Bahrain might be the smallest independent Gulf state, but this prosperous archipelago packs in plenty of experiences. A land of 33 islands with centuries of history that is offset by modernity, Bahrain is filled with trendy bohemian neighbourhoods, adventure sport destinations, luxurious resorts and restaurants with a burgeoning focus on quality cuisine.
If you’ve got a short stopover here, there are some highlights you should definitely consider visiting. From iconic restaurants and culturally immersive experiences to downright mysterious sights, we’ve got you covered!
Also known as the Bahrain Fort, the Qala’at al-Bahrain in Karbabad is a 10-minute drive from the capital, Manama city. While it lacks detailed exhibits and certain ambience-enhancing aspects such as period furniture, it has been wonderfully restored and is in good condition. One of the most fascinating things about the fort is the architecture itself which contains strong Portuguese, Persian and Kassite influences. Over the centuries, it has been built upon several times and contains at least seven stratified layers from different periods. Admission is free and access available daily from 8am to 6pm. Two other forts of interest are Abu Mahir and Arad Fort. The latter also plays host to several cultural events.
A’ali burial Mounds
For a glimpse deep into Bahrain’s past, take a trip to the prehistoric burial mounds, the largest of which can be found at A’ali. Though these graves are not all from the same era and vary considerably in the way they’re constructed, they offer insight into the region’s ancient history, especially that of the Bronze Age when Bahrain was an important trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. Other burial sites one can visit include those at Al Hajar, Buri, Hamad Town, Jannusan, Sa’ar, Shakhoora and Tylos.
Bahrain National Museum
Bahrain is home to a number of museums that exhibit everything from rare manuscripts (Beit Al Quran) to age old Dilmun-Era artefacts (Al Oraifi Museum). The Bahrain National Museum on the Al Fateh Corniche in Manama is great for insight into Bahraini history, culture and tradition. For more offbeat options, check out the Currency Museum housed in the Central Bank of Bahrain in the Diplomatic Area at Manama and the Oil Museum in Sakhir for an understanding of the trajectory of the oil industry.
Emmawash Traditional Restaurant
To indulge in a truly traditional breakfast head to Emmawash Traditional Restaurant on Budaiya Highway at Muqaba. Just don’t go there expecting fancy fine dining—on the menu is simple but delectable fare cooked with a whole lot of love. Grab your khubz (a traditional Arabic flatbread) in one hand and get ready to wipe your plate clean. Try the beans with parsley or the fermented fish paste with cheese. The restaurant is open daily from 6 am–1 pm and 7 pm–11 pm.
Budaiya Botanical Gardens
Nothing delivers a better understanding of a village, a region or even a country than a walk through its markets. In Bahrain, vendors set up shop in the Budaiya Botanical Gardens between 8 am and noon, making the walk all the more appealing. Local farmers from the surrounding villages flock here every Saturday with whatever fresh produce they have to offer that day. Meanwhile, picnic tables are set up at a separate portion of the market area, selling popular street food delicacies such as shwarma, fresh khubz and falafel.
When the urge for some retail therapy strikes, head to the old town in the capital city of Manama to explore the souk. With narrow alleys and myriad aromas, it’s all very atmospheric. The best area, perhaps, is the spice street where even the most reluctant shopper is likely to be inclined to buy a traditional herb or two. Edible souvenirs always make for the best presents—a good option to take home is a handful of Bahraini dates.
Riwaq Art Space and Albareh Art Gallery
Want to see the Bahrain where the young (both chronologically and at heart) creatives and free spirits choose to inhabit? The neighbourhood of Adliya is the answer. Filled with tiny bohemian galleries, upmarket cafes and music spaces that support local artists, Adliya exemplifies all that’s trendy. To explore the Bahraini art scene that captures Adliya and Bahrain itself in perfect detail visit Al Riwaq Art Space and Albareh Art Gallery. Al Riwaq regularly hosts poetry nights, debates and a popular eco-art market called The Nest. Both Al Riwaq and Al Bareh are also home to adorable cafes should you fancy some latte with your art.
The Al Jasra House
While one can’t wax too eloquent about Bahraini Architecture a few gems definitely exist. The Al Jasra House located in the village of the same name was built in the early 1930s and is a fine if rare example Bahraini architecture. Built with coral and palm tree trunks the house is famous for being the birth place of Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa who was the Emir of Bahrain until 1999. The village of Al Jasra is also known for its strong ties to traditional handicrafts. If you’d like to travel further back in time to 1905 head to Muharraq Island to have a look at the Bin Matar House.
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life stands alone in the expansive Bahraini Desert and perhaps that is why it attracts so much attention. A sprawling 400-year-old tree it is believed to have once been the site of ancient rituals. A few years ago, archaeologists excavated several artefacts believed to be from the Dilmun era from the area surrounding the tree. This further added to the popular belief that there was a time the Tree of Life was surrounded by an entire civilisation. A combination of nature and history, this site gets up to 50,000 visitors annually.
This article was originally published in Jet Wings, Jet Airways’ official inflight magazine.