|From suqs to super shopping malls
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By Fiona Clark » Bahrain is booming! It almost seems like each time you blink, a new mall has popped up, or an existing one has been extended. Even the suq – the traditional open-air market – is having a facelift. All this means more choice for the shopper and a constant buzz of excitement and anticipation.
This serious retail investment is only surpassed by the serious shopping that seems to be the kingdom’s main pastime.
The certain freedom that exists here in Bahrain attracts many shoppers – especially female and expatriate shoppers – from neighbouring Gulf states. The shopping crowds also include a steady stream of sports fans who come for the regular racing events at the Bahrain International Circuit, the most notable being the Formula One.
Bahrain itself is home for a large, multicultural, expatriate population, which is mirrored in the goods on offer. The vibrant and varied shopping offers you a truly amazing range of both local and international goods.
For modern-style shopping, there are custom-built malls – each individual in terms of design and atmosphere. Of the biggest malls, Al A’ali Shopping Complex and Seef Mall are located in the Seef area, and Bahrain Mall and Dana Mall are located in the adjacent Sanabis area. The newly-opened Sitra Mall is a little further afield in – you guessed it – Sitra!
The next major project expected to be completed is the Bahrain City Centre mall, a fully-equipped leisure complex with a shopping mall, kids’ play area, cinemas, two hotels and a waterpark, due to open in 2008.
Other smaller (only in comparison to the big five complexes), centrally located malls offer a wide variety of goods. The malls include the Yateem Centre (which has the advantage of being located in the Manama suq), Marina Mall, Lulu Mall (great for fabrics), Gosi Centre (specialising in telecommunications products and accessories) and Bahrain Commercial Complex, (better known as the Sheraton Complex due to its proximity to the hotel), which is rapidly expanding.
Thankfully, all the main shopping malls are air-conditioned and, as they remain open all day and evening, you can conveniently eat lunch and dinner at their splendid food courts and cafés.
Shopping in Bahrain would never be complete without experiencing some of the suqs or traditional shopping areas. The biggest and msot popular is the Manama suq. Others well worth a visit are the Muharraq Suq (for a truly village atmosphere), the Iranian suq in Isa Town (second hand goods, bric-a-brac and an interesting bird market), Suq Waqif in Hamad Town (fresh fruit and vegetables), the Adliya carpet merchants and the various craft centres where you’ll be sure to pick up some authentic Bahraini souvenirs.
For early risers, the Central Market and the Fish Market, both close to the city centre, provide a fascinating insight into local trading and produce, much of which you will rarely see outside the Gulf region. Remember the markets and suqs are not air-conditioned, and they close for lunch for several hours before reopening in the late afternoon.
The suburbs are well served by Riffa Mall (featuring Mothercare), Al Alawi complex in Nwaidrat (featuring BhS) and Isa Town Mall – each serving their local community with a cross section of goods. Other malls, with a food retailer as the anchor store, include Jawad Dome in Barbar, home to Jawad supermarket, lifestyle store Artikel, food court and indoor children’s play area. The Najibi Centre at Saar roundabout has Al Osra supermarket, a café, MacDonalds and several other service stores. The Al Jazira Centre in Mahooz has the supermarket of the same name, plus Woolworths (clothing), Truworth boutique and a Starbucks café on the periphery among others.
Audiovisual, photographic and electronic goods are the speciality of Ashrafs showroom on Palace Avenue in Hoora, while computer buffs should head for the Apple Centre on Exhibitions Road (also in Hoora), or Mazin Computers located at the Corniche end of Lulu Avenue (city centre).
You can’t miss Ramez, a huge multi-purpose store, because its bright and bold rooftop sign is highly visible as you drive over the nearby bridge or approach from the famous Pearl roundabout.
Adjacent to the Central Market in downtown Manama, Ramez is a goldmine. It’s a treasure trove for bargain hunters and families alike, selling a mixture of household items such as food, kitchenware and cleaning products, as well as clothing for all ages. They also have an extensive selection of toys, stationery and personal hygiene products to suit all tastes. It’s the perfect place to stock up in bulk for parties or other celebrations – or simply for those with big families.
Add the market-like atmosphere and friendly staff, and you get a taste of local flavour when you shop here, all combined with the modern conveniences of air-conditioning and ample parking.
It’s true to say that Bahrain boasts a multitude of other unique, individual retail outlets, too numerous to mention, scattered around the suburbs of Manama and beyond. There are handmade chocolates to sample, designer boutiques, local art galleries, antique stores and artefact sellers galore.
So, whether you’re looking for that killer outfit or a souvenir for your Mum, let’s go on a virtual shopping trip together to experience the delights of retail therapy, Bahrain style.