Bahrain OverviewBahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Persian Gulf. It is the smallest of the independent Persian Gulf states and it is a moderate country that is a popular travel destination for those who want to see a Middle Eastern country without strict Islamic law. One example of the country's liberal nature is that it has legalized homosexuality.
The middle class in Bahrain is very cosmopolitan. The country offers excellent shopping and dining opportunities and there are plenty of venues where you can socialize. While the county has few oil reserves it is still a petroleum based economy as it serves as a hub for refining. International banking is also a significant part of the economy.
Bahrain's climate is tropical desert. Bahrain winters are dry with temperatures hovering in the low 70s Fahrenheit. Spring and fall are comfortable and dry but late winter and spring are prone to dust storms. Summer is very hot and temperatures may reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of land reclamation efforts, there are very few natural beaches, although manmade beaches can be found at luxury hotels. You usually have to pay to access these. The water is usually very shallow and quite warm, particularly during the summer months when it can top 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It is possible to get heat stroke even while you're swimming.
At A Glance
- An affordable way to get around is with the public buses. They travel to many parts of the island and prices are usually cheap. It can be difficult to understand the bus schedules and maps, so make sure you clearly understand which route you want and when it leaves before booking. In general, the buses are not air conditioned and they can get quite crowded, but they are generally reliable.
- If you're not concerned about your budget, renting a car is a good option. It allows you the greatest flexibility and comfort when you're traveling around the country. Try to get ahold of a good map or GPS system because the street signs are rare and not useful in navigating.
- Arabic is the official language of Bahrain. English and Persian (or Farsi) are also widely understood. There are a good number of Indians and Pakistanis in Bahrain and they often speak Urdu, Hindi or Malayalam.
- There are a good number of activities and events in Bahrain. In particular, the Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race is the largest yearly event. It's held every April and prices skyrocket during this event. If you're planning to visit at this time, make sure you book everything well in advance as flights and hotels fill up fast. It is not uncommon for prices to triple.
- There are several large shopping malls in Bahrain where you will find international and luxury brands. They have many boutique shops, supermarkets and food courts. A more traditional shopping experience is to visit a local souq, or market. These souqs are filled with stalls selling everything from jewelry to clothing and artwork. Make sure you negotiate the price before making a purchase.
- Although Bahrain is a relatively liberal country, it is still important to dress respectfully and conservatively. Long pants and conservative dresses are advised. At private beaches or hotels bathing suits and shorts are acceptable. Public displays of affection are also frowned upon and should be avoided.
Top Tourist AttractionsQala'at al-Bahrain: The Bahrain Fort is found off the northern shore of the country. It is about five minutes by car from Manama City, in Karbabad. This fort has been restored and is in good condition. It's free to visit and is open daily. Next to the fort there is a musuem that has artifacts that date back to the Dilmun periods through the Islamic era. Most of the items were found at the fort or nearby. There is no sign on the museum but it is found in a large rectangular white building.
Tree of Life: This unique tree grows in the middle of the desert surrounded by oil wells and other infrastructure from the petroleum industry. You must have a private vehicle to reach the tree as there is no public transportation and it is significantly off the main road. Despite being difficult to reach, it's an interesting place to visit. The tree is covered in graffiti and it is best visited around sunset when the lighting of the tree and the desert is very impressive.
Abu Mahir Fort: This fort, also called Muharraq Fort, is found in Muharraq. It was built on the foundation of a much older fort. Although it is smaller than the Bahrain Fort, it is an interesting place to visit.
Popular FoodsBahrain's small size leave it little room for agriculture. Much of the food is imported internationally, but the primary crops are dates, bananas, citrus fruits, pomegranates, mangoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. Seafood from the Persian Gulf is also very common. Coffee is often prepared when welcoming someone to your home. Sheesha, with flavored tobacco, is also available in many open air cafes and coffee shops.
Hamour: Bahrain's small size mean that goats, cattle and sheep are in short supply. Instead, fish from the Persian Gulf is a prominent option. Hamour, or grouper, is common throughout the country and is usually grilled, fried, or steamed.
Qoozi: This is a delicacy in Bahrain. It is made with grilled lamb that is stuffed with rice, boiled eggs, onions, and traditional spices.
Khubz: Khubz is the traditional flatbread of Bahrain. It is baked in a special oven and is common throughout the country. There are many bakeries where you can find this fresh bread, which is often served with mahyawa fish sauce.