Sun, Fun & Culture
Whether you are looking for a cultural blast from the past, the speed rush of Formula 1, or just want to chill out by the sea, Bahrain has it all.
From traditional wind towers to the wind turbines of the World Trade Center, from water parks to water fountains, the island is fast becoming a desirable destination for winter sun, fun and culture.
Believed by some to be the location of the original Garden of Eden, Bahrain boasts a rich cultural heritage combined with a cosmopolitan and always cheerful take on what matters to it most - going out, eating well, and having fun!
Located just off the Seef district, this fort is one of the most important archeological sites in the gulf region, dating back to the1500s when the Portuguese military occupied Bahrain.The fortress sits on top of an earthen mound which archeologists have excavated to find ruins and artifacts dating from as early as 3,000 BC when the island was the center of the Dilmun civilization which traded with Mesopotamia. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 - and remains the only such site in Bahrain.
The Bahrain Fort Museum opened on the site in 2008. Both museum and fort are open to visitors daily between 8:00am and 8:00pm.
Admission fee: 500 fils. Tel. 17567174
Burial Mounds, Fountain Of Youth & Saar Excavations
Nearly 200,000 burial mounds dating back from 3500BC to 500AD have been discovered in various locations on the island. Each mound contains a burial vault or chamber. Although today less than 20,000 of the mounds remain, it is still possible to view them at A’ali, Saar, Hamad Town, Jannosan, Shakura and Al Hajar. Bahrain National Museum also has an excellent permanent exhibition devoted to the mounds.
Legends tell of people drinking Bahrain’s once plentiful local spring water, believing it to be the Fountain of Youth or a miracle cure-all, only to die and be buried on the island. Bahrain was originally called Dilmun, and both the National Museum and the Bahrain Fort Museum provide fascinating insights into this period (see below).
In the rapidly expanding district of Saar, excavations have revealed the ruins of a Dilmunite town and cemetery dating back to 2,300BC.
Bab Al Bahrain
Enter the original gateway to Bahrain, and get quickly lost in the rabbit warren of streets that is the souq (bazaar). Located in the heart of Manama, Bab al Bahrain is an arched structure which once stood on the seashore, the shallow waters of the Gulf lapping at its foundations. Alas, today the coastline is several hundreds of meters away due to extensive reclamation. In 1986 the original arched gate was reworked and now houses a souvenir shop. Closed afternoons (12:00 to 4:30) and Fridays (Islamic weekend).
This site is, in fact, three temples built on top of one another, with the oldest dating back over three millennia. It is believed that they were constructed to worship ENKI, the god of living waters and wisdom. Many artefacts from the site are exhibited at Bahrain National Museum (see below). Entrance is free and the site is open to the public at all times.
With the age of its foundations dating back to 692AD, Khamis mosque is one of the oldest relics of Islam in the region. The mosque was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries, when its identical twin minarets were constructed. Today they stand serene and resolute as the incessant traffic on the nearby Shaikh Salman Highway screams by.
Located on Muharraq Island, this 15th century Arab style fort was once occupied by the Portuguese and later the Omanis. These days it is occupied by tourists and music lovers attending performances during Bahrain’s annual Spring of Culture festival. Open 8am-2pm (Sunday to Tuesday), 9am-6pm Wednesday to Thursday, 3-7pm (Friday).
Located on a hilltop overlooking the scenic Hunanaiya Valley, this site is complete with stories of an ancient castle built in 1698. The current fort was built in 1812, and served as the local seat of government until 1869.
Muharraq: Now & Then
Looking for a more traditional, authentic taste of daily life in Bahrain? Then look no further than Muharraq, Bahrain’s second largest city.
Located on Muharraq Island, the former capital’s character is formed by its shuffling souq, its beautifully understated old houses, its seafaring roots, and the community of artists and artisans who live and work there.
The simple but effective forerunners of modern day AC, wind towers were added to the tops of houses in order to trap wind and funnel it down to the suffering residents below. Stunning examples can be seen at Seyadi House and Shaikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa House (see below).
Al Jasra House
Al Jasra House was built in 1907 and was the birthplace of the late Amir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Visit the special room where dates hanging in baskets release the sweet nectar into tubes flowing into jars. The nectar is then used for many purposes, including cooking.
Shaikh Isa House
Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa ruled Bahrain from 1869 to 1932. The late 18th century architecture of his house in the centre of Muharraq is testimony to the harsh Bahraini climate: huge walls, small doors and an impressive wind tower. A memorable afternoon out. Call 17 334 945 for info.
Abdulla Al Zayed House
An excellent example of early Arabic architecture, complete with arched doorways and stained glass windows. Abdulla Al Zaye was the publisher of the country’s first daily newspaper. The house had fallen into a terrible state of repair, but has now been restored to its original state thanks to the support of Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa. Call 17 324 117 for info.
Located to the north of Shaikh Isa House, this extravagant abode was built in 1905 by the famous Gulf pearl merchant Ahmed bin Qassim Seyadi. The inner house contains unique wall and ceiling designs accented through the clever use of mirrors. Bring a camera!
Shaikh Ebrahim House
Built in the early 1900s, this house personifies the original owner’s love of Islamic architecture. With its large arch and traditional (mashrabiya) windows, this is an excellent space for poetry recitals, cultural lectures and other public displays. Call 17 322 549 for info.
Mohammed Bin Faris House for Sut Music
A small yet charming museum in Muharraq has been created in the home of one of Bahrain’s most celebrated musicians, the late Mohammed Bin Faris. An accomplished Oud player and songwriter, Bin Faris rose in popularity due to his mastery of Sut, a form of music from the Gulf. The museum contains numerous musical instruments, recordings and documents belonging to Bin Faris. It is also possible to listen to recordings of his work. Call 17 322 549 for info.
Ali Reza House (La Fontaine)
Located in the Al Awadiya area of Manama, the original structure was built in the early 1900s. Throughout the years the home has had many faces, starting life as a large two- storey family residence. It then became a school before being bought in the early ‘90s by a Texas oil tycoon, who restored it back to its original splendor complete with an impressive wind tower. But the story did not stop there! The dawn of the new millennium saw a complete makeover by a French designer, who transformed the house and garden into something out of a fairytale. Today La Fontaine, named after the property’s stunning stone fountain, houses a contemporary art museum, restaurant, ladies beauty salon and fitness centre. An oasis of calm. For info call 17 230 123.
Al Arrayed House
Originally built as a colonial style home in the 1940s, this was the home of two writers for over three decades: first Bahraini Ebrahim Al Arrayed and later Kuwaiti Shaikha So’ad Al Sabah. It subsequently became another heritage property after being purchased and completely renovated by Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa. Today the home is both a museum and a library, complete with numerous artefacts donated by the son of Ebrahim Al Orrayed. Call 17 280 056 for info.
This building in Muharraq exhibits the dwindling, unique Bahraini art of Kurar embroidery. Opened in 2007, it is hoped that elderly Bahraini ladies will pass on Kurar to younger generations.
Bahrain Museums & More
National Museum of Bahrain
Located on the Manama corniche, near the Muharraq Causeway, the National Museum is one of Bahrain’s finest treasures. And it is arguably one of the finest museums in the Gulf, alongside the superb Bahrain Fort Museum just around the coast (see above). The national museum covers 6,000 years of Bahraini history and culture. Three halls are dedicated to archaeology and the ancient Dilmun civilization, and highlights include an actual burial mound which was transported to the site and reconstructed. Other halls depict Bahrain’s more recent pre-industrial past, with recreations of scenes showing weddings, home life, traditional medicine, handicrafts etc. The entrance fee to the permanent exhibition (500 fils) represents outstanding value for money. Note: admission to temporary exhibitions may be considerably higher.
The Bahrain Oil Museum
In 1932 oil was discovered in Bahrain. The rest is history – oil history that is, and a visit to Bahrain is not complete without a tour of the oil Museum, the first of its kind in the Gulf.
Al Oraifi Museum
Whether you have read any of the books about the Dilmun era or not, this is the place to find out all about it. Famous local artist Rashid Al Oraifi has displayed some of his own paintings and other Dilmun era art work alongside authentic artefacts from the era. Decorative gypsum designs embellish the museum. Call 17 290 404 for info.
Beit Al Qran (House of the Koran)
There is no better introduction to the Koran than spending a few hours learning about its history and admiring some of the art work that it has inspired. The Koran has been produced in many forms, and highlights here include a 12th century Persian masterpiece and an eight-sided 16th century edition in gold lettering. There are also miniature Korans and verses written on a grain of rice. The museum itself is an interesting example of modern Islamic architecture. Call 17 290 404 for more info.
The Grand Mosque
Al Fateh mosque is the largest place of worship on the island – it can accommodate up to 7,000 devoted worshippers at a time. And as a tourist attraction it ranks as one of the most popular on the island, attracting a steady stream of travellers and VIPs from around the globe. Architecturally the mosque is renowned for its huge dome, which is made of pure fiberglass and weighs over 60 tonnes.
Built by the late Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa during the early 1990s, it is named after Ahmed Al Fateh, the conqueror of Bahrain. Non-muslims are welcome but must dress modestly. The mosque is closed to non-muslims on Fridays and on public holidays. Call 17 727 773 for info.
Other Activities and points of interest in Bahrain
The Tree of Life
According to some legends, this is the tree of life from the original Garden of Eden. Standing alone in a sea of sand, the tree’s source of water remains an unsolved puzzle. Simple beauty, combined with mystery and an isolated location, make this an ideal place for quiet contemplation. But you may not be alone!
Al Areen Wildlife Park
Popular with families, the park is located on over 16 square kilometers of land in the barren south central area of the island. Al Areen is home to some rare and exotic animals and birds, including protected species like the Arabian Oryx. Domestic local favourites like the goat and camel entertain enthusiastic hoards of Bahraini ankle-biters. There is also an area dedicated to local flora. Before leaving the park, be sure to catch the video presentation in the visitor center. For info call 17 836116.
Ecotour specialists Al Reem design packages for those wishing to investigate the impressive diversity of birdlife in Bahrain. Around 300 species have been recorded on the island, including the rare sooty falcon. Call 17 710 868 for info.
A stop at the A’ali Pottery factory should be on your agenda if you wish to view potters in action and learn about their methods. Pottery can also be purchased at the site.
Near Bahrain Fort is the colourful village of Karbabad, famous for its painted houses and the craft of basket weaving. You can see first hand how palm fronds are split and utilized in weaving. Many items are available for sale, including floor mats, wall hangings, and baskets.
Bani Jamra Village Cloth Weaving Centre
Weavers have made cloth for hundreds of years on manually operated looms. The weaving process requires refined skills and excellent coordination. The weavers here work in the no-frills village of Bani Jamra, just off the Budaiya Highway.
The Craft Centre of Manama
Run entirely by women, the centre sells traditional embroidery, handmade jewellery, stained glass, calligraphy art products, paper made from palm fronds, and other similar items. For info call 17 254 688.
This annual event is held in the impressive grounds of the National Museum, right on the seafront. Local craftsman demonstrate their skills and countries with large expatriate communities in Bahrain occasionally have promotional stands. The festival is usually held in March. Call 17 298 777for info.
Dhow Building in Muharraq
This traditional craft continues near the old sea port in Muharraq, using similar skills and methods to those employed hundreds of years ago. Dhows are still used today for trade and fishing.
Al Jasra Handicraft Centre
This location was set up by the Ministry of Tourism to provide a one stop shop for tourists interested in all types of handicrafts. There is a local gift center where items can be purchased. Call 17 611 900for info.
Bahrain’s past glories owed a large debt to the exceptional quality of the island’s pearls. Pearls come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it can take an age to assemble a complete necklace of pearls which are well-formed and of a similar hue. Much of the jewellery produced in Bahrain today combines pearls with gold. Call 39671748 and speak to Robin for info on pearl diving expeditions
Manama Souq (Bazaar)
The souq is best covered on foot: the streets are narrow and bustling, the smells pungent and intoxicating. This is the best place in Bahrain to purchase exotic spices, fabric, locally made perfumes, pots and pans, dried tobacco, trinkets, gold, and just about anything else. Although the part of the souq closest to Bab Al Bahrain has recently had a stylish retro facelift, the beauty of shopping here is the sheer ramshackle chaos of it all; getting lost in the rabbit warren of streets and stumbling upon a café serving dirt cheap but excellent Indian food, or haggling with a tailor over the price of a made-to-measure garment, are to experience something truly unique and memorable. Essential.
Isa Town Friday Market
Old or new, big or small, cheap and cheerful, just about anything you want (or don’t want) can be found at Isa Town’s ramshackle Friday market. A good place to pick up antiques, curiosities, second-hand furniture, rugs, and cheap carpet cut from the roll.
Bahrain International Circuit (Formula 1)
This state of the art track is considered one of the best in the world, and has certainly contributed to putting this tiny island on the world map. Besides the annual Formula 1 race, there are many other types of automotive action held at BIC, including Karting, ATVs and off-road.
Dolphins - Indoor Shows or Gulf Sea Experience
Just along the corniche from the Grand Mosque. Shows last about an hour and feature dolphins and seals. For the more adventurous and sensitive, the Al Dar Islands offers dolphin safari boat trips throughout the day. The gulf dolphins are quite used to seeing people, and apparently love jumping in the air to impress admirers. Contact Al Dar Islands on 17 704 600 or The Dolphin Resort on 30 123456.
Horse Racing at the Sakhir Race Course
Arabian horses have been prized for centuries for their strength and stamina. And for Bahrainis, horses really are the only animals that matter. They can be viewed from October to March, when the weather is cooler, although amateur horse-riding is a popular weekend activity for most of the year. For details of race meetings, contact Sakhir Race Course on 17 440 330.
Located on the Janabiya Highway, close to the Saudi causeway, the camel farm is a popular jaunt for families with small children. There are currently several hundred camels strolling and lolling around the farm, including over 100 calves. Photo opportunities abound.
King Fahad Causeway to Saudi Arabia
The general public are allowed to travel without Saudi visas to the Tower Viewing Facility halfway across the causeway. From there both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia can be seen and photographed, provided the air is free of dust. The causeway is 23.6 km long and took about 5 years to construct, at a cost of nearly one billion US dollars.
Shaikh Isa Bridge
Constructed in 1998, this bridge connects Manama and Muharraq, easing traffic flow to and from Bahrain International Airport on the Muharraq side. Its design won several awards.
World Trade Centre
Completed in 2008, World Trade Center features two towers connected by three skybridges. Each of these holds a large wind turbine, which together are designed to generate up to 15% of the structure’s energy consumption. The WTC calls itself Bahrain’s “first intelligent building?.
Royal Golf Club
The Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views is home to Bahrain’s only grass championship standard golf course. The stunning par 72 18-hole course was designed by Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for 2010 as was the par 3 9-hole “Wee Monty” course. Both courses are open to the public as is the driving range, golf academy, golf & leisure shop, Café T and Links Lounge & Restaurant.
For further details,
please visit www.theroyalgolfclub.com or call +973 17 750777.
Budaiya Botanical Park
The Budaiya Botanical park is a beautiful garden situated next to the Ministry of Agriculture on Budaiya Highway, before Budaiya Police Station / opposite the Post Office. It has only been open to the public since October 2010. Entrance costs 300 fils and opening hours are from 7am - 7pm.
Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Park
Opened in Dec 2011 this public recreation facility, situated beside the sea next to the Prince Khalifa bin Salman Causeway, with access from the Hidd side, is spread over 78,000 square metres. Its many attractions include a 5225 square metre artificial lake in which one can enjoy paddle boating, a cycle shop, from where one can rent bicycles, a fishing area and a boat jetty that acts as a jet ski station - complete with petrol stations - which can hold eight jet skis. The facility is tastefully landscaped with grass and flowerbeds, boasts a skating rink for roller-skates aficionados, as well as two childrens' play areas with safety rubber flooring. The park also has fitness equipment along the walking track so that people walking can also do some exercising along the way. There is a viewing tower, seating areas and lawns where families can picnic, as well as food outlets. Admission is free.
Bahrain Financial Harbor
The commercial complex is located next to the King Faisal Highway, near many popular landmarks such as the Bahrain World Trade Center, Abraj Al Lulu, and the National Bank of Bahrain. The majority of the project is being constructed on reclaimed land. The iconic centrepiece towers are the most prestigious business addresses in the Kingdom and the two office towers are visible from almost every point in Manama.
With the The Avenues Mall waterfront shopping center and the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel next door, the Financial Harbour has become one of Bahrains most prestigious areas for business and leisure.