Bahrain is a small island kingdom in the Persian Gulf, which packs in plenty to do and see. I visited a few times between 2006 (by air) and 2011-2012 (driving over the King Fahd bridge from Saudi Arabia). The national airline, Gulf Air, is a great regional carrier and makes it easy to visit Bahrain while in the Middle East — either as a standalone trip or as a stopover during a bigger vacation. Depending on your purpose of travel, Bahrain offers a wide variety of attractions including historical sites, beaches, shopping malls, amusement parks, water parks, and cinemas.
When you enter the capital of Manama, the first thing that will stand out is the glimmering Bahrain World Trade Center, with its windmills connecting the two towers. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza downtown, which has a great rooftop pool and provided an ideal base for venturing around the city.
The Bab al Bahrain marks the beginning of the old city– which is best to explore on foot–and most visitors will want to walk around the nearby souq, which sells some souvenirs as well as more practical items. The Naseef Restaurant is a good option for trying some local food, such as deep fried fish. I highly recommend visiting the Bahrain National Museum, which sits on the waterfront and is sleek, modern, and interactive. Even if you’re not into museums, it’s inviting and provides an interesting overview of Bahrain’s maritime heritage, as well as some of the practices of the country’s ancient ancestors from the Dilmun era.
It’s worth stopping by the ruins of the 11th Century Al Khamis Mosque, and seeing some of the more modern mosques, including the Al Fateh Grand Mosque and some of the ornate blue tiled ones. When I was there in 2006, there also were plenty of Shi’ite banners hanging in the old city commemorating the Martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in the year 680 AD.
Bahrain Fort: A few kilometers west of Manama is the Bahrain Fort, a Portuguese structure dating back to the 16th century, as well as some archaeological ruins nearby. For animal lovers, you can head further west and visit the Royal Camel Farm (disclaimer: I didn’t do it myself, so I’m not sure what camel-related activities are in store… but if anyone has visited, I’d love to hear your impressions!)
Burial Mounds: Bahrain has several fields of burial mounds, small plots of land containing remains and preserved artifacts dating back to the Dilmun Era (3200 – 330 BC!) The most famous are the A’Ali Burial Mounds, but there are others scattered around including the Sarr Burial Mounds and the nearby Sarr Burial Complex ruins. They’re free to visit, and you can learn more about them at the National Museum.
Something for Next Time: In southeastern Bahrain is a 400-year old tree stuck out in the middle of the desert, known as the “Tree of Life,” owing to to its ability to survive in harsh conditions for so long. I drove around with a group of friends looking for this tree for an hour and we couldn’t find it! Anyways, its exact location is now on Google Maps– so finding it should be a piece of cake. When I finally get there, it’d better be amazing! I’ve also heard good reviews for the Al Areen Wildlife Park in western Bahrain, which has some exotic desert wildlife, especially birds and plants.