Bahrain's capital Manama has been at the crossroads of desert trade in the Persian Gulf for centuries. Today, it's a prosperous business and economic center in the Middle East, and offers visitors a shopping paradise with a fantastic dining, arts, and entertainment scene to be explored.
Learn about the history of this ancient area in the impressive Bahrain National Museum, with its collection of artifacts from the ancient Dilmun civilization.
Try your hand at bargaining in one of the city's many souks or markets, such as the Bab el-Bahrain Souk, where you can find traditional fare like textiles, spices, pearls, and jewelry.
Influences that hail from the Middle East, Asia, and across the globe meet in Manama's exciting dining scene, with options at every price point, including a delectable street food scene.
Unlike many other destinations in the Middle East, liquor is legally for sale in Manama, and the city has become known for its lively nightlife, including bars, nightclubs, and sleek cocktail lounges.
Manama is home to a hopping local arts and entertainment scene, with many galleries to explore and performances at the Bahrain National Theatre to take in.
Imagine a mosque that holds up to 7,000 worshippers, houses a national library, looks like a small castle, and has a 79-foot outer dome and you'll have an idea of just how grand the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque really is. It feels more like a fortification than a mosque and that's thanks to its imported materials of Italian marble, Austrian glass and Indian teak. Visitors to the mosque can head on guided tours that start at the national library part of the mosque and move through the prayer rooms, taking in the intricate local craftsmanship that's evident in every room.
Also known as a "souq", the Manama Bazaar is the main network of streets where vendors informally sell electronics, clothing, nuts and spices, hookahs, ethnic wear, herbs, perfumes and gold. The "bab" is the gate to the Manama Souq, redesigned in 1986 by architect Sir Charles Belgrave. The gateway now exudes a more "Islamic" feel and design and also used to house the country's government administration.
A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the Qal'at al-Bahrain was known as the "Qal-at al-Portugal" at one point. It is also known as Bahrain Fort and is the site of many archaeological excavations and digs. Previous civilizations unearthed include the Kassites, Greeks, Portuguese and Persians. The site is a "tell", which is an artificial mound that is created after thousands of years of occupation -- living, death and burial create several "layers". Over the years, this central location has been a trading port, a "meeting place of the Gods", a place for Barbar temples and has other signs of early life. The fort itself is majestic and continuous in its sheer physical size and presence and there are winding staircases and beautifully carved archways within its walls.
All lit up at night, the Bahrain National Museum stands tall and proud; it's a modern monument to design and an effort to preserve a country's historic roots and the cultural practices that are worth remembering. The museum has permanent collections including three halls dedicated to the Dilmun civilization (one of the oldest to be excavated from the nearby Qal'at al-Bahrain), a natural history wing (dedicated to flora and fauna) and the preserving of sacred documents and manuscripts (such as Quranic letters, scriptures and markings).
Before the oil boom made the Middle East the hot zone it is, the deserts had an orderly social structure that consisted of the sheikh, family, guest and servants. The Beit Sheikh Isa is literally the "house" of Sheikh Isa, a perfect demonstration of what life in early Bahrain must have been like. Besides the expected beautiful wooden carvings, visitors can marvel at the smart natural system of air-conditioning formed by a wind tower and shutters to beat the heat.
Manama experiences extremes in temperature, from over 115 degrees in the summer to 45 degrees in the winter. Most visitors from outside the region prefer the fall, when temperatures range from 65 to 70 degrees and the sun is less intense.
The Bahrain International Airport (BAH), is located about 4.5 miles east of Manama in Muharraq. A taxi to the city costs about BD6.
Manama connects to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway, with a border control post at the halfway point. Be advised, however, that it is not possible to take a rental car across the border without specific documentation and a Saudi driver's license.
There is daily bus service from Khobar in Saudi Arabia to the bus terminal in Manama via Saudi Bahraini Transport Company.
Stay in upscale contemporary rooms with great amenities at the Palace Boutique Hotel, near the popular Adliya neighborhood. For a taste of Middle Eastern splendor, choose the Royal Phoenicia Hotel.
Adliya - this central neighborhood with a bohemian flair is where you'll find many of the city's best restaurants and bars, making it popular with visitors.
Seef District - near the waterfront, here you'll find a good dining and nightlife scene, along with Seef Mall and other shopping complexes.
Amwaj Islands - these man-made islands in the Persian Gulf feature a water park, shopping malls, restaurants, and other entertainment options.
The Bahrain Bus network operates routes throughout the city. Fares vary by zone; use an electronic GO Card, with an initial fee of BD0.500.
Taxis are relatively scarce in the city, with fares that begin at BD1.000, increasing by BD0.200 every 0.6 miles. A typical fare around the city costs about BD5-10.
Parking is free all over Bahrain, but be forewarned that there are a limited number of spots available. Local car rentals from Budget or Avis cost about BD10-20 per day.
Many of the city's modern shopping centers are located near Government Avenue in Block 301, and near the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Highway near the waterfront area.
Al Manama Hypermarkets are found in multiple locations throughout the city, with most staples available. A quart of milk costs about BD0.550 and a dozen eggs should run about BD0.860.
Enjoy the Parisian ambiance and classic French cuisine at Café Lilou, where main dishes start at about BD2.700. Try local favorites like biryanis at Haji Gahwa, where mains start at BD1.300.