2 days in the Kingdom of Bahrain
Frequently surpassing fellow GCC countries in surveys (HSBC and Internations) as the best place to live for expats, my husband and I wanted to see for ourselves what Bahrain offered and made it stand out from other GCC countries we had visited previously. Situated off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Bahrain is made up of several manmade and reclaimed islands with the capital of Manama located on Bahrain island. With a population hovering at the 1.3 – 1.4 million mark, most reside in the capital followed closely by Sitra island. We went to Bahrain in April for a short weekend break when the weather was pleasant and the country was ramping up for the annual F1 race the following week after our visit.
If it’s your first time in the Middle East, I highly recommend doing the usual desert style safaris, 4wd bashing tours and souqs if you can fit it in your itinerary, however as we only had 2 days in Bahrain, we opted to omit these (and also because we had tried these in Qatar and the UAE) so spent our visit exploring the city and seeing other cultural sites in Bahrain. The following is a suggested itinerary of what you can fit into your trip to Bahrain.
Day 1, 09:00 am | Test your racing skills at the Bahrain International Circuit
Start your day with a dose of adrenalin and head to the Bahrain International Circuit. We visited a couple of weeks before the Grand Prix so the city was ramping up for the big race with advertising and billboards alongside the highways. If you time your visit, you can join one of the VIP Tours where you’ll get a chance to see the track, towers and media centre for only 6 BD. As we were going to miss out on the races, we tried the next best thing and put our speedracer skills to the test at their karting circuit – Note to self; naming yourself speedracer on the leaderboard does not make you drive any faster!
Day 1, 12:00 pm | Try the local food – curry!
From the hole in the wall local favourite to Michelin starred Chef restaurants in upscale venues and everything in between, you’re bound to find a good restaurant serving curry in Bahrain. It’s not a ‘local’ food as such, but because the largest group of non-nationals hail from the sub-continent, the influence on the food culture in Bahrain is evident (and a lot of other countries in the Gulf- it’s one of the things I miss most about living in the Middle East!).
Day 1, 2:30 pm | Visit the Bahrain National Museum
Visit the Bahrain National Museum and stroll through the collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures alongside vintage automobiles and artifacts while you learn about the history of Bahrain. The most interesting room for me was the history and discovery of oil, as well as the the exhibition that shows insight into the interesting rituals and customs during the wedding consummation!
If you’re left feeling a bit peckish after your visit, there’s a small cafe inside the museum rounds serving some hot meals, coffee and cakes.
Just across the Bahrain National Museum is the third largest opera house in the Arab world with its unique design proudly standing over the waterfront.
Entrance: 1 BD
Address: Shaikh Hamad Causeway, Manama, Bahrain
Day 1, 9:00 pm | Check out the nightlife
As one of the more liberal countries in the GCC, Bahrain has earned a reputation amongst expats residing in the ME as a ‘party’ town, however when we visited, we didn’t really see what the hyped up party situation was. To be honest though, we didn’t research which places to visit and we may have visited the wrong area (we stayed in the Diplomatic Area so only got to explore what was around there), or perhaps visited venues that weren’t really catered to us. Like most licensed values in the Gulf, you’ll find bars and nightclubs situated inside the sealed walls of hotels.
In my opinion, Dubai offers more clubbing options with ladies nights and global brands like Armani Prive, Toy Room, Blue Marlin Ibiza and previously Pacha, however if you are in Bahrain and just want to check out what the hype is all about or if you simply want a beverage in a lively venue, I suggest checking out the nightlife anyways!
Day 2, 10:30 am | To the window, to the wall – make your mark and have an all day breakfast at Emmawash
One of the best breakfast joints in town serves all day brekkie so after a big night of partying, you can press the snooze button and sleep in! Known for serving traditional breakfast dishes, you can sample a few of their recommended dishes at a very reasonable price. We had the eggs with tomato and kofta beef, all served with their freshly made khoubz from the large clay oven.
We visited the original restaurant in Budaiya where the walls are filled with guest drawings and graffiti beckons to would be artists to make their mark.
Budaya address: 85 Budaiya Highway, Maqabah
Opening Hours: 06:00 – 13:00 and 19:00 – 23:00
Day 2, 12:00 pm | Visit a mall
If you’ve ever searched for “things to see and do in <insert GCC country here>” in Tripadvisor or Google, you’ll find a lot of the top places suggested are malls. My idea of travelling doesn’t usually feature a visit to a mall, but living in the Middle East I know it’s a frequented place by locals because it has everything you need – food, entertainment, shopping and the most important drawcard, powerful air conditioning. If you’re curious about what locals and expats get up to or simply want to sit somewhere to people watch, then head to a local mall and more often than not, you’ll find them packed with couples enjoying the cinemas, families frequenting one of the many indoor play centres for children, or expats hanging out with friends and dining out.
Day 2, 2:00 pm | Drive past the burial mounds of Aa’li
Having visited the National Museum the day before, you may have read up on the history and heritage importance of the Aa’li Burial Mounds. It can be quite easy to miss as some of the mounds are not as pronounced as others and at first glance may look like a vacant site, so keep your eyes peeled whilst on the highway. We couldn’t find a main entrance to the grounds, so we stopped over at one of the side streets and admired the site from the other side of the fence.
Day 2, 2:30 pm | Marvel at the $1 B project connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
We passed the King Fahd Causeway connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain a few times as we drove around and explored the city. If you have time, there’s a restaurant perched in the tower overlooking the crossing and waters of the Gulf – if you can’t get a visa to SA, it’s the closest thing you might be able to get to its borders.
Day 2, 5:00 pm | Go to a block party
We visited on a Friday evening where there were food stalls and markets set up along the main thoroughfare lit up by hanging fairy lights. Food ranging from homemade brownies, cakes, bbq meats, sliders and tacos were sold alongside the local food, and stalls showcasing the local talent and creative flair boasted handmade goods like art prints, jewellery and clothing. If the markets aren’t on that evening, you can still take a stroll around the trendy Bahrain Block 338 where you will find bars and restaurants serving different cuisines from around the world.
After your fill, wander around the area and you’ll find street art located all around the different alleys and thoroughfares. The Al Riwaq art space is a must visit for local exhibitions- don’t forget to check out the cafe next door as well as their boutique store selling local handmade goods perfect for souvenirs.
|If you have experience driving in the Middle East, rent a car- were big fans of renting cars in other Middle Eastern countries as it saves us a lot of money and are flexible. Road signs are well posted and are in Arabic and English. Being in the Middle East, fuel is also super cheap so you don't have to worry about your fuel costs.
|If you hail from Qatar, Ooredoo passport works in Bahrain and the Google maps worked fine (unlike Oman where the voice directions and rerouting option does not work).
|For any Latin American readers wanting something familiar - there's a Pollo Campero outlet in Bahrain if you're craving some chicken!
|Ladies, you don't need to cover your hair unless of course you are entering a religious site. I saw a few expat women wearing sleeveless shirts in public, however I would also still recommend dressing up in modest attire - covered shoulders, chest and knees just to be on the safe side.
|Visit during the Gulfs autumn/winter/spring time - anytime thats not summer!
|Make sure you check if its Ramadan in the region as this will affect opening hours of venues and sites.