Luxury hotels, fantastic restaurants, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and authentic Middle Eastern experiences make Bahrain a great location for anyone with a sense of adventure. Here are 10 of the reasons this tiny island nation is a growing tourist destination.
See the Tree of Life
Down a dirt road in the middle of the barren desert far from the buzz of Manama stands a lone 400-year-old mesquite tree. The “Tree of Life” is said to thrive without any known water source, and is an impressive sight — particularly from April to October, when it is significantly less likely to be surrounded by campsites.
Wander the National Museum and National Theater
The Bahrain National Museum offers extensive information about the history, traditions and development of Bahrain, making it a good place to start a visit to the island. Order a drink at the excellent café, or ask inside the museum about a boat trip to Bu Maher Fort, which once served as the kingdom’s main fishing harbor and is a stop on the country’s historic pearl trail.
While visiting the museum, walk next door to check out the gorgeous Bahrain National Theater, which hosts concerts, plays, dance performances and other events throughout the year.
Explore Bahrain Fort
The Portuguese-built fort known as Qal’at al-Bahrain sits atop a historic spot that once served as the capital of the ancient civilization of Dilmun, and is one of Bahrain’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Standing at the top of the ancient fort, you can see the historic harbor and palm groves in the foreground while the shiny skyscrapers of the new Bahrain sparkle in the background.
Dive into the Arabian Gulf
The waters of the Arabian Gulf and Bahrain’s location in it played a critical role in the country’s history and development, and a trip to the island nation would not be complete without dipping at least a toe in the turquoise sea.
Take the plunge with a pearl diving expedition or try a stand-up paddle boarding tour for a different perspective — aquatic adventure company Beach Culture leads guided tours and SUP yoga by day as well as an LED paddle boarding experience after sundown.
Eat Your Way Down Shawarma Alley
The stretch of Osama Bin Zaid Avenue between Bani Otbah and Shaikh Isa avenues, known locally as “Shawarma Alley,” is lined with food stalls and carpet shops, making it a great place to pick up a souvenir, a bite or ideally, both.
Check out the handmade Persian, Afghan and Indian carpets at the shops along the street, pausing for sustenance at any of the shawarma stands — the chicken, tangy sauce, shredded lettuce and French fries, all wrapped in classic Indian chapati bread is the ultimate comfort food.
The carpet salesmen are likely to offer you mango juice or tea while you shop; order a “sexy juice” for a delicious pomegranate-mango-strawberry concoction. Carpet connoisseurs will notice the excellent selection and low prices compared to other countries in the region, but for even better deals, wander a bit further up Osama Bin Zaid Avenue, past the intersection with Shaikh Isa Avenue, to Tahran Carpets.
Stop by the Royal Camel Farm
Though this may not be much of an attraction for visitors from neighboring Middle Eastern countries, tourists from other regions should set aside at least 30 minutes to experience the Royal Camel Farm, home to hundreds of the humpbacked animals.
The farm, which provides plenty of photo opportunities, is free and open every day until sunset. Onsite workers are happy to show off the baby camels and even provide greens to feed them, for a small tip.
A word of warning: some animal lovers may be disturbed by the restraints used for the male camels.
Tour the Historic Houses of Muhurraq
Take a walk through Bahrain’s history in the country’s former capital, starting at the Sheikh Isa bin Ali house — which features gorgeous Islamic architecture and intricately carved wooden doors — and continuing through other historic homes that have been restored and turned into museums.
Be sure to pop into the House of Coffee for an Arabic-style brew or a rose latte.
Shop the Gold Souq
The traditional souq, or market, is an essential stop for any visitor to Bahrain with its eclectic offerings ranging from spices, lamps, scarves and perfumes, to an extensive selection of bargain T-shirts and watches.
For an extra luxe experience, visit the Gold Souq to browse its unique and beautiful gold jewelry and Bahraini pearls. While there, swing by the Bab al Bahrain, the souq’s main entrance, and try a traditional breakfast at one of the cafés and restaurants nearby.
Visit the A’ali Pottery Workshops
Catch a glimpse of a potter hard at work among the ancient kilns and burial mounds in A’ali. Stop to watch the artisans shape mud and water into beautiful pots and lanterns, then browse the shelves of the nearby pottery stores to see — and take home — the finished product.
Explore Block 338
The center of Bahrain’s art and food scene, Block 338 in the trendy Adliya neighborhood is a cluster of dozens of restaurants and bars, with every conceivable type of cuisine represented.
Keep an eye out for street art along the roads and pedestrian walkways, and make sure to dress to impress if you’re planning to visit one of the newer restaurants or rooftop bars — many have dress codes.