Local expert Liz O’Reilly reveals the places you must see during a short break to the kingdom
The pearling trail A series of historic houses in old Muharraq, formerly the Bahraini capital, these tell the story of how life once was here. There’s a house dedicated to the ancient pearling trade, from which Bahrain gained much of its pre-oil wealth, as well as homes of an early media mogul, complete with ancient typewriter; a children’s house with library; the Bin Matar House, where you will find ancient Arabic scripts and regular visiting art exhibitions, and much more. These houses, as the name suggests, are set in a trail around several winding streets which give a real flavour of the old Bahrain and are great for walking round in the cooler months (typically October to April). In 2012 the area was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Open daily, entry free. Visit www.moc.gov.bh for details.
Qal’at Al Bahrain The island’s second UNESCO site, the Bahrain Fort, shows evidence of more or less continuous occupation for 4,500 years. Set on the coast, this is a gorgeous area to visit at sunset; enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee or sweet mint tea in the outdoor café while listening to the waves rolling into the shore. Make sure to leave enough time to visit the museum, which tells the story of the fort and its painstaking excavation since the 1950s. Bahrain Fort, open daily 8am-6pm, (17 564 654). Qal’at Al Bahrain Museum, open daily 8am-8pm, (17 567 171).
Bahrain is thought to be one of the world’s largest graveyards. More than 170,000 mounds pepper the landscape between Hamad Town and A’ali, dating back to about 3000BC. Some of the most impressive examples, near A’ali village, are thought to contain royal remains from the days of the Dilmun civilisation which had its capital in Bahrain. Sites are open year round; some areas have a small entrance fee.
Bahrain International Circuit
What calls itself the ‘home of motorsport in the Middle East’ staged the region’s first Grand Prix. The track at Sakhir hosts various race days and public open days throughout the year (apart from in the run-up to the Grand Prix) and, if you feel the need for speed, you can take part in a track day where you get to take the wheel behind some impressive horsepower yourself. Or, visit the neighbouring karting track for a fun day or evening out. Visit www.bahraingp.com for activities, opening times and prices.
This is one of the island’s main dining and arts areas. Centred around the Al Riwaq Gallery, a non-profit art space which showcases the work of local talent as well as international visitors, you’ll often find the arts spilling into the surrounding streets with local music festivals and street art too. Visit www.alriwaqartspace.com. Here too you will find restaurants to cater to most tastes from traditional budget coffee house Silks (so old, there’s no phone), where you can try another Bahraini tradition, the shisha pipe, to high-end Japanese at Mirai.
If you’ve got time for a little further exploration, take a taxi to the camel farm, it’s not an official tourist spot but well worth a visit; the tree of life, less impressive than it sounds, is one to tick off the ‘to do’ list. Also visit Bahrain National Museum for great exhibitions and lots of local history; the Lost Paradise of Dilmun – a water park in the desert and probably a full-day trip – and last but by no means least, the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, one of the world’s biggest places of worship where you can take a free guided tour and learn loads about the history of Islam and its development.