1 Watch a Bollywood film at Awal cinema: OK, so Bollywood is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bahrain, but it should be. Bahrain shows more Indian movies per population that practically anywhere outside of India, and if you are not well versed in the tribulations and heartache of the genre’s stock characters by the time you pop your clogs, then you haven’t lived. Awal cinema (17 274 121), the dingy but endearing cinema is the heart of the action. Nip into Taka Tak (17 254 848) for a pre-screening curry buffet, grab some gulab jamun from Sangeetha (17 272 768) after the show and buy the soundtrack to the film you just watched at the hundreds of Bollywood-centric music shops that fan out from the cinema.
2 Eat in the Capital Club and marvel at the views: The Capital Club (17 100 100) has got quite a reputation for food, even more so for views. Problem is, unless you are willing to fork out a fortune to join (or have a friend who is), then this members-only affair located on the top two floors of the East Tower of Bahrain Financial Harbour is strictly off limits. Sure, it is not a place you want to book for your hen party, and the other guests can be occasionally dour, generally pretentious and somewhat unwilling to engage in any kind of conversation, but the combination of great food cooked by top chefs, and truly stunning views are hard to beat.
3 Party the night away at Lunarfest on Al Dar Islands: Bahrain frequently tries to imitate the Mediterranean. Lunarfest, the full moon party on Al Dar Islands (17 704 600) is the only time that it comes close. Happening once every quarter (check www.aldarislands.com for details about the next one), these wild beach parties in the middle of the Arabian Gulf have helped to establish Bahrain’s party scene as one of the best in the Middle East. For the ultimate island experience, get a boat to Al Dar Islands early and spend the day on the beach before watching the sun set and the island come alive as it gets dark. Camp on the island for the ultimate in all night parties.
4 Scour the souk for spices: Arabian souks form a network of social and cultural hubs that span the Arab world, and while Bahrain’s can’t compete with the likes of Damascus or Marrakech, the souk still forms the historic soul of Manama. While a walk through the souk is de rigueur for visitors, if you live here then it is obligatory to actually buy something. So avoid the cheap Chinese plastic objects and head straight for spice street where herbs, spices, perfume and tobacco are all being peddled in an atmosphere that probably hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.
5 Go pearl diving: Bahrain might be a financial centre now, but just over a century ago much of the local economy was dependent upon pearl diving, a hugely challenging and dangerous operation that killed hundreds of people annually. Fortunately, the new millennium has bought new technology and you no longer have to hold your breath in order to collect a load of oysters from the seabed. Check out Scuba Master (17 292 154) for PADI-accredited scuba courses and organised peal diving excursions.
6 Hit the Bahrain heritage trail: Garden of Eden or not, Bahrain has been a focal point of the Middle East for millennia and there is no point living in Bahrain if you are not going to, at least once, visit some of the kingdom’s cultural treasures. Start off at the fantastic Bahrain National Museum, which houses a reasonable collection of Dilmun-era artefacts collected from the numerous archaeological digs in the country. Then head to Muharraq’s pearl heritage, which includes a number of former royal residences and merchant’s houses that are likely to be collectively listed as a World Heritage Site in the near future. In the afternoon, trot along to Al Khamis Mosque, one of the oldest in the region, before ending the day at Bahrain Fort, with a fortifying tea in Palm Cafe (17 322 549) at the Bahrain Fort Museum. Your weekend sorted...
7 Watch the Bahrain Grand Prix: We don’t like to state the obvious, but we’ve met an alarming number of people who have lived in Bahrain for decades and yet who refuse to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix (17 540 000). Even if you don’t like cars, don’t like crowds, don’t like noise, and don’t like the fact that neither of the British drivers came out on top last year (neither do we), if you live in Bahrain and haven’t been to the Grand Prix then you haven’t really lived here. Remember: you can only regret the things you didn’t do, so book your tickets now...
8 Road trip to the south of the island: It’s amazing the number of people who knock around between Muharraq and Saar, stopping off in Seef, partying in Juffair, eating in Adliya and yet never heading south to see the other 80 per cent of the island. Sure, it isn’t much to look at, and the oil infrastructure has done its best to destroy what’s there, but only on a road trip to Durrat do you really get the sense that Bahrain is much bigger than you had imagined.
9 Get a curry in a hurry in Manama: This might be Arabia, but the national food of Bahrain is a toss-up between the shwarma and the Indian curry. Manama is home to some of the country’s best and cheapest Indian restauarnts, with curry houses lining the souk, each specialising in a different segment of the subcontinent’s plethora of cuisine variations. Make sure you don’t miss out on the Indian sweet shops for dessert!
10 Take a look at the local art scene: On the surface, Bahrain doesn’t appear to be a country with a great love of art (take a look at the architecture here for a start!). Scratch beneath, and you’ll soon find local art pouring out of numerous small galleries, corporate spaces and government institutions, with several local artists making waves in the international art scene. For the best in local art, check out our three favourite galleries: Al Riwaq Art Space (17 717 441), Albareh Art Gallery (17 717 707), and Bin Matar House (17 322 549).
11 Open track day at the BIC: Most people come to Bahrain with the intention of living long and healthy lives, driving well under the speed limit and never undertaking on a motorway. By the time they leave, they are regularly hitting 200kmph and spending most of their time beeping and flashing the moment they see a car ahead. And while this mob mentality on Bahrain’s roads is responsible for the horrific number of road deaths in the country each year, it is all rather handy for the Bahrain International Circuit’s Open Track Days, which allow speed freaks to race around the Formula One track at shocking speeds without endangering others. To book, call 17 450 000
12 Run the Bahrain Marathon: Running a marathon is likely to be one of the most gruelling experiences of anyone’s life (with the possible exception of having to wait six hours for a delayed flight in Bahrain Airport), but to anyone who has ever run one, is apparently also one of the most rewarding. And while anyone can run the London, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tokyo marathons, not that many people can claim to have sped 42.195km in possibly the hottest region on earth. The next Bahrain full marathon is on February 4 2011, giving you (depending on when you are reading this) 35 days left to train. For more information, and to reserve your place visit www.bahrainroadrunner.com
13 Visit Al Fateh Grand Mosque: Whether you are a Muslim or not, Al Fateh Grand Mosque (17 727 773) is much more than a place of worship – it is the spiritual heart of the country. One of the biggest mosques in the region, and one of the most impressive, the best time to visit is during an Open Day when one of the guides can guide you through the building and the religion.
14 Have tea at the Saudi Causeway Restaurant Tower: Bahrain’s only land border is with the behemoth of Saudi Arabia across a series of connecting bridges that cost US$1 billion and span the 25km stretch of water. But, for many people, Saudi Arabia is not the attraction – it is the restaurant tower at the midpoint they go for, to take in the dramatic sea views. Fortunately, you don’t need a Saudi visa to get to the restaurant.
15 Buy locally made crafts at Capital Mall and Al Jasra Handicraft Centre: Bahrain’s contemporary art scene is thriving, but if you need proof that the local artistic temperament is nothing new, then you’ll need to head to the Al Jasra Handricraft Centre (17 611 900), where local artisans making everything from baskets to traditional musical instruments in trades that have been practised in the country for thousands of years. For a great selection of products, nip across to Capital Mall (17 582 169) in Seef, which houses numerous high quality handicraft shops.
16 Catch international performers at the Spring of Culture: Organised to coincide with the Bahrain Grand Prix (events in Bahrain are like busses), the Spring of Culture (www.springofculture.org) is the most vibrant cultural festival in the Gulf region, bringing together performers, artists, and writers from across the world for a month-long celebration of all things cultural. Traditionally, the schedule is so jam-packed that you literally have to take the month off work to fit it all in.
17 Become an old romantic at La Fontaine: Those who have never been to La Fontaine don’t really know Bahrain. This spa-cum-restaurant-cum-art gallery-cum-performance space is one of the culinary and cultural highlights of the country and is obligatory in trying to understand the former beauty of many of the more run-down regions of Manama. Located in rather grotty Hoora, La Fontaine (17 230 123) is an old mansion house that opens out into a spectacular quad, the focal point of which is a majestic fountain. Making an evening reservation at the restaurant for Valentine’s Day is a sure way to win your partner’s heart.
18 Visit a local coffee shop for caffeine and shisha: Sure, smoking shisha is not the healthiest way to enjoy Bahrain, but if you are looking to meet the locals then there is no better way. One of our favourites is Laialy Zaman (17 293 097), which is located on the water on the Al Fateh Corniche and is one of the most relaxing spots in the country.
19 Watch the sun set over Bahrain Fort: Bahrain’s sole UNESCO World Heritage Site is pretty spectacular during the day, but it is at night, when the sun is setting and the ruins are floodlit, that you really get a feel for the enormity of the place. Sunset is also one of the best times to capture the colours of the building on camera.
20 Haggle for fruit at Jidhafs Market: Not much grows in Bahrain, but in terms of importing fresh fruit and vegetables, this place is unrivalled. Jidhafs Market on the outskirts of Manama is one of the country’s best wet markets and sells fresh produce from around the globe, with the stallholders some of the most friendly in the region. The best time to head there is early in the morning, when everything is still completely fresh.
21 Scour the Isa Town flea market for bargains: Vintage shopping has yet to really catch on in Bahrain, but there is one place that is a veritable treasure trove of odds and ends that anyone deficient in car boot sales will revel in: Souk Almaqasees or Isa Town Flea Market. Operating every morning on the weekend, this is the place to find that old recording and out of print paperback that you have been looking for all these years.
22 See Bahrain from the sea: Bahrain is not the most photogenic of places, until, that is, you get out on the water. From the sea the towers of the financial harbour, the blocks of Juffair and even the industrial plants south of Hidd take on a surprising grandeur. And after you have admired the skyline, head further out to some of the outlying islands to find your own patch of private beach. Definitely the most relaxing way to spend your weekend. Book private boats or organised cruises from the Marina Club (17 291 527)
23 Watch an endurance race: Arabian horses have long been admired as being one of the most beautiful and capable breeds on earth, and you chance to see them tested are at the endurance races, which tend to be scheduled between November and April. Check out www.bahrainendurance.com for more information. For more formal races, head to the Sakhir Racetrack (17 440 330) in the south of the island, which holds regular race meets throughout the winter. Serious equestrians should head to Al A’ali Stud Farm (39 915 991) which is home to a number of GCC champions and is a horse-lover’s heaven.
24 Unwind at the beach: Easy to say, but where? Bahrain’s risible lack of beaches doesn’t make life easy for tanning enthusiasts, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you don’t want to pay, then Al Jessayah is the best option. Located on the west coast of the country, this Soviet-inspired stretch of sand isn’t bad so long as you have a good book. Failing that, Coral Beach Club (17 312 700), the Marina Club (17 291 527) and the Novotel Al Dana (17 298 008) all have great beaches that are relatively accessible.
25 Go camping in the desert: This Arabic tradition might seem like an exercise in enduring privation, but wait till you see the tents: plasma TVs, dune buggies and (most importantly) proper toilets. The camping season runs between October 15 and March 31 and is located in the Sakhir Desert. Bonfires and star gazing are mandatory.
26 See Bahrain on horseback: Although the vast majority of residents in Bahrain never set foot outside their office, apartment and car, one of the best ways to see the country is to amble around it on horseback. Little known bridal paths and secret patches of greenery reveal a country far more diverse than that seen from the road. Shakoora Riding Centre (17 591 103) offers riding lessons, as well as guided tours on horseback.
27 Make a splash at Wahooo!: It might seem strange to locate the country’s best water park on the top of its best shopping mall, but if the smell of chlorine was a pain for the shoppers in Bahrain City Centre, it certainly isn’t for those enjoying the flumes of Wahooo! (17 173 000) on the roof. When the weather gets hot (which, let’s face it, is 11 and a half months of the year) there are few better cooling off options. Especially great if you are under the age of 15.
28 Hit a hole-in-one at the Royal Golf Club: This January sees Bahrain’s Royal Golf Club (17 750 777) joining the list of venues for the European Tour, giving you some idea of the international standing of this Colin Montgomery-designed course. Set in acres of lush fairways, the royal Golf Club is one of the premier sporting facilities in Bahrain, and is particularly stunning first thing in the morning. After playing, head to the 19th hole, their rather good restaurant, Links, which has great views over the course.
29 Visit Hawar Island: Thrust up against the coastline of Qatar (who claim also claim sovereignty over the islands) Hawar Islands are a protected wildlife reserve and home to numerous species of birds. With just one hotel (Tulip Inn Hawar Islands – 17 849 111) with a handful of restaurants, play your cards right and you can have the entire island to yourself. The place to really get away from it all.
30 See the Tree of Life: In many quarters of Bahrain, the Tree of Life has become something of a joke, a scrubby bush in the middle of the desert, surrounded by litter and with some joker drag racing in the distance. But for all that, we rather like it. Taken as an allegory for the survival of one of the world’s smallest states against the land hungry neighbours of Saudi and Iran, the Tree of Life is a symbol of Bahrain’s resilience and longevity, one which we think should be applauded