.

Located on the south-eastern tip of Muharraq Island (across the water from Arad Fort), the Rahimi Dhow Ship Yard is the only place in Bahrain where you can see traditional wooden Dhow ships being constructed.

Giant Dhow boats under construction at the Dhow Builders Yard on Muharraq Island.

Giant Dhow boats under construction at the Dhow Builders Yard on Muharraq Island.

Boat builders at the yard construct giant wooden dhows using techniques which have remained unchanged for centuries. While the yard is enclosed by a high wall, visitors are free to enter and watch the craftsmen at work.

Bahrain Pearling Trail

Siyadi House was constructed for the pearl merchant Abdullah bin Isa Siyadi.

Siyadi House was constructed for the pearl merchant Abdullah bin Isa Siyadi.

Bahrain’s 2nd UNESCO World Heritage site (after Bahrain Fort), the Pearling Path/ Trail is located on Muharraq island. The trail extends for 3.5 km, connecting 17 historic merchant houses which were built by those involved in the lucrative pearl industry.

A full description of all the properties, including photos and map locations can be viewed on the Pearling Path website.

Detail of the Siyadi Majlis, part of the Siyadi house property.

Detail of the Siyadi Majlis, part of the Siyadi house property.

For millennia, the Gulf region was the centre of the Pearling industry, which reached its peak in the 19th-20th century. The money made was used to build opulent residences on Muharraq Island.

Detail from Fakhro house, the former residence of boat merchant, Yousef Abdurrahman Fakhro, one of the properties included on the Pearl Path.

Detail from Fakhro house, the former residence of boat merchant, Yousef Abdurrahman Fakhro, one of the properties included on the Pearl Path.

In 2013, the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities set out to preserve the buildings and as of my last visit (November 2021), all properties are currently closed for renovation.

Despite this, you can still view the properties from the outside which is worthwhile. A highlight is Siyadi House, which was constructed by one of Bahrain’s leading pearl merchants, Abdullah bin Isa Siyadi.

Doorway in the historic old town of Muharraq.

Doorway in the historic old town of Muharraq.

The one property which is accessible is the modern Pearling Path Visitors and Interpretation Centre, which sits in the heart of Muharraq at the entrance of the Qayssareyah souk.

The archaeological component of the Pearling Path Visitors and Interpretation Centre.

The archaeological component of the Pearling Path Visitors and Interpretation Centre.

The centre includes an archaeological component and an exhibition space which features displays on pearling. It’s impossible to miss the centre, which is covered by a soaring concrete slab roof.

 

Busaad Art Gallery

Works by artist Ebrahim Busaad, on display at the Busaad Art Gallery.

Works by artist Ebrahim Busaad, on display at the Busaad Art Gallery.

Tucked away in a quiet, shady corner of old Muharraq, Busaad Art Gallery is an independent art gallery owned by world-renown Bahraini artist Ebrahim Busaad.

One of the rooms at the Busaad Art Gallery.

One of the rooms at the Busaad Art Gallery.

The rooms of this small gallery (free entrance) feature works by the artist, whose clients include Bahrain royalty and the British Museum.

Accommodation

A view of the new tourist enclave of Juffair, which is being built upon land reclaimed from the sea.

A view of the new tourist enclave of Juffair, which is being built upon land reclaimed from the sea.

While many hotels are located in the more established neighbourhoods of Manana, much of the newer tourist infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes are located in the strangely eerie, soulless and dusty district of Juffair, a newly created urban quarter which has been established on land reclaimed from the sea.

The whole neighbourhood is a ‘work-in-progress’ and serves as a hub for visiting Saudi’s who flock to Bahrain to party and play each weekend.

The Best Western Arch Hotel in Juffair, Bahrain.

My room at the Best Western Arch Hotel. Due to a glut of hotels, room prices in Bahrain are very affordable.

While in Manama, I stayed at the very new, and highly recommended, Arch Hotel which is part of the Best Western chain and is located among a forest of new towers in the Juffair neighbourhood. With standard rooms from US$60, the Arch features three different bars, one of which is a sports bar with typical American fare.

There’s no shortage of accommodation options in Bahrain with 200 properties currently listed on Booking.com and Hotels.com

A view of Juffair, a new part of Manama, built on reclaimed land.

A view of Juffair, a new part of Manama, built on reclaimed land.

While downtown Manama is home to many established hotels, the nearby Juffair neighbourhood is home to a slew of new high-rise hotels, restaurants and apartment blocks. Juffair is built on a massive land reclamation scheme which has extended Bahrain’s coastline by two kilometres to the east. While new high-rise towers are being built at a frenetic pace, there are still large tracts of vacant land which make Juffair a very dusty neighbourhood on windy days.

Eating Out

Restaurants

The Avenues Mall, Bahrain.

The Avenues Mall is home to many international restaurant chains.

Bahrain offers an excellent selection of restaurants, which specialise in local and international cuisine. The streets surrounding Manama Souk are home to a range of local ‘cheap eats’ where a kebab meal will cost you just a few dinars.

If you’re looking for something more international, The Avenues Mall, which is located on Bahrain Bay, is home to a number of international chains such as New York’s Dean & Deluca, IHOP, Le Pain Quotidien, PF Chang’s, TGI Fridays, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack and more.

Cafés

Merchant House Hotel

Café Gray

The opulent and charming interior of Café Gray is the perfect place to unwind with a fine coffee and cake.

The opulent and charming interior of Café Gray is the perfect place to unwind with a fine coffee and cake.

Merchant House Hotel – a hidden gem, a short walk from Bab Al-Bahrain!

Located at 150 Government Road, on the ground floor of the über-stylish Merchant House boutique hotel, Café Gray offers excellent coffee and desserts in a calm, chilled, relaxed setting. It’s all seemingly a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Bab Al-Bahrain souk, which surrounds the property.

The Library

The hotel, which claims to be Bahrain’s first 5-star luxury boutique hotel, is also home to The Library which is located on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby. Like everything else at this fine establishment, every inch of space features impeccable design elements. A perfect place to relax and enjoy tea or coffee, The Library boasts a curated collection of over 1000 books.

Indigo Terrace

The very stylish <b>'Indigo Terrace'</b> rooftop restaurant at the Merchant House hotel.

The very stylish ‘Indigo Terrace’ rooftop restaurant at the Merchant House hotel.

It’s worth taking the elevator to the rooftop of the Merchant House hotel, where the charming Indigo Terrace restaurant awaits. Featuring more beautiful design, and lots of flowering plants, Indigo is open during the day for meals and serves a mean cocktail.

Rising above the streets of the busy souk, Indigo Terrace is an oasis of calm and refinement. A little piece of heaven in the heart of Bahrain!

Café Lilou

The elegant, balconied, Cafe Lilou offers a slice of French flare in Bahrain.

The elegant, balconied, Cafe Lilou offers a slice of French flare in Bahrain.

 

The highly popular Cafe Lilou offer three branches in Manama, with the main branch located in the popular cafe/ dining neighbourhood known as Block 338.

The Parisian-inspired décor and fine international café fare are what has made it one of Bahrain’s most popular spots. The menu is filled with tempting, gourmet dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The coffee is always good and is the perfect accompaniment to one of the many amazing cakes and pastries (the Millefeuille is divine)!

% Arabica @ The Avenues Mall

The '% Arabica Avenues' cafe in The Avenues mall serves the strongest Arabica coffee in Manama.

The ‘% Arabica Avenues’ cafe in The Avenues mall serves the strongest Arabica coffee in Manama.

If you prefer your coffee strong, the strongest caffeine kick (and the best coffee) in Bahrain is served by the expert barista’s at the % Arabica cafe which can be found inside The Avenues mall.

The finest coffee in Bahrain is served by the Japanese cafe chain - % Arabica, through their branch at the Avenues Mall.

The finest coffee in Bahrain is served by the Japanese cafe chain – % Arabica, at their branch at the Avenues Mall.

A coffee chain with a difference, % Arabica is a Japanese cafe chain who are busy opening stylish outlets around the world. The slick, minimal, design reinforces the fact that this cafe is about one thing and one thing only – the finest of strong Arabica coffee.

Saffron by Jena

'Saffron by Jena' offers superb local cuisine at their Bab Al Bahrain Mall branch.

‘Saffron by Jena’ offers superb local cuisine at their Bab Al Bahrain Mall branch.

Bahrain has many fine cafes, with some of the finest located inside the popular Bab Al Bahrain Mall at Manama Souk. ‘Saffron by Jena‘ offers a contemporary twist on traditional Bahraini cuisine and are known for their delicious breakfast menu which is very popular with locals and visitors. If you cannot make it to the souk, they also have a branch on Muharraq island.

Naseef Cafe

Bahrain Flag cake. <br><i>Source: Naseef Cafe.

Bahrain Flag cake.
Source: Naseef Cafe.

Next door to Saffron is Naseef Cafe which is famous for its homemade mango ice-cream. Like neighbouring Saffron, Naseef offers traditional Bahraini food with a modern twist. Apart from their famous ice-cream, the breakfast menu is very popular with locals and their coffee is very good.

Naseef Cafe offers wonderful meals and good coffee.

Naseef Cafe offers wonderful meals and good coffee.

A larger branch of Naseef can be found on the waterfront on Muharraq Island, across from the Novotel. This is the place to go if you wish to sample a traditional Bahraini breakfast, which includes:

  • Balaleet (vermicelli sweetened with sugar, cardamom, rose water and saffron, and served with an overlying egg)
  • Eggs
  • Tomatoes
  • Nikhee (chickpeas fried in a Bahraini-style sauce)
  • Falafel (fried fritters made from ground chickpeas)
  • Foul (fava beans)
  • Mashed potato
  • Mahyawa bread (salted anchovy spread, served on a crispy flatbread)
  • Bahraini bread

On weekends, both levels of this restaurant are packed with locals enjoying a traditional Bahrain breakfast which is delivered quickly. If you insist on ordering a Western-style breakfast you should be prepared for a long wait as the kitchen is fully focussed on preparing their signature breakfast item (which almost everyone orders).

Darseen Café

The Darseen Cafe at the Bahrain National Museum.

The Darseen Cafe at the Bahrain National Museum.

Need a break from absorbing 4,000 years of Bahrain’s rich history? Located inside the Bahrain National Museum, the Darseen café offers wonderful sea views, an eclectic, fusion menu, featuring international and local cuisine and some of the best coffee in town. It’s the perfect respite while expanding your mind.

Bars

Unlike anywhere else in the region, Bahrain has a very lively bar scene with many bars hidden away inside the myriad hotels. Most bars are frequented by Saudi (male) tourists who flood into Bahrain on the weekend to engage in the types of activities that are strictly forbidden at home.

Visa Requirements

Bahrain Passport Stamp.

Bahrain Passport Stamp.

Bahrain provides visa-free access to passport holders from four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Currently, 116 nationalities may obtain a visa on arrival at Bahrain International Airport or online for stays of up to one month. The current visa fee is BD 29 (USD$77) which includes a processing fee of 4 BD (USD$11).

All details regarding the eVisa process can be viewed on this Bahrain Government website.

Getting There

Opened in January 2020, the US$1.1 billion Bahrain International Airport was designed to feel like the airport of the future.

Opened in January 2020, the US$1.1 billion Bahrain International Airport was designed to feel like the airport of the future.

Air


Video: Final approach to Bahrain International Airport.

Taken from one of my Emirates flights into the Kingdom.


Bahrain International Airport

All flights into Bahrain arrive at the newly opened Bahrain International Airport (IATA: BAH), which is located on the island of Muharraq, 7 km (4.3 mi) northeast of Manama.

One of the very sleek and modern departure areas at Bahrain International Airport.

One of the very sleek and modern departure areas at Bahrain International Airport.

The airport serves as the hub for the national carrier Gulf Air who connect Bahrain with 50 destinations in 28 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe.

The waiting areas on the airside of Bahrain International Airport have been designed to be soothing and relaxing.

The waiting areas on the airside of Bahrain International Airport have been designed to be soothing and relaxing.

Opened in January of 2021, the new terminal of Bahrain International Airport is stunning in every respect with the design team focussing on minimising passenger stress and creating a world-class facility. This has been achieved!

Reducing passenger stress has been achieved through clever design, with either bright or soft colours being utilised in different areas, depending on perceived stress levels.

A large LED screen in the centre of the terminal screens 'Bahrain Moments'.

A large LED screen in the centre of the terminal screens ‘Bahrain Moments’.

No detail has been overlooked, including the carpets, which were created by the studio of Christian Lacroix, and have been designed with soft, soothing colours to minimise stress.

Throughout the terminal, soft, relaxing music is played while at the centre, a large island of soothing calm has been created using the old control tower which displays a specially made film – Bahrain Moments.


Bahrain Moments 

The centre piece of the new terminal is a huge screen, showcasing Bahraini moments accompanied by soothing music.

The centre piece of the new terminal is a huge screen, showcasing Bahraini moments accompanied by soothing music.

At the centre of the new terminal, what use to be the old control tower, has now been converted into a giant LCD screen which displays a slow-motion sequence of locally produced videos titled ‘Bahrain Moments‘.

 


Gulf Air Stopover Packages

If you’re flying with Gulf Air, and transiting through Bahrain, you can take advantage of one of their stopover packages, which start from as little as US$125.

The packages, which must be booked at the time of ticketing, include accommodation (with daily breakfast), airport transfer, tours and no visa fees! You can choose from either beach-side or city accommodation options, from one to three nights.

If you hire a rental car, the three-night package would allow you to fully explore this tiny island nation.

Departure board at Bahrain International Airport.

Departure board at Bahrain International Airport.

Scheduled Services

The following airlines provide scheduled services to/ from Bahrain:

  • Air Arabia – flies to/ from Sharjah
  • Air India – flies to/ from Delhi
  • Air India Express – flies to/ from Kannur, Kochi, Kozhikode, Mangalore
  • AtlasGlobal – flies to/ from Istanbul, Trabzon
  • British Airways – flies to/ from Dammam, London–Heathrow
  • Cathay Pacific – flies to/ from Dubai–International, Hong Kong
  • EgyptAir – flies to/ from Cairo
  • Emirates – flies to/ from Dubai–International
  • Etihad Airways – flies to/ from Abu Dhabi
  • Ethiopian Airlines – flies to/ from Addis Ababa
  • flydubai – flies to/ from Dubai–International
  • Gulf Air – flies to/ from Abu Dhabi, Addis Ababa, Alexandria–Borg El Arab, Amman–Queen Alia, Athens, Baghdad, Baku, Bengaluru, Bangkok–Suvarnabhumi, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca, Chennai, Colombo, Dammam, Dhaka, Delhi, Dubai–International, Faisalabad, Frankfurt, Gassim, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jeddah, Karachi, Khartoum, Kochi, Kozhikode, Kuwait, Lahore, Larnaca, London–Heathrow, Manila, Medina, Moscow–Domodedovo, Multan, Mumbai, Muscat, Najaf, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Peshawar, Riyadh, Sharm El Sheikh, Sialkot, Tbilisi, Thiruvananthapuram
    Seasonal: Malaga, Salalah
  • Iraqi Airways – flies to/ from Baghdad, Najaf
  • Jazeera Airways – flies to/ from Kuwait
  • KLM – flies to/ from Amsterdam, Kuwait
  • Kuwait Airways – flies to/ from Kuwait
  • Lufthansa – flies to/ from Frankfurt
  • Oman Air – flies to/ from Muscat
  • Pegasus Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul–Sabiha Gökçen
  • SalamAir – flies to/ from Muscat
  • Saudia – flies to/ from Jeddah, Riyadh
  • SriLankan Airlines – flies to/ from Colombo
  • Syrian Air – flies to/ from Damascus
  • Turkish Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul

Airport Transport

Taxis connect the airport to downtown Manama for BD5-8 with an additional BD2 airport charge. Somewhat hidden way, the taxi waiting area (currently unsigned) is located on the ground floor of the car park which is adjacent to the new terminal. As you exit the terminal, the car park is on your right.

Bahrain Bus operates four routes (A1, A2, 10 and 11) between the airport and downtown Manama with tickets costing 300 fils.

Land

The only land border is with Saudi Arabia, across the King Fahd Causeway. Obtaining a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia is currently next to impossible but hopefully that will soon change (click here to read more on the proposed new Saudi tourist eVisa). In the meantime, the crossing is used by Saudi tourists who stream into Bahrain each weekend to indulge in activities which are strictly forbidden at home.

Sea

Cruise ships call at Bahrain’s Mina Sulman port on a regular basis between October and April of each year. Click here to view the current schedule.

 

Getting Around

Public Transport

Bahrain Bus Network map.

Bahrain Bus Network map. Source: Bahrain Transport.

Bahrain Bus operates buses on 26 different routes which cover the entirety of the greater Manama metropolitan area and beyond. Tickets cost 300 fils with reduced fares for those using the GO CARD.

Taxi

Taxis on the stand at Bab al Bahrain.

Taxis on the stand at Bab al Bahrain.

Taxis can be easily hailed on the streets in Bahrain and are a comfortable way to get around the city with official taxis easily recognised by their white bodies and orange roofs. Unlike neighbouring Gulf states, most drivers in Bahrain are native Bahrainis and not guest workers.

All taxis are metered and are an easy and cheap way to get around town with a flag fall of BD1.5 and BD0.25 per kilometre thereafter.

Rental Car

The wonderful Layla at Tooranco Rent-a-Car, which offer a large fleet of good cars at very reasonable prices.

The wonderful Layla at Tooranco Rent-a-Car, which offer a large fleet of good cars at very reasonable prices.

The distance from the northern tip to the southern tip of Bahrain is just 50 km, via a well-paved highway with a total driving time of 50 minutes.

This is not a big island and with a rental car you can fully explore every nook and cranny in a couple of days. While distances are short and highways are excellent, public transport outside of the greater-Manama urban area is almost non-existent, making a rental car essential if you wish to fully explore the island.

While there are several car rental agents at the International Airport, the best deals are to be found from the numerous agents which line the busy Shabab Avenue, which is located alongside the US Naval base (NSA Bahrain). Naturally, the main clientele for these agents is US Military personnel who rent cars on a monthly basis at deep discounts.

With an average taxi fare in Manama costing BD5, a compact car costing BD8 per day and a litre of fuel costing BD0.18 (US$0.48), the decision to rent a car is a no-brainer!

The number plate on my Bahrain rental car.

The number plate on my Bahrain rental car.

Always when in Bahrain, I rent cars through the friendly staff at Tooranco Rent-a-Car (Tel: 66366522) whose office is located at Building 465, Shabab Ave, Block 340, Juffair.

While most customers are US military enquiring about long-term rentals, rates for a short-term rental are as low as 8 BD (USD$21) per day.

Driving in Bahrain isn’t for the fainthearted! The local driving style is very aggressive and obnoxious with drivers ignoring most road rules. In just one day, I saw two, three-car pile-ups. The most obnoxious drivers are the many Saudi motorists who drive like there’s no tomorrow.


That’s the end of my Bahrain Travel Guide.

Safe Travels!

Darren


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Further Reading

Other travel reports from the Gulf Region region:

Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide Bahrain Travel Guide

Author: Darren McLean

A perpetual traveller, photographer, travel writer and owner of taste2travel, a website which aims to inspire wanderlust.

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