Manama, Bahrain travel guide: places to visit, stay and eat

Bahrain has been at the crossroads of trade routes in the Gulf for centuries. First in gold and pearls, then when oil was discovered in 1932 and the economy suddenly exploded. Much of the landscape in the capital, Manama, now consists of dramatic buildings, such as the 50-storey twin towers of the Bahrain World Trade Centre, and the elegant, glass-encased shopping mall known as The Avenues, which stretches for about 50 minutes. A mile away along the waterfront promenade is the sky-piercing Bahrain Financial Harbor complex of towering residential banks and government offices.

But besides its main commercial and economic elements, the city is also a magnet for tourists, welcoming visitors into a shopping paradise with excellent restaurants, arts and entertainment. Many top chefs have given their names to restaurants in Manama, but there is plenty of street food to be found too. Just explore the side streets surrounding the markets and look for locals lining up at the tables set up on the sidewalk.

If you want to try out your credit card, you will find almost all international designer stores doing brisk business in modern malls. Or be sure to visit the markets to buy fabrics, lamps, carpets, and gold jewelry at affordable prices.

Here’s how to make the most of your visit to Manama.

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what should be done

Al-Fatih Grand Mosque is open to visitors every day except Fridays and public holidays

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Prepare to be amazed at the Grand Al-Fatih Mosque, which can accommodate up to 7,000 worshipers. This stunning building, with its 79-foot-tall exterior dome, is decorated with imported Italian marble, glass from Austria, and Indian teak. It also houses the National Library, where you can take a guided tour of the various prayer rooms exquisitely decorated by local craftsmen. Obviously money was no object.

Make time to visit Bahrain Fort, properly called Bahrain Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, impressive for its size and the many stairs and winding alleys within the walls. You can see evidence of previous civilisations, including the Kassites, Greeks, Portuguese and Persians.

Put the Bahrain National Museum on your itinerary, an impressive modern building dedicated to highlighting the country’s 6,000-year-old history, from ancient times, such as the Tombs Hall where you can see early Islamic artifacts and documents, through Bahrain’s past as a pearl. A state of fishing and trade, to the country’s modern culture, as well as its flora and fauna.

Bahrain Fort helps tell the story of the civilizations that lived in the region

(Getty Images)

Take a trip to Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa House, the former home of a prominent sheikh, where you can get a glimpse of what life was like before oil and tourism came on the scene. Built around 1800 in the Gulf Islamic style, it is believed to be one of the finest traditional houses to be seen anywhere in the Gulf region. The importance of the building can be seen in the four separate sections of the house built around the squares: a section for the sheikh, a section for his family, a section for guests, and a section for servants. Look for an early air conditioning system consisting of a wind tower and air shutters, which was used to provide a breeze to cool the main reception room – still in operation.

Where to stay

If you want something different and very elegant, choose the 46-suite The Merchant House, which is located in a historic building near the main gate, Bab Al Bahrain, of the Old City, right next to the souq. The building may have been completely redesigned but there is very little that is simple about The Merchant House.

It is very elegant all the way, starting from the lobby, reception area and café, overlooked by a mezzanine with a library of over 1,000 books. Exquisite original works of art can be found throughout the hotel, including in the rooms, some by local artists but many internationally appreciated works by the likes of Chagall, Gauguin, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec, and some on loan from private collections.

Alternatively, you can check into one of Manama’s original luxury hotels, the Gulf Hotel, and you will be well located for most central areas. This magnificent building was located on the beach, but that was years before the land was reclaimed. It was now a way in.

Where to eat

Cuisines from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world blend happily in Manama’s exciting restaurant scene, which covers the price range, from street food to fine dining. Middle Eastern foods like hummus, kebabs, chicken, salads, and flatbreads can be found everywhere, as can Indian food, often all on the same menu. Fish is also very popular, but you can find almost any food you like, from French and Italian to Japanese and Mexican.

Among Manama’s many signature restaurants are the Merchant House’s rooftop restaurant Indigo, a great place for brunch or a light brunch, and Café Lilou for classic French cuisine in a European-style café, where menu highlights include a breakfast of… Zadigconsisting of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and truffle brioche with cheese, to a lunch of dishes such as com. mistinguettA plate of wrapped shrimp with cheese risotto balls and fried halloumi.

For local favorites like biryani and delicious curries, try Haji Coffee. Popular with residents (and tourists), this market is located in a small alley just off the Old Market and provides the perfect place to soak up some of the surrounding vibes.

Where to drink

Unlike many other Middle Eastern destinations, alcohol is sold legally in Manama, but don’t be tempted to drink it conspicuously in public. However, it is usually acceptable to sit at tables outside some cafes while enjoying a beer with some food.

Manama has recently become known for its lively nightlife, including bars, nightclubs and cocktail lounges, many of which are located in the area around the Seef district near the waterfront. Almost all hotels serve alcohol, but it’s also worth checking out bars like the Grand Yard House Sports Bar and Downtown Bar, and there’s also an Irish pub, McGettigan’s; All close to the city centre.

Where to shop

Many of the city’s modern shopping malls are located near Government Street in Block 301, and close to the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Expressway near the waterfront area. Major shopping malls include The Avenues, MODA Mall (in the Bahrain World Trade Centre), Seef Mall and Al Aali Mall, all of which feature a selection of world-famous fashion boutiques alongside fine dining outlets.

Elsewhere, try bargaining at one of the city’s many markets, such as Bab Al Bahrain Souq, where goods on offer include traditional textiles, pearls, jewellery, and even spices, gold and perfumes, taking you back to the days when the city was and was a major trading port.

common questions

What currency do I need?

Bahraini dinar.

What language is spoken?

Arabic and English.

Should I tip?

Most restaurants add a 15 percent service charge, but many people also add 10 percent for staff. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips.

Time difference?

GMT+3.

How should I get around?

Regular bus services are available, or you can take a taxi, although these can be difficult to find; It is best to book one through your hotel.

What is the best view?

View of the World Trade Center across the water from the viewpoint of Manama.

Insider tips

Remember to dress modestly, especially if you plan to visit a mosque, and remember that the work week is Sunday to Thursday.

Heading there

A number of airlines, including British Airways and Gulf Air, fly from the UK to Manama. Bahrain International Airport is located about 4.5 miles east of Manama in Muharraq, and from there you can take a taxi or bus into the city.

There is a daily bus service over the King Fahd Causeway between the bus station in Manama and Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia, operated by the Saudi Bahraini Transport Company.

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