When we think of the Middle East, destinations like Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and Istanbul in Turkey come to mind. Ask those living near the Persian Gulf though, and they will tell you a holiday in Bahrain is unlike any other.
For those unfamiliar with this Arab country, here’s more information on Bahrain. The largest city in Bahrain is Manama, which is also the capital of the country. Manama is known for its modern architecture, including the Bahrain World Trade Center and the Bahrain Financial Harbor, which are among the tallest buildings in the country. These landmarks are examples of the largest city's status as a major financial hub in the Middle East.
The Kingdom of Bahrain also has several man-made islands to provide more space for housing, commercial, and tourism developments. One of the most notable ones include Amwaj Islands, which are known for its lagoons and beaches for water sports.
Besides Amwaj Island, there are also plenty of historic sites, gorgeous scenery of modern skyscrapers and, of course, shopping over in the mainland of Bahrain. For starters, here are the eight tourist attractions you must visit while in this desert country.
1. Learn about Bahrain’s history at the Bahrain National Museum
History buffs, rejoice because one place you can’t leave Bahrain without visiting is the Bahrain National Museum. With such a long, extensive and complex history, the best place to begin understanding this Middle Eastern country is here.
The national museum of Bahrain is located at the capital city’s waterfront and is bursting with archaeological finds, interactive exhibits and photographs showcasing over 6,000 years of rich history.
There’s also a temporary exhibition hall and an art gallery with ever-rotating displays in this public museum. You can also visit the Bu Maher Fort (more on this major attraction a little later) via a boat ride from the museum!
Instagram-savvy holidaymakers will be glad to know there’s a bougie lil cafe inside the museum too. The best part of all? It faces the sea, so you can sit back and enjoy a cuppa while gazing out at the blue waters in the capital city.
Address: Manama, Bahrain
Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday — 9:00am to 8:00pm
2. Go pearl diving
Due to its rich natural reserves, most of Bahrain’s economy was reliant on the seas around the country for a few thousand years — not for seafood, but rather for pearls. Divers would scour the seabed for pearls, which were then either sold as exports or turned into fine Bahraini pearl jewellery.
While most pearls today are farmed all across the world, you can still dive for oysters (and, in turn, pearls) here in Bahrain. Not only is there the UNESCO-protected Bahrain Pearling Path to check out, but there are also five different licensed pearl-diving operations you can approach. And yes, whatever you can find, you’re allowed to keep!
Even if you don’t find any–though highly unlikely–being able to swim in the turquoise blue waters is a treat in itself.
For more exhibitions and photography about the pearl industry, you can also head down to the Bu Maher Fort where the Pearl Museum is located.
Bu Maher Fort address: Muharraq, Bahrain
Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday — 9:00am to 6:00pm
3. See the Tree of Life
Picture this: A vast, sandy, and hot desert, there’s no water for miles around, no apparent nutrient in the form of soil, and the temperature ranges from scorching hot in the day to blimey cold at night. And yet, one lone tree stands tall for over 400 years.
The Tree of Life, or Shajarat-al-Hayat in the local language, is a Bahrain miracle with visitors coming from all over the land to witness this popular attraction themselves. This tree has even got a 4.2-star review on Google, with reviews calling it inspirational and magical, even.
Scientists themselves also aren’t completely sure where exactly the tree gets its water from — perhaps from spring reserves a long distance away — but as the local stories go, it’s the God of Water, Enki, that blesses the tree (and thus the lands) with water. They also consider it the location of the Garden of Eden.
Getting there requires a set of wheels which you can easily rent in Bahrain. It’s about a two-hour drive from Jebel Dukhan, with signs pointing to where the Tree of Life is.
Address: Dirt Road to Tree of Life, Jebel Dukhan, Bahrain
4. Visit the Royal Camel Farm
Camel rearing has been part of the royal family’s culture for centuries as they served as the main means of transport then. Though cars have pretty much taken over their role today, the Royal Camel Farm continues to exist to preserve the heritage.
Here, you can take pictures with the camels, feed them (the baby camels are especially cute) and even try some camel milk too!
Some visitors might feel disturbed seeing the male camels with restrictions around their legs, but it’s done to prevent them from kicking one another, usually to the point of death, when the females are in heat. They’re also all spaced apart so they can’t bite one another either. Meanwhile, the females and babies get to roam around the pens.
As the workers don’t earn much, it’s recommended to give them a tip to show your appreciation.
Address: Janabiyah, Bahrain
Opening hours: 7:00am to 5:30pm
5. Shop through Manama Souq
There are many shopping malls in Bahrain, but the Manama Souq is worth a visit. A souq [read as souk] — a traditional market made up of little stalls with their traders lined up along the backstreets — is a treasure trove of untold goods you won’t find back in Singapore.
Before stepping into the back alleys you’ll already smell the scent of Arabic incense and spices wafting through the air. Here you’ll find varieties like Indian chai and Iranian saffron, as well as lamps, perfumes, kaftans and handwoven rugs! Don’t forget to bring along a bag for all your loot.
There are also a wide range of electronic goods, t-shirts and shisha pipes for sale too. Haggling is part of the experience if you’re confident in your language skills. Some of the popular street snacks there include Rani Far Far (made of potato starch and sago) and Zalabia (a swirly fried dough soaked with a lemon and saffron infused syrup). Remember to head to these exercise gyms in Singapore for a workout once you’re back!
Come Saturdays, the customs square Babal al Bahrain down the road also organises another market. Not only is there live music by local musicians, but they’ve also got traditional sweets and antiques too.
Address: Bab Al Bahrain Ave, Manama, Bahrain
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday — 9:00am to 1:00pm, 4:00pm to 9:00pm, Friday — 4:00pm to 9:00pm
6. Go animal watching and plant spotting at Al-Arin Reserve
The Al-Arin Reserve is an impressive natural sanctuary covering an area of 7 square metres - a must-visit for all nature lovers. This remarkable reserve provides a safe haven for a variety of unique wildlife and plant species, supporting a biodiverse ecosystem. The nature reserve is home to an astounding 100,000 plant specimens with 25 different species. It also houses more than 45 animal species and over 80 species of birds.
Notably, the park also includes a comprehensive facility for animal care, boasting a veterinary clinic and a hospital specifically for falcons.
Address: P.O. Box 28690, Kingdom of Bahrain
Opening hours: Every day throughout the year from 9:00am to 4:00pm
7. Learn more about the Quran, Islamic art, calligraphy & history at Beit Al Quran
Immerse yourself in an extraordinary journey through Islamic history at Beit Al Quran, also known as the "House of the Quran," nestled in the vibrant capital city of Bahrain. It is widely regarded as one of the most notable Islamic museums in the world. The complex includes a mosque, library, school, and the museum itself.
As you step into the museum, 10 distinct exhibition halls invite you to explore different eras and aspects of Islamic art and calligraphy. From early Quranic parchments to intricate Islamic art pieces, the museum offers a profound journey into the heart of Islamic civilisation.
Delight in the variety of Qurans, some inscribed on unconventional materials like rice, grain, and even textiles - a testament to the creativity and reverence that has shaped this sacred text over centuries since ancient times.
The stunning architecture of Beit Al Quran is a spectacle in itself, inspired by the style of old Madinah houses and Islamic architectural heritage. Its stunning dome replicates the one in the 9th-century mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, underscoring the deep historical ties within the Islamic world.
Address: Building No.17, Rd No 1901, Manama, Bahrain
Opening hours: 8:30 am–2:30 pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday. 8:30am-1:30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Closed on Fridays.
8. Watch the sun set on Bahrain Fort
Last but not least is the Qal’at al-Bahrain, or the Bahrain Fort. This 16th-century Portuguese fortress is the most important archaeological site in Bahrain as it sits on the land that once served as the ancient civilization of Dilmun, aka the Land of Immortality. It is also one of Bahrain’s two UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It feels somewhat unreal being able to walk around such a historical site. Over the years, many relics have been unearthed, including ancient tablets dating back to the days (circa. mid-15th-century) when King Agum III was believed to have ruled. Most of these relics are on display in the museum next door. Music performances by local artists are sometimes held here.
Come sundown, head on over to the top of the fort. From there, the view of the sun setting over the horizon, beaming over the skyscrapers in the distance and the vast expanse of the fort in front of you is something to behold.
Can’t get enough of forts? Check out Riffa Fort, also known as Sheikh Salman bin Ahmad Fort. This historic landmark is located in Riffa, the second largest city in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Over at Riffa Fort, visitors can explore a number of rooms and halls including a kitchen, Sheikh's room, majlis (a room for social gathering), and a beautifully decorated room for women.
Address: 892 3618, Karbabad, Bahrain
Opening hours: 8:00am to 8:00pm
Check Bahrain off your bucket list
Who would’ve known the small country of Bahrain (just slightly larger than Singapore) would have so many things to see and do? The next time you can’t decide on where to go on holiday, consider Bahrain. Otherwise, we’ve got a list of top destinations to visit in 2023 for you to choose from.
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