Bab al Bahrain: the hub of your travels
You’ll quickly discover that life in Bahrain somehow revolves around this landmark. “Bab al Bahrain” quite literally means “gateway to Bahrain.” When it was originally designed by Sir Charles Belgrave in 1945, it housed the government offices of the time and overlooked the sea as the dock was just where the taxi rank is.
The sea was long ago reclaimed. Government Avenue, which runs alongside Bab al Bahrain, was built on reclaimed land and essentially ran along the coastline. The bab itself was refurbished in 1986 to incorporate Islamic architectural features.
The ground floor now houses a handicraft shop; hours: 8 am-noon and 4.30-6 pm, closed Fridays. Bab al Bahrain also serves as the entrance to the suq (bazaar).
Bahrain Formula 1: Get the pulse racing
Even if you’re not a motor-race fan, you’ll be caught up in the thrill and excitement of the planet’s greatest race event: Formula One. Bahrain is the first and only country in the Middle East to stage the event.
Besides the preliminaries and the Grand Prix itself at Bahrain International Circuit, dozens of other events are held, from exhibitions and banquets to shows and glittering receptions. Everyone hopes to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars: the drivers. A word of caution: you’ll have to book early to assure yourself of accommodation.
Grand Mosque: Holiest of the holy
Set against the backdrop of the sea, al Fateh Grand Mosque offers a striking picture. With its architecture reflecting several Middle East styles, crowned by the world’s largest fibreglass dome and blessed with a tranquillity reserved for the holiest of holy places, the mosque, which accommodates over 7,000 worshippers, truly lives up to its name. Though non-Muslim visitors are welcome, it’s important that you dress modestly, cover your head and take off your shoes before entering.
Khamis Mosque: One from history
One of the oldest mosques in the Arab world, al Khamis mosque is believed to have been built in AD 692 and restored in the 11th century. The Kufic inscriptions on its walls and the ancient arches make the mosque popular with photographers, historians and religious leaders alike. In the 1960s, it ceased to be used for worship. The style of the characteristic minaret was duplicated at Beit al Qur’an.
Al Areen Wildlife Park: gazelles to iguanas
Located 20 kilometres south of Manama, this 16-square-kilometre wildlife sanctuary contains rare and endangered species whose natural habitat is the Arabian peninsula. Inhabitants of al Areen Wildlife Park include the Arabian oryx, which is virtually extinct in the wild; the Persian gazelle, springbok and impala. A bus tour of the reserve and a film show on the park are highly recommended.
Bahrain Fort: 7 layers of history
Historically, this is one of Bahrain’s most important sites. The fort itself was built in the 14th century by the Portuguese but excavations at the site reveal six other distinct eras of the place, dating back to the Dilmun era, or around 3000 BC during which time it may’ve been the island’s capital.
Arad Fort: by day… and by night
This 15th-century fort, built in Arabic style, was occupied by the Portuguese for nearly a century. Close to the airport, the structure is illuminated at night. By day, visitors like to amble over its expansive esplanade and climb the steps to the observation towers.
Riffa Fort: a view across the valley
Built in 1812, the fort (below) offers a splendid view across Hunanaiya valley. Until 1869, the site was the seat of government and in a strategic location in its day.
Pearl Monument: Architectural gem
The impossible-to-miss Pearl Monument, at the gateway to the Seef district, is one of Bahrain’s most recognisable symbols. Six dhow sails are depicted, representing the six countries of the Gulf. At the summit of the monument is a pearl, an element which unites the countries in their heritage. A fountain has recently been placed at its base.
King Fahad Causeway: Bridge links two countries
The 25-kilometre-long King Fahad causeway, built at a cost of $1 billion, links Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and is one of the world’s longest bridges between two countries. The completion of construction in 1986 ended the 25,000-year separation of the two nations as geologists say Bahrain was once part of the mainland. Most visitors need a visa to actually enter Saudi Arabia but don’t let that stop you from driving to the midpoint on the causeway, particularly if you plan the trip between mid-morning and early evening when the traffic is light.
Windtowers: Pre-electricity air coolers
You may notice odd towers in old quarters in Manama and Muharraq. Called windtowers, they’re the traditional method of air-conditioning before the days of electricity. The towers rise five or six metres above the house, are open on all four sides and are designed to catch the slightest wind and channel it down into the rooms, giving a cooling effect, even in the torrid days of summer.
Gudaibiya Guest Palace
The Guest Palace in Gudaibiya, built in the 1950s, was on the seaside before land reclamation pushed it further inland. The palace is now largely reserved as the residence for heads of state and other top dignitaries. Visitors aren't allowed in, but you can catch a glimpse of the palace and its beautifully manicured lawns through the iron gates.
Also in this section:
Off the Beaten Track
Arts, Crafts and Heritage
Museums and Period Homes