Lands of Two Seas

As the country celebrates its 45th National Day on December 16, we bring you plethora of things to do in the Kingdom of Bahrain

Bahrain, the only Arab island state, is snapping at the heels of tourist hotspot Dubai. The smallest country in the Middle East, Bahrain – whose name translates to ‘two seas’ – is an aggregate of 33 islands that house everything from seventh century mosques to contemporary racetracks, Islamic-style castles and 18-hole golf courses. It strikes a good balance; it’s more liberal than many of its neighbours yet offers a more traditional, less manufactured, Middle Eastern experience.

No doubt Bahrain plays host to many of the glitzy skyscrapers that have become a Gulf trademark, it has not abandoned its heritage, offering the historically inclined refurbished souqs, old forts, repurposed heritage houses and more. As the Kingdom celebrates its 45th National Day on December 16, Bahrainis will celebrate the day with fireworks, dazzling streetlights, 3D projection mapping, etc. So if you are in this country around this time, here’s what will keep you busy.

Where to eat?

Start your day with a Bahraini breakfast. A hearty meal, including spiced tomato scrambled eggs, chickpeas and beans, a variety of flat breads, vermicelli and more! Restaurants like Haji Gahwa in Manama souq, Emmawash in Budaiya and Saffron in Quaisariya souq in old Muharraq are popular and serve the authentic deal. If you are looking for all-time favourites like shawarma (meat/chicken wrap) – a local value for money street food – or cheese khubz (flat bread), small time joints are the place to be. Few serve camel burgers too – be brave! Don’t miss the traditional Bahraini cafes in the souqs, which serve gahwa (Arabic coffee) infused with cardamom and other spices. If you happen to visit the souqs in the evening, do try the exciting flavours of shisha (hubble bubble).

What to see?

Located on King Faisal Highway, the Bahrain National Museum is a great place to start your sightseeing. The display offers an indepth understanding of the local traditions and cultural history of the country. The Grand Mosque, which is round the corner, is one of the largest in the world and can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers at a time. Make sure you dress modestly keeping in mind the conservative culture. Old-style houses, few of them dating back to the 19th century, characterised by courtyards, wind towers and traditional windows, are popular tourist attractions in Manama and Muharraq. Beit Al Quran in Hoora, dedicated to the Islamic arts, and the currency museum in Diplomatic area are worth a visit too.

Bahrain has a number of forts including Arad fort, Riffa fort, Bu Maher fort in Muharraq, and Bahrain fort previously known as the Portuguese fort in Karbabad– the first official Unesco world heritage site belonging to the Dilmun era, a thriving period of civilisation in Arabian history. Barbar temples and the burial mounds in A’ali are historic gems from the same period. Khamis mosque, built around 692 AD, is the oldest in the Arab world. Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in Sakhir desert, is also popular with tourists.

Where to relax?

Some of Bahrain’s top attractions include The Pearling Trail, which is a 3.5 km walk. It is the second official Unesco world heritage site and consists of 17 buildings around Muharraq, as well as three offshore oyster beds, part of the seashore and the Bu Maher fort. The Bahrain International Circuit christened as ‘the Home of Motorsport in the Middle East’, Bahrain hosts the F1 in April every year. Adventure enthusiasts can head to the tracks in Sakhir for some highoctane go-karting.

Bahrain has some wonderful public beaches, including Hidd beach, Zallaq beach, Karbabad beach and Jazair beach. When it comes to shopping, do not forget to visit the Gold Souq. Bahraini gold, unlike others, starts at 18 carat and goes up to 24 carat. You can’t miss the many shops dotting the temple lane in Manama souq or Gold City.

What to shop?

Savouries like pickles, olives and nuts make for great take-aways and you can buy them at the souqs and supermarkets. A variety of dates – with almonds, walnuts, orange and lemon rind – are sure to bring back sweet memories once you’re home. The iconic Halwa Showaiter (jelly dessert) and Baklava (spiced and buttery filo pastry) are other traditional sweets to sample and stock.

By : Melissa Nazrith