Expats and Bahrainis alike share a love of the island kingdom. Time Out picks 50 reasons to love Bahrain
Melissa van Maasdyk
1 Island hopping One of the best ways to get close to the wet stuff is to hire a boat. Do it in style on the Ritz- Carlton’s private charter, offering sunset and dolphin-watching cruises (BD100 for two, 17 580 000), or choose one of the many options at the more budget- friendly Bahrain Yacht Club. (Sitra, 17 700 677).
2 Sun and sand For an island, Bahrain is distinctly lacking in beaches, but Coral Beach is here to save the day with its small but perfectly formed patch of sand, sun beds, and jet skis for hire. It’s also our top spot for island-style partying after dark. Al Fateh Highway (17 312 700).
3 Supping with sea views When the cupboard’s bare and pay day’s just too far away, we head to Layali Turkiye for cheap Turkish with priceless sea views. Open 24 hours, Al Fateh Corniche (17 29 5270). Cheque in? It’s off for a celebratory drink at Latin Quarter, overlooking the bay between Manama and Muharraq. Pars International Hotel, Juffair (17 814 777).
4 Pearl-diving There aren’t many places in the world where you can go diving and come up with the makings of a piece of jewellery. But Eco-Dive Centre (39 333 123) and ScubaMaster (39 692 266) will take you on a dive with a difference.
5 The water In a country made up of 33 small islands, one is never far from the sea. When the weather is a little cooler – like right now – we love taking in the salty breezes while walking along the King Faisal Corniche or across Muharraq Bridge.
6 The Hawar islands Slap-bang in the middle of the migratory path of birds, Bahrain attracts more species than almost anywhere else in the world. Spot ospreys, flamingoes, sooty falcons and other rare birds on the Hawar Islands, reached by ferry from Ad-Dur Jetty. From BD12 per person for a day trip; serious birdwatchers can stay overnight at Hawar Resort Hotel (17 290 377).
7 Full-moon parties on Al Dar island Only those of the party-hard disposition need apply for Al Dar Island’s all-night bash. A short boat trip from Sitra’s fishermen’s harbour, you can expect DJs and live acts to see you from daylight to moonlight. Call Moe on 39 991 377 or visit www.aldarislands.com.
8 Café culture We enjoy Adliya’s Café Lilou (17 714 440) for its baroque French-café ambience and excellent salads, Coco’s (17 716 512) for its you-could-be-in-your-own-backyard chill factor, and hippy, homemade La Ventanna (17 716 771), where budding artists display their works.
9 Juice Bars The ice-cream-topped Lebanese fruit cocktail at Mesh Mesh on Exhibition Road is an indulgent treat (17 531 800), while ubiquitous fresh lemon and mint juice is the ultimate refresher, particularly the frozen version at Seef’s Waterlemon (17 581 785).
10 Lebanese mezze From smoky mutabbal to crunchy kibbeh, we just can’t get enough of these tasty treats. We rate the zingy tabbouleh at Le Chocolat in Seef (17 582 259), and the wide selection at Al Arisha in Umm Al Hasan, enhanced by the live traditional music (17 725 414).
11 Shisha Female fans of these water pipes flock to bohemian Casa Blu on Mondays, when Ladies’ Night means the shisha’s theirs for free (Adliya, 17 710 424). For take-home shisha, it’s off to Al Fakher, which sells everything from the pipe to the coal and tobacco. Sheikh Isa Ave, Adliya (39 693 839).
12 Indian influences A number of restaurants cater to the large population of expats from the Subcontinent; vegetarians can’t do much better than the thali at Central Café: a variety of spicy vegetable-based dishes served on a round metal tray. Manama, near the Sacred Heart church (17 263 271).
13 Shawarma Those hungry for this Middle Eastern staple know to head to ‘Shawarma Alley’ (between Century Restaurant and Alfa Motors in Adliya), so-called because of the concentration of outlets where you can have meat or chicken carved from an ever-turning spit, then rolled up with a mix of fillings in warm flat bread.
14 Eating to a beat We like the side order of romantic song with the Italian fare at Roma on Fridays (17 725 885), the sultry Latino band at Trader Vic’s nightly (17 580 000) and the ever-changing array of international talents at Upstairs Downstairs (17 713 093).
15 Friday brunch For this definitive weekend indulgence, we recommend the Mövenpick, where bubbly flows as you dine on a sumptuous buffet spread that has everything from oysters to chocolate fountains. We’re not its only fans, so book well in advance. Fridays, from 12.30pm-4pm, Muharraq (17 460 000).
16 Lounging For smooth grooves and fresh sushi, you can’t beat Cocoon (17 827 600). Supercool lighting effects make Aqua Fuego (36 110 200) vibey and modish, while the decadent Mai Tai Lounge (Trader Vic’s, 17 586 555) is all sea-breeze chic.
17 Khubaz When fresh from the wood-burning oven at one of the small bakeries around town, this delicious Arabic bread needs no accompaniment. Ask for khubaz wa jibn (bread baked with cream cheese).
18 DJ nights Kudos to those at SevenLeisure for pioneering the international DJ scene in Bahrain, which means that dance lovers have been able to enjoy glowstick-twirling action to worldclass beats.
19 Adliya’s buzzy restaurant scene On weekends, we love dining out in one of Adliya’s many villa restaurants, where options go from cheap and cheerful Beijing Chinese (17 717 969) to sophisticated Japanese-flavoured Mirai (17 713 113) and whimsical Mezzaluna (17 742 999).
Relaxing & unwinding
21 The Banyan Tree A meal or spot of pampering at this five-star desert oasis dissolves city stresses instantly. The most affordable and enjoyable ticket to the spa is the hydrothermal garden – like a car wash for humans, where your body is rinsed, buffed and polished as you make your way through showers, saunas and mud rooms. From BD35 for the hydrothermal garden. Al Areen (17 845 000).
22 Moroccan baths We love these steamy sanctuaries, where you’re scrubbed and polished until you’re all squeaky clean. Budget favourites include La Femme in Saar (from BD7, 17 79 3113) and Adliya’s Pineapple Spa (BD10, 17 712 000).
23 Camping in the desert Velveteen, star-studded skies, a roaring campfire, the rumble of a shisha pipe… sleeping under canvas during the cooler months is a must. Drive out to Sakhir, 30 minutes from Manama, and ask around for available campsites, or enjoy a night’s camping with everything laid on care of Sunshine Tours. Call Abdullah on 39 817 997.
24 Horse riding The sport of kings is more accessible to lowlier subjects here than it is in many other places in the world – and there are wide open spaces to do it in. Shakoora Riding Centre in Budaiya is one of the best stables, offering lessons, rides and stabling. BD10 for a half-hour lesson (17 591 103).
25 Affordable manis and pedis With the large number of salons around, there really is no need to cut, trim and polish your own nails. The paraffin-wax pedi at NStyle Nail Lounge is the ultimate treat for weary feet. BD12 for paraffin-wax pedicure. Al Aali Mall (17 581 974).
26 Bahrain Meditation Centre In a frenetic world of back-to-back appointments, it’s nice to find a place where you can drop in unannounced for a meditation session. From 7pm to 7.30pm daily, the centre is free, but donations are welcome. Adliya, opposite Olivetto (17 712 545).
27 Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park A lazy river, wave pool, sandy beach and slides a-plenty make this sprawling Dilmun-themed water park a haven for children. At night, during late-opening hours, it becomes the ultimate pool party for older ‘kids’. Children BD5, adults BD13 (17 845 100). Visit www.lpodwaterpark.com.
28 Belly dancing You can watch this intoxicating dance over Lebanese mezze and kebabs at the Gulf Hotel’s Zahle (17 713 000), or learn to do it with Iman at Profile Fitness Centre in Adliya – great for improving flexibility and toning legs, waist, hips, thighs and bums. Call Iman on 39 407 053.
29 Golf In this desert land, the acres of green that constitute the 18-hole, par 72 Royal Bahrain Golf Course have a certain appeal. The fact that golfing legend Colin Montgomerie designed it is the cincher for hardcore golfers. Riffa (17 699 725). Visit www.theroyalgolfclub.com.
30 Bahrain Grand Prix The excitement mounts, and F1 week explodes with hundreds of events that happen around the three-day race. Even if the cars don’t do it for you, there’s sure to be a chilled-out dance party or live gig that will. Check back next month for the best coverage of the big week. April 24-26. Visit www.bahraingp.com.bh.
Art & culture
31 The Culture Vultures ‘Enrich, educate and entertain’ is the motto of this non-profit group that brings in performers from afar and promotes local art. Among its notable projects are those to enrich the cultural lives of children with classical music and calligraphy workshops. Contact culturevultures firstname.lastname@example.org.
32 La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art Combining a gallery, spa and restaurant in an updated traditional mansion, this art centre is at its most magical when hosting a performance under the stars in its courtyard. Keep an eye on the website for details of upcoming events. Hoora (17 230 123). Visit www.lafontaineartcentre.com.
33 Albareh Gallery & Café Middle Eastern art is hot, hot, hot, and you can view works by a variety of leading regional artists at Albereh. Ponder all the potential purchases over a Moroccan mint tea and snack on the arty café’s terrace. Adliya (17 717 707). Visit www.albareh.com.
34 Elham arts group Want to tap into your creative soul? Connect with Bahrain’s emerging painters, poets and writers at this edgy arts group’s monthly showcases held in galleries, clubs and cafés around town. Visit www.elhambahrain.net.
35 Time-worn traditions Despite globalisation, the country has hung onto many of its old traditions, such as boat-building, pottery-making and fishing. We love watching the old wooden fishing dhows heading out to sea in the late afternoon.
36 Islamic architecture Some of the best examples of building design influenced by religion and climate in equal measure can be seen wandering the narrow lanes of old Muharraq. Start out at 19th century mansion Beit Sheikh Isa, where you can experience the cooling effects of a working wind tower. Muharraq (17 334 945).
37 Sheikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research Add this centre’s number to your speed dial now for updates on readings, performances and lectures. The airy auditorium blending traditional and modern design is art in itself. Muharraq (17 322 549).
38 National Day Every year on December 16, trees are festooned with lavish lights, and everywhere red and white flags flutter in the breeze to mark the country’s independence – a nice tie-in with the Western festive season.
39 Spring of Culture Dancers, singers, poets, actors and artists take over Bahrain’s forts and public spaces this month, transforming the whole country into a hub of culture. Find out what to see and do, and book now, as tickets run out quickly. From March 6. Visit www.springofculture.org.
40 Dilmun Regarded as the most important trading centre of ancient times, Bahrain is scattered with remnants of its illustrious past. Offering fascinating insights into its rich history are the National Museum (17 298 777) and the brilliantly designed site museum at the Bahrain Fort, recently declared a Unesco World Heritage site. Open 8am-8pm, Karbabad Village (17 564 654).
41 Bahrain Cinema Club Weekly screenings of art-house movies handpicked by movie buffs for just 500fils? What’s not to love? You’ll hardly even miss the popcorn. Screenings 8pm Wednesdays, Juffair, next to the Bahrain Contemporary Art Society. Call 17 725 959, visit www.bahraincinemaclub.tv.
42 Beit Al Quran A peaceful and enlightening place to while away a couple of hours, this centre is home to one of the world’s most celebrated collections of Qurans and Quaranic manuscripts, and open to members of all religions. Diplomatic area (17 290 101).
43 Heady oud This traditional exotic scent conjures up images of the romantic Arabia of Sheherazade’s tales. Find what’s considered to be the island’s best at its oldest perfumery, Syed Junaid Alam. At a variety of outlets including Seef Mall (17 582 581).
44 Manama Souk Leave the noise and neon of mainstream Manama behind and enter its inner sanctum of narrow, criss-crossing lanes, where spices scent the air, fabrics blow in the breeze, and everyone has time for coffee and shisha at the ‘ghawas’. Park in the Regency car park and enter through the Bab Al Bahrain.
45 Multi-tasking malls A mall isn’t just a mall here, but a hub of activity, where you can indulge in shopping, eating, film-watching and people-watching. We love getting in touch with our inner child at City Centre’s Magic Planet and can’t wait to splash out when the water park opens. Open from 10am-10pm, Seef (17 179 779).
46 Persian delights Hunt for bargains, including cheap kitchenware at the Iranian Souk (off Isa Town) or fuel your Seef Mall shopping spree at tasty modern-Persian restaurant Yas-e Isfahani, where cooks can buy recipe books by famed Iranian food writer Najmieh Batmanglij. First floor Seef Mall (17 581 151).
47 Magic carpets A delight for the eyes, Bradran Carpet Store is also an education. as you sip cups of sweet tea, the salesman at Bahrain's oldest carpet shop will happily translate the stories woven into their richly hued wares. Road 467, Manama Souk (17 228 655)
48 Fresh fish from the Central Market It’s best to visit in the morning when fishermen in thobes, fresh off their dhows, tout shrimp, blue crabs, squid and giant spotted hammour, which you can have scaled and filleted for a couple of hundred fils. Near Pearl Roundabout.
49 Precious pearls Bahrain’s freshwater springs under the sea create some of the best pearls in the world. Our favourite shop for the little beauties is Al Hashimi Pearls, which specialises in certified natural Bahrain pearls. Manama, close to the Bab Al Bahrain (17 253 377).
50 Hot dates When we can’t pick them straight from the palm tree in the heat of summer, we buy the region’s sweetest offerings from Bateel, stuffed with orange and almonds, dipped in chocolate. Yum! Al Aali Shopping Complex, Seef (17 580 845).
Bahrain through a lens
Loredana Mantello, photographer My work as a photographer takes up most of my time, but when I can grab my camera and go where the feeling takes me, I often head to the Bahrain Fort, particularly around sunset to capture the texture of the fort walls, the colour of the sea, the sky, the palms and often horses galloping along the shore. It’s very peaceful and meditative. I also love the area next to the Financial Harbour where wooden dhows dock – a real meeting of old and new. I like capturing sunset reflected in the glass buildings and the dhows in the water.
How I cheer myself up when I’m blue
Reem Al Khalifa, graphic design lecturer ‘It probably sounds odd, but one of my favourite pick-me-ups is indulging in retail therapy at Alosra Supermarket, buying magazines, movies and chocolate. I also like their large selection of organic foods, especially the free-range eggs, because buying eggs from sad chickens would make me feel even more blue. Also helpful is my reflexologist, Dell (39 663 057), who’ll come over to the house and sort out any misalignments immediately. And the playfulness of the rooms at La Fontaine spa (Hoora, 17 230 123) makes a massage that much more uplifting. The trick is to go on a Saturday to avoid getting stressed in the traffic.’
My top five date places
Carla Saliba, architect 1 La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art Having a drink or dinner in the courtyard is very romantic, with natural music provided by the giant fountain. (Hoora, 17 230 123)
2 Mai Tai Lounge The low lighting at this chilled outdoor spot means you can hardly see anything beyond your table, so you focus on the person you’re with. Pick one of the spots overlooking the pond for privacy and star-gazing. (Trader Vic’s, Seef, 17 580 000)
3 The Burlington Club A cosy atmosphere and live jazz pianist make this bar a good pre-dinner icebreaker. (The Ritz-Carlton, 17 580 000)
4 Roma restaurant/lounge Lounges are usually a little less uptight than restaurants, and you can get good snacks at this one, attached to one of Bahrain’s oldest Italian restaurants. (Umm Al Hasan, 17 725 885)
5 Walks along the Corniche Calm and relaxing.
My perfect day
Salman Bushehri, PADI IDCS instructor, Eco-Dive Centre I like to spend at least one day of the weekend diving, preferably at Bulthama, a two-hour boat ride north of Manama, where the coral reefs are largely unspoilt and the water is clear. When the water’s calm, dolphins and sea turtles often surface, and I recently spotted a whale shark. Afterwards I have a casual meal at my favourite café, tucked into a corridor between two buildings off Government Avenue, opposite Standard Chartered Bank. I don’t think anyone knows its name, but we all know the owner, so we call it Haji’s.
Why I love shopping at the souk
Mansour Boudehane, banker/clothing designer For a designer, Manama Souk is a dream. The variety and quality of fabrics on offer is hard to beat, and they’re extremely cheap compared to Europe and other places. I find wandering along the alleyways mesmerising and inspiring. I’ll often go with a drawing or an idea in mind, but then I’ll see a fabric, and its pattern or texture will inspire a whole new design. Given the large number of affordable tailors in Bahrain, it’s worth having things made, but remember you’re not dealing with Parisian couture houses, so my advice is to always buy double the amount of fabric required in case of mistakes.
...and a few things we hate
Parking up the wrong tree What is it with these planners who build soaring glass towers for thousands of workers, but nowhere for them to park?
Belt up, indicate, hoot less Those little sticks on the side of your dashboard exist for good reason, as do child seats, rear-view mirrors and hands-free sets. Use them. Oh, and please stop crying wolf with your horn.
Plastic not fantastic A plastic bag for every yoghurt pot? Double-bagging heavier items? Just say no!
Takeaway surprise We’re all for surprises, but not of the kind where our takeaway box contains only half of the things we ordered, and a few added extras we could have done without.
Wahooo! Water Park Bahrain is an incredible mix of water slides, chutes and rising rapids in the largest temperature-controlled waterpark in the region. Among the many attractions is the exciting 'Flowrider', one of the world's largest full size surfing machines, a 190 metre 'Masterblaster Rollercoaster' and a four-lane 'Matt Racer' that loops around the outer edge of the waterpark. http://www.wahooo.com.bh