Countries in the Middle East have fascinating cultures and histories, but Western travelers are often put off by cultural differences and strict laws. If you avoided visiting Saudi Arabia because you weren’t sure you would be able to stick to the local norms, then Bahrain is definitely a better choice with the same benefits. This small Middle Eastern country has all the Arabian charm you ever wanted, spiced up with a hefty dose of liberalism. Bahrain is a treasure trove for the curious explorer – it’s not all sand, shallow water and lovely beaches, but also ancient historical sites, old forts, interesting museums and a flurry of nightlife and shopping center. Here’s a traveler’s guide to Bahrain for those planning a holiday in this intriguing country.
Although Bahrain is by no means a big country, you will need to get around quite a bit if you want to see most of the major attractions of the country. Taxis a convenient and can be found at airports and in front of major hotels, but they can be quite expensive and you often need to agree on the fare beforehand. Buses are much cheaper, but the Bahraini public bus system can be a nightmare to navigate if you don’t speak Arabic, because schedules and bus maps are not easy to get hold of. If you have the funds, by far the easiest way to get around the island is to rent a car. For fees starting at about $30 per day, you can rent a car and explore the island to your heart’s content.
Things to see and things to do
If Bahraini history and culture is what you’re interested in, then pay a visit to Qala’at al-Bahrain, an ancient fort that is likely over 1500 years old, the former capital of the Dilmun civilization. The fort is restored and there’s a museum attached to it, where the artifacts found in the area are displayed. Both the fort and the museum have free entry! If you rented a car, you could visit the remote Tree of Life, a 400 year old mesquite tree that has somehow managed to survive in the middle of the desert, surrounded by oil wells. Besides the sights, you can find plenty of activities to busy yourself with in Bahrain: thanks to the warm water of the Gulf, swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling area quite popular all year round. Bahrain also has one pretty good golf course, and if that doesn’t sound tempting you can stick to activities like camel riding or haggling at traditional markets.
Food and drink
Manama, the capital, has a truly impressive dining scene, and it is flooded with various ethnic luxury restaurants, reasonably priced cafes and trendy lounges. You can take your pick of pricy international cuisine, or cheap street stalls selling delicious local favorites. Unlike in its neighboring countries, alcohol is freely available in Bahrain, and there are plenty of places where you can consume it. Manama has an active nightlife, with Adliya, Hoora and Juffair districts sporting the largest clusters of pubs, bars and nightclubs.