Bahrain isn’t usually the obvious choice for a holiday but the country is coming up in terms of sights and activities so it may be worth checking out, if only for a stop-over destination. The country itself is pretty small, so small in fact that it’s actually possible to hit all the tourist spots in just a coupe of days, but if you’re planning an even shorter stopover between flights then it’s totally doable to pick out a few highlights to visit . One thing to remember is that Bahrain is not a walkable city, so either be prepared to rent a car, grab a taxi or join a tour group.
1. THE AL FATEH MOSQUE aka THE GRAND MOSQUE
A beautiful piece of architecture with stunning Islamic patterns adorning the walls and doors. The materials were sourced from all around the world – the lamps are from Egypt, the wood is from India, and the marble is from Italy. The stunning central chandelier weighs an astounding three and a half tonnes, and is made from opulent Swarovski crystals from Austria. The mosque itself is said to be able the hold 7000 people at any given time, and it did have the biggest glass dome until Abu Dabi decided they wanted to get in on the action! Double check when visitors can enter as obviously its prime purpose is for the locals, not photo happy tourists.
2. THE FORTS
Bahrain has 4 forts, the most impressive of which is the Qal’at al-Bahrain Fort on the North West coast. It is known as the Portugese Fort but has in fact been built up since 2300BC until the 18th century by various occupants. If you decide to visit don’t panic if the sat nav takes you through a residential housing area, a building site and then what appears to be a dusty alley – you’re going the right way!
The Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al Fateh Al Khalifa Fort (more conveniently known as Riffa Fort) is much ‘newer’ but has the Bahrain Military Museum right next door. Some say it was built in 1812 whilst others say it was built during the rule of the Persian Safavid Empire over Bahrain in the 17th century. Either way it is well preserved although there is little information about the fort itself for foreign visitors so if you’re really interested in the history have a read before you visit.
3. AMWAJ ISLANDS
The Amwaj Islands are a group of man made islands located in the far northeast of the country. Created from reclaimed land (one of many locations around Bahrain like this) and with a newly renovated beach it is a popular place to visit for a relaxing afternoon. Built over 14 years and competed in 2016 these islands are now home to residents and businesses alike, as well as the luxurious Amwaj Beach Spa and Hotel – perfect for the ultimate relaxation session!
4. BAB EL BAHRAIN SOUQS
Take a trip to the souqs for sure but don’t expect the likes of Marrakech souks or traders in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, all vying for your attention. It is much more civilised (almost too civilised if you’re a fan of the hustle and bustle) with a handful of traditional craft shops to look in. Just off the main stretch in criss-crossing streets you could get lost in are the Gold Souqs, Spice Souq and textile shops, plus Little India
5. WORLD TRADE CENTRE
Manama, the capital city, is full of modern high-rise apartments and hotels, and none more impressive than the World Trade Centre. A stunning piece of modern architecture and the first in the world to incorporate wind turbines into the actual design. If you visit Moda Mall below you can get an awesome viewpoint from right underneath the 2 sails. The Bay (just across the highway) also has a great viewpoint, plus you get to look over the waters at more beautiful architecture, such as The Bahrain Financial Harbour.
6. BAHRAIN INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
I was lucky enough to be in the country during the Formula 1 races (although not lucky enough to be able to afford tickets to actually go!). BUT I did get to visit the grounds and watch some go kart racing. It’s an enormous venue and go karting is open every day until midnight. On site there is also a ‘Tracktop Adventure’ which is basically a suspended obstacle course. Needless to say I was thankful to be wearing flip flops which was a great excuse not to take part!
7. AL JASRA HANDICRAFT CENTRE
If you are interested in learning about traditional crafts and meeting local artists then this is a FANTASTIC art space and should definitely be added to your list. The property boasts a series of workshops showcasing local and traditional crafts, including basket weaving, silverware, ceramics, pottery, studded furniture… all have a home here, plus you get to take something home as everything is for sale in the Artist’s Shop.
8. THE TREE OF LIFE
There is a lot of mystery that continues to surround the Tree of Life. Set on a hilltop in the heart of the desert this tree has no water source yet continues to grow and flourish year after year. Some believe it stands where the Garden of Eden once was and so has a mystical source of water; others say the tree is protected by Enki (god of water in Babylonian and Sumerian religion). To put rest to these theories a soil analysis was conducted in the 1990s and this concluded that the tree was an Acacia planted in only 1582.
It is a bit of a drive from, well, anywhere (which in Bahrain is quite a feat as it is such a small island!) so definitely pack a picnic and enjoy it in the shade of the tree. A small gallery on site details other trees of significance from around the world and photographs of archaeologists unearthing 500 year old pottery from the surrounding area.
9. CAMEL FARM
Now personally I would not recommend a trip here so this is more of a warning because I have seen it recommended on other blogs. When I visited I found it quite upsetting to see so many camels tied up with such short tethers. I read about it beforehand but previous visitors had been assured it was only the males that were tied up so they could be kept away from the females, but when I visited it appeared that all of the camels being kept were tied and only able to walk in about a meter circle around them, far too tiny a space. Their water bowls were empty and although camels can store fluids for months and they may have been ok they generally just didn’t look very happy or cared for. We left quite quickly as we didn’t want to support this ‘attraction’.
10. THE MALLS!
I couldn’t write a post without mentioning the almighty selection of malls in Bahrain – there are dozens! For such a small island they certainly have no shortage of places to shop and eat and I’ve no doubt you’ll end up passing a few by in your first hour of being there! If you’re looking to just browse leisurely then my top choice would be The Avenues. It is the most stunning mall I have ever visited, and set on the waterfront you can enjoy some food and take a stroll enjoying views of the World Trade Centre and Financial Harbour.
PLANNING A TRIP?
This is a Muslim country so remember to dress conservatively and be respectful of the customs. Keep shoulders covered and wear skirts or shorts to knee length as a minimum. It gets very hot in Bahrain so sandals and flip flops are best, ideally ones that can be easily slipped on and off if you’re entering religious spaces.
Remember that the weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday in Bahrain so certain attractions may be closed or working to limited hours on these days. The smaller shops (not the malls) also tend to shut up for a couple of hours between 2pm and 4pm on weekdays. Other attractions open form the afternoon to late evening, especially during the summer when temperatures make it too hot to be out during the day.