There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Bahrain, but figuring out where to start can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor.
Even a resident might struggle to pick out their must-see places when showing a newbie around, especially if they only have a limited time in the Kingdom.
Luckily for you, Time Out Bahrain has created an essential guide to every place you need to go to on any visit to the Island of Pearls.
Read on to find out where to visit in this beautiful country…
Al Fateh Grand Mosque
Bigger is always better, and this is definitely the case with the Al Fateh Grand Mosque. Covering 6,500 sq m, this mosque can hold 7,000 worshippers at any one time. Make sure you book on to a tour to find out more about the history of the building. Tours are available in English and Arabic, those speaking another language or in a group of ten or more should phone ahead.
Sat-Thu 9am-4pm. Awal Avenue Corner, Al Fatih Highway (1772 7773).
This 15th century fort used to guard its own island, but has since become part of Muharraq. In the 80s it was extensively restored, and gives an insight into life before the Portuguese invasion of Bahrain in 1622. Best seen at night, this fort is just begging to be photographed.
BHD0.2. Sun-Wed 7am-2pm. Thu & Sat 9am-6pm. Arad, Muharraq (1729 8777).
Qal'at al-Bahrain on the northern shore of Bahrain is the perfect introduction to the country. Parts of the fort itself date back to the sixth century, while archaeological digs at the site have revealed people have been living in the area for at least 5,000 years. The site was once the capital of Dilmun, an ancient civilisation in the Persian Gulf that stretched across Bahrain, Kuwait and parts of Saudi Arabia. Visitors to the fort, which became Bahrain’s first UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, can find out about the area’s rich history at the museum.
Free (fort), BHD2 (museum). Daily, 8am-6pm (fort), Tue-Sun, 8am-8pm (museum). Near Karbabad (1756 7171).
Bahrain International Circuit
You can’t think about Bahrain without thinking of the Grand Prix, when the Kingdom comes alive with thousands of tourists flocking to the area. If you can’t make it down for the Formula One races, be sure to visit the International Circuit and try your hand at driving around one of the most famous tracks in the world. There are a number of different experiences you can book.
Prices and times vary. Gulf of Bahrain Avenue, Sakhir. www.bahraingp.com (1745 0000).
Bahrain National Museum
There’s 6,000 years of history contained inside the walls of the Bahrain National Museum, and visitors can spend hours dissecting it all by visiting a number of exhibitions. Find out all about customs and traditions from the Dilmuns up until the modern day here.
Wed-Mon 10am-6pm. Shaikh Hamad Causeway, Manama (1729 8777).
There are three temples on this site, with the oldest being built in around 3,000BC. First discovered in 1954, it is believed they were built to worship Enki, the Sumerian god of water. Tools, weapons and pottery found in the site can be seen at the Bahrain National Museum.
Daily, 8am-6pm. Barbar (no number).
This gigantic complex features a museum with ten exhibition halls, a library, and a mosque all in one. Visit here if you want to look at Qu’ran manuscripts from across the globe and from a number of centuries. The centre also specialises in Islamic art.
Sat-Wed, 9am-1pm, 4pm-6pm. Thu, 9am-1pm. Hoora, Manama (1729 0101).
Dilmun burial mounds
Between Hamad Town and A’ali there are tens of thousands of graves, dating from between 2050 and 1750BC. Some of the tombs were for members of the Dilmunite royal families and contain a number of chambers, whereas others are much smaller. Researchers believe this was once the largest graveyard in ancient times. UNESCO made the area a World Heritage site earlier this year, confirming what locals already knew: that this fascinating site deserves protection and is a phenomenal place to visit.
Madinat Hamad, Janabiyah and A'ali (no number).
Wondering what god this temple near the Budaiya Highway was built for? Your guess is as good as ours. This mysterious temple is completely unique as its architecture isn’t found anywhere else in the Kingdom, or in other countries during the same era, and to this day nobody knows who it was built for. It was uncovered during a British expedition in the 1970s, and it remains unclear as to why digging in the area stopped.
Budaiya Highway (no number).
First Oil Well and Oil Museum
The Middle East is filled with petrostates, and Bahrain kicked it all off as the first country on the Arabian side of the Arabian Gulf to find the so-called black gold. The discovery couldn’t come soon enough, as it coincided with the collapse of the pearl industry which had sustained the economy for centuries. At this site you can look at the very first oil well, and find out about the history of oil at the museum.
Sun-Thu 9am-5pm. Jebel Dukhan, Manama (1775 3475).
The Khamis mosque is the oldest in Bahrain, with its foundation dating back to 692AD. The current building, which features two minarets, was built in the 14th century. During recent restoration works, archaeologists uncovered the Mihrab slab, believed to be from the 12th century, which features verses from the Qu’ran.
Daily 9am-4pm. Tashan (1729 8777).
No trip to the Middle East would be complete without a bit of bartering at a souq, and the one in Manama is one of the most authentic in the region. Stock up on spices and cheap electronics while haggling on prices.
Bab Al-Bahrain (no number).
You can’t really get to know the Island of Pearls without exploring this trail. From the second century right up until the 1930s, the white gems were a vital part of the kingdom’s economy, and far more valuable than diamonds. The pearling trail consists of three oyster beds, part of the seashore, the Bu Maher fort and seventeen buildings in Muharraq City, which include merchants’ residents and pearl storehouses, each of which showcases the importance of the historic trade. In 2012, the trail was also made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Qal’at Bu Mahir and Bu Mahir Visitor’s Centre: Wed-Mon, 10.15am-4.30pm. Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Centre: Thu-Tue, 10am-5pm. Al Nukhidhah House: Sat-Thu, 8am-1pm, 4pm-7pm. Muharraq (1729 8777).
Tree of life
Around 65,000 people visit the tree of life every year, and it doesn’t take long to work out why. The surprisingly green prosopis cineraria tree is believed to be more than 300 years old, and is located in a barren part of the Arabian desert, where nothing else is growing for miles around. Nobody knows for sure how the tree survives.
Off Musakar Highway, between Riffa and Awali (no number).
World Trade Centre
The World Trade Centre is easily the most recognisable part of the Bahraini skyline, and no Instagram post would be complete without it. The two towers are connected by skybridges which have wind turbines attached to them. Completed in 2008, the building was the first in the world to be designed in this way and generates 675 kW of wind power. Cool and eco-friendly, this building is a must-see.
Commercial Business District, Manama.