Bahrain. What do you think of when it comes to Bahrain? Before I’d visited I’d heard mixed reports. Some people love it and some people really don’t like it, saying it’s boring and too quiet and so on. So following on from last week’s post about our incredible stay in the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay, here’s the update on the sightseeing part of our trip and my top three places not to miss in Manama, Bahrain.
We LOVED staying at the Four Seasons Bahrain Bay (read about it here), but as well as being a short break with a chance to relax, I wanted to get out and make sure we saw a bit of Manama as on researching what there is to do in, it turned up a lot more interesting places than I’d expected (based on what I’d heard about the city from others). So here’s what we chose to see:
Qalat Al Bahrain
Qalat Al Bahrain, or Bahrain Fort was top of my list to go and see. I do love a bit of history, and named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2007 to recognise its historical importance to the region as an ancient harbour and capital of the ancient civilisation of Dilmun, it’s well worth a visit.
The fort itself is free to enter, though if you want to visit the small museum located by the water at the fort car park there is a nominal charge. Once you’ve finished there, walk onwards up the hill to check out the ruins of the city and what remains of the fort.
There’s not too much in the way of information around the site, so google what you need to know and spend your time exploring the cellars, walkways and ramparts and admire the views back across the old city.
Bab Al Bahrain and Manama Souk
Now this was a little confusing, because it took me a while to work out if Bab Al Bahrain and Manama Souk were the same thing or not. Basically, Bab Al Bahrain is the beautiful historic building in Customs Square in Manama’s old business district, and Manama Souk is a rabbit warren of old narrow streets and alleys behind Bab Al Bahrain that is Manama’s traditional old souk.
Although the souk has everything you could ever need and want (and plenty of things you don’t!), it’s great for a nosey about and an insight into traditional life in the city. But if it’s touristy type souvenirs you’re after then Bab Al Bahrain is the place for your aladdin lanterns, wooden furniture, camels and pashminas etc.
I really enjoyed wandering around both areas, there’s definitely plenty of sights to see, even if you’re not buying anything!
Shaikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa House
I had read about the Old Houses of Muharraq and for me, this kind of history is something that is so rare in this part of the world that it just can’t be missed, so on our last morning in the city, we caught a taxi over to Muharraq to see the largest and most famous of all the old houses – the Shaikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa House.
Built around 1800 and home to the one time ruler of Bahrain, the house is said to be one of the finest remaining examples of a traditional gulf house, complete with wind tower to keep the premises cool.
As the name gives away, the house was the residence of Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa who was the ruler of Bahrain from 1869 until his death in 1932 and a visit to the house offers an insight into how simple life was before the oil boom (even as a Sheikh!). There’s plenty of information around the building here explaining the significance and use of each of the rooms, whether for Sheikh, family, guests or use by the servants and the architecture and level of detail in the design around the place is stunning.
There’s definitely plenty more than these three highlights I’ve picked to see in Bahrain, but sadly there wasn’t enough time to see everything and these were the sights we felt deserved priority in the few days we had.
For my next visit I’d be interested to see more of the Old Houses of Muharraq, the A’Ali Burial Mounds and pottery and explore a few more of the numerous forts around Manama amongst other things. I’m also keen to try some of the legendary food and famous sweets! Thank you to everyone who shared their tips on where to go and what to eat – it seems traditional sweets in the form of Halwa should not be missed. Sadly, due to the strict diet I was on for a health condition I just wasn’t able to try these but I promise I’ll do my best to try your recommendations next time!
Yes, that’s right, I’m pretty sure there will be a next time – we LOVED our short time in charismatic Bahrain.