Are you planning to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain anytime soon? Are you keen on learning about the island’s history and culture? Are you all set to embark on a memorable gastronomical experience that will not leave you for years to come? We’ve got you covered!
I visited the beautiful country of Bahrain last December and I can’t seem to get over it. I was fortunate enough to have WFTGA’s (World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations) Eman Hassan Ali as my tour guide, who made sure that I didn’t miss out on the quintessential Bahraini experience. She took me to some of the best cafes, historical buildings and the most ethereal island and helped me immerse myself in Bahrain’s rich culture and I couldn’t be more thankful to her and the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA).
Here’s a list of six must-visit places in Bahrain:
Souq is the Arabian word for a marketplace or bazaar. Manama Souq is more like a picturesque (read: Instagrammable) arcade, beautified by its stone-embedded alleyways. At its outset is the famous Bab Al Bahrain Gate, a building located in the Customs Square painted white and washed with history. Bab Al Bahrain, considered the region’s first public space, opened in 1949 and was designed by the British adviser to the emir, Charles Belgrave.
Coming back to Manama Souq, it boasts everything that the island of Bahrain is famous for. On the other side of the alleyway, you will see shops peddling intricately designed carpets, local perfumes and antique products. Take the first right turn and you will see spice shops and shopkeepers welcoming you to get a taste of dates, local chocolates, halawas and other traditional desserts.
Bahrain National Museum
It’s no secret that even contemporary culture has its roots in history. And so, you should most definitely begin your tourist journey with the Bahrain National Museum. It was opened in December 1988 by the Emir of Bahrain Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa and is considered to be the most popular tourist attraction spot in Manama. It also boasts of covering 5000 years of the country’s history. It includes three halls devoted to archaeology and two halls to the culture of Bahrain’s recent pre-industrial past, which will give you a generous glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of Bahrainis.
What particularly fascinated me was the Hall of Dilmun Graves and their unique burial mounds. Dilmun refers to an ancient East Semitic-speaking civilization. The hall will also familiarise you with Dilmunite stamp seals, artefacts from Barbar Temple and Saar Temple and Dilmunite pottery.
Bahrain National Museum also has a beautiful souvenir shop that lets you buy artefacts for your loved ones back home. All you need is a ticket that lets you enter the museum and be assured that the next hour will enlighten your mind and fill you up with awe.
For me, this was the best part of my trip. Interestingly, Jarada is a disappearing island and it remains above water only during the low tide. Its turquoise water is crystal clear and the beach is pristine. The best way to spend your time on the island is by swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, sun-bathing and enjoying a good barbecue. All you need to do is take a private speed boat from Manama and you will reach Jarada Island in the next 30–40 minutes.
The boat ride over the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf is an absolute delight and almost cathartic. The boatmen will even anchor the vessel in the midst of the waters and take you on a hunt for oysters if you’re keen. Here, the water is shallow with a clear view of the reef.
So, if you’re in Bahrain even for a day, don’t miss out on Jarada Island!
Al Fateh Grand Mosque
The Al-Fateh Grand Mosque in Juffair is one of the largest mosques in the world and, as per reports, can accommodate over 7,000 people at a time. One of the most fascinating features of the mosque is the huge dome atop it, which is constructed entirely of fibreglass. The marble on the floors is Italian and the chandelier is from Austria, with doors constructed of teak wood from India.
We were the last group to visit the mosque for the day that closed for tourist visits at 4:00 p.m. To experience it in true local fashion, the women in our group donned abayas and took a tour of the mosque, its walls adorned with Kufic calligraphy. The huge mosque is intricately designed and will make you wonder at its majestic beauty with utter marvel. The tours happen across languages like English, French and German, among many others.
Bahrain Fort, also known as Portuguese Fort, is rich in history. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, becoming Bahrain’s first cultural heritage site. For history and archaeology fanatics, the fort is a treat, as it also boasts Dilmunite ruins in the form of mounds. We visited the site at sunset and also had the opportunity to go horseback riding. Needless to say, we time-traveled as we explored the remains of ancient civilisations. Next to the fort was the GB Cafe Bahrain Fort Site Museum, where you not only get served the best hot coffee and chocolate but also get a stunning view of the fort adjacent to the waters.
If you want a true taste of local Bahraini food, Haji Café is the place to be. It was set up in 1950 and is located in the old souk in Manama. It is currently run by the third generation of the Hajis. The one thing you must try is their traditional breakfast spread, which includes sweet noodles with eggs, a special cheese omelette, keema and daal mix, liver and shakshouka. These mains are served with khubbus (a type of flatbread made in a special kind of traditional oven). You can finish this platter with a glass of saffron milk.
Their breads are the freshest and their kebabs are the most flavourful. Haji Café is extremely cost-effective and will offer you a true Bahraini gastronomic experience. Interestingly, the owner is almost always around and is open to striking up a fun chat with you as you gorge on most of the most delicious delicacies.