Like its other Gulf cousins (Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi…), the Bahraini capital of Manama is often a pit-stop on a traveller’s journey between East and West. Yet relatively few people venture out of the airport to explore what this tiny island has to offer.
With its unique character, fascinating culture, edgy art scene and amazing food, Bahrain is well worth a stopover – and the fact that you can drive from north to south in just over an hour means you can cram a lot into one day! Here’s an idea of where to start…
Begin with a big Bahraini breakfast
The only way to start the day! Fill up on foul (baked beans with onion and spices), balabeet (cardamom flavoured vermicelli noodles topped with a light omelette), eggs with tomato, nikhee (fried chick peas) and Bahraini flat bread – which will be your cutlery. And, of course, chai halib (milky cardamom tea).
Places to try:
Haji’s Café by Bab al-Bahrain
Naseef Restaurant, inside the Bab al-Bahrain souq
Emmawash Traditional Restaurant on Budaiya Highway
Walk off your breakfast in old Manama Souq
Bab al-Bahrain opens out into a maze of tiny, narrow streets that make up Manama souq. In this historic part of town you’ll find everything from clothes and electronics to sweets, spices, perfumes and gold. Wandering through these streets is chaotic, but a fascinating way to while away the morning (though evening time is better during the hot summer months).
Check out the local art scene at Al Riwaq gallery
Bahrain is home to a number of young, up and coming artists, designers and musicians and is known throughout the Gulf for its edgy artistic vibe.
There’s nowhere better to experience this than Al Riwaq Art Space in Manama, just 15 minutes’ drive from Bab al-Bahrain. Al Riwaq shows the work of local, regional and international artists, regularly hosting visual arts exhibitions and live music events.
Visit the Gulf’s first oil well and the Oil Museum
Built in 1992 to mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of oil in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain’s Oil Museum provides a fascinating insight into the oil industry in Bahrain. It is located next to the Gulf’s very first oil well, about 40 minutes’ drive from Manama.
It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history and politics, serving as a reminder of how the discovery of “black gold” transformed not only the Arabian Peninsula and the lives of the people of the Gulf, but international politics and the global economy.
Watch the sun set at Bahrain Fort
Qal’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is a 3,000-year-old archaeological site and UNESCO world heritage site. Late afternoon is the perfect time to wander the ruins, followed by watching the sun set over the fort with the city skyline behind you and the shadows of locals riding their horses on the sand in front.
Explore Bahrain’s trendy restaurant and bar scene
For something a little less traditional, end the day with dinner and drinks at one of Bahrain’s buzzing bars. Bahrain is slightly livelier and less conservative than elsewhere in the Gulf (the island has become known as the Saudi playground, as Saudis often drive over for the weekends to do the things they can’t do so easily at home…).
There are loads of great international restaurants (fish and seafood are especially fresh and delicious!) and a number of bars to choose from. Some are swanky and upmarket, located in luxury hotels, while others are slightly edgier more down to Earth.
So if you’ve got a layover in Manama coming up, we hope we’ve given you a few ideas of how to spend it! And if not, why not schedule one into your next trip East…
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