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The Manama Rundown

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a mini exemplar of the Persian Gulf’s collective aspirational bravado. The petite fiefdom evinces all the region’s ambitious, brash plans for the future, exultant oil wealth and, indeed, complex contradictions. Mass land reclamation, frantic construction, bold mega-projects and a considerable expat workforce at both ends of the economic spectrum: like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain has all the telltale marks of life in the new Arabian Peninsula.

Yet another Kingdom sets the pace in Bahrain. The loom of Saudi Arabia is impossible to ignore, most of all for the house of Khalifa. The regent family of Bahrain operates, in many regards, at the behest of the Saudis and, indeed, the economy of the pocket monarchy is inordinately dependent on the colossal oil exporter across the King Fahd Causeway.

Come to Manama, the capital of Bahrain, however, and other facets of the toy kingdom emerge. Alcohol is legal in the country, which makes Manama a vibrant regional hub in more ways than one. Moreover, despite a sharply critical Human Rights Watch report card in the wake of volatile political protests in early 2011, Bahrain is one of the most tolerant Muslim nations in the Middle East. This distills most prominently in Manama, where expats and native Bahrainis enjoy a plush quality of life (perhaps at the expense of poor migrant workers from South Asia, however). Amid the cranes and shiny new skyscrapers, authenticity lurks in the form of traditional architecture, UNESCO World Heritage archaeological sites, ancient burial mounds and still-active pockets of the nation’s venerable pearl trade - all easily accessible from lively Manama.

Manama’s Top 10

10. Bahrain City Center covers close to half a km<sup>2</sup> and is Bahrain’s dominant retail and leisure attraction.

5. Museum of Pearl Diving is a treasure and foremost repository of a cornerstone cultural industry in Bahrain.

9. Bin Matar House is a phenomenal masterwork of traditional architecture in use as a gallery and exhibition space.

4. Bab Al Bahrain is a prominent colonial era landmark that marks the entrance of the city suq.

8. The Royal Tombs in A’ali stand out among Bahrain’s surfeit of ancient burial mounds.

3. Beit Al Qur'an, or House of Qu’ran, is a vital Islamic museum with a peerless collection of holy documents and manuscripts.

7. The National Museum is the linchpin cultural institution in Bahrain.

2. Al Fatih Mosque is the national mosque of Bahrain, with a capacity of 7,000. The temple is also home to the National Library.

6. Manama Corniche is the prime waterfront hive of activity in the city.

1. Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun is Bahrain’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, for now. The archaeological site was the capital of the Dilmun civilisation from 2300 BC to the 16th century AD.

Manama History

  • Bahrain Fort – It was built to keep out the ancient Persians. It has a massive stone walled fort, which dates back to 3000 BC.
  • Ad Diraz Temple – An interesting stone structure dating to the ancient Arab past.
  • Barbar Temple – This archaeological site dates back to 3000 BC.
  • Tree of Life – Here a unique tree stands solo in the desert with no explainable fresh water source.
  • Bahrain Fort Museum – This contains archaeological findings and artefacts from ancient history.

Manama Art & Culture

  • Bahrain National Museum – Focusing on the history and culture of Bahrain.
  • Al Fateh Mosque – This has incredibly beautiful architecture. One of the largest mosques worldwide.
  • Museum of Pearl Diving – Unique architecture and an interesting collection.
  • Bin Matar House-Place of Memory – This is the restored traditional Bahraini house. Great photo opportunity for tourists.
  • Dilmun Club – This place offers horseback riding lessons and a chance to meet Bahrain’s upper crust.

Manama Shopping

  • Bab el-Bahrain Souk – This is the place to shop in Manama. It has a traditional Arab market.
  • Gate of Bahrain – This is a great all-in-one shopping maze of twisting streets full of traditional shops.
  • Old Souk – This is the place to go for imitation watches, dried fruits, sandals and footwear.
  • Gold Souk – There are countless numbers of shops selling only gold, silver and gemstones. This is the best place for buying gold in Bahrain.
  • Moda Mall – This is the centre for exclusive fashion boutiques.

Gay & Lesbian Manama

  • Ramada Palace Hotel – Most gay guides list this hotel as popular among their users.
  • Elite Resort & Spa – Another popular place listed by gay guides for Manama.
  • Fareeda Palace Apartments – Gays are frequent guests here.
  • Elite Grande – Another favoured spot among gays and lesbians.

Manama Outdoor

  • Bahrain City Centre – Great waterpark for family outings and shopping.
  • Al Dar Islands Bahrain – Perfect beach spot for chilling out and enjoying the sun and surf.
  • Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park – Great attraction for all the family. One of the largest in the ME. Perfect for photographs.
  • Royal Camel Farm – With camels everywhere, it’s a day trip that kids will really enjoy.
  • Corniche Al Fateh – Long promenade that runs along the seaside and has a fun amusement park for kids.

Manama Sport

  • Bahrain International Circuit – The place to go for car races. Awesome track for Formula One.
  • Run (or jog) your way through Corniche Al Fateh and enjoy the sea views.
  • Scuba dive at the Bahrain Yacht Club.
  • Watch the famous Arabian horse races at Al Sakhir every Friday from March to October.
  • See how the Bahrainis play football when the Bahraini Premier League is in action.

Manama Local

Manama is the capital of a country not much bigger than Merseyside and with less people to boot. As such, Manama local is almost akin to Bahrain local and day trips outside of the city are requisite. If you have the visa for it, Saudi Arabia is a short drive away over the 25 km-long King Fahd Causeway. Alas, an oft-proposed, world record 40 km-long link between Bahrain and Qatar is perpetually on hold. Until the mega-project is built, visitors can take the circuitous route to Doha through Saudi Arabia.

Adliya is a bustling commercial district with a dynamic cluster of shops, restaurants and bars.

The Diplomatic Area of Manama is a tony district that contains a string of upmarket, Euro-designer shops, the National Museum, Beit Al Qur'an and Bahrain World Trade Centre.

Gudaibiya is home to the pink Al Qudaibiya Palace and a sizable expat community from South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Africa.

Hoora is a popular nightlife district with a few cultural attractions of note.

Juffair is a vibrant expat and affluent Bahraini suburb of Manama that teems with Western chain restaurants and shops. Also home to Al Fatih Mosque.

The suburban neighbourhood of Seef contains some of the most upscale hotels, apartment complexes and malls in Bahrain.

Zinj is Manama’s embassy row, with a string of diplomatic outposts jostling for space with luxurious villas over Tubli Bay.

Isa Town is a middle class suburb in north central Bahrain, 10 km from Manama, known for leftist political predilections. Most of the country’s private schools are located here, in addition to a traditional bazaar and Bahrain National Stadium.

Muharraq is the former capital of Bahrain and occupies most of Muharraq Island. Some 7 km from the centre of Manama across the Sh Hamad Causeway, the city of 110,000 people contains some traditional architecture and a suq. Muharraq Island is also home to Bahrain International Airport.

The town of Arad, also on Muharraq Island, contains Al Muharraq Stadium and Arad Fort. The fort is one of the most venerable landmarks in Bahrain and pre-dates Portugal’s occupation of the country.

The Northern Governate of Bahrain is a target for economic growth and development, as Manama’s sprawl pushes west. A few settlements in the area protect a variety of vanishing arts and pursuits, like pearl diving, date cultivation, fabric weaving and fishing. More and more expat villages, wealthy Bahraini residential suburbs, technoparks and satellite university campuses have sprung up in recent years, with some controversial coastal reclamation and deforestation in the process. Vital points of interest in the Northern Governate include the first mosque built in Bahrain, Khamis Mosque, in the late 7th century no less. Barbar Temple is poised to become Bahrain’s second UNESCO World Heritage inscription and stands as a foremost Dilmun archaeological site. Last but not least, the Bahrain International Circuit hosts the Bahrain Grand Prix in the new mixed-use, leisure and entertainment enclave of Sakhir.

The Hawar Islands are in the Gulf of Bahrain off the west coast of Qatar. Bahrain has continuously lobbied UNESCO to have the islands declared a natural world heritage site. The main island of Hawar contains some interesting wildlife and recreation opportunities. To visit, catch a boat from Ad Dur Jetty, 40 km south of Manama. The ride is approximately 45 minutes long.

Manama Eat & Drink

The spectrum of restaurants in Manama run the gamut, from spectacularly cheap shawarma and curry shops to out-and-out expense account busters.

Coco’s (Road No 3803) is a romantic dinner spot with a superb alfresco terrace.

Café Lilou

(Adliya)has Gallic charm galore and a terrific range of continental dishes.

Bushido (Seef) rolls Bahrain’s best sushi and pours a mean cocktail.

Zoe (Adliya) is a good bet for pizzas and pastas.

Charcoal Grill (Bab al-Bahrain Suq) serves no-nonsense kebabs from what amounts to prime quotidian voyeurism real estate in Manama.

Jim’s (Osama bin Zaid Ave, Adliya) is a major expat hangout with a “Fully Monty” English breakfast.

Monsoon (Adliya) serves good pan-Asian classics in a convivial family-friendly room.

Al Sawani (Diplomatic Area) is a swish Arabic restaurant next to the National Museum.

Habara Snacks & Fish (Osama bin Zaid Ave, Adliya) is a casual sandwich and fish and chips shop.

Oliveto (Adliya) consistently ranks as the best Italian restaurant in Manama and Bahrain.

Manama Events

Manama’s cultural scene has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, as officials and civic leaders look to attract a more cosmopolitan brand of expat and tourist. The city now flaunts one of the most eclectic calendar of events in the entire Arabian Peninsula and Middle East.

The future of the Bahrain Grand Prix, arguably the most important international event in the country, is in doubt in the aftermath of the nation’s tumultuous part in the Arab Spring. When Formula 1 returns to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, it will not be soon enough for the Al Khalifa royal family.

Muharraq Summer Festival at Muharraq Garden is a family event with a lot of food, games, entertainment and musical performances.

The Bahrain International Book Fair takes place in March at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre and features over a week’s worth of events.

National Day commemorates the independence of Bahrain every December 16-17. Parades, processions and a variety of events take place throughout Manama for the occasion.

Jewelry Arabia is a singular international fair and trade show that draws a global list of attendees and participants to the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre in Manama.

The Autumn Fair is another staple event on the Manama calendar at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre. Similar to consumer goods festivals in the United Arab Emirates, the trade show and fair is a shopper's Shangri-la, with a wide range of arts and crafts, electronics and household items on display.

When To Go

When vast dust and sand storms overtake Bahrain from Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf in Iraq, Manama can be rather inhospitable. The dry, furnace-like southwest winds blow storms across the barren south toward Manama in the summer and wreak havoc with everyday life.

On the whole, however, Bahrain’s arid climate is not as oppresive as other nations in the region. A mild winter is downright pleasant at times, despite high humidity, with temperatures in the 54°F (14°C) to 72°F (22°C) range. The majority of annual rainfall occurs from December to April, with virtually no precipitation from May to November.

The stark contrast between the two seasons is particularly evident temperature-wise. From May to September, the heat is relentless and temperatures hold between 79°F (26°C) to 100°F (38°C). Afternoon temperatures of 104°F (40 °C) are commonplace throughout the summer season and the mercury can soar as high as 118°F (48°C) in June and July. Suffice to say, this is not the best time to be in Manama.

What To Miss

In light of the 2011 Arab Spring and chain reaction of political revolts from Tunisia to Yemen, it behooves British nationals to exercise a high degree of caution and security alertness in Manama. Avoid mass demonstrations, large crowds and potentially volatile atmospheres in the capital. When in place, observe curfews and avoid loutish behaviour and public displays of intoxication in popular nightlife precincts like Adliya. The best advice to heed before a trip to Manama is to consult the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and register with the British Embassy in the capital.

Specific points of interest to miss include the fabled “Tree of Life”. The iconic attraction in the desert is somewhat of a marvel, with a root system close to 50 m deep. The presence of a shiny, lush new golf course nearby, however, takes some of the mystery and lustre away.

Malls in Manama, while a superb way to beat the desert heat, are as posh, if not more so, than malls back home. Do not expect to score any sweet discounts on upmarket, luxury brands as a result.

Getting Around

Bahrain International Airport is the only hub in the country and the gateway to Manama. The airport is held in high regard as one of the best in the Middle East and is a de facto secondary hub for scores of Saudis who fly in and drive over the causeway to Khobar or Dammam. Bahrain International serves a wide variety of destinations, from Cairo and London-Heathrow, to Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi.

Within the small country and Manama, a decent public bus network offers reliable service to a range of destinations like Muharraq and Arad. Few people seem to take the bus in the capital, however, with taxis the principal mode of transport. Insist that your drive switch on the meter.

General Information

With a modern hyper-growth economy, the Persian Gulf microstate of Bahrain has done well since a transfer of power from Great Britain in 1971. Though only 665 km², most national parks in North America dwarf Bahrain as a result, the island nation has become a regional powerhouse. With the rise in the country's fortunes, the capital city has grown in importance and appeal.

Manama has a beautiful, contemporary skyline, and is home to over 150,000 people. With ambitious construction plans in the works, time will only tell if Manama is indeed on the verge of mini-Dubai-like status. While the dual sets of twin towers that comprise Bahrain World Trade Center and Bahrain Financial Harbor dominate the cityscape, Manama is far from just a steel and glass city. Qal'at al-Bahrain archaeological site is proof enough. At over 5,500 years old, the ancient capital of the Dilmun people is a peerless and impressive landmark. Manama has another remarkable one in the 7,000 seat Al-Fatih Mosque, just outside of the city.

Attractions

  • Al-Fatih Mosque
  • Bahrain National Museum
  • Bab Al Bahrain
  • Qal'at al-Bahrain
  • Beit Al Qur'an
  • Activities

  • Muharraq Summer Festival
  • Bahrain International Book Fair
  • Bahrain Grand Prix
  • Jewelry Arabia
  • Autumn Fair Bahrain
  • Restaurants

  • Lilo
  • Monsoon
  • Mirai
  • Al Abraaj
  • Coco's
  • Nightlife

  • BJ's
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Desert Rose
  • Diggers
  • Madonna Bar
  • Climate

    Like much of the Persian Gulf, Manama has a climate of extremes, with very hot summers and mild winters.

    • Winter (December to February) 14-22°C
    • Spring (March to May) 18-33°C
    • Summer (June to September) 29-37°C
    • Fall (October to November) 22-32°C

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