by Sam McCall
Bahrain may not be the most well-known tourist destination, but those who discover it often find it a fascinating place. An archipelago of 33 islands in the Persian Gulf, it’s the smallest independent Gulf stateand, while officially an Islamic country, has a more Western culture and a more liberal outlook compared to many of its neighbours (alcohol is legal, for example).
Bahrain Island is the largest on the archipelago, and will probably serve as base camp for most visitors to the country, not least because of hotels like the Kempinski Grand & Ixir that embody Bahrain’s reputation for wealth and luxury. Below are just a few of the activities you can experience while on holiday there:
Bahrain is believed to be where the mysterious Dilmun civilisation, mentioned in several Mesopotamian cultural texts, might have lived. The country certainly bears many markers of ancient settlement: the village of Sar has the remnants of a Dilmun-era town, while the Bahrain National Museum in Manama has many more archaeological finds to discover. Check out the restored Bahrain Fort and the enormous Al-Fateh Mosquefor stunning examples of Arabian architecture.
Despite being an island country, Bahrain doesn’t have much of a beach culture – the best beaches tend to be private and attached to a hotel, although notable exceptions are Jazayir and Al Dar island. However, there’s plenty of scope to indulge in watersports: sailing, diving, jet skiing and deep-sea fishing are all there for the taking via the operators around the coastline. Bulthama is a particularly spectacular reef for diving, although it can be tricky to access.
Bahrain, and particularly the capital Manama, has some fantastic restaurants – and, as mentioned, it’s one of the few Arab countries where you can be served alcohol. Hang out at places like Al-Siraj and Al-Abraaj for a taste of Middle Eastern snacks and shawarma, or for something more luxurious try the French fare at Café Lilou’s or enjoy some evening jazz at Upstairs Downstairs. Many popular nightspots are modelled after British pubs due to the large expat population – don’t be surprised to see venues with names like the Queensbury Arms and Sherlock Holmes!