Manama Suq: Electronics to incense
The Manama suq, located just beyond Bab al Bahrain, is the perfect first stop for shopping. Shops, ranging from tiny open-air stalls to leading department stores, are packed with everything from clothing to electronics, tobacco to incense and antiques to gold.
The bazaar, with its labyrinthine lanes and alleys is best explored on foot so, if youíre driving, remember to leave your car at one of the car parks near the suq. If you lose your way, just ask, ďWein Bab al Bahrain?Ē (whereís Bab al Bahrain?), and youíll be pointed in the right direction.
Spice Market: Taste the flavour
The secret of Arabic cuisine, with its heavenly taste and aromas, is in the spices that go into the meal. If youíre adventurous enough to try your hand with a Bahrain recipe, visit one of the spice shops in Manama suq. Youíll find yourself greeted with mounds of colourful, fragrant spices of every possible variety. Donít be afraid to ask if youíre not sure what to buy. Vendors are always more than happy to help.
Pearl Shopping: Natural gems from the sea
While gold is hugely popular with residents and tourists alike, itís pearls which first placed Bahrain on the map. From time immemorial, the island has been known as a world-class pearling centre. Bahrainís pearls are natural which accounts for their slightly irregular shapes. They also vary in colour, from cream or white to ochre or even green. Tiny black pearls can be found, too, but usually arenít put on sale. You can buy pearls in a select number of jewellery shops in the Gold Suq and classier malls.
Rug Stores: Magical carpets
Youíll find some of the worldís most beautiful carpets in Bahrain. Carpet shops, many of them located in Manama and Adliya, carry exquisite Persian rugs as well as almost equally gorgeous - and less expensive - carpets from Turkey, Afghanistan and China. Youíll be able to find a large, handwoven carpet as a centrepiece to your living room or a small one that may even become a wall tapestry.
Gold Suq: Glittering attractions
Bahrainís gold shops have always been a huge draw with visitors, and itís easy to see why. The quality of gold, excellent craftsmanship and low prices are an irresistible combination. Unlike the West, where gold is available usually of 18 carat or less, a lot of the jewellery here is either 21 or 22 carat Ė some even pure 24 carat. The Gold Souq building in Shaikh Abdulla Road in Manamaís souq and Gold City (in the City Centre Building) Ė just a short stroll from each other Ė between them boast well over a hundred jewellery shops, and there are dozens of other shops in and around the area, too.
Seef Mall: Celebrated stores, 16-screen cinema
One of Bahrainís most popular shopping complexes, Seef Mall, combines both modern and traditional elements in its architecture. Itís also home to world-renowned stores like Debenhams, Bhs and Marks & Spencers. The food court provides everything from snacks to full meals. Youíve got a vast selection of films at the 16-screen cineplex.
Souvenir Shop: Incense to wooden dhows
If youíre looking for souvenirs in Manama, the souvenir shop in the Bab al Bahrain building boasts a large array of traditional items as well as branded T shirts and books on the country including coffee-table tomes. See the replica wooden dhows, leather-made camels, sachets of incense, local perfumes and wearing apparel.
Local Produce and Fish Markets: Get fresh
If you plan to cook your own meals in Bahrain, a visit to Central Market or Jidhafs market is a must. The island is justly famous for its seafood, and here you can buy fish quite possibly caught just hours earlier. Locally grown produce is also available among mountains of imported fruits and vegetables.
Flea Market: Great for collectors
The suq al haraj (flea market) in Isa Town is a popular haunt for antique collectors and bargain hunters. Items range from the old and unusual oddity to the easily available Ė but cheap. Remember: not all old items are antiques. If unsure of the value, consult a local friend.
Bahrain Duty Free: True value for money
The dutyfree shop at Bahrain International Airport has won numerous international awards, and itís easy to see why. The relaxed setting at departure level, a choice of more than 45,000 quality items and low prices combine to make dutyfree a popular stopover for departing passengers. A small dutyfree shop is located at the arrival area where you can place an order ahead of your return to Bahrain to ensure that your merchandise is there.
Riffa Golf Course: Time for tee
The superb 18-hole Riffa Golf Club has the 19th-century Riffa Fort as a backdrop. The course is the scene of dozens of local and international events. The club is managed by internationally renowned Gleneagles of Scotland. Donít forget to pick up a souvenir of your visit to the club.
Watersports: Make a splash
Watersports have always been popular in Bahrain, and ideal weather means itís an activity you can indulge in all through the year. If youíre interested in water skiing, jetskiing, windsurfing, sailing, canoeing or yachting, you can approach any of several seaside clubs, resorts or hotels. Many of them have classes for beginners. Regular competitions are also held in the various sports, and visitors are welcome to join in. International sailing regattas top the list of recreation at sea.
Ice Skating: Cool experience
Ice skating might seem an unlikely sport in a desert country but the rink at Funland (1729 2313) is, in fact, a big draw with Bahrain residents. Skates can be hired, and thereís a professional instructor for beginners.
Sakhir Race Course: Arabian track stars
Arabian horses are among the worldís most prized breeds, and a day at the Sakhir race course explains why theyíre so highly rated. Horses gallop off every Friday from October to March and usually attract 3,000-5,000 fans. Call 1744 0330 for race schedules and timings.
Motor Sports: from F1 to remote controlled
Itís not quite Formula One but motor sports have been surging ahead in popularity since the introduction of F1 racing in 2004. Drag races, remote-controlled miniature-car races, GP (gran turismo), F3, Mini are other competitions bring out enthusiastic fans and provide their fare share of thrills and spills. Call Bahrain Motor Club (1768 6295) for details.
Road Races: A dash of fun
Bahrain Cross Country and Road Runners (1775 6568) and Bahrain Hash House Harriers (1769 4684) organise scores of foot races throughout the year, from a fun run of a few kilometres to marathon relays that attract thousands of participants. Races include the predictor with the winner being the one who most accurately forecasts his or her own finish time.
Pearl Diving: Take the plunge
Bahrainís shallow waters and warm climate make it perfect for recreational diving. A number of clubs cater for both experienced and novice divers. Aquatique (1727 1780) has a course to promote pearl diving. In addition to searching for pearls, you also get a chance to see up to 30 types of coral and more than 200 species of fish.
Arabic Music: the food of love
Music, itís said, is the food of love, and Arabic music certainly appears to come straight from the heart. Whether or not you understand the words, youíll enjoy a night listening to the rhythms at an Arabic nightclub. Al Fanar, at the top of the Diplomat Radisson SAS Hotel, is a particularly good night spot where both an international and an Arabic show are staged. Try the Regency InterContinentalís al Berdaouni with its scintillating dancer, vocalists and musicians.
Battle of the Bands: Hum, drum, strum fun
Each year, Bahrainís best bands face off in a competition to decide the countryís top Western group. The Battle of the Bands usually takes place over several weeks in August with thousands of frenzied fans. Itís the monthís biggest single event. If you like your rhythms hot and happen to be in Bahrain during the musical battle, donít miss the opportunity to join the throng.
Scrabble: Test your word power
If you like word games, come to the Scrabble league to test your skills against both average players and supremos at the brainy game. Scrabble players meet Monday evenings at the Hilton Hotel or Fridays, starting at 2 pm, for a four-game tournament at McDonaldís in Manamaís Batelco Tower. Watching the game can be dull. Visitors are welcome to get into a gameÖor two. Leave a message at 1724 2641 for more information.
Jarada: Picnic on a desert isle
Depending on the tides, try to get a boat to Jarada. Youíll enjoy this sandpit that becomes a desert islet once the tides go out for a few hours. Itís a good spot for a picnic, to go snorkelling or just laze awhile.
Manama Corniche: Sunset corner
Join the many residents who spend their evenings relaxing on Manamaís northern and eastern corniche, sipping coffee, looking at the boats in the distance and just watching the sun go down. Itís a great way to unwind. The palatial Gulafshan restaurant has a large outdoor garden for refreshments.
Arabic Coffee Shops: Hubbly-bubbly, anyone?
Bahrainís inner lanes are dotted with coffee houses where locals like to unwind after a dayís work. Itís an opportunity for friends to meet, play dominoes, sip endless cups of coffee or simply sit on rustic wooden benches and puff on the hubbly-bubbly which is locally referred to as shisha. Shops usually have a variety of tobaccos to choose from.
Also try the local brew called gahwa. Itís really refreshing, flavoured with cardamom, saffron and rose water, served in a demi-tasse. Though the beverage looks tea coloured, itís really coffee. Youíll get a refill unless you tilt the cup back and forth to indicate that youíve had enough coffee.
Friday Brunch: All you can eat
Though referred to as brunch, the Friday meal usually begins at 11.30 am or so and is a way of life for many Bahrain residents. Many restaurants, particularly at the larger hotels, offer sumptuous spreads, often accompanied by live entertainment.
Dhow Cruises: Go sailing away
Take a dhow cruise around Manama bay. Few pleasures can match simply watching the sun set while aboard a dhow with the waters lapping gently against the hull. If youíve a minimum of 12 passengers, the Marina Club (1729 1527) will be glad to take you on board.
Camel Farm: Humpbacks at home
If your only contact with camels has been at a zoo or on television, youíll enjoy a visit to the camel farm in Janabiya. Get your camera ready as a hundred or so camels race in for the evening feed after grazing all day. Or pose with them if you wish. They're usually very friendly.
Ali Reza House: Alice in Wonderland garden
Built in the early 20th century, the Ali Reza house in the Al Awadiya precinct of Manama is a remarkable example of the homes that existed in this neighbourhood with wide roads and large entrances. After the two-storey home was largely abandoned as a family residence, it became a school and later a restaurant for many years.
A Texas oilman restored the house with its monumental functioning windtower in the early 1990s to its Arabian style. Ten years later, a French designer remodelled the entire house, giving it a fantastic garden resembling something out of Alice in Wonderland.
In addition, the edifice now houses a contemporary art museum, a womenís spa and a French restaurant: La Fontaine. The charming Fatima Ali Reza, granddaughter of the original homeowner, welcomes visitors. Besides English, she handles French like a marquise.
Movie Houses: Reel attractions
Dozens of cinema screens abound in the country where fans flock to see their favourite film in all its big-screen splendour with comfortable seating and stereophonic sound. Dana and Seef malls have cineplexes of six and 16 screens, respectively, showing some of the latest releases from Hollywood and Europe. From late morning to late evening, thereís sure to be a movie youíll want to see.
However, even if you donít understand the language, you may want to take in a Bollywood song and dance drama at other movie houses around the country. The Bahrain Cinema Club, líAlliance Francaise and La Fontaine restaurant show some of the classics of the cinema on a weekly or monthly basis.
Southern Beach: South Pacific on the Gulf
Heading to the expansive beach on the southern tip of the main island of Bahrain can be a bit far away Ė about 60 kilometres Ė but it offers a South Pacific-like atmosphere. Pack a lunch and start off early.
Also in this section:
Off the Beaten Track
Arts, Crafts and Heritage
Museums and Period Homes