An archipelago comprised of around 33 tiny islands (plus numerous artificial islands), there’s no shortage of things to do in this often-overlooked Gulf State. Known as the “island of pearls” for its rich pearling industry, Bahrain has many cultural gems lying beneath its surface. Tourists might be surprised by its mix of modernity and culture – it’s a place where skyscrapers tower over ancient landmarks, and attitudes are outward-looking but with a traditional core. From shopping to sightseeing, these are our top five recommendations of things to experience.
What Manama translates as “sleeping place” in Arabic, but this bustling market in the capital’s former business district is anything but quiet. Enter via the historic Gate of Bahrain, to a medley of recently renovated interiors and old cobbled streets.
Best for Authentic souvenirs. The market is home to a trove of colourful textiles, jewellery and spices. You can haggle for trinkets in the Gold Market or sample sweets like baklava in the Halwa Market. There are dozens of tailor’s stalls where some of the best outfitters in the country can custom-make a suit in as little as a day. Fadhel Tailors comes highly recommended.
Don’t miss Naseef Restaurant for a scoop of saffron ice cream, or Haji’s Café for a steaming cup of chai. Well deserved after a stint of shopping.
Bab Al Bahrain Ave, Manama
Bahrain National Museum
What Bahrain’s largest and oldest public museum, perched on the Manama seafront. Inside the impressive white marble facade lie two storeys of exhibitions covering 6,000 years of history.
Best for An educational journey through its maze of halls. Spanning the Dilmun period to modern Bahrain, see burial mounds, traditional garments, and flora and fauna in the natural history hall.
Don’t miss A stop-off at the museum café. Appreciated for its stellar views overlooking the waterfront and Bahrain National Theatre, it has become a social hub for expats and tourists alike.
Shaikh Hamad Causeway, Manama
What The world’s largest underwater theme park has just opened in the northern waters of Bahrain. The 100,000-square-metre park includes a replica of a pearl merchant’s house, an artificial coral reef and a sunken aeroplane.
Best for Exploring its submerged structures. Lined with rust and coral, they attract swarms of marine life and ecology. Sea life includes some species of shark, sea bream and barracuda.
Don’t miss Swimming with shoals of fish through the decommissioned Boeing 747. The first plane to be sunken for dive purposes, it is the centrepiece of this subaquatic playground.
Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa
What A short drive from Manama, in Muharraq, the former home of Bahrain’s longest-serving ruler is worth a visit. Now unfurnished, it is an excellently preserved example of Arabic architecture from the pre-oil period.
Best for A time capsule of royal life. For the ultimate experience, hire a guide who can reveal the hidden stories of the servant, family and guest quarters. However, the carved wooden doors, spiralling staircases and ornate archways can also be appreciated alone.
Don’t miss An evening trip, when the outdoor lights illuminate the impressive facade and courtyards.
762 Road No 1045, Muharraq
Beit Al Quran
What A free museum in Manama, the “House of Quran” exhibits Islamic scripture dating from the 7th to the 20th century. Small but well laid out, in an hour’s trip visitors can expect to find plenty of rarities among its 50,000-strong collection.
Best for History lovers. Brimming with books, wood carvings, calligraphy and artwork, there is much to be fascinated by. Quirkier sights include a palm-sized Quran, and grains of rice, peas and sesame seeds that are inscribed with important Arabic words.
Don’t miss The mosque attached to the building. Covered with a beautiful stained-glass dome, the intricate patterns and colours are a spectacle in themselves. Time your visit so you can listen to the adhan, or call to prayer.
Building No 17, Rd No 1901, Manama; +973 1729 0101