Bahrain: The hidden pearl of the Middle East is what I would like to call it. I recently had a chance to visit Bahrain and I absolutely fell in love with this little archipelago. On my trip, I learned about the history of the ancient Dilmun Civilization, rode on a speedboat to unwind at an unmanned beach, explored the Arabic culture at the Manama souq, and ate lunch at the nation’s only vegan restaurant. I had the time of my life while on my trip and have crafted this ultimate guide for you in case you plan to visit Bahrain (which I think you should!).
Bahrain is an archipelago of more than 30 islands located in the Persian Gulf and is the third smallest country in Asia. Racing enthusiasts might know of Bahrain as the country which staged the first Grand Prix in the Middle East. Manama is the capital city of Bahrain and the place where most tourists stay during their trip.
Also Read: Top 5 Offbeat Things to do in Bahrain
People, Culture and Dress Code
You will be surprised to see many expats living in the country. I came across many Indians, Americans, and Pakistanis while on my trip and loved the multiculturalism beaming across the entire country. Bahrain is a very tolerant Muslim country and doesn’t have too many restrictions on tourists. The culture is pretty laid back and that is what I loved the most about Bahrain. The dress code in Bahrain is quite liberal as long as you dress modestly.
Best Time to Visit
December to March: The temperature conditions are pleasant during these months with occasional showers bejeweling the archipelago.
March to April: If you’re a Formula 1 fan, this is the ideal time for you to visit Bahrain.
Bahrain has an e-Visa portal where you can apply for the Visa online. The online system is not very user-friendly and needs a lot of improvement. You can also request the hotel you’re staying at to sponsor your visa as a business visa (it comes at a higher cost) for a hassle-free experience. For women traveling solo, the latter method is recommended because the Visa Department doesn’t usually give out visas to women who are above the age of 23 and traveling alone, due to the rise in illegal immigration of women from Russia and South-East Asia.
The currency of Bahrain is the Bahraini Dinar. As of October 2018, 1 BHD = 195.24 INR (or 2.65 USD). The Bahraini Dinar is the second highest currency in the world after the Kuwaiti Dinar ( 1 KWD = 242.94 INR/ 3.30 USD). Cards are not widely accepted in Bahrain (except for big stores), so it is advisable to carry sufficient cash.
**Tip: Finding BHD in India can be a bit tricky. You can contact Sambtek Forex for delivery of your forex cash. They trade other currencies as well and from my personal experience, I can assert that they offer the best rates in the market.**
VIVA is the most widely used mobile network in Bahrain and one can buy their SIM cards at any local mobile store. A SIM card with 1GB data and free 100 local minutes valid for 7 days, costs about 4 BHD (as of 2018). Whether you buy a local SIM card or have International Roaming enabled, I would recommend you to always have access to the data network and you will know why as you read on.
Bahrain does not have a very active public transport system and the only way to get around Bahrain is through local taxis or cabs from Uber. And that’s why you need access to the data network – to book your cab. I used Uber throughout and was very happy with their service, although there were times when the waiting period was long.
**Tip: If you’re taking local taxis, be sure to tell the driver to turn the meter on before boarding or they might charge you more!**
Where to Stay
Located in the heart of Manama, the Swiss International Palace Hotel Manama is ideal if you’re looking for luxury with affordability. I stayed here during my trip and loved the location, the warm hospitality, the buffet breakfast, and the overall feel of the hotel. It stays true to its name; it indeed looks like a palace. If you intend to book this hotel (directly on their website), feel free to mention my name/website name for an additional discount!
What to See
Al Fateh Grand Mosque: This mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers at a time. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque provided they follow the dress code. The architecture of the mosque embellished with exotic carvings is worth noticing. The carpet in the prayer hall is from Scotland, the lustrous marble flooring from Italy, the Swarovski-crystal chandelier that hangs in the main hall from Austria, the 952 hand-blown glass lamps from France, and the teak doors inside from India.
Bahrain National Museum: Did you know that even before oil was discovered in Bahrain, pearling (diving for pearls) was the principal industry? Did you know that Bahrain was once the capital of the ancient Dilmun Civilization (2300 BC)? If you are history-savvy, then head to this beautiful museum located by the waterfront and explore at your own pace. The cool structures at the entrance also pave way for some creative photography!
Also Read: A 48-Hour Itinerary to Visit Bahrain
Qal’at al-Bahrain: Also known as the Bahrain Fort, the Qal’at al-Bahrain is an ancient heritage site once home to the Dilmun Civilization. UNESCO declared this site as a World Heritage Site in 2005 and Dilmun stamp seals, pots, vessels, copper pieces, and fishing tools were recovered from this site. The Dilmuns belonged to the Bronze Age and traded significantly with the Mesopotamians. What I personally loved about the Fort is that it is located amidst the city and you can spot the fort remains, the Persian Gulf, and the buildings, all in a single panoramic view!
Manama Souq: A souq is a traditional market where one can find locally made products like dates, textiles, spices, incense, perfumes, handicrafts, and souvenirs. Do take a stroll here in the evening to experience the Arabic culture and interact with the locals.
City Centre Bahrain: Known as the largest mall in Bahrain, the City Centre Bahrain is an ideal shopping and entertainment destination. This mall is so massive that it has a waterpark on the second floor! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. Do visit this mall when you’re in Bahrain because it is absolutely worth it.
Al Dar Islands: Undoubtedly, my favorite part of Bahrain is the Al Dar Islands. I had a phenomenal beachy experience at this island and pretty much had the whole beach to myself. The turquoise water gleaming in the natural rays of the sun and the silky soft sand squeezing themselves between my toes made me feel like I wasn’t alone even though I was on a solo trip!
The Avenues: One of the only shopping malls in the Middle East that offers spectacular views of the Persian Gulf, this mall is bound to awe you as you walk under its glass-ceilinged glory. Constructed by the waterfront, this mall has all kinds of shops and restaurants inside and is ideal for a family/friends day-out. The mall also gives you vivid views of the Bahrain World Trade Center, the only building in the world to incorporate wind turbines into its design.