Discover the “Pearl of the Gulf”, so called for its pearl-diving heritage and wealth of natural attractions. Bahrain is closely tied to the origins of Islam and its proud history is attested to throughout the island nation – some even claim it was the site of the Garden of Eden. Despite this, it’s both a modern city and a relatively quiet holiday destination, offering a relaxing alternative to the Middle East’s resort cities.
Bahrain’s rich history is most evident in its ancient Dilmun-era sites, including burial mounds and the Barbar Temple, and the 14th and 15th-century Bahrain and Arad Forts. Each provides a powerful sense of the country’s strategic importance throughout a 5,000-year history dominated by war and conquest. For a more comprehensive insight into Bahrain’s past, head to the superb National Museum. Highlights include ancient Dilmun artifacts, a collection of early Islamic manuscripts, and a complete reproduction of a traditional souk (marketplace).
Bahrain’s culture is most fascinating at the overlap of eastern and western influences, so it’s worth checking the programme for the country’s National Theatre. Here, Bahrainis and foreigners alike flock to see leading acts from all over the world, from opera singers to ballets to traditional Arabic musicians.
People and Traditions
Bahrainis are famous for their hospitality and welcoming nature, which will be reflected in the services provided on all Gulf Air flights to and from the country. The people are religious – about 70% Muslim, with the lines between Sunni and Shia often blurred – but Bahrain is a liberal country where people from all corners of society mix, which may partly explain the low crime rate. English is commonly spoken, but it’s helpful to learn a few Arabic formalities.
Summers are very hot, with lows averaging around 30ºC and highs reaching around 40ºC from June to September. The cooler months are between December and March, with temperatures varying from 15ºC up to the mid-20s. Note that in June and July, dust storms blow in from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which can reduce visibility and requires appropriate clothing to avoid discomfort.
For shopping, try the Manama Souk. Spread out across several streets, you’ll find bargains on clothes, shishas, spices, electronics and many other items. It is actually a collection of smaller, often specialist, souks. For an extra special souvenir, head to the Gold Souk, which remains the centre of Bahrain’s gold trade even as the country has rapidly modernised.
Visit Dar Island to trade urban life for sandy beaches, fishing and dolphin watching, or even go diving in the shallow waters and harvest your own oysters, just as Bahrainis have done for centuries. Saudi Arabia is also very close. You can fly there but the most interesting route is via the King Fahd Causeway, with which you can cross the Gulf of Bahrain by road or rail with plenty of amenities provided.
Sports and car fans alike will love Bahrain’s Formula 1 Racetrack. Even if there’s no racing to watch, tours of the site are available and visitors can even drive a lap of the circuit themselves. If nature’s more your thing, then check out the Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve to spy the desert’s indigenous wildlife, including Bahrain’s national animal, the Arabian Oryx, which was recently reintroduced after being hunted to extinction.
If learning about the ancient Dilmun civilisation has whet your appetite for more, or if you’re simply trying to drum up interest among your children, head to the Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park for a fun family day out. Water parks don’t get much prettier than this, even if the Dilmun-inspired architecture is a little tongue-in-cheek.