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.
Al A’ali Shopping Complex
Credited with pioneering the renaissance in shopping in Bahrain when it opened its doors in 1996, Al A’ali Shopping Complex is now launching a new extension. The expansion programme will add over 8,000 sq. m. of pure luxury to your shopping experience.
The expanded shopping area at the north side of the complex will house exclusive outlets of world renowned luxury brands such as Coach, Jimmy Choo, Moschino, John Paul Gaultier, Bally, Francesco Biase, Gina, Balenciaga, Chloe, Albertta Ferretti, Memosa, Azal-Jewellery, Ounass-Multibrand and Every Moments among others.
The new extension is an architectural marvel in glass and steel creating an ambience that is very chic and modern. An attractive glass roof allows natural light to permeate through, creating a wide open feel to the interiors.
Creatively blending contemporary architectural designs with traditional Arabic elements, the Complex’s luxurious interior gives visitors an insight into Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage and mercantile history. The centrepiece is a domed courtyard with superb natural lighting where market stalls offer a variety of locally produced goods from pickles to perfumes. Corridors lead off, like the spokes in a wheel, to a total of 120, high quality, interesting stores.
In addition to its international areas, the mall has created two ‘suqs’. The first, Tawaweesh, resembles an old Bahraini street with its carved wooden windows and balconies. It’s home to the Al Bindaira Café where you can select from a delicious snack style menu and sample a real local tradition, the shisha or ‘hubbly bubbly’ pipe.
Opposite, Bateel Dates offers exquisite, Gulf-grown dates enhanced with nut or fruit fillings, yummy date jam and handmade chocolates for really sweet-toothed customers. Sarraya, the other ‘suq’, only adds to the atmosphere, and the food court has a distinctly ethnic flavour with good quality fare.
Also located in the mall are the Official Grand Prix Merchandise store and the offices of British Airways and Emirates Airlines.
Also here is department store Jashanmal & Sons where you can find books, cosmetics, diningware and other household goods.
Yateem Centre was the first to introduce the concept of a fully climate controlled shopping centre when it opened its doors in 1981.
Its location – steps away from the entrance to the Manama Suq – makes it possibly the most conveniently located major shopping mall in Bahrain. It’s the perfect place to kick off a visit to the suqs where you can do some traditional Bahraini shopping in the comfort of an air-conditioned environment.
Critically, especially in the heat of summer, an underground car park is available to all – with two hours of free parking for shoppers (parking, never mind underground parking, is hard to find in the city centre!).
There really is something for everybody in this friendly mall, which is a meeting place for the local community and whose customers include a cross section of residents and tourists.
To match the bazaar-like atmosphere, traders are often willing to bargain and you will find the 75 stores are small and highly individual. They can respond quickly to demands in the local market and introduce new stock to suit current trends, so you may find items here which are only just being introduced elsewhere.
You can purchase your souvenirs of Bahrain as well as finding stores like Saleh for Zary who sells jelabayas (traditional Gulf ladies’ dresses) to Gulf royalty.
There are also European and Far Eastern fashions and accessories boutiques and, unusually, a Watch Centre sells second-hand designer watches. Both the Factory Outlet and the Outlet sell discounted branded items.
In keeping with the intimate nature of this centre, Penny’s (“Food that makes your body smile”), located in the stylish first-floor food court, is popular with shoppers and local business people alike.
Right next-door, Seef Mall is the place to shop until you drop. It boasts 225 retail stores of various international brands covering 21 categories of shopping from designer jewellery and clothing to value for money fashion and accessories.
Add to that 40 restaurants, cafés and food stalls and you are spoiled for choice. From the dedicated shopper to those who just want to relax and drink their coffee, Seef Mall has it all.
The gap between consumer groups has been well and truly bridged with a clever combination of high-end and affordable but quality stores. The anchor stores are Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, BHS, Zaina and Toys R Us. Also key in attracting customers are fashion stores Mango and Zara, perfumers Al Hawaj, and the two Seef Cineplexes, with 16 screens in total, offering a wide range of movies to suit all tastes, running well into the wee hours.
The mall is home to an enormously popular and well-equipped children’s play area, Magic Island, where children of all ages will find entertainment to suit. The huge soft play structure towers over the other attractions and children can lose themselves in sheer enjoyment amongst its labyrinth of passages.
The mall’s design ensures that, in spite of its size, you are never too far away from refreshment as its two food courts are located at opposite ends of the mall with cafés and restaurants interspersed en route.
Look out for Seef Mall West Expansion, which will open in the first quarter of 2007 and feature 70 high-end stores not yet represented on the island thus underpinning Seef Mall’s ethos of continually replacing old with new concepts ensuring the ultimate shopping experience.
The profile of Bahrain Mall is unmistakable, designed in the form of a traditional, Arabic fortress. The interior is equally dramatic – no matter which entrance you use, your first impression is a symphony of water and fire, with soothing waterfalls and constantly burning torches atop magnificent columns. A tented ceiling and palm trees, complete the symbolic oasis.
It’s a family mall, catering for all ages and requirements offering food, clothing, hobbies and entertainment. Geant, the French anchor store, is a huge hypermarket selling everything a household could ever need from DVD players to denims to dairy products with value for money as a key concept running throughout the store – and indeed the mall. There are over 100 retail outlets and 30 kiosks and stalls offering perfumes, gift items, sweets and food…not forgetting the 17-outlet food court which has a traditional Arabic style café.
The post office counter on the ground floor offers shoppers the convenience of mailing postcards and letters.
Keeping up with the trends and times ensures Bahrain Mall continues to offer their customers a fresh and delightful shopping experience.
A stone’s throw away, Dana Mall has an elegant exterior made from Jordanian stone which blends in perfectly with the desert landscape. It opened its doors in 2002, and its interior is a combination of exquisite stained glass ceilings and high domes. The mall offers a diverse shopping experience with a variety of fashion and retail outlets.
Lulu hypermarket is the anchor store offering family shopping. The mall has many service outlets including car hire, shoe repairs, key cutting, optical, photo developing studio, and hairdressing.
The main evening attraction is the 12-screen, state of the art, cinema complex, where you can take in a movie, after dining at the mall’s 20-outlet food court or one of its nine other casual dining outlets and coffee shops, many offering wi-fi connectivity.
Chakazoolu, the children’s playground, has something for all ages including a hot air balloon ride, a jungle train ride and, only for the fearless, the only indoor high-speed rollercoaster in the Gulf. In the Chakabarber, kids can have a haircut and, to top it all off, enjoy face painting followed by a photograph at the Chakazoolu store.
Extensions plans will add flavour to the already interesting mix of retail, food and entertainment outlets.
To round off a perfect day’s shopping, head for the suburb of Adliya, in particular Osama Bin Zaid Avenue, where you can stroll along the pavement soaking in the sights of rugs from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.
The evening is really the best time to visit this area as it comes alive with the mix of shoppers, restaurant and café goers.
Venture into any of the shops and they will gladly unveil mountains of rugs with a dazzling variety of patterns and colours. Sit and drink a gahwa (local coffee) and you will find out about the origin of the rugs – whether they are made of silk, wool or a combination of both; hear tales about the people who make them; discover the meaning of the different designs; and be informed about the number of knots per square centimetre, which is a good indicator of quality.
You’ll find it hard to resist as the selection of rugs is unlikely to be surpassed elsewhere. Of course, bargaining is a must. As a reward for your exertions, Adliya’s fine selection of cafés and restaurants beckons you – a relaxing way to end your first day of shopping.
Day two of our virtual tour promises to be equally exciting. A great place to kick-off is Marina Mall, where they offer affordable, good value shopping under the Al Rashid Group (ARG) umbrella whose stores comprise Mothercare, Shoe Mart, Sarah (sssh…lingerie!), Splash (young and trendy), Home Centre, Lifestyle (everything a woman could want), Bossini and Lee Cooper. Several stores have recently undergone extensive refurbishment.
It’s a real ‘one stop’ shopping mall where you can find everything from newborn and toddler clothing, toys, nursery products, home furnishings, gift ideas, trendy teens and adult clothing and footwear, lingerie and more. Independent stores such as NineWest and G2000, are also represented, making a total of 15 stores that include Costa Coffee, Cellucom, Milano Ice Cream, Hour Choice, Planet Charming, and much more.
The recently renovated food court offers tasty Chinese, Indian, Arabic and Italian cuisine and a fantastic lunch buffet for hungry shoppers. You can try a new concept – Fry Station (offering a naughty-but-tasty variety of fried items) and other well-known food outlets. Meanwhile, the kids will have great fun at the Magic Island play zone.
Bahrain Commercial Complex
This jewel in the centre of the city, adjacent to the Sheraton Hotel (residents can walk from the rear entrance), is a well-established, spacious, elite shopping centre. It’s a magnet for discerning shoppers from Bahrain and beyond.
Designer stores include Escada and world famous jewellers, Tiffany’s. Local based jewellers include the Jewel House and Asia Jewellers, both producing eye-catching, dazzling pieces for the top end of the market. Exclusive household adornments, antiques, fine locals arts and crafts, well-known perfumes (local and international) are represented. In total, there are 120 well-appointed stores and several food outlets.
Look out for the model of the new Bahrain World Trade Centre, construction of which is well under way just next to the existing centre. The new 50-storey high twin towers, will include an extension to the existing shopping mall. Both the existing mall and the extension are to be rebranded as Moda Mall, and will offer even more quality shopping, several fine dining outlets and a health club.
The Sheraton Hotel is also undergoing an extensive facelift to provide catering and conference facilities along with leisure and fine dining amenities and will form an integral part of this new development. Keep your eyes peeled!
The newest of the malls, with the potential for 118 retail outlets, Sitra Mall is a located in Sitra, a suburb just south of Manama on the road to the south of the island. It’s the only mall set on the seafront, and you can take full advantage of this view from the 12-outlet food court offering waterfront dining.
The mall caters for across the board, value for money family shopping with ongoing promotions guaranteed to keep the customers happy. It’s just the place to stock up on clothing, accessories, footwear and cosmetics. And the food selection at the anchor store, Le Marché hypermarket, is just amazing. With parking for 850 vehicles, you’ll always be sure to find a space at Sitra Mall.
Venturing further a field, hail a taxi to the Bahrain Craft Centre in Isa Al-Kabeer Rd, in the Salmaniya area, where you can watch traditional crafts including paper making using date palm leaves (which is then skilfully crafted into unique greeting cards or pictures), calligraphy, stained glass and embroidery.
Apart from the workshops, there is a bright, airy, central gallery and showroom where you can purchase all of the items made on the premises as well as other locally made goods such as the bold, geometric-patterned wool rugs from the looms of the Ad-Diraz Weavers.
To gain a further insight into local crafts, visit the Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre, in the beautiful village of Al Jasra, near the King Fahad Causeway (heading to Saudi Arabia). This tranquil craft centre hosts a variety of workshops where you can watch pottery-throwing, basket making, weaving and model dhow (local boat) making. On the first floor, you can watch several local artists at work in their studios.
You can wander for hours through the Manama Suq along its narrow streets, ducking into small alleyways where you come across yet more interesting stalls selling everything from fresh spices in the spice suq – where the trick is it to make a multicoloured, spice pyramid – to exquisite Bahraini pearls.
It’s not simply about shopping, it’s an enriching cultural and social experience, and a great way to learn about the country’s rich trading history…not forgetting the fun of bargaining for that special souvenir. You will be drawn into interesting conversations, asked to sit down to partake of a cool, refreshing drink or perhaps sample some locally-picked sweet dates.
There are two main gold shopping centres as well as many, individual, attractive street-front gold jewellers. The Gold Suq, located on Shaikh Abdulla Avenue, is a two-storey, custom-built complex with a host of jewellers, many of them local. Prepare to be dazzled as 22-carat gold, used in Middle Eastern jewellery, has an extremely bright aura – especially when you are face to face with a window display full of it. Gold City, located between Al Khalifa and Government Avenues, is a suq within a suq, offering a dazzling array of jewellery – much with a strong, Middle Eastern flavour.
There are more mundane items on sale as the suq is very much a local market, where day-to-day purchases are still made. And you can bet that the latest gimmicks will be on show, whether it be the latest kid’s toy or a winning team’s football strip. You can even kit yourself out with a full Arabic costume (men, ladies and children). No offence will be taken, and what a great souvenir to take home for all those fancy dress parties!
As you meander along, the traders, each vying for your attention, will gently summon you, but there is no hard sell, If you say no, it’s accepted gracefully. When you do decide to take a closer look at their wares, be prepared – bargaining is de rigueur. You have to try it for yourself, but remember, the only rule is that the first price will definitely not be the last.
Major improvements are in store to enhance the suq while retaining its traditional atmosphere including the creation of ‘mini suqs’ such as an Indian bazaar and a renovated gold suq. Improved parking, provision of shade and air-conditioned rest areas will all make suq shopping more convenient and comfortable.
If you didn’t drive, hail a taxi from the rank, conveniently located at the Bab Al Bahrain, to whisk you back home.
Bahrain Duty Free
Just in case you didn’t have enough time to pick up everything you needed, Bahrain Duty Free offers a wide range of luxury goods as well as ideal, last minute souvenirs. You can also purchase duty free on arrival in Bahrain from the duty free shop located immediately behind immigration.
The duty free has an extremely convenient online pre-ordering service for purchase both on arrival and departure, provided you place your order 48 hours in advance (you can cancel up to 12 hours prior to collection). You need to register initially by visiting www.bdutyfree.com.
Bahrain Duty Free has won numerous awards in the travel and duty-free retailing industry. And, it offers duty-free shoppers a host of promotions run by major sponsors, often based on national or topical themes such as the Grand Prix.
With such a great choice, there’s no time like the present to don your comfy shopping shoes and clock up a few laps around the malls, stalls and suqs of Bahrain.