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My Favorite 20 Things to do Bahrain – Understand
Bahrain is often cited as the best Gulf destination. Despite its close relations with Saudi Arabia, the small island is known to be a tolerant and warm host, though it is generally very expensive and very hot.
Bahrain will impress you with its understated version of Arab luxury and hospitality. The people are exceptionally friendly and within 24 hours of landing I had been invited to visit Saudi Arabia several times.
Bahrain does not have the ‘theme park’ attractions that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and (most recently) Doha have built, but it makes up for it with a relaxed lifestyle and authenticity. This nation has never seen ‘Las Vegas’-style development and there is plenty of unused land left outside of Manama.
Bahrain is said to have the Gulf’s best food (the bar is usually set low in the Gulf countries) and I tend to agree now.
My Favorite 20 Things to do Bahrain – Get Around
Driving is the best way to get around, rental cars are generally cheap and gas is very cheap here. Taxis and Uber are rare to find and expensive. Parking is also free almost everywhere. It’s a good idea to rent a car right at the airport (where they are cheapest). I had a rental with Avis and had no troubles with the professional rental car station.
My Favorite 20 Things to do Bahrain – Safety
Safety is generally not an issue in Bahrain. The nation recently saw protests but on a small scale. Locals and expats tend to get along very well here.
My Favorite 20 Things to do Bahrain – Sights
Bahrain isn’t rich in sights but has managed to build the ones it does have with care. There is no Ferrari World, indoor skiing or the world’s largest mall here.
Museums in the gulf countries are challenged in bringing together enough local history for an exhibition.The Bahrain National Museum does a great job of highlighting life in Bahrain before the discovery of oil. It is also a magnificent building and Darseen, the museum coffee shop, has a fantastic view over the water. The entrance fee is just $3.
Unlike most other city states along the Gulf, Bahrain has no Corniche, though Bahrain Fort area is the closest substitute. The fort itself is free of charge to explore and the museum is $6. The best time to visit is around sunset; keep in mind that this happens at around 4PM in winter.
I did not think much of this place at first and rather wanted to explore the area around it. That was a mistake; this old, stately building expresses much of the warmth and hospitality of the Gulf countries. The colors, architecture and the sheer quiet make it a lovely place. The restaurant has a fantastic garden, but keep in mind that prices are sky-high here.
The World Trade Center is a modern addition to the Bahrain skyline and the building features wind turbines between the towers! If you have a free Regus BusinessWorld membership, you can use the excellent office on the 9th floor.
I didn’t have time to see this hotel during my stay, but locals speak highly of it. Expect to splurge on anything you buy here, though.
This souq isn’t exactly a must-see attraction, but it has been beautifully restored and has a number of good eateries and tons of shops around it. If you need your phone fixed, this is the place to go.
The Al Fateh Grand Mosque is visited by up to 7,000 worshipers every Friday. It’s a beautiful Manama landmark that should be on your list.
Bahrain isn’t a big country and it’s easy to explore by car. About an hour south of Manama in a patch of desert (where there’s lots of oil pumping stations), this huge, 400-year-old tree stands tall. There is no apparent source of water but the tree is green throughout the year. It spawned a settlement and there are some ruins that remain as evidence.
We were lucky enough to visit during a race and I thought the track was really impressive. However, it is in the middle of nowhere, so you should research carefully if there will be any activity there before you make a special trip.
This Sofitel is right next to the race track and is a lovely desert oasis; the pool area is just gorgeous! The lobby bar often serves excellent Arabic coffee and dates and I could not get enough of either!
The King Fahd Causeway connects the island nation of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia. It’s a six-lane bridge and rumored to be extended to 18 lanes (!) soon. Traffic on the weekends can be especially unpredictable. I asked around and was told you can drive to Saudi (even without a visa) and just return in the middle, though I did not try it. However, it’s still likely you’ll have to pay the full toll anyways.
Arad Fort is a smallish structure on the airport island. While there isn’t much to see really, it is nice to walk around at sunset time and enjoy the little park and view towards the city.
This is actually a cafe, but you can see contemporary art there, which is a rare sight in Bahrain.
My Favorite 20 Things to do Bahrain – Eat & Drink
The Orangery is like stepping into a franchise-inspired oasis from the washed out white noise of Bahrain traffic. It’s part of a hotel development and easy to miss even if you know the area (most taxi drivers I spoke to had never heard of it). The Orangery does everything right; we tried the sandwiches, granola, falafel and coffee and it was all excellent.
Unfortunately it is also VERY expensive. $30 will just about buy you a small breakfast and $20 a small sandwich.
The grilled chicken biryani is hard to beat in price ($5) and volume. It’s good, fresh food for a reasonable price, but expect no atmosphere or service here.
Meisei gets great reviews for its food and ambiance, though it’s too expensive.
The area around it has a number of interesting (and some outright weird) bars that are worth checking out when you are bored. A beer can be had for as little as $5 – an incredible steal in Bahrain.
Atlanta Ice Cream is in the rather raggedy Al Doha Avenue in Isa Town outside of Manama. The street belongs more in Egypt than in Bahrain or Saudi. There are precious few signs but just drive up and start honking and a waiter will come out – then you can eat that delicious ice cream cone in your car. At least that’s the way the locals do it here.
The souq area has a number of places that serve food in the marketplace. Some of them (like Saffron by Jena) have outlets in other places on the island, too.
I rarely feature Starbucks, but this one has a good atmosphere, free and fast WiFi and above average staff (including baristas). If you run out of caffeine, come here for an espresso and a surprisingly good breakfast granola.
This whole area is just so calm – you would not believe you are in the Gulf. Adliya 338 features eateries such as Madeleine that have excellent desserts and decent coffee.
There are some other restaurants even more popular with the locals right here as well. Adliya 338 is just a few city blocks, but is a culinary hotspot in the area.
Moti Mahal likely has the best Indian cuisine in Manama. Curries are indeed spicy and tasty, though expensive.
Yes, Trader Vic’s is a chain, but in the Gulf it is often a landmark for locals and tourists alike. The local version is at the Ritz-Carlton and always worth stopping by. However, prepare yourself for $30 plus drinks.