The Kingdom of Bahrain is an island country located in the Persian Gulf. It originally consisted of 50 natural islands, but 33 newer artificial islands bring that number to 83. Bahrain sits between Qatar and Saudi Arabia but has no land border with either other than the King Fahd Causeway that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is a true desert country with mild winters, very hot summers, flat land, and is over 90 percent covered with desert. That does not mean that there isn’t much to see or do in Bahrain; very much the opposite. For one, it’s a paradise for bird watchers; 330 species of birds live and breed there, mostly in the nature reserve of Hawar Island.
Bahrain is the location of one of the oldest civilizations in the Middle East, Dilmun. Many monuments, sites, and museums document that past. Until the last century and before the oil boom, pearl fishing was the main industry, and you can still see pearl fishing shows (traditional sailing vessels) and buy some of the best pearls in the world in the capital Manama’s fabulous souk (bazaar).
Bahrain developed the first post-oil economy in the Middle East, investing heavily in banking and tourism. The latest attraction to open is the world’s largest underwater theme park, Dive Bahrain, but there are many more theme parks to enjoy. There are desert tours and the unique Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the middle of the Sakhir desert without any visible source of water.
Bahrain’s international airport is located on the island of Muharraq, connected to Manama by a bridge. In fact, all the islands are connected by bridges and a good road network, so driving around is easy.
Fans of motorsport should note the date of March 20, 2022, when the Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place in Manama.
I love Bahrain because of the great variety of nature adventures to be had and because of the many monuments and sites that reflect Bahrain’s interesting history.
1. Dive Bahrain
If you are a diver, here is an experience like no other in Bahrain’s latest attraction, DIVE BAHRAIN. Don your gear and plunge into the world’s largest underwater theme park, spanning an area of 100,000 square meters close to the international airport in Muharraq.
Fittingly to the location, an entire decommissioned Boeing 707 has been submerged in the water so you can dive in and out. There were concerns that the metal could contaminate the water, but the plane’s surfaces have been cleaned with bio-friendly detergent. To take into account the pearl fishing past of Bahrain, a reconstructed traditional pearl merchants’ house has been submerged together with sculptures made from eco-friendly materials to further the growth of coral reefs and the preservation and development of marine life. Diving this extraordinary underwater theme park is like exploring a different, silent world where one surprising view follows another.
2. Hawar Islands, A Bird Lover’s Paradise
The Hawar Islands are an archipelago of some 36 islands that are located in the Gulf of Bahrain just off the west coast of Qatar. Most of the islands are uninhabited, but they belong to Bahrain. The islands are most famous for their vast colony of Socotra cormorants, one of the largest in the world. There are also plenty of beaches where the birds love to rest and which are the best places to see these rare and graceful creatures.
There is a resort on the main island, the Hawar Beach Hotel, where you can spend the night in comfort and also book boat trips to the other islands or bird watching tours. The journey by boat from the Bahrain main island takes approximately 45 minutes and departs from Durrat Marina Yacht Club.
In 2024, a brand new resort will be opened on the west coast of Hawar, the Mantis, run by the hotel group Accor. The priority of this project is to maintain the biodiversity of the islands, which is why it will be surrounded by a wildlife sanctuary. It’s not only the cormorants and other migratory birds which make the trip to Hawar so exciting, but also watching Arab oryx and sand gazelles.
3. Follow The Call Of The Desert
Over 90 percent of Bahrain is covered with desert, so, this fabulous four-hour desert tour gives you an unforgettable experience of the landscape as well as of some historical sites.
The tour starts at the Bahrain International Circuit, located in the middle of the Sakhir desert, and is accompanied by a tour guide. It leads you past the Royal Camel Farm, the first oil well, and, the wonder of nature that is the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old lone mesquite tree that grows in the middle of the desert without any visible source of water.
The next stop is the A’Ali Royal Burial mounds that take you back 4,000 years to the ancient Dilmun civilization. Wandering the streets in the afternoon when it is cooler, you will be surprised how many of these cone-shaped burial mounds you will discover.
There is yet another extraordinary thing to contemplate in the village of A’Ali: the distinctive pottery and the artists who make it using generations-old methods, sometimes even some using the burial chambers as kilns. After the end of the tour, you are returned to your hotel, not left in the middle of the desert.
4. Qal’at Al Bahrain, Fortress And Birds
The Bahrain Fort, located 6 miles from Manama, is a majestic sight. It is one of Bahrain’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is even more exciting if you visit at dusk. Looming out of the desert is a 40-foot-high mound, or “tell,” with the Portuguese fortress on top. The mound was formed by civilization after civilization (according to at least seven excavations) dating from 2300 BC to 1700. It was the capital of the Dilum civilization, was followed by many others, and has served as a trade port, residential area, religious center, and the location of several palaces and necropolises. Over time, the entire site was covered with sand and excavations only began in the 1950s and 1960s by Danish expeditions.
The Portuguese fortress on top is massive, with huge walls and a tower at each corner. The fact that so much more needs to be uncovered makes a visit even more exciting. As for the birds: adjacent to the tell lies a long beach which is where migrant and local birds like to rest and nest. Among them are the white reef egret and Bahrain’s national bird, the white-eared bulbul.
5. Al-Fateh Grand Mosque
The Al-Fateh Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and is located in Juffair, a suburb of Manama. If you have never visited a mosque, this one should definitely be on your agenda because of its sheer dimensions and splendor. The mosque can accommodate 7,000 worshippers at a time. The huge dome is made from fiberglass and is the largest fiberglass dome in the world. The sparkling central chandelier is from Austria, the carved doors are made from teak wood imported from India, and the marble floor and part of the walls are from Italian marble.
The mosque is the site of the Bahrain National Library, and tourists and visitors have access to the books for free.
The mosque is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can only be visited accompanied by an official tour guide. No visits are allowed during prayer time, on Fridays, or on public holidays. You can take pictures of the mosque but never of people praying. As for the dress code: no shorts or mini skirts are allowed and women need to cover up with an abayah (which is provided at reception). You also have to take your shoes off.
6. Wahoo Waterpark
It’s hot in Bahrain, so what better way to cool off than at Wahoo Waterpark? It’s conveniently located in the center of Manama so you haven’t got far to travel to refresh yourself after you have explored the many stunning sights of the city (on foot, of course). You’ll find the first indoor-outdoor water park in the Middle East with temperature-controlled pools. There are kiddy pools, slides for excitement, a wave pool and a lazy river, and in the middle on a tropical island, a sailing vessel overlooking the entire park. If you are hungry and thirsty, there is a nice restaurant too.
7. Succumb To Gold Fever In Gold City
A bride’s dowry is still paid out in gold in Bahrain; that’s why gold plays such an important role in the local culture. It is also a reason why Bahrain sells the purest gold, 22–24 carat. Gold City is a separate building from Bab Al Bahrain souk, exclusively occupied by gold merchants and jewelers and located on Government Avenue in the center of Manama. From elaborate necklaces and bracelets in traditional or modern design studded with pearls and diamonds to more modest bangles, ingots, and coins, the array of merchandise is dazzling and an experience not to be missed, even if your budget does not allow for big pieces.
You will want to visit Bab Al Bahrain nearby. Different from Gold City, the building marks the entrance to Bahrain Souk, where you can find any number of interesting shops, textiles, rugs, spices, and, of course, small enticing coffee shops. A special treat is the Kingdom of Perfume, where you can find popular brands from all over the world. The great experience – unless you are allergic to perfume – is sampling the locally made perfumes adapted to your taste and preference and made just for you.