With F1 season upon us we fully expect bus-loads of tourists and motorsports fanatics to enter the island and we felt obliged to give them a proper welcome. But forget about all those regular travel hot spots you can visit and read about in every Bahrain guide (the ones us residents are tired of hearing about) because, in such a culturally rich island, there’s every need to take a trip to its underbelly and walk the unbeaten track. Here we reveal 45 of Bahrain’s hidden gems and who knows, even you island dwellers might learn a thing or two (we sure did!)…
Team Time Out Bahrain
We at Time Out Bahrain headquarters reached into the depths of our city knowledge to uncover our favourite island gems…
Not even many Bahrain residents know about this Lebanese restaurant which hides in the backstreets of Umm Al Hassam. Al Arisha is spacious, with a great outdoor seating area (that’s also cooled during hotter weather), and fabulous food. Service is attentive, friendly, and you can get a very reasonably priced, decent glass of grape to enjoy with your shisha and authentic mezze.
Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Umm Al Hassam, behind Roman restaurant (1772 5414).
Karaoke at Beijing
Who doesn’t like a bit of karaoke? Especially when you’re gathered together with a group of friends and family, in your own private room, and around a big table filled with authentic, tasty Chinese food? Well, that’s exactly what Beijing restaurant in Adliya offers. Everything from beef in oyster sauce to Buddha’s glory is available on that menu, plus plenty of other more adventurous menu items. Just make sure you book your own private room in advance, and remember they do have minimum spends (but it’s affordable!).
Open daily 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-midnight. Adliya (1771 7969).
This traditional Bahraini restaurant is one of the oldest cafés in Manama so on that strength alone it’s a must-visit. However, add to that it’s extremely authentic setting in a back alley of the Bab Al Bahrain souq, the wonderfully hospitable service and fabulous food, and then you’ll never look back. There’s no menu, just set traditional Bahraini dishes depending on which time of day you go but you’ll never be disappointed. If you’re looking for something truly, deeply Bahraini, then look no further.
Open daily 5am-9pm. Bab Al Bahrain, Manama Souq (1721 0647).
Sure, while the weather is stifling it’s hard to find outdoor cinema options but when the air is cool we do have some decent places to head to. For starters, the Royal Golf Club (1775 0777) in Riffa hosts free, weekly family movie nights in the country club gardens from 6pm with screenings of older family classics mixed with latest releases. Meanwhile, The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain (1758 6499) also organises separate movie screenings for kids and adults once a month (this month it’s April 24 and 25) to be enjoyed under the stars from their gardens. La Fontaine Centre for Contemporary Art & Spa (1723 0123) also does the same, hosting alternative film screenings from their beautiful courtyard at the venue, a fabulous renovated traditional Bahraini house. This month they’re screening ‘Le Petit Peintre du Rajasthan’ on April 5 and ‘Axis of Light’ on April 19.
Bahrain might be the smallest GCC country but good things always come in small packages, particularly when it comes to local talent. Thanks to a huge array of cultural initiatives and great boosts to independent, small and medium enterprises in the country, we now have a wide spread of artists and entrepreneurs being innovative and creative in business. From the annual markets we’ve seen artisans pop up, focusing on everything from pottery to music, but we’ve also seen a surge in boutique shop owners, beauty enthusiasts, foodies, fashion designers and more. We particularly recommend heading to +973 Artisanat where young and creative Bahrainis showcase their handmade products and artworks. This initiative was set up by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and Labour Fund ‘Tamkeen’, to ‘nuture the entrepreneurial spirit and community participation of young Bahrainis in creative activities’.
Speaking of local talent, one such group of people are ‘minimanama’ who started a stall in the last few months selling all sorts of bric-a-brac from the depths of the Manama Souq. Most notably, they have created a line of city T-shirts which are perfect for any tourists looking for a unique souvenir to take home with them.
The ‘New York, London, Manama, Tokyo’ is the signature look, and one we recommend.
Visit www.minimanama.com. You can find a selection of their designs at Dukkan3 in Al Riwaq Art Space, Adliya (1771 7441).
Too few people are aware of this small Manama-based Japanese restaurant that serves up some of the best sushi we’ve had in a while. Fuji Sushi is located in Sheza Tower Hotel, in the heart of the Diplomatic Area, and it’s perched just above a rather decent seafood restaurant.
We go here, however, for the down-to-earth atmosphere, friendly service, intimate Japanese-style setting and, as we said, some fantastic, reasonably priced sushi.
Try the volcano maki – we promise you won’t be disappointed.
Open daily 12.30pm-midnight. Sheza Tower Hotel, Diplomatic Area (1753 3336).
Interestingly, Bahrain has a lot to offer in the way of alternative medicine practices with everything from Reiki to Ayurveda, nutrition to crystal healing. The beauty of this little island nation is in its open-mindedness, not only in medicine. Whatever it is you’re into, chances are you’ll find a little something on offer in Bahrain no matter how obscure. For example, try the tranquil Bahrain Meditation Centre in Umm Al Hassam (1771 2545) where you can enjoy a free session. Or 8 Mansions, in Budaiya’s Country Mall (1759 4575), has all the answers to crystal healing. On the other hand, for Ayurvedic medicine you’re spoilt for choice but one Time Out Bahrain team member recommends, first-hand, the Indian Ayurvedic Medicine Centre in Mahooz (1772 2060).
While this isn’t much of a secret between Bahrain residents, we had to include it during the tourist season as it’s surely a hidden gem. La Ventana is a homely, quaint café offering a range of wonderful salads, sandwiches and baked potatoes featuring a wide array of fresh, quality ingredients, alongside some seriously downright droolworthy homemade desserts. It’s also based in the heart of Adliya’s bustling restaurant district so make sure you stop by.
Open Sat-Thu 11.30am-11pm, Fri 12.30pm-11pm. Adliya, Block 338 (6637 1616).
You all know the beloved Middle Eastern snack of shredded meat or chicken in a wrap with delicious tahini sauce and pickles, right? Well, what if there was a delicious dish that replicated this as a dessert? Using chocolate. That’s what Bayti, the contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant by Bahrain Financial Harbour, set out to do. In fact, they had their own customised shawarma stand made so they could flake tasty chocolate scratchings over a crepe and serve it alongside ice cream, apple-cinnamon ‘chips’ and chocolate dipping sauce. Pair it with one of their gourmet shawarmas using a concoction of fillings and sauces, of your choice, and you’ll be laughing.
Open daily 7am-midnight. Next to Bahrain Financial Harbour, Manama (1722 9788).
So you’re in the home of pearls and if you want a truly authentic experience then you definitely have to try diving for them. Al Dar Islands offers trips to a secret destination where you can snorkel for oysters which flourish in the shallow, clear waters. You’ll also see a historical shipwreck and any number of dolphins (depending on the day). Bahraini pearls are considered as some of the world’s finest and if you find a pearl while snorkeling, you get to keep it as a (possibly quite valuable) souvenir!
Al Dar Islands, the head office is in Sitra (1770 4600).
We asked our friends – current and former Bahrain residents – to reveal their idea of the island’s ‘best kept secret’. Here’s what they had to say…
Banana Leaf in Adliya opposite from JJ’s Irish Restaurant. Absolutely the BEST Thai restaurant in Bahrain hands down. The restaurant is small but it’s clean, bright and comfortable. The food is to die for – incredible Tom Yum, fantastic Pad Thai, fresh spring rolls and green curry.
- Berk Gurhan
Sarvanaa Bhavan in Gudaibiya opposite Concord Hotel. The best dosas in Bahrain and delicious vegetarian South Indian food – one of my personal favourites.
- Nada Elbarshoumi
Govinda’s in Juffair opposite Al Jazeera. It’s Sattivic/Ayurvedic Indian food made without onions or garlic. It might not sound it but they serve delicious all vegetarian/vegan meals.
- Nada Elbarshoumi
Horse riding by the beach in Saar (stables behind St. Christophers School). Apparently you can rent horses and ride them on the beach.
- Abdulla Alobaidat
Awali Library in Awali. An amazing space for some quiet time and reading. It has recently opened up to non-residents of Awali and you can get a membership for about BD20 a month. They have a great selection of books and get new ones every month – it’s also right next to Esquires where you can have the best commercial coffee in Bahrain. It’s the biggest and perhaps the only English language library with a dedicated children’s library too – the 'gingerbread library'.
- Deema Almoayyed
Zallaq Beach is great and open to the public for a small fee – there’s amazing water in the summer and it’s nice and secluded.
- Deema Almoayyed
Honey’s in Bab Al Bahrain – delicious Thai food that’s much better than the mainstream restaurants.
- Manal Sulaibeekh
I’m biased so I’d say Namaste is a hidden gem – a tiny yoga studio with a big spirit. I like to think of it as a place to take a micro holiday on daily basis.
- Weam Zabar, founder, Namaste
I honestly believe that Café Amsterdam’s breakfast is a well kept secret. I’m a huge fan of healthy breakfasts, the fresh fruit platters, granola and healthy no-added-sugar smoothies are a real treat. I am also a keen yogi and I’d like to shout about the ladies only yoga practice I currently go to in Ramee International Hotel at RJ’s Gym. It’s brilliant, challenging, fun and at BD35 for a whole month of unlimited sessions, it’s a great deal too!
- Maria Kimsey
I think the Banoffi Pie from Polo Gastropub is the island’s best kept secret. We get quite a few folk eating these days but not all have desserts. It’s not a normal Banoffi but it’s really, really good.
- Chris Friel, manager Polo Gastropub
The anti-gravity yoga we’ll be launching at the hotel. I believe one of the greatest advantages of this type of yoga is its wide-reaching audience as literally anyone can reap the benefits of this sport. In terms of physical benefits, anti-gravity yoga improves flexibility, balance, joint mobility and muscular strength. One of the reasons this activity stands out above all the rest is the additional emotional benefits. It relieves stress, is spiritually uplifting which I think is just something we are all craving for during our busy weekdays.
- Veronika Szabo, director of PR at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay
My best kept secrets are karak cafés in Riffa, Amina Al Abbasi store for gifts in Riyadat Mall, the Annada showroom in Riyadat Mall and now Bossy Kitchen in Riffa!
- Wafa AlObaidat
Bahrain itself! So many people have no idea how much fun and how welcoming the people of Bahrain are! And along with the Souk, Muharraq, the Seef fort etc. these make it an incredible little secret in the Middle East!
- Alessandra Rocchi
Outdoor spinning in Riffa Views.
- Ryaan Sharif
Water Gardens! The grounds are amazing and it’s so relaxing before the rides open in the day time.
- Jenine Sharabi
I love that spot by the airport where you can watch planes land.
- Sara Loch
Budaiya beach. It’s an actual beach where you can sit by the sea and it’s open to the public. Also, Alwali Grill in Budaiya.
- Helen McKee
Haji Café because it’s like the oldest café in Manama and the guy is actually really nice.
- Emma Whittall
The music scene.
- Vish Mhatre
That it’s technically a massive graveyard. And that Muharraq was given to the Hindus during the spice trade period as a crematory, hence the name. The pronunciation of Muharraq back in the day was Mahraq which means crematory. Oh and we have thousands of sea cows.
- Bader AlSaad
From a tourist perspective, I love going to Shawarma Alley.
You know the Tree of Life? They say there’s a whole fort underneath it.
- Rashed Bin Daina
I just discovered something that not so many are aware of – a boat trip from Bahrain National Museum to Bu Maher Fort daily from 10am to 4.30pm at BD1 per person. It was fun. Another tip… you should try the coffee with cinnamon at the café with outdoor seating, inside the museum.
- Cristalyn Pastrana
The distinctive collection of wildlife in the Kingdom ranging from mongoose, dugong, flamingo, sea turtle, falcon and sea snake.
- Craig Heslop
Jarada Island sshhhhh!
- Danielle Love
There are tons of spots where you can see awesome views of the sea. Usually people go to crowded beaches or exclusive private lounges with sea views that only some people can afford. As a taxi driver, I go to places with my car that only some locals know.
- Foad Ali
Zaf’ran (Saffron) in Souq Al Qaysariya. The intimate setting of this hidden gem championed by the passionate drive of its entrepreneurial founder, Narees Qambar, stands testament to the legacy of supreme Bahraini hospitality.
- Basma Nass
Bahrain Fort in the evenings. The air surrounding it is magical and peaceful. You can almost reach out and touch the history. I love to take a stroll around and sit quietly and just ‘be’ in that area.
- Julie Lomas
The pearl industry, as the kingdom continues to produce the best natural pearls in the world.
- Wael Ghazale