The Kingdom of Bahrain is an island archipelago situated near the Persian Gulf, in between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar. Modern day Bahrain was the site of the ancient civilization of Dilmun, from over 2,000 years ago. Dilmun is considered one of the oldest ancient civilizations of the Middle East. It was even described in the Epic of Gilgamesh as a paradise garden and may have been the inspiration behind the story of the Garden of Eden.
Modern Bahrain is the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf. With investments in banking and tourism, Bahrain has maintained an economy for itself outside of fossil fuels and the capital, Manama, houses many large financial industries.
Considered a western-friendly country, Bahrain embraces social liberalism and is considered one of the most westernized countries in the Middle East. It is a popular tourist destination because it combines the culture of Arabia and the Middle East without the strict application of Islamic law; homosexuality, for example, is legal. With its western ideals, the country is a social and shopping oasis and has a cosmopolitan middle class that doesn’t exist in other Middle Eastern countries.
When to Travel – Weather
With a desert and arid climate and prevailing winds from the north-west, Bahrain is a hot and dry country. In the summer, the temperatures can reach 111 degrees Fahrenheit, with the annual lows sitting in the 50’s.
Bahrain is a typically warm throughout the year. There are really only two seasons; June through September is very hot and humid; December through March is comparatively cooler, breezy, and has the chance of rain showers. Though the country really only has 10 days of rain a year on average and only amounts to about 75mm. April-May and October-November have weather in between the two.
Because the weather is not dramatically different throughout the year, there is not a time of year to travel that is better than others. Your activity plan will determine what time of year is the best to go. The Formula One Grand Prix is popular and happens in late March and April. April is also the month for the annual Heritage Festival. If you are planning on swimming or sunbathing poolside, you will want to go in the summer months when it is the hottest. The beach can be cool and breezy in the winter.
Food and Drink
Due to a lack of land, Bahrain imports most of its food. The primary local crops are dates, citrus, mangoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pomegranates. There isn’t much in the way of livestock due to lack of grazing land, but they do make use of the fish that comes from the sea. Popular fish is grouper, rabbitfish, and mackerel. Most seafood dishes are served with rice.
A local delicacy is Ghoozi, a lamb dish where the meat is grilled and stuffed with eggs, onions, rice, and spices and is served with Khubz, the local flatbread. There are Khubz bakeries all across the country. Alone, the bread is served with mahyawa fish sauce. Other national specialties include Machbous, which is a steamed fish dish served with rice, Baba ghanoush, a paste made of aubergine, garlic, and yogurt, and Muchammar, a sweet rice dish served with dates.
Alcohol is available for non-Muslims 18 years or older as longs as it is consumed within the restaurant or bar where purchased. Alcohol cannot be purchased or drank outside of restaurants. This is different than neighbor countries who have outlaws alcohol altogether. A local spirit is Arak, a grape-flavored drink with aniseed. Coffee, known as Gahwa, is commonly served and a traditional welcome in Bahrain. Typically it is poured in a coffee-pot called a dalla and served in a small coffee cup called a finjan.
The most popular dessert in Bahrain is the Halwa, which is a jelly-like dish made with corn-starch, saffron, and nuts. Sweet Samosa, called Samboosa, is a traditional dessert. It is a baked or fried pastry filled with nuts and sugar.
Cafes in Bahrain often serve traditional Sheesha, which is a flavored tobacco smoked in a hookah pipe. Most open-air cafes offer a social opportunity where patrons can sit around the pipe and engage in conversation.
Popular Vacation Spots
Bahrain National Museum: Located near Manama, the National Museum is full of history of the area.
Murharraq: Muharraq is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built on the pearl industry. There are restaurants and shops here, but for the most comprehensive experience, you can dive for pearls yourself at the Dar Island Resort.
Gold City: Located in central Manama, this area is completely full of jewelry shops. Be forewarned, your credit card will most likely be used here.
Dilmum Burial Grounds: About 5% of Bahrain’s land is taken up by ancient burial grounds. Near the town of A’Ali, there is one of the largest cemeteries in the world, housing 170,000 plots.
Tree of Life: The Tree of Life is a popular tourist attraction in Bahrain. The tree is estimated to be over 400 years old and stands alone in the desert. Around 50,000 people visit the tree annually.
Qal’at al-Bahrain: Also known as Fort Bahrain, this is an archeological site. So far, they have unearthed antiquities from 2300 BC to the 18th century. It has evidence of the various occupants, including Portuguese, Persians, and Kassites.
Bab Al Bahrain: One of the oldest places in Manama, Bab al Bahrain has traditional Arabian architecture as well as lavish water features. Tourists enjoy getting lost among the souks around the landmark.
Beit Al Quran: A multi-purpose complex dedicated to the arts, Beit Al Quran is best-known for its Islamic museum, one of the most renowned Islamic museums in the world.
Al-Fateh Grand Mosque: One of the largest mosques in the world, Al-Fateh can accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. It is also the site of the National Library of Bahrain.
Arad Fort: This is a 15th century fort built before the Portuguese invasion of 1622. The fort overlooks the sea passages near Muharraq. Historically, there was marine channel controlled the locals to prevent ships from breaking through to the island.
Khamis Mosque: This mosque is thought to be the first mosque of Bahrain, built around 692 AD, but it could be more recent.
Amwaj and Hawar Islands: Getting off of Bahrain and into the archipelago of desert island is a treat. Dolphins play in the Gulf’s waters and flamingos spent time near the shores.
Bahrain Grand Prix: Even when it is not racing season, the track is open to amateur racers. The track is even open for tourists to give a lap down the track.
Due to several attacks recently on mosques in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, travelers are encouraged to use caution while visiting Bahrain. There have been a number of terrorist attacks in the last few years and in light of this, the authorities of Bahrain have recommended travelers to avoid any suspicious object. The areas targeted by terrorists are typically government buildings and tourist destinations, including hotels and restaurants. Nearby radical militant groups have been calling for a campaign of violence against the Bahrain government.
Additionally, there have been an increase of demonstrations and protests since 2011. With periodic bouts of civil unrest, there have been issues of violence surrounding funerals and protests throughout the country. When a demonstration occurs, there are attempts to disrupt traffic, use of Molotov cocktails, as well as improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Tourists are recommended to use caution and avoid potentially perilous situations if a demonstration occurs during a visit.
Petty crime, including mugging and pick pocketing, does happen regularly in tourist areas as well as the old market areas. Protect your valuables.
The currency Bahrain is the Bahrain dinar. Coins are available in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 fils and banknotes come in ½, 1, 5, 10, and 20 dinars. There are places at the airport to exchange money into dinars. There are also a number of international banks in the capital of Manama, as well as an array of ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, but only cash is accepted if shopping at souks.
Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, but English is also widely used. English is used in business and is taught in schools as a compulsory second language.