Riches are the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when most people think of the Arab world. However, I’d like to add here that besides all of its oil reserves, luxury hotels, glittering gold, and everything expensive, I found Bahrain rich in culture, too. Wandering through the following 8 locations like the intrepid tourist that I am, I could sense the wisps of Arabian culture and the evolution of Bahrain to be just as fresh as anyone would think.
Let’s get down to the list of my top 10 things to do in Bahrain, shall we?
1. Say hi to the history at the Bahrain National Museum
Hitting on its cultural fabric, I first managed to visit a museum. Not just any museum, but the most popular and diverse museum of all the museums in Bahrain. Its postmodern building had much in store for me and I was literally dazzled by the type of landscaping that’s been done here. My favorite sights from the museum are the archeological relics from Dilmun Civilization and the temporary exhibits on tales.
2. Sigh like a rich Arab at Cafe Lilou
Just like a standard French bar, this café almost made me think as if I was somewhere in the 19th century with my jewels and turban on. I visited this place more than twice and I couldn’t resist eating their indigenous pastries and French toast soaked in vanilla cream. Sigh.
3. See three continents in one roof at Al-Fatih Mosque
Built in 1984 and capable of housing more than 7000 worshipers at a time, the Al-Fatih Mosque truly depicts the grandeur of Arabian architecture. What’s peculiar about this mosque is that the marble used in it is from Italy, teak from India, and all the glasswork from Australia. That’s 3 continents in one mosque!
4. Snake through Bab el-Bahrain Souk
I have been to may souks around the Arab world such as the ones in Morocco. What I’ve noticed is that each of these twisted, cobblestone shopping alleys speak volume about the native culture of the place. Manama souk is no different. However, what’s different here are the numerous ostentatious displays of gold, especially at the “Gold City.” I mean yeah, my mouth watered, but since I had cobwebs in my pockets, I only window-shopped shamelessly. 😀
Touch the walls of Qal’at Bahrain or Bahrain Fort
A rather peculiar site in Manama, the Qal’at Al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) tells the story of layers of different civilization that it has witnessed. It was the capital of the ancient civilization of Dilmun and so, the layers of civilizations from circa 2300 BC to 16th century BC have left their prints on the fortress. I had goosebumps as I touched its walls. There are not many forts in the world with the same characteristic or history. The city’s skyline from here is incredible, too! The juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern is visibly a revelation.
6. Wink at the gazelles at Al Arena Wildlife Park
The wildlife of Arabia is as diverse and spectacular as of any other region. This sanctuary was created by the Kingdom of Bahrain in order to preserve species like Reem Gazelle, Oryx, and Adax. I swear one of the Gazelles had winked at me.
7. Drive through King Fahad Causeway, an engineering marvel
This is a 26-kilometer bridge that connect Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. If you see it from afar, it looks like a humpback whale. You can drive through the small island in the middle of the sea which is aptly dubbed as the “Border Island.” It is said that there are 25,000 cars passing everyday on this bridge.
8. Sit under the Tree of Life
Some people believed that this tree is the last remainder from the Garden of Eden. It is a mesquite tree that miraculously survive – alone – despite the searing desert heat. From where the tree stands, you can see gas pumps withdrawing gas/oil from the ground. This 400-year old tree is definitely on your list to do in Bahrain. It’s a 45-minute drive outside Manama and I paid 25BD, round-trip.
9. Walk and admire the sunset at Lagoon Park / Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Park
Walk along the lagoon and snap photos of Bahrain’s skyline as the sun goes down behind the modern skyscrapers. It’s magnificent! Wait until it gets dark and the views are getting more spectacular! You’re welcome to picnic here with friends and families.
10. Relax at Ritz-Carlton Bahrain
On my last day in the country, I pampered myself luxuriously at Ritz-Carlton. They offer a day pass to visitors for BD25 on weekdays, including lunch. You can enjoy a host of amenities they offer: pools, towels, beach, island, jacuzzi, gym, etc. The hotel is a destination in itself. And oh, the flamingos that freely roam und the pond are a sight to behold! If you want to stay in this hotel, you can book it here.
Manama is subtle, grand, and unpretentious. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, it hasn’t contracted the over-commercialism disease yet – at least to me. You can still see subtle traditional Arabic elements everywhere – only if you’re keen-eyed enough to pause and look around.