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48 reasons to love Bahrain: from its Unesco world heritage sites to Manama’s souq

 By Katy Gillett. Published on Dec 16, 2019 in The National

In honour of Bahrain’s National Day, we give you 48 reasons to love the country. From its people to the lifestyle to visiting its top attractions and Unesco sites, there’s plenty on offer.

1. The people

Whether we’re talking about Bahrainis or the travellers who have adopted Bahrain as their new home, the people in this country are what make it special. They’re friendly, warm, welcoming and ready to proudly show off the beauty of Bahrain at the drop of a hat.

2. A laid-back lifestyle

This ties in with how down-to-earth the people are. Everything moves at a relaxed pace and, for the most part, there’s no need to stress; it’ll get done eventually. Perhaps the country’s official motto should be “don’t worry, be happy”.

3. It’s hard to get truly lost

Even if you do actually get lost while driving around Bahrain, just keep going and you’ll get there eventually. It’s such a small island that it’s difficult to go too far out of your way before you’re in the water.

4. Riffa Fort

It’s a stunning heritage site in the beautiful Hunaniya Valley and it’s home to a branch of Saffron by Jena Bakery, so you can enjoy delicious Bahraini dishes while taking in the peaceful atmosphere and serene landscape.

Bahrain Fort is one of three Unesco World Heritage Sites in Bahrain. Sophie Prideaux / The National

5. Qal’at Al Bahrain

This Unesco World Heritage Site, also known as the Bahrain Fort, sits by the sea and has a small museum next to it so you can learn all about the fort’s significance in Bahraini history. Its origins date back to 2300 BC, so it’s an incredible juxtaposition to stand amid ancient history and look out on to the modern Bahrain skyline with its skyscrapers glittering in the distance.

6. Bab Al Bahrain Souq

A walk around Manama’s traditional marketplace is a must for visitors, but a regular occurrence for residents, too. You can pick up almost everything you want at a bargain price, but it’s the buzzing atmosphere that’s most enjoyable. Not to mention all those cheap-and-cheerful hole-in-the-wall eateries where you can pick up a tasty snack for next to nothing.

7. A 100-year-old Hindu temple

Find the Shri Krishna Temple amid Bab Al Bahrain’s alleyways. It’s just down a small little lane that you can’t miss, thanks to the hanging strands of colourful flowers, the smell of jasmine and brightly hued depictions of Hindu gods. You can go inside the temple, too. A guide will meet you and answer any questions you might have about the religion and the site, which is more than 100 years old.

8. Souq Al Qaysariya

This is the market in Muharraq that has seen a revamp in recent years. Just a stone’s throw away from the ocean, the souq was an integral part of Bahrain’s historic pearling industry. It’s a beautiful place to wander around, admiring the well-preserved local architecture.

Work by eL Seed spotted in Muharraq, Bahrain. Timothy Power

9. The Pearling Path

Bahrain’s second Unesco World Heritage Site is actually more of a group of sites – it consists of 17 buildings and merchants’ houses that are connected by a 3.5-kilometre pathway, plus three oyster beds, a segment of the coast and the Bu Mahir fortress, which can be reached by boat taxi. Many of the carefully renovated buildings have been turned into museums that offer fascinating insight into Bahrain’s culture and heritage.

10. Adliya

This is everyone’s favourite spot in Bahrain when they visit; it’s the predominantly pedestrianised restaurant district that grows bigger and bigger every year. The vibe here is always upbeat, particularly on weekends, as people wander between all the eateries and rooftop bars. A few favourites include Mexican hotspot Calexico, sushi place Mirai, pan-Asian classic Monsoon, authentic Thai spot Hash House and the ever-popular Cafe Lilou. Also worth a look are steak and seafood spot The Foundry, Hazel Rooftop Lounge and super-exclusive seven-table molecular gastronomy restaurant, Mahonia.

11. Royal Camel Farm

Get up-close with the beautiful dromedaries at Budaiya’s camel farm on Janabiya Highway. It’s not officially marketed as a tourist spot, but it is open to the public every day until the sun goes down. You can pet and feed the camels.

12. Al Dar Island

One of many islands surrounding the main Bahrain island is Al Dar, which is as great for party people as it is for families. Beach huts and chalets are available to rent if you wish to stay the night, or you can simply laze about on the shore all day and enjoy something to eat or drink from the restaurant and bar. Activities are also available, such as boat tours, water sports and pearl diving.

13. Bahrain International Circuit

This impressive Formula One track opened in 2004 and was the first in the region. It’s now home to a regular schedule of motorsport events, from the Grand Prix to drag racing sessions, as well as a great go-karting track.

14. Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix

Bahrain was host to the Middle East’s first Formula One and the inaugural event was held in 2004. Almost every year since, the track has welcomed thousands of motorsports fans from across the world who descend on the Sakhir site to enjoy the buzzing affair, which now takes place in April at night.

15. The Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park

It’s a pretty cool water park, as it covers approximately 77,000 square metres and is split into various sections that are all themed on the history of the Dilmun era, as Bahrain was the central location of this ancient civilisation. There are all sorts of family friendly attractions and water slides, as well as retail stores and food and beverage outlets.

16. Beit Al Qur’an

This renowned Islamic museum houses a fascinating collection of Quranic manuscripts and the building itself is an example of modern Bahraini architecture, featuring Kufic script. There are more than 50,000 books written in Arabic, English and French that focus on Islam, with manuscripts dating back to the seventh century. You can also see portions of the Quran written on everything from parchment to a grain of rice.

17. The National Theatre of Bahrain

The waterfront building is a sight to behold. It encompasses a 1,001-seat auditorium and a smaller 150-seat studio space, spanning just under 12,000 square metres, reportedly making it the third largest theatre in the region. Its architectural design and wood-covered interior walls have drawn inspiration from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, often called the Arabian Nights.

18. The Bahrain Police Band

This impressive national band takes part in government ceremonies and patriotic events throughout the year and you’re bound to catch them live at some point. Not only are they talented, and play a bunch of different instruments, from brass horns to the bagpipes, but they also look pretty smart in their uniforms, too.

19. Wahooo! Waterpark

City Centre Bahrain is home to this indoor-outdoor waterpark that’s a popular, family friendly attraction all year round. It’s got rides, slides and other watery attractions, all inside the biggest mall in the country, so you can have a shop or grab a bite to eat straight after.

20. King Fahd Causeway

The 25-kilometre causeway connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. Visitors can drive to the halfway point and have some food while looking out the observation tower at land on either side. Or you can continue your trip around the Gulf by moving on to the kingdom, which recently launched tourist visas.

21. Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa House

A wander around this traditional house gives a glimpse of what life was like in Bahrain before they found oil. It was constructed around 1800, features a classic wind tower and placards in English that relay the importance of the home, which was the seat of power on the island between 1869 and 1932.

22. Amwaj Islands

Dubai has Palm Jumeirah, while Bahrain has Amwaj Islands. There are a number of other similar multi-use developments on the island, but this is one of the most built-up and popular. There are plenty of residences, from apartment blocks to vast waterfront mansions that foreign residents are allowed to own, as well as shops and all sorts of restaurants at the Lagoon. It’s also home to a few four and five-star hotels and resorts, including Art Rotana Hotel and Resort.

23. Four Seasons Bahrain Bay

It’s hard to miss the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay as you drive into Bahrain, as it stands out on its own artificial island. It’s where you’ll find some of the most impressive restaurants on the island, including three venues by world-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck, as well as stunning views through panoramic windows and top-notch accommodation.

24. The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain

Even though this hotel has been around for decades, The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain still remains one of Bahrain’s best properties. This is not just because of its five-star facilities and beautiful beach, but also because its collection of restaurants brings visitors back time and time again. This includes the perennially popular Trader Vic’s, Italian favourite Primavera and Plums steakhouse.

25. The Merchant House

It only opened within the last year, but this five-star boutique property is a unique hotel. It’s in the old part of town, next to the aforementioned Bab Al Bahrain souq, and offers a taste of true Bahraini life with a luxurious twist.

26. Al A’ali Burial Mounds

Bahrain had its third Unesco World Heritage Site listed this year and it was the Al A’ali Burial Mounds that won the accolade. The landmark comprises 21 archaeological sites in the west, which were built between 2050 BC and 1750 AD. They offer evidence of the Early Dilmun civilisation.

27. Halwa

If you’ve never tasted halwa, then do so in Bahrain, where the Showaiter family has become synonymous with the traditional sweet over the past 150 years. They have shops all over the island.

28. Emma-Wash

For one of the island’s tastiest Bahrain breakfasts, head to Emma-Wash in Budaiya or Hamala. This down-to-earth eatery features graffiti all over its walls and serves up great food in the pans their cooked in.

29. Haji’s Cafe or Haji Gahwa

Another top Bahraini spot is Haji’s Cafe, which can be found in Manama’s souq. Head through the Bab Al Bahrain arch and turn right, then just keep peering down the tiny alleyways on your right until you see it. There’s no menu – the guys will simply serve you the dishes of the day. And they’re always fantastic.

30. Bahrain Rugby Football Club

This social club has been around since 1974 and has been renovated a number of times since. Nowadays, it’s still as popular as ever and is, of course, not only frequented by rugby and football players, but is a general sports and social hub. It hosts regular live music events throughout the year that are family friendly and the restaurant, Mano’s, is popular among residents, particularly on Wednesday’s steak night.

31. Pearl diving

Pearl diving is a long-time tradition in Bahrain and now anyone can give it a go, if they book themselves on to a tour. There are operators across the country offering boat rides and pearl diving excursions off the island. Find your treasure, learn how to open the oyster up and then, often, you can keep your prize.

32. Bahraini cowboys

Enthusiastic horse-riders dress up as cowboys every single week. There are public events held in various spots of the desert each weekend. Read more about this fascinating subculture here.

One of the cowboys of Bahrain. Phil Weymouth for The National

33. The Gulf Hotel Bahrain

For about four decades, The Gulf Hotel Bahrain has been one of the most popular places to stay in Bahrain. It overlooks the Al Fateh Mosque and Royal Palace, it’s pretty close to the airport and just a walk away from Adliya’s restaurant district. You don’t really need to leave, though, as it’s also home to a bevy of fabulous eateries and bars, and a great spa.

34. Little America aka Juffair

Juffair is home to the American Navy base, so it’s almost turned into a mini America. You’ll spot all of the States’ top fast-food chains, and plenty more besides, down Shabab Avenue (also known as American Alley). Also pop into Ric’s Kountry Kitchen for a true, rowdy all-American experience.

35. Dive Bahrain

One of the island’s newest attractions claims to be the world’s largest underwater theme park. It’s an eco-friendly place with a 100,000 square-metre dive site, complete with a sunken Boeing 747 that’s now ready for scuba divers to explore.

Diving Enthusiast visiting the site of Dive Bahrain. Courtesy Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority

36. Spring of Culture

This annual festival, which takes place in spring, offers a back-to-back schedule of concerts and events that range from dance to theatre and music to art. This year saw the likes of Jason Derulo, Scheherazade Ballet and Mr Adam Almaty Symphony Orchestra perform.

37. La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art

It’s an art gallery, event space, restaurant and spa all rolled into one in the heart of Manama and it’s housed in a historical monument dating back more than 150 years. What’s not to love?

38. Al Jasra Handicraft Centre

Run by the government, this centre offers tourists the opportunity to visit locals trained in age-old traditional skills from the region. This includes model boat-building and basket-weaving.

39. Bike tours by localppl

People who were born and raised in Bahrain take visitors and residents on bicycle tours around various parts of the island. They offer a unique insight and it’s well worth booking the lovely tour of Jasra.

40. Al Aali Mall

There are loads of malls in Bahrain, but we specifically recommend this one because it’s a bit different. It houses local boutiques, alongside recognisable brands; one section of it has been designed to resemble a traditional souq.

41. Jarada Island

This is the tiny island those in-the-know visit, as it’s not particularly easy to get there. Once you know how, you’ll head back time and again, as its pristine shores make you feel as though you’re in the Maldives.

42. Bahrain National Museum

You can’t have a list of Bahrain’s top attractions and not include the Bahrain National Museum, even if its permanent exhibitions are a little dated. It’s the best place to get an overview of the fascinating history of Bahrain, but there is also a regular roster of temporary exhibits that bring in talent from across the world. Make sure you stop off at the in-house cafe to enjoy some Bahraini bites, a cup of tea and the lovely sea views.

43. Budaiya Botanical Gardens

Bahrain’s botanical gardens are a stunning haven of green at any time of year, but when the weather is cool it’s one of the country’s most popular picnic spots. It’s also home to the must-visit Bahrain Farmers’ Market each weekend until it gets too hot.

44. Tree of Life

Again, you can’t talk about Bahrain’s unique features without mentioning the Tree of Life. It’s a prosopis cineraria tree that’s more than 400 years old and smack-bang in the middle of barren land. It’s a popular tourist spot and nowadays protected by the state.

45. It was the home of a few famous folk

Michael Jackson, James Arthur, Jacqueline Fernandez and Shakira have all called Bahrain home at some point. There are plenty more, too, but that warrants a whole other story in itself.

46. Awali

Some may raise their eyebrows at the addition of Awali on this list, but if you grew up there you’ll no doubt remember it fondly. Awali is a small settlement with about 400 buildings in the centre of the kingdom, near to where oil was first discovered in the Arabian Gulf. It’s on one of Unesco’s Tentative Lists.

47. Cafe scene

It might surprise some people to learn Bahrain has a stellar foodie scene and, in particular, it’s home to some excellent cafes. Cafe Lilou is one of the most popular, but Coco’s, Nomad Urban Eatery, Plant Cafe, La Ventana, The Orangery and Grind also come highly recommended.

48. The Avenues

Another one of Bahrain’s best malls is relatively new. The Avenues is a waterfront retail development that’s still under construction, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. It’s home to a range of recognisable shops, quaint cafes and a Vox Cinema with a Theatre by Rhodes. It’s set to expand by March next year, and will be fully complete by 2022.

©  thenational.ae 2019

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