Here’s how to live an active, social island life for next to nothing
Time Out Bahrain staff
Feeling a little pocket poor this month? Are you spent after a full blown festive season? Then this is the guide for you. Here’s how to live an active, social island life for next to nothing.
Following a festive season filled with indulgence, chances are that you, like us, are feeling a little light in the purse this month. We’re cracking open the piggy bank after plenty of gift giving, foodie spreads and travels, but that doesn’t mean we’re not making the most of it. Bahrain has so much to offer on a budget, there’s no need to be a hermit. We’ve scoured the city for the best restaurants, shops, activities and deals so you can enjoy the fruits of your labour for longer without having to sacrifice taste, quality or life experience. Just follow this essential guide to frugal living and you’ll never need spend more than BD10 again.
Forget fancy five-star fare, we’ve found some great little gems offering delicious food for a very reasonable price tag. Just note, ‘average price of a meal for two’ means you’ll get a veritable feast for less than BD10.
Cuisine: Lebanese Average price of a meal for two: BD8 The company behind the popular Aroma Café in Seef Mall have opened another ‘express’ branch on the busy American Alley in Juffair. It matches fast and casual dining with traditional Arabian flavours in a vibrant venue. Stop in for a bite or take away – the menu includes all the favourites like shawarma, fatayer, pizza, grills and cold and hot mezzes, plus more, and it’s all reasonably priced, beautifully presented and tasty. We particularly love the bright oranges and greens, and if you head upstairs you can grab a stool at the bar and overlook the bustling roads beneath. Open daily 11am-3am. The Mall, American Alley, Juffair (1721 2126).
Cuisine: Mexican Average price of a meal for two: BD6 We’ve got a new Mexican spot in town that serves fantastically huge and tasty burritos. Burrito Loco, located along American Alley in Juffair, is a very basic concept – you choose a base (burrito, burrito bowl, tacos or salad), your filling (chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables), then your sauce (pico de gallo or ranchero), then add on any extras like guacamole or nachos, and even tasty churros. Then you can perch on the bench seating or take it away. We highly recommend this spot if you’re craving a quick Mexican fix. They also do home delivery within Juffair. Open daily 10am-1.30am. The Mall, American Alley, Juffair (1700 2979).
Cuisine: Bahraini Average price of a meal for two: BD5 The writing is on the wall at this authentic Bahraini spot, literally. What really makes Emma-Wash (pronounced ‘emaa-wesh’) stand out is the décor: walls filled with graffiti that’s been drawn on by regular customers (we’ve even had a go!) and bench seating, plastic table cloths and majla-style seating area upstairs. But the food is also fabulous – there’s a small menu of traditional Bahraini breakfast and dinner dishes from eggs with tomato to balaleet to harees, served up in small pans and scooped up with the flat bread. You can seriously eat like a king here and your eyes will pop when you get the bill (‘That’s it?!’). Open daily 6am-10pm. Budaiya Highway, on the same strip as Fish World (1730 9030).
Fish House Cuisine: Seafood, Bahrain This down-to-earth Bahraini fish restaurant has been the talk of the town for years, which is why it always makes the cut in our restaurant awards shortlist. Of course, it may be more of a canteen than an institution of fine dining but Fish House offers some of the freshest and tastiest seafood offerings we’ve found for under BD10. It’s seriously local and very basic, always packed to the brim with a rather limited menu but we love it. Open daily 11am-11pm. Budaiya Highway, opposite International Hospital (1759 4040).
Honey’s Thai Restaurant Cuisine: Thai Average price of a meal for two: BD7 The Time Out Bahrain Restaurant Awards Best Budget eatery for 2014 is this little ‘hole-in-the-wall’ with a menu full of authentic, lip-smacking Thai specialties. Honey’s has been around since 1986, serving the good people of Bahrain with what can only be described as one of the tastiest Tom Yum soups we’ve tried around these parts. The menu is extensive, the food always good, the service is efficient and you’re always bound to find a bustling dining area no matter the time of day (they only close for five hours!). Sure, the décor is pretty basic but that’s what we love about it. Open daily 10am-5.30am. Next to Gold City, Manama Souq (3923 8507).
Londoner Cuisine: British Average price of a meal for two: BD7 Our Time Out London parent would be very proud of this concept, as it takes us right back home with their UK style doner kebabs. The Londoner, located just off the Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway, is a small little eatery that offers home delivery all over the country. They not only offer tasty, meaty doner wraps, but also a selection of brilliant burgers including ‘The Knightsbridge’, ‘Well Hard’ and ‘The Big Ben’. They also have some weight watcher options for the dieters among us, as well as a huge selection for kids. Open noon-11pm. Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway, Tubli (1733 2123).
Mini Delights Cuisine: Cheesecake Average price of a meal for two: BD3 Now we don’t want to send all of you dieters straight off the bandwagon just as your New Year’s resolutions kick in but the concept of Mini Delights is pure genius. It’s an entire business based around the creamy, delectable, old classic cheesecake. Not only that, but mini cheesecakes! Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to take a bite out of that? These treats are truly delightful with so many to choose from – original, red velvet, nutella, peanut butter, chocolate, fruity – and you can pack up a dozen for just BD3 and savour them over days. Alternatively, a box of these little yummies makes a great gift. Open daily 10am-10pm. Budaiya Highway (1759 5254).
Mojo Cuisine: Light café fare and juices Average price of a meal for two: BD6 If you’re craving something on the healthier side then Mojo Juice Bar in Seef’s Al Moayyed Tower might just have the answer. They serve up a range of creative sandwiches, salads and main meals (try the vegetable risotto!), alongside a wide selection of fresh, healthy juices promising to revitalise, detox or relax – depending on your choice. It’s cheap, available to order for delivery and it’s the nearest thing we can find to a healthy lunch al desko that won’t break the bank! Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-5.30pm; Sat 7.30am-4pm. Al Moayyed Tower, Seef (1756 4077).
Pizza Empress by Mr Slice
Cuisine: Pizza Average price of a meal for two: BD4 Our pal Mr Slice over at Pizza Empress in Adliya has worked wonders with this tiny hole-in-the-wall pizzeria, transforming it into a forgotten back alley eatery to the takeaway of choice for all pizza lovers. Chef Errin Stone (aka Mr Slice) has devised a menu but he more enjoys coming up with personalised creations for his regular customers from cheesy, meaty delights to vegan treats with a range of fantastic ingredients, condiments and little signature touches (such as the yummy herb blend he sprinkles on his crusts). You can sit in and eat (although it’s a bit of a squeeze) or take away, but it’s great to watch Errin in his element with his stone oven. Best of all, you can get a whopping 18-inch pizza to share with more than two people for just under BD5. Open Sat-Thu noon-midnight. Fri 3pm-midnight. Next to Al Jazira Supermarket, behind Habara Snacks and Fish, Adliya (1774 2299).
Cuisine: Vegetarian, South Indian Average price of a meal for two: BD3 Swagat provides us with some of the best Indian food we’ve tasted for this price on the island, and it’s nestled amid the back alleys of the souq. Where else would you go for authentic, delicious, cheap and cheerful Indian food after all? It’s a two-storey, very basic eatery that fills up with expat Indians throughout the day (so you know it’s good), split into singles and family sections upstairs. Just make sure you head over there hungry, because you’ll leave very, very full, and we recommend trying the dosas for breakfast and the extensive thali for lunch or dinner. The thali is a mere 900 fils! Open daily 6.30am-10pm. Building 1261, Road 428, Manama Souq (1726 3096).
Meals for BD10 or less
Breakfast Take a trip over to Figs & Olives in The Domain Bahrain for a breakfast buffet at BD8++ from 6.30am to 10am. Call 1600 0000
Lunch There are a range of bargain lunch options that are classy and tasty around Bahrain. Try Links at the Royal Golf Club (1775 0777) where you can get a three course meal and a soft drink for BD8 from 11.30am to 3pm. Or there’s Italian spot Medzo in InterContinental Regency (1722 7777) which serves a two-course business lunch and soft drink for BD7.5++.
Even cheaper, is the lunch buffet at Rayes in Coral Bay (1731 2700) for BD4.9++. Then there’s our favourite Japanese business lunches, firstly there’s the three-course Smart Menu lunch that’s served in 30 minutes at Bushido (1758 3555) for BD10 net or bento boxes for BD9, or there’s a two-course express lunch in Ruka in Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa (1711 1999) for BD8 net.
Afternoon tea Make like the British and enjoy a classy afternoon tea affair at Espressamente Illy Café in Sheraton Bahrain (1753 3533) starting from just BD3.2++ per person that’s served throughout the day. Alternatively, over at the delightful Tea Garden in Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa, there’s a selection of teas, pastries and sandwiches available from 3pm to 6pm for BD7++ every day.
Dinner For an unlimited selection of curry dishes from across the globe, just head to Links at the Royal Golf Club (1775 0777) on Tuesdays from 6pm to 10pm and pay just BD10 net per person. Meanwhile, on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Le Sauvage and Le Domain  in The Domain Bahrain (1600 0000), you can tuck into unlimited slow-cooked beef short ribs with special spices and a signature barbecue sauce for just BD9.9 per person. In Swiss-Café at Swiss-Belhotel Seef (6631 0041) you can also try an international dinner buffet on Thursdays and Fridays from 7pm to 11pm for just BD8++ including free-flowing soft drinks.
Forget the malls, major hypermarkets and high-end boutiques because it’s all about the markets and shops that have plenty of products which are cheap as chips.
Daiso To buy: Bric-a-brac from Japan for 600 fils upwards Rifle through nifty goods straight from Japan at this bargain store that’s akin to the pound store in Britain. You’ll find a range of everything such as household items, kid’s toys, decorations, stationery and DIY products – to name a few – all for the bargain prices of 600 fils upwards. Open daily 9am-10pm. Dasman Centre, Gudaibiya (1731 1163).
The souqs To buy: Everything from mosque alarm clocks to pure gold There are a number of souqs in Bahrain but the most visited would be Manama, Isa town (bric-a-brac and the bird market), Hamad Town (for fruit and veg) and Muharraq (for the cultural vibe). Arguably, everybody’s favourite, however, has to be the main Bab Al Bahrain souq in Manama where you can get lost for hours in the labyrinthine alleyways boasting stalls of every kind. Weave your way through the materials section, on through the spice racks and over to the gold souq. Pass by retailers selling clothing, household goods, funky watches and plenty of other stuff that everyone wants but no one ever needs. Just make sure you haggle for your bargain because if you look like you don’t belong, they’re certain to hike up the prices pretty high.
Farmers’ market To buy: Locally grown fresh produce Our local farmers’ market, based in Budaiya, reopened in November for the third year and is open to the public every Saturday. There, you’ll find less expensive, locally grown, fresh vegetables, fruits and other agricultural products from Bahraini farmers, as part of the goals of the National Initiative for Agricultural Development. Elsewhere, in Manama, the Central Market and Fish Market offer a range of other produce in the early morning or late afternoon which, of course, includes plenty of freshly caught fish.
Arty markets To buy: Pieces by local artists and crafts people For one-off pieces that range in prices, head to one of the local markets held throughout the year. Although Market 338 by Al Riwaq Art Space has finished for another year, still to look forward to is the annual Bab Market by the Ministry of Culture, which begins on January 30 (5pm to 9pm) and 31 (9am to 1pm) and will be held every last weekend of the month after that. This contemporary outdoor festival features local designers, foodies and creatives selling products, while an ongoing series of interactive events takes place such as live music gigs, theatrical performances, public workshops, a pop-up art gallery and a kid’s programme. Held at Bab Al Bahrain, www.moc.gov.bh.
The Autumn Fair To buy: Oh, almost everything This consumer fair, which will run at the end of this month from January 21 to 29, features literally thousands of products over 700 stalls from across the globe. Take the whole family to rifle through household items, fashion trends, children’s toys, food stalls and much, much more. Admission to the fair is just 700 fils but children under five can enter for free. Held at Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, www.theautumnfair.com.
Twenty4 To buy: Clothes, shoes and home fashions for all the family This fashion brand is incredibly affordable with many of their items costing below BD10 yet still toes the line of upmarket and trendy. Twenty4, the island’s latest offering from the Red Tag group, first launched here in late 2013 and already they’ve opened another two branches. Their clothing, shoes and home items are extensive with a bit of everything for people of all ages. It’s a great place for families to shop for all the basics. Open daily 10am-10pm. Bahrain Mall, Sanabis (3965 0789). Enma Mall, East Riffa (7712 2222).
F&F To buy: Clothes, accessories and shoes UK brand F&F has captured every bargain hunters’ imagination since opening. With high quality and trendy clothes for men, women and children, as well as accessories, shoes from a range of recognisable brands, it’s hard to actually spend more than BD10 on any one piece. Open Sat-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri 10am-11pm. Seef Mall (1716 2120).
BSPCA thrift shop To buy: Second hand goods Why not do a good deed as you spend your money and donate to the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Their dedicated thrift shop, located off Budaiya Highway, is full of used and second-hand goods, mostly priced under BD5, including clothing, accessories, books and toys. As they say, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’! Open Mon-Thu 9am-2pm; Fri 9am-5pm; Sat and Sun 2pm-5pm. Shakhoora (1759 3479).
Ramez To buy: Discount items Multi-purpose Ramez discount store in Bahrain is strategically placed across the island in Isa Town, Manama and Riffa, and they’re a brilliant place to stop off and have a quick look round because you’ll find all sorts you need. From household and kitchen goods to stationery, cleaning products to food, Ramez offers good quality items for a bargain price. It’s also a great place to stock up for any celebrations you’re hosting, and often you can find some good items for a bit of fancy dress. You could also try Ansar Gallery in Tubli. Open daily 8am-midnight. Manama (1724 3331).
Free things to do
Too many people can be overheard complaining that there isn’t enough to do in Bahrain, especially on the cheap. Well we’re here to tell you that that’s just not true. These places to go and things to do are great fun, educational and won’t cost you even one fil.
See some camels Along Janabiya Highway you’ll find the privately-owned Royal Camel Farm where you can freely go and visit the hundreds of camels, with their young, which reside there. The farm was originally set up to celebrate the dromedary’s integral role in Bahrain’s rich, natural history and now welcomes the public daily to witness their splendor. It’s a great place to take visitors from overseas.
Meander through galleries In many cities across the world you have to pay a fee to enter art exhibitions. Not in Bahrain. Here, you have access to some wonderful and quaint galleries all over the island, offering a glimpse of local, regional and international talent. Al Riwaq Art Space in Adliya (1771 7441) would be our first port of call, a small yet thriving gallery, café, gift shop and studio that regularly host exhibitions by the nation’s emerging talents. In the same area, Albareh Art Gallery (1771 7707), another small but intriguing space, regularly hosts rotating exhibitions by the world’s artists and is home to a lovely outdoor garden café. Then head over to Muharraq where you’ll find the Bin Matar House (1732 2549), part of the Shaikh Ebrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture and Research, which is home to a permanent collection of contemporary Bahraini art. Nestled in Hoora, you’ll find La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art (1723 0123), an idyllic renovated Bahraini home that boasts regular exhibitions by international and regional artists, as well as live music performances and regular film screenings.
Explore Bahrain’s history This tiny island nation has an impressive history with evidence of settlement going back 12,000 years, and it is commonly known as the seat of an ancient civilisation. Delve deep into this history by exploring remnants of times gone by at the country’s ancient fortresses. The Bahrain Fort, or Qal’at Al Bahrain in Karbabad (1756 4654), is the best place to start as it’s Bahrain’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts a site museum with five exhibitions halls, seaside café and around 500 artefacts on show. Located on top of a 17.5 hectare artificial hill that’s been in the making for more than 4,000 years of continous occupation, the fort is said to be the site of the former capital of Dilmun and there have been many culturally significant findings made here. There is also Riffa Fort (1777 9394), which was built by Sheikh Salman bin Ahmed in 1812, and is the only island fort that was wholly built by Bahrainis using local materials. Elsewhere, the beautiful Arad Fort (1767 2278) stands, overlooking the sea, built in typical Islamic style during the 15th century. Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of this one but it is stunning when lit up at twilight.
Catch live tunes At any time of year, you will find live bands and DJs performing in the country’s clubs and pubs, and you can head over to have a listen and dance for free (often with a complimentary beverage in hand too!). In Downtown, at the InterContinental Regency (1722 7777), for example, the new resident band Overnite plays cool and popular tunes every evening, and even invites customers to jam with them on Sundays. Get on stage to play an instrument or sing your heart out and receive a complimentary drink for your efforts! We also recommend heading out to hear The Black Notes at Fiddler’s Green in the Diplomat Radisson Blu (1753 1633) as they have an enjoyable, fresh and bluesy sound. You’ll also find bands performing any night of the week in places such as Club Buffalo in Ramee California Juffair (3555 9391), Dublin Club in Ramee International (1781 1688), Harvester Bar & Terrace in Crowne Plaza (1752 1122) and Flamingo Bar & Lounge at the Movenpick Hotel Bahrain (1746 0000).
Alternatively, for less cover tunes and more originality, head to 338 Garden Restaurant (1771 0338) in Adliya where they host local bands and musicians on a regular basis. Also keep an ear out for news of free world-class performances at the Bahrain National Theatre (www.moc.gov.bh), as well as other local gigs at creative markets such as the Ministry of Culture’s Bab Market in the Manama Souq.
Volunteer your time There are some seriously great non-profit organisations and institutions within Bahrain that are making huge differences at home and overseas, and you can join in by donating your time and assistance (and money of course but that defeats the purpose of this article!). One example is the previously mentioned BSPCA (search BSPCA-Bahrain on Facebook), or Tony the Dogfather (www.thedogfatherbahrain.com), which both work tirelessly to care for the country’s forgotten cats and dogs. Then there’s Think Pink Bahrain (www.thinkpinkbahrain.com), an association founded by Julie Sprakel which campaigns for and promotes breast cancer awareness year-round. There’s also the Dreams Society (search Dreams Society on Facebook), a fabulous organisation that makes dreams a reality for severely sick children in Bahrain. Taking care of people in need around Bahrain, check out the Migrant Workers Protection Society (www.mwpsbahrain.com) which works hard to help low-income expatriates get their basic human rights. Giving costs nothing and it seriously makes a difference in this world.
The great outdoors One of the best things in life we can do is go outside and get a bit of fresh air, and as they say, the best things in life are free. In Bahrain, there are parks all over the place, offering nature lovers and fitness fanatics the perfect opportunity to take a leisurely (or brisk) stroll in the great outdoors. One of our favourites is the Prince Khalifa bin Salman Park, which sits at the side of Hidd Bridge, and boasts a 300-metre walkway, a small paddle boating lake, cycle track, and great entertainment for the kids. There are also some food kiosks in case you need a bite after all that exercise. Then over in Muharraq, near the Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain, sits the Arad Bay Protected Area and Park (Bahrain’s only marine ecosystem conservation area recreation park) which has a whopping three kilometre-long circular walkway and it attracts eager walkers, cyclists and skaters.
Party on the cheap
Deals for all Repartee Every day, get 30 percent off selected beverages from 5pm to 8pm. Royal Golf Club, (1775 0777).
Polo Gastropub A range of drinks are just BD2 net from 4pm to 8pm every day. Palace Boutique, (1772 5000).
Red Lions Enjoy half price drinks daily from 4pm to 8pm. Ramee Grand Hotel, (1711 1999).
Karma Lounge Get 30 percent off on beverages every day from 5pm to 7pm. Coral Bay, (1731 2700).
Ruka From Sun to Thu, 4pm to 7pm, get a free drink when you order one tempura dish. Ramee Grand Hotel (1711 1999).
Txoko Get two drinks for the price of one from 5.30pm to 7.30pm on Mondays. On Saturdays, you can enjoy half price beverages from 6pm to 9pm. Domain Bahrain, (1600 0000).
An Nada Lounge Try two 50ml beverages for BD2.5 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6pm to 7pm. Sheraton, (1753 3533).
Camelot There’s a weekly grape and cheese tasting on Tuesdays from 7pm to 10pm for BD10. Adliya (1771 7745).
Ladies nights JJ’s Irish Restaurant Ladies pay just BD4 from 9pm on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for unlimited beverages. Adliya (3932 9083).
An Nada Lounge Gals enjoy complimentary beverages on Mondays from 8pm to 1am. Then, on Thursdays, ladies get three free drinks from 8pm to 1am. Sheraton, (1753 3533).
Thai Lounge On Tuesdays, girls get complimentary drinks (shaken not stirred) from 6pm to 11pm. The Ritz-Carlton, (1758 0000).
Mai Tai Lounge On Wahine Tuesdays, from 6pm to 10pm, ladies get free entry, beverages and tid bits. The Ritz-Carlton, (1758 6555).
Ibrida Get free selected beverages on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9pm to 1am, then on Thursdays from 7pm to midnight. Ramee Grand, (1711 1999).
Txoko Ladies take four girlfriends and get a free bottle of bubbly on Wednesdays 9pm to 11pm. Domain Bahrain, (1600 0000).
Downtown Three beverages are available for the ladies on Wednesdays from 9pm to midnight. InterContinental Regency, (1722 7777).
Camelot Wednesdays at Camelot means three free mixed beverages for the gals. Adliya (1771 7745).
Imari Head over on a Saturday ladies and get some free bubbly from 8pm to 11pm. Domain Bahrain, (1600 0000).