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The word Bahrain means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, indicating how the country’s geographic position as a collection of islands has been important throughout its history. Considered an island country, this Gulf state consists of 33 natural islands and couple of man-made ones. Previously the site of the ancient Dilmun civilisation, the history of Bahrain can be seen throughout the country with ruins and monuments dotting the landscape alongside towering skyscrapers and modern facades.
The fastest-growing economy in the Arab world, Bahrain is also the freest and has been recognised as one of the world’s fastest growing financial centres in the world. It is no wonder that the Gulf state is attracting numerous international brands and events, including the Formula 1 Grand Prix – Bahrain was in fact the first Middle East country to host the renowned racing event!
Not quite sure where to start your adventure? Here’s a quick guide to both the ancient and the modern highlights of Bahrain.
When it opened in 1988, the Bahrain National Museum was the first of its kind in the Gulf. The museum was built specifically to display artefacts discovered in Bahrain to preserve the nation’s heritage. A visit here is an excellent introduction to 4,000 years of local history with a rich collection of archaeological finds.
Across nine halls you can find out about customs and traditions, art, burial mounds, ancient documents and more, with excellent labels in English and Arabic. Photos are allowed and there’s also a vast satellite photo of Bahrain on the floor that takes up much of the ground level.
This postmodern waterfront building is itself an impressive sight so stay longer for lunch at the Darseen Café which overlooks the Arabian Gulf. There are excellent finds at the museum shop, while contemporary art exhibitions and music performances are put up regularly.
In the vicinity you can find the National Theatre of Bahrain (see below). Alternatively, take a boat from the museum to see Bu Maher Fort which is also the starting point of the Pearling Trail.
Next to the Bahrain National Museum, the Bahrain National Theatre opened in 2012. One of the largest theatres in the Arab World, this stunning cultural centre overlooking the sea has a 1,001 seat theatre – a homage to the tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights.
Its architectural design makes the building seem to float upon the water. The interwoven aluminium strips that let in air and light evoke the roofs of traditional local homes. Inside, the auditorium’s curves contrast with its elm-covered walls to resemble pearling dhows (traditional sailing boats). Rising from the top of the building is a golden architectural element that illuminates the centre of the glass facade.
In addition to the main auditorium and two balconies, the theatre also has a smaller auditorium that can seat 100 people, as well as a café in front of the sea.
Other than local cultural events, Placido Domingo, Il Divo and the Bolshoi Ballet have performed here as well. The venue has also hosted children’s shows such as Dora the Explorer and Scooby Doo.
Bahrain has what is believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. Spanning the Dilmun era (3rd to 1st millennium BC) to the Tylos era (200 BC to 300 AD) the burial mounds are as large as small houses and there are thousands of them littering the Bahrain landscape.
The best preserved and most impressive mounds are the royal burial mounds in the village of A’ali. Some believe this is the site of the Garden of Eden. Built out of stone, earth, plaster and wood, the mounds were used as burial chambers, similar to the way the ancient Egyptians used pyramids to preserve their dead.
More than 100,000 mounds once dotted the island but that number has fallen sharply as a result of urbanisation. While most mounds contain just bones and pottery, some have copper and bronze weapons, jewellery and pottery that could tell the story of the Dilmun civilisation.
It’s definitely worth visiting the Bahrain National Museum (see above) before going to A’ali to gain a fuller insight of the significance of these burial mounds.
The Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain) is a dramatic 16th century site built by the Portuguese who dominated trade routes in the Indian Ocean at the time. Constructed on the remains of previous settlements that could be traced to the Dilmun era (circa 2,800 BC), it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known as the most important archaeological site in the country. There’s a site museum with five exhibition halls and over 500 exhibits, plus an audio guide too.
Other forts worth seeing are Arad Fort (near the airport) and Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed Al-Fateh Fort – usually known as Riffa Fort. The Tree of Life is also not far and is worth a visit.
Bu Maher Fort is easily reached with a boat trip from the Bahrain National Museum (see above) and it’s also the start of the Pearling Trail, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bu Maher Fort was also built during the Portuguese occupation of Bahrain and there has been an increase in recent excavations. It has an excellent visitor centre with an illustrated map of the Pearling Trail and models of the sites.
There were around 30,000 pearl divers by the end of 1930 as pearling was the principal industry in Bahrain prior to the discovery of oil in 1932. The Bahrain Pearling Trail consists of three offshore oyster beds, part of the coast and the seafront Bu Maher Fort on the southern tip of Muharraq.
Free to visit every day except Friday and open to people of all faiths, Al Fateh Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in Bahrain and one of the largest in the world.
Built with marble from Italy, glass from Austria and teak wood from India carved by local Bahraini, this mosque can accommodate 7,000 worshippers.
It opened in 1988 and is crowned with the largest fibreglass dome in the world. There are many ornate chandeliers and the walls of the mosque are beautifully ornamented with Kufic calligraphy.
Bab Al Bahrain (Gateway to Bahrain), is a historical building in Manama. Considered the old city’s gate back in the 1940s, it has been preserved as a cultural landmark. It was on the waterfront but due to extensive land reclamation it’s now at least a kilometre away from the sea. The Ministry of Culture is based here.
Walk on through as behind Bab Al Bahrain is Bahrain’s original market place, the Manama Souq. There are vibrant shops selling colourful textiles and spices, clothing and souvenirs, perfume, electronics and more. And yes, bargaining is welcome.
Block 338, Adliya is well-known as the best district for dining, it’s also the bohemian quarter and a lovely area for boutique shopping. Many of the homes in this neighbourhood once belonged to high-ranking officers in the English navy and have been converted into art galleries and charming cafés with outdoor seating.
Al Riwaq Art Space exhibits the works of emerging artists from Bahrain and the region, plus exhibitions by international artists. There’s also a really nice café and gift shop too. Al Bareh Gallery is a private art centre at the other end of Adliya, also with a decent café with outdoor and indoor seating.
Located at Sakhir, 30 km south-west of the island’s capital, Manama, the Hermann Tilke designed Bahrain International Circuit was the first of its kind in the Middle East. Opened in 2004, the circuit hosts the world-famous F1 Bahrain Grand Prix each year.
Motorsports are incredibly popular in Bahrain and the Bahrain International Circuit is the most technologically advanced in the world. Even if the annual Formula One isn’t on, there are still lots of reasons to visit.
Tours of the circuit are available including a VIP Tour where you get behind-the-scenes at the control towers and media centre, and, of course, get to drive around the track. The 3-seater ‘Dragster Xperience’ looks amazing and karting around the track is also popular. Look out for international music shows too.
Once you’ve bought your F1 merchandise, the Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve is less than a 10-minute drive away. 100,000 plants and 500 animals native to the Arabian Gulf region have been protected here for over 30 years on this 400-hectare reserve. You can expect to see pelicans, flamingos, gazelles, Arabian Oryx, wild sheep, ostriches and goats, all roaming freely. Bus Tours are available throughout the day.
Planning a trip to Bahrain soon? Experience the true essence of the Gulf state with a stay at our luxurious hotel apartments in two vibrant and upmarket locations.
Fraser Suites Seef is located in Seef Mall with a wide variety of retail shops and dining options from cafés to restaurants – something to suit everyone’s taste. The location is ideal for families while visiting Bahrain as the property offers a range of facilities such as a temperature controlled pool and a kids club.
Fraser Suites Diplomatic Area is located in the centre of Manama. The property has newly launched its Two and Three Bedroom Penthouse Apartments offering superb views of the sea. And just a few minutes away is The Avenues Malls and City Centre Mall. After you’ve finished your sightseeing or business meetings, you can relax in the Spa or enjoy a meal at Da Rosa, our signature restaurant.
For other unique adventures in the Middle East, check out the personal recommendations by our guests in Doha.