There’s plenty to do in a country whose history dates to back to 4000 years. With its transformation from the Dilmun civilization to the Portuguese reign and then to the Islamic era, Bahrain is home to many ancient ruins, museums, antique book collections and classical Arabic homes.
A three day itinerary has been custom made for weekend visitors. All these locations and recommendations can be mixed with other activities and outings, though each day’s locations have been chosen based on their proximately. Alternatively, many travel agents in the Kingdom arrange for regular guided bus tours that show visitors that top sites.
Bahrain National Museum
You will find exhibits on natural history and life before oil was discovered in reached Bahrain, which essentially transferred it into a modern country with an advanced infrastructure. One of the most fascinating permanent exhibits at the museum is the Hall of Graves, which includes actual graves excavated from their original sites in the village of Aali. Hundreds of years ago, the inhabitants of ancient civilizations in Bahrain used to bury their dead with their personal belongings, believing that they will be of use to them in the life after.
Lunch, Saffron Restaurant
Saffron or Za’fran in Arabic, is a new refurbished restaurant situated in the heart of Muharraq city. Its authenticity lies in the traditional Bahraini dishes such as Kebab Rolls, Keema, Balaleet, Eggs and Tomatoes, and a special mixture of Fava Beans, Parsley and Lemon.
Muharraq & Muharraq Houses
One of Bahrain’s oldest and most important cities, Muharraq is another island that is connected to main-land Manama by three causeways. The city has many attractions, including antique houses that have been renovated to modern standards, yet preserving their original essence and charm. The houses include the historical Shaikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research, the Pearl Merchant’s House (Beit Siyadi), the Coffee House (Beit Al Qahwa) and the Children’s Library (Iqra’a House).
These centres are all nestled in a very ordinary neighbourhood in Bahrain. In fact, the neighbourhood is busy and inhabited by a mix of Bahrainis and expatriates in small houses and apartment buildings, which makes parking rather challenging. The art centres in this neighbourhood have all been majorly renovated, if not completely gutted and rebuilt to resemble their original form. Many of them have pictures of their decrepit states before the renovation started leading to their beautiful restored condition. The bottom line is the area and these centres have a lot of unexpected character and charm.
The Shaikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research was one of the first centres to be renovated as part of this restoration movement, and it is certainly one of the largest. It recently expanded to include a large auditorium with a state-of-the-art visual and acoustic system. The centre hosts a great line up of academics and humanists giving lectures and as well as singers, musicians, poets and authors throughout the year.
Make sure to make the Coffee House your final destination as you might want to refresh after all the walking and exploring. The menu offers a plethora of coffees from all corners of the world, and the coffee is always freshly brewed and the aromas can be smelled quite a distance away, even with the coffee shop’s large antique door completely closed.
Bab Al Bahrain
By this point you would have satisfied all your cultural curiosity (at least for the day!). It’s time to bust out of the calmness of museums and cultural centres and dive into a place that is buzzing and bustling around the clock. Since you’re on your way back to Manama, make sure you stop at Bab Al Bahrain (Gateway to Bahrain), the site that is considered the old city’s gate back in 1945. Used as both a gate to the busiest market place and also a space for government offices, this structure was once right on the waterfront, which still exists but now almost a kilometre east of the gate.
Pass the gate and you’ll enter into Bahrain’s original market place-the Souk. You’ll see countless vendors and retailers, some of them very old businesses owned by well-known Bahraini business families (called “merchants” back in the day). The merchandise here is varied and could range from electronics, apparel, souvenirs, books to home ware. Feel free to bargain!
La Fontaine/Centre for Contemporary Arts
You’ll probably be ready for an early dinner by the time you are done with Bab Al Bahrain and the Souq. For a meal in one of the most romantic places in Bahrain, there’s no other venue that compares to La Fontaine. This space was an antique Bahraini house in an old city quarter that has been converted into a modern day chateau with an art centre and spa. There is a gigantic water fountain in the centre of the centre’s large yard.
This is a truly marvellous location you will not forget. Just like the Muharraq houses, this spot is located in a rather unexpected neighbourhood. As you drive (or are being driven there), you’ll pass a Catholic church, one of the oldest high schools in Bahrain that was originally established as a missionary school, a mosque, and even cross the gates of one of Bahrain’s largest cemeteries.
We’re almost done with cultural spots and heritage, but there are a few more must-sees before you start experiencing modern day Bahrain and doing things that a Bahraini would do any day.
Beit Al Qur’an
Beit Al Qur’an means House of Qur’an in Arabic. Rare Islamic manuscripts and artwork have been restored and are on permanent display here. The collection is one of the largest and most important in the Islamic world. The collection also includes one of the oldest manuscripts from the Quran, including medieval Qurans that have been scripted from the beginning of Islam, as well letters exchanged by important figures of the time. You can truly appreciate the evolution of Arabic manuscript and calligraphy as well as the journey of the Quran from its beginnings till today.
Exhibition road is at the rear of Beit al Quran. It’s a long strip of small shops, shawarma and fast food restaurants and 3-4 star hotels. Countless sports cars cruise along the boulevard and around the shops and nightclubs scattered along the street. Exhibition Road is probably the 2nd hottest spot to be during the weekend after Adliya. Stop here during the day for a quick bite, and in the evening if you are interested in exploring Bahraini night life.
World Trade Center
The Bahrain World Trade Center (BWTC) is a symbol of achievement and a reflection of momentum behind the region’s fast growing economy.
Its innovative design combines the essential elements of lifestyle and business to create a powerful emblem of aspiration and accomplishment. The Bahrain World Trade Center is more than its landmark commercial towers, offering amenities such as an exceptional shopping and dining environment, a five-star hotel and sophisticated office accommodation.
The BWTC is the Kingdom’s first truly intelligent building and features an array of sophisticated SMART features. Reaching its point at over 240 meters in heights, the BWIC’s two iconic 50-storey towers offer spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf and Manama’s cityscape.
There are many things to do at the BWTC. You can hop into the elevator and experience a panoramic view of Bahrain. You can shop in Bahrain’s most exclusive mall, or eat or simply stop by for a coffee break.
City Center Mall & Seef Mall
Both malls are about ten minutes from each other by foot and five minutes by car. The best shopping in Bahrain is found here. There is a combination of high-end couture, casual clothing, electronics, gadgets, bookstores and jewellery. There’s more in both malls than pure retail therapy. Arcades, games, a children’s playing area, food courts and restaurants can keep you occupied for hours if you want to spend hours in a cool air conditioned environment. Seef Mall has over fourteen movie theatres that show Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic movies. City Center has a 20-screen cinema complex and houses the Wahoo Waterpark.
The Ritz Carlton
There’s plenty to do in one of Bahrain’s finest hotels and resorts. The lobby area has a very comfortable saloon style café that serves delicious sandwiches and cakes. We highly recommend the “Wow Burger”, a rather costly work that is prepared partly with fois gras. You’ll probably want to rest for some time to digest. Luckily the chairs and couches in this area are very comfortable.
The pool area in the Ritz is vey popular, especially on weekends. There are two large pools and a private beach front open for members or guests. Visitors can also pay a fee to use the facilities. If you’re interested in water sports, peddle boats and water skis can be rented from the hotel.
The Spa at the Ritz is also a popular spot for those seeking peace, quiet and zen. A variety of treatments is available for men and women, mostly spanning over 50-60 minute sessions. Large jacuzzis and a Turkish Hammam (steam rooms with varying temperatures) are available in both the men’s and women’s spas.
Trader Vic’s, the Tahitian restaurant chain is also a very popular trendy bar/restaurant well known for its sea food and cocktails. A live band plays from 7pm into the early hours of the morning. No reservations are typically required during the weekdays, but book in advance for dinner or arrive early on the weekends.
Start off your day in Adliya, Bahrain’s bohemian quarter with scattered art galleries and cafes. Many of the homes in this neighbourhood once belonged to high-ranking officers in the English navy have been converted into cafés and art galleries and are truly charming. During the fall and spring season, all of these café have outdoor seating either overlooking the street or in the house’s original garden. We highly recommend Coco’s, Dar Al Bareh and Café Lilou.
Dar Al Bareh is mainly an art gallery, but also has a coffee shop. The art shown here is almost exclusively modern and avante garde and hosts continuous touring exhibits, art pieces, paintings and installations. The two story gallery also includes a café and a gift shop with memorabilia of touring exhibits, its permanent collections, as well as art magazines, books and journals.
Located around the corner from Dar Al Bareh, Café Lilou is a bakery and restaurant that offers deliciously fresh baked French desserts, pastries, savouries and light meals. Sit outdoors and watch the rich and famous as they walk in and out of chick cafes and restaurants. For lack of better words, Lilou’s is truly fabulous because of its red and maroon velvet draperies and its Moulin Rouge décor.
Now that you’re done with Adliya, you’re pretty much done with Manama and Muharraq and its time to head south to see one last archaeological site before heading into the latest developments happening in Bahrain.
The Bahrain Fort is a dramatic 16th century site built by the Portuguese on the remains of previous settlements that could be traced to the Dilmun era, circa 2,800BC. Landscape and sea surround the fort, while its interior consists of a series of rooms on many levels. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort is connected to a museum that includes remains and artefacts found in the fort from earlier excavations, as well as photo displays of different stages of excavation and renovation.
Bahrain International Circuit (BIC)
There is a long highway between Bahrain Fort and the Bahrain International Circuit. The circuit, the first of its kind in the Middle East, is about 30 minutes drive from the Bahrain Fort. The landscape starts changing as you drive south on the highway. You’ll see many new homes built on very high rocky hills and a rather large Bahraini flag, almost 20 stories high that was erected as a symbol of Bahrain’s pride and Bahrainis’ patriotism and love to their country. Whether hosting the F1 Grand Prix or not, the circuit is bustling with many motor-related activities and functions. Circuit tours and exciting 4×4 and karting rides are regularly scheduled for drop-in guests. There is also a big gift shop that sells posters, apparel and souvenirs of both the circuit and international F1 teams.
Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park
A large water park with the Dilmun Civilization theme, The Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park is a great getaway from Manama, and is a perfect solution for a hot summer day. The family-friendly park includes a lazy river, sandy beach, wave pool and a multitude of slides set amid fake ruins inspired by ancient Dilmun. The rides are plentiful and huge and the water is cool. You can spend hours there hopping from pool to pool and ride to ride. There is also a cafeteria and showers.
Al Areen Sanctuary Park & Reserve
Less than a 10 minute drive from the Bahrain International Circuit, the Areen Wildlife Park is a reserve with roaming birds and animals that are native to the Arabian Gulf region, such as pelicans, flamingos, swans, gazelles, oryx, wild sheep, ostriches and goats, all of which roaming freely in the reserve. Guided mini-van tours are arranged throughout the day for visitors interested in entering the reserve.
Al Areen Palace & Spa
This is a luxurious hotel and resort located in the middle of the desert and surrounded by palm trees. The open spaced resort is a perfect exclusive escape from the city. The quiet villas surrounded by gardens and pools are a perfect escape from bustling city life. A comprehensive menu of massages, beauty treatments and state-of-the-art hydrothermal installations will reinvigorate your soul and senses.
A seafood restaurant, an international buffet, and a Thai restaurant are all open week long. The restaurants tend to accept walk-ins throughout the week, but you should book on weekends just to be on the safe side. The lounge is also becoming very popular to groups who want to avoid crowded places. The dim and candle lit lounge is perfect for a romantic getaway or a quiet evening.
We hope you enjoy your visit, and hope this itinerary keeps you busy and entertained during your stay. Please contact us if you have feedback on this itinerary, or wish to recommend any other locations you think other visitors would enjoy.