By Tim Fox
An archipelago of 34 islands in the Arabian Gulf, Bahrain is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. It’s also morphing into an attractive Mid-East tourist destination.
Despite its tiny size – the entire nation is only a bit larger than the whole city of Chicago – there’s lot of things to do there.
You’ll find beautiful desert landscapes, dazzling modern architecture and ancient ruins, excellent shopping in both modern malls and old souks. Add friendly locals and fantastic food, and you begin to get a sense of the place.
You’ll likely want to stay in the capital city of Manama to enjoy a city break filled with malls and museums. But also visit the Kingdom’s most beautiful islands and venture out into the desert. If you’re bringing kids along, you’ll find that the country’s three waterparks, plus a facility for indoor skydiving, help keep the Kingdom family-friendly.
Bahrain also boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One, the Bahrain Fort (Qalat al-Bahrain), was constructed atop a 43-acre hill built up during 4,000 years of continuous occupation.
The second is the Pearling Sites, where sea pearls were harvested from oyster beds, and which molded the island’s economy for centuries. The third, only added as recently as 2019, is the Dilmun Burial Mounds, which date to 2020 BC. If you’re interested in history or culture, you’ll find all three worth a visit.
As you might expect, most people who visit the Kingdom arrive by air, landing in the newly expanded and modernized Bahrain International Airport after an eight+-hour flight from London.
If you decide to join them, here are seven enjoyable things to do during your Bahraini holiday.
The Shopping Thing: The Avenues Mall
Bahrain is one of the world’s favorite shopping destinations. You’ll find dozens of malls in the capital of Manama alone, with hundreds of shops selling everything from souvenirs to luxury designer brands outlets.
Of all these malls, The Avenues is no doubt the best. Just the building itself, with Bahrain’s beautiful blue sky an endless canopy above its glass roof, is worth a look.
With different floors and entire streets, the hundred or so shops in this mall are a great place to spend a relaxed shopping day. Enjoy breakfast in one of its bakeries, shop through the morning, then relax during a delightful lunch in one of the many traditional and upscale restaurants in the mall.
Spotlessly clean, this luxury shopping plaza is a city within the city. There’s no risk of getting bored here!
Bab Al Bahrain
Bab Al Bahrain, its name meaning “Gateway of Bahrain,” is a beautiful, old building in the very center of Manama. Renowned for its architecture, fountains, and history, it’s also very popular with tourists.
On the ground floor of the building, you’ll find the tourist information office. There you’ll be able to get advice on the best things to do, book some tours and plan your itinerary. It’s also where you’ll find a local handicraft shop which is the perfect place to buy souvenirs for the whole family.
Last but not least, Bab Al Bahrain is an entry point to a traditional Bahrain “souk.” In it you’ll find everything from jewelry to clothes, food and excellent leather goods, spices and incense, perfumes, and handicrafts, as well as several traditional coffee shops.
So whether you want to shop like a local, get tourist information, or enjoy the wonders of Islamic architecture, Bab Al Bahrain is the first place to visit after you arrive in Manama
The Cultural Thing: Bahrain National Museum
Whenever I visit a new country, I love getting to know a bit more about its history and culture. It’s a great way to get an interesting perspective on what you’ll be experiencing, whether that be traditions, customs, or local craftsmanship. You’ll always go home feeling that you’ve really learned something.
The Bahrain National Museum is the repository of 6,000 years of Bahrain’s history and, as one might expect, is one of the Kingdom’s leading cultural landmarks. It’s a great way to get introduced to Bahrain’s complex and fascinating history and well worth a visit!
Yes, we know—indoor skydiving sounds completely crazy. But as unusual as it is, it’s also one of the most fun things you can do in Bahrain.
Gravity Indoor Skydiving is a company that specializes in providing a unique experience: floating in mid-air without even venturing outside.
Gravity lets you enjoy the thrilling feeling of a free-fall in complete security, using the latest anti-gravity technology. Friendly, professional instructors guide you the whole way through, helping you get a good dose of adrenaline you’d have a hard time getting almost anywhere else.
Tree of Life
Whether you’re a nature lover, or love unusual landscapes, make a detour to see the Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat). More than 400 years old, it still baffles people as to how it can manage to survive in the hostile desert environment.
The landscape around this “lonely tree” – it’s the only one in the area – is typical of the Bahrain desert and, for many, the right spot for a camping trip. At times you’ll see tents pitched in the area.
To visit the Tree of Life, you’ll need to drive through desert oil fields, not really fertile fodder for tourists, but you’ll find the tree worth the trip.
If you visit the area, either by hiring a driver or renting a car, be sure to take enough food and water with you, as there’s no place to purchase either in the area. And for the same reason, you’ll likely want to use the “facilities” before you set out.
The Lost Paradise Of Dilmun Water Park
Bahrain has a range of options when it comes to water parks, but in our opinion, none comes close to the Lost Paradise Of Dilmun.
It is is the biggest waterpark in all of Bahrain, boasting many slides, pools, and attractions for both children and adults. It also has a pretty large beach area where you’ll be able to bask in the sun with a cold drink for a few hours. We highly recommend it for a sunny day, and for taking a break from shopping and the Kingdom’s cultural attractions.
It’s not close to Manama, so to reach it, you’ll need to either utilize public transportation or rent a car. The drive, however, is also well worth it.
Hawar Island is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. From Manama, you’ll need a boat to get there…which can be an adventure in and of itself.
Once on Hawar, choose to either spend the day relaxing on the beach, taking a little boat trip, or hiking about the island. This island has a little something for everyone, so it’s also the good place to visit with your whole family.
It’s also an excellent island to enjoy a more luxurious break, since with some very nice hotels with beautiful pools, Hawar appeals to a more high-end clientele. This isn’t to say, however, that you can’t also find affordable options there.
Tim Fox is a writer and co-founder of the SMK blog. He enjoys travel and visits fantastic places. If he’s not traveling, Tim enjoys testing new foods, drinking tea, and writing about his travels.