Fantastic footpaths and superb strolls to try in Bahrain
Time Out Bahrain Staff
Remember how shocked you were when you arrived in Bahrain and discovered it was considered normal to hop in a car simply to cross a road? It may be Al Fateh Highway and a six-lane motorway, but still… And do you remember how quickly you got used to driving everywhere, not even considering whether it was possible to walk from A to B? Well, it’s only February and still a balmy 27°C, and we’re here to help you unlearn those petrol-fuelled bad habits with eight fantastic city walks to strut through and explore.
Yet physical and mental health and curiosity are not the only reasons you should get your walking shoes on – do it for the good of your country, too. Recent studies have shown that time wasted in traffic jams costs countries millions of dollars each year. In the Gulf traffic growth rate is nearing 14 per cent each year, compared with 2 to 3 per cent in European cities. To counter these scary stats, governments across the GCC (including Bahrain’s) are planning more cycling and walking-only zones and initiatives ‘to further improve environmental standards’, as well as climate-controlled walkways (‘pedways’ if you will – although we’re not sure how environmentally friendly they will be).
Leading the way, Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority is aiming to increase the number of walking trips taken by the city’s residents by 20 per cent by 2013. To help Bahrain achieve similar lofty goals, the Time Out team has sought out the very best scenic walks in the country. Want to keep fit and keep this nation green? Then get out and pound the pavements tonight!
Jesseyah Beach Approximate time: One hour, more if you do over two lengths of the beach Good for: Relaxation, solitude, sunbathing and picnics Best for: Sea views. It is rare to be able to get so close to the sea in Bahrain – walking along this beach is therapy for the stressed-out city dweller.
Thanks to a recent clean-up campaign, Jesseyah Beach, one of Bahrain’s best public beaches, is looking more and more like the stunning stretch of white sand and blue sea that you’d expect from this region. And while the weather is cool, this is one of Bahrain’s top walks. Start at the military compound at the southern end of the beach. Ignore the hideous barbed wire fence that stretches out into the sea and start walking north. You have two options here: the footpath, about 10 metres from the shore, or walking along the shore itself. The former is easier, but the latter allows you to pad barefoot in the water from time to time. Those with fair skin or feeling the heat can shelter under the numerous metal sunshades dotted along the way. About 1.8km down you’ll come to a toilet block and a cafe. Depending on your stamina, this is your halfway point and is a great place to stop for a rejuvenating cup of tea. Once you are ready, turn 180 degrees and head back to the military compound and your car. An altogether relaxing and meditative experience. Strongly recommended.
Bahrain Fort Approximate time: Anything between 15 minutes and an hour Good for: History lovers Best for: Those looking for one of the best places to see Bahrain’s stunning sunsets
Bahrain Fort might well be the kingdom’s sole UNESCO World Heritage Site, but there’s rarely more than a handful of tourists roaming over it, meaning that it can be quite a peaceful excursion. Sure, it’s by no means a great hike (and therefore perfect for those with slight mobility issues), but for a place to head in the early evening before it gets dark, there is none better. Start at the car park of Bahrain Fort Museum and head over the hills to the ruins – aiming to be there when the sun sets. The slight incline offers views over the city skyline of Manama, and it can be a stunning spectacle to watch the towers light up as darkness falls. Wander around the ruins and, if you have energy to spare, do a circuit of the footpath that skirts around the unexcavated grounds of this heritage site. The fort is lit up at night, so you won’t find yourself stumbling in the dark. As a reward, head to La Palm Cafe in Bahrain Fort Museum for a fortifying Le Chocolat cake.
Andalus Gardens Approximate time: Anything between 45 minutes and an hour and a half Good for: Those looking to get fit Best for: Those wanting to find a patch of greenery in which to exercise near the city
Driving past Andalus Gardens, you’d never think that behind the new brickwork and occasional tree sits one of the only landscaped public gardens in Bahrain. Relatively new, and with plenty of recreational space, Andalus Gardens occupies a piece of prime real estate just north of Adliya. With fantastic parking and more picnic spots than you can shake a stick at, this place is a real find. A new pathway in reasonably good nick runs around the outside of the park. Walkers will probably be lapped by runners but, with plenty of grass to step out onto, it rarely feels crowded. For a light walk, two circuits will suffice. Those looking to shed those festive pounds might like to attempt 10.
Water Garden Approximate time: Anything between 45 minutes and an hour and a half Good for: Bird lovers Best for: Discovering one of Bahrain’s best kept secrets
Bahrain is like a great work of art – every time you look you find something new. On our most recent expedition we stumbled across the Water Garden, one of the most bizarre and enchanting areas of Bahrain we have ever come across, and a walkers paradise. A Soviet-style fairground and two large ponds teeming with birds make up the water garden itself, while a lush and slightly overgrown recreation area spreads out to the north. Located next to Salmaniya traffic signal, the place is eerily deserted during the week. Start at the front gates and head wherever you choose in the tangle of footpaths.
Al Areen Wildlife Park Approximate time: Between one and three hours, depending on how interested in animals you are Good for: Animal lovers Best for: Those looking to get out of Bahrain and enter another world
Al Areen is one of Bahrain’s premier tourist attractions, and yet is habitually deserted on most week days. Being one of the better zoos in the region, it’s somewhere you can head knowing that the bargain-priced entrance ticket of BD1 is not going to supporting anything approaching cruelty. Most people who come to the park take its bus, which carries passengers from enclosure to enclosure. A far nicer, and healthier, way to see the animals is to walk around it. With a circuit of approximately 1km, several laps will be needed for those looking to shed the pounds. There is plenty of shade for those hoping to stay out of the full glare of the sun.
Muharraq Heritage trail Approximate time: Anything between 30 minutes and an hour and a half Good for: Those looking to get lost Best for: Seeing Bahrain as it once was – which was rather beautiful
Muharraq heritage trail is the place to head to get a feel of what Bahrain was like pre-oil. A labyrinth of alleys and courtyards leads you among a number of Bahrain’s most important heritage buildings, the sum of which looks likely to become a World Heritage Site in the near future. Start at the car park for Al Saidi House (it is well signposted, but if you take a right at Bin Matar House in Muharraq, you can’t go wrong) and enter the alleys through the wooden door in the wall of the car park. You won’t need a map for this one, and getting slightly lost is part of the fun, especially with an army of curious local kids as guides. Nipping into some of the heritage houses is de rigueur, and it is here that you’ll find a plethora of information about the history and cultural legacy of Bahrain from the 19th century. We strongly recommend popping into Time Out’s favourite tea shop, House of Coffee, which is located on the heritage trail. The afternoon tea is gluttonously huge, but a well deserved reward for the hour-long amble.
Souk Walk Approximate time: Anything between one and three hours Good for: Those looking to browse Best for: Chance encounters with locals, which reaffirms that Bahrainis are the most hospitable and friendly in the Gulf
Sure, the souk is full of traders, but few people that head here actually buy anything. The aim of a souk walk is to soak up some of Bahrain’s rich culture and heritage and, despite the fact that only part of it is pedestrainised (plans are afoot to pedestrianise the lot, but it is going to take several years before that happens), the congestion adds to the fun. Start at the iconic Bab Al Bahrain and head into the main street of the souk. Although the souk can feel rather bewildering once you are in there, the basic layout is a rectangular grid and, so long as you keep turning left after several blocks, you are bound to find your way back to the Bab. Crowded with both people and cars, this is no place for a power walk, but ambling along gives you a chance to check out some of the shops and stalls, and it is a great hunting ground for unique souvenirs from the country. There are also several stunning mosques located within the souk, all of them great examples of Bahrain’s religious architecture. Having a pomegranate juice from one of the juice stalls and topping it off with a curry from the numerous vegetarian Indian restaurants that crowd the souk area makes for a fantastic half day out.
Muharraq Corniche Approximate time: Anything between 15 minutes and an hour Good for: Seeing the sun set over Bahrain’s skyline Best for: Getting out near the water without heading too far from town
Forget Al Fateh Corniche, which is trapped between a car park and beach clubs, and from which you almost never see the sea. A far better option is Muharraq Corniche (officially called Al Ghous Corniche), which is adjacent to the Sheikh Hamad Causeway Bridge. Hugely popular among couples and families at sunset, this seafront vantage spot provides the best views of Bahrain’s increasingly Manhattan-like skyline. With a curious turquoise paint-job on the railings and utility buildings, the look of the place seems to have been inspired by some of England’s Victorian seaside resorts. But for all that, the fact that the paths lead walkers along an unbroken stretch of pure Bahrain sea front makes this one of the best and most relaxing walks in the kingdom. Those wanting a further trek can head north past the fishing boats and continue along the rutted paths that run alongside the shore. This is where Bahrain’s age-old fishing industry still lingers.