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The Kuwait City Rundown

It has the glimmering high-rises and thrusting skyscrapers. It has the big shiny malls, prohibitively pricey shops and satellite university campuses. Plush international hotels on the Persian Gulf and a sprawling Grand Mosque? Check. A considerable migrant worker class from the Philippines and South Asia? Check. Mammoth mixed-use urban areas in the works? You get the point. Indeed, in many ways, Kuwait City mirrors the likes of Manama, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Jeddah, only on a pint-sized scale.

The capital of Kuwait is a Lilliputian microcosm of the Arabian Peninsula’s sweeping, now decades-long transformation from a one-dimensional crude oil reserve to, well, something else. Financial services, shipping, construction and, increasingly, leisure tourism, are all blazing bold new trails in Kuwait. Of course, oil still drives the bus in the affluent, diminutive Arab state. Kuwait famously has one of the highest per capita incomes and a brazenly free, unrestrained economy that features not only the highest-valued currency in the world but a budget surplus in the tens of billions USD. Enviable stuff indeed and all a manifest product of the global demand for crude.

Kuwait City basks in the glow of all that black gold. The incomparable wealth is most palpable in Qurtoba and on Damascus street, a covey of corniche and waterfront resorts, upscale expat bars and nightclubs and, most notably, an incessant, ever-striving skyline and urban landscape.

Kuwait City’s Top 10

10. Beit Dickson is the stately home of a former British official that fills in quite nicely as a period museum.

5. National Museum of Kuwait had to be rebuilt by fits and starts after the Iraqi invasion and is still a work in progress.

9. Kuwait Science and Natural History Museum is big on oil industry propaganda and exhibits but is worth a look, if only to enlighten and educate on the linchpin facet of the national economy. The museum also has a planetarium and some fossils of note.

4. Liberation Tower’s revolving restaurant and lofty observation deck is no longer open to the public for security reasons. The conspicuous structure is a symbol of Kuwait’s resurgence after the Gulf War.

8. Grand Mosque is the bellwether temple of Kuwait, with a maximum capacity of up to 11,000 worshippers (10,000 of them men). Exquisite ornamentation and a massive carpark to boot.

3. The Scientific Center contains a terrific aquarium and IMAX cinema.

7. Beit al-Badr is a rare mid-19th century mud-house relic in a city overrun with oil wealth developments.

2. Kuwait Fish Market is the liveliest point of interest in the city, bar none.

6. Old Suq is Kuwait City’s most eclectic traditional marketplace. A good place to people-watch and grab breakfast or lunch.

1. Kuwait Towers dominate the skyline as keystone icons of Kuwait City.

Kuwait City History

  • Kuwait Towers – This structure was built in 1979 has a restaurant, viewing sphere and water tower.
  • Grand Mosque – Opened in 1986, it is the largest mosque in the city and decorated with the Asma al-hosna.
  • National Museum – Four buildings and a planetarium, this Kuwaiti museum is a paradise for lovers of Islamic art.
  • Al-Qurain House – Once home to the Messila resistance group and the symbol of Kuwaiti’s resistance in the Gulf War.
  • Bayt Al-Badr – Built between 1838 and 1848, this mud-brick house was home to the Al-Badr family.

Kuwait City Art & Culture

  • Kuwait Art Association – An art association that focuses on promoting local artists as well as introducing the world to Kuwaiti art.
  • Kuwait Elizabethans – A fun drama group that puts on performances of popular English literature.
  • House of Mirrors – Have fun looking at this small museum in the suburbs of Qadisiya.
  • Beit Dickson – Take in the rich history of the former home of Colonel Harold Dickson, a British political agent.
  • Sadu House – This Kuwaiti museum showcases the art of sadu weaving.

Shopping

  • Dar Al-Funoon – Purchase some of the local art from this Kuwait City art gallery and restaurant.
  • Kuwait Bookshop – The bookstore for English-language books in a wide variety of topics.
  • Sultan Centre – Kuwait’s largest supermarket.
  • Friday Market (Souq al-Juma’a) – Put Kuwait City your bargaining shoes on and head to the biggest outdoor weekly market in Kuwait City.
  • Souk Sharq Mall – Hang out at the most popular and beautiful mall in Kuwait.

Gay & Lesbian Kuwait City

  • Second Cup Café – A gay-friendly coffeehouse that is internationally known.
  • Hangout Lounge – A lounge with good coffee and a dark ambiance for gay men to meet.
  • Sand Dunes near Diva’s Restaurant – This beach area is a popular place to meet, and Diva’s Restaurant is known to be gay friendly.
  • Burger King, Gulf Road – High cruising location for gays to hook up.
  • Starbucks – Behind the Catholic Church in the Kuwait City.

Kuwait City Outdoor

  • Ice Skating – The best skating rink in the region is home to the Kuwait Falcons.
  • Boat Tours – Plan to have fun touring out to the Failaka Island in a water taxi.
  • Dive Caroline – Have fun going on a dive tour to Donkey Reef.
  • TEC Swimming Pool Complex – Multiple swimming pools to fit the needs for individuals and families.
  • PADI Five Star Dive Centre – Learn to scuba dive.

Kuwait City Sport

  • Plan for a full day of fun of swimming, tennis, boating, basketball, karate or volleyball at Al Shaab Sea Club.
  • If you are looking to keep in shape, try out the Platinum Gym.
  • Take a ride around the track at the Hunting and Equestrian Club.
  • Catch a basketball match at the Kuwait Sports Club.
  • Watch yacht races take place on Kuwait’s calm seas.

Kuwait City Local

Kuwait City barely contains 95,000 people, or less than half the population of the City of Westminster. To be fair, “metropolitan” Kuwait City exceeds 2.3 million people but, then, is practically contiguous with the entire nation of Kuwait as a whole.

The national capital is breathtakingly easy to navigate on foot, or much more wisely, via the comfort of a cab. Kuwait City’s six Ring Roads ferry congestion to and from the city, courtesy of the Maghreb Expressway, Fahaheel Expressway, Shuwaikh, Fahaheel, Jahra and all-important Gulf Street, a vital artery in the city. Arabian Gulf Street and Fahd Al Salim Street provide the bulk of coastal and commercial activity in the city and, as such, emerge as singular, pulse point thoroughfares in Kuwait.

Kuwait City Eat & Drink

A parade of gourmet restaurants in Kuwait City fall in line with the capital’s moneyed demands for arrant, flagrant luxury. While palatial décor and rare, costly ingredients are most definitely on the plate, the city has a slew of budget options as well, from casual suq stalls to convivial shawarma and curry shops.

Sarai (Al Bidaa) is the first and best Armenian restaurant in Kuwait City.

Burj al Hamam (Arabian Gulf St) is a popular shisha and mezze restaurant with views of the sea.

Le Notre (Arabian Gulf St) is a lovely French café with great views of the Kuwait Towers.

Restaurant 99 (Al Soor St) is a reliable bet for a quick meal on the go.

The Meat Co. (360 Mall) grills the best steak in Kuwait City.

Suq al Mobarkia (Mubarak al-Kabir, Ahmad al-Jaber & Ali al-Salem Sts) contains a plethora of affordable and generous kebab stands.

Asha’s (Arabian Gulf St) serves some of the best Indian cuisine in Kuwait.

Beit 7 (Usama Ben Monqiz St) is a heritage house restaurant with a breezy interior courtyard.

Totally Fish (Marina Crescent) is a wildly popular fish and seafood emporium.

Mais Alghanim (Gulf Rd, across from Kuwait Towers) is a classic for fresh juices and exquisite hot and cold mezze.

Kuwait City Events

Kuwait City has a smattering of annual events beyond the usual spate of traditional religious celebrations common in the Arab and Muslim world. More arts and culture festivals will most certainly come to the capital as it looks to increase its profile in the Abu Dhabi-Dubai-Doha mold.

Hala February is Kuwait’s annual spring bash and a festive time of renewal. A wide range of cultural events take place throughout the month.

National Day celebrates the creation of the nation-state of Kuwait every February 25.

Liberation Day, the day after National Day, marks the anniversary date of the end of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

The Gulf Jazz Festival in late April draws a modest lineup of acts to Kuwait City and Doha, Qatar.

Eid al Fitr marks the end of Ramadan in the Muslim world and falls sometime in August or September. All in all a merry, venerable time to be in Kuwait City.

Green Caravan Film Festival, a relatively new festival held in late October and early November, is a first in Kuwait and, indeed, the Arabian Peninsula. The festival is entirely dedicated to raising awareness about environmental issues in the Persian Gulf and around the world.

When To Go

The weather in Kuwait City is dominated by the vast Arabian desert which, rather predictably, sends intense, oppressive heat and arid conditions the capital’s way. The city is particularly difficult on visitors and locals alike throughout the summer months from May to October, when average daytime highs of 113°F (45°C) are the norm. When the mercury soars above the 122°F (50°C) mark, which is not altogether uncommon, Kuwait City is absolutely brutal. Naturally, malls fill in as modern-day, climate-controlled oases.

For the desert heat averse, the best and safest time to visit Kuwait City is undoubtedly from November to March, when temperatures range from a high of 80°F (26°C) to a low of 45.5°F (7.5°C). The mild winter season even features a little rain, with about 25 days of light precipitation in all.

What To Miss

Aside from the cruel, torrid summer hot spells, visitors to Kuwait City need not be wary of too many red flags. The capital is one of the safest in the region and, indeed, Arab world as a whole.

Still, while incidents of petty and violent crime are rare, tourists should, for example, be careful on the roads. Like other urban areas across the Arabian Peninsula, lawlessness rules the roads and conditions are vastly more chaotic than back home. Very little mercy is shown to pedestrians, for instance, who seldom have the right of way.

Additionally, while recent events in the Arab and Muslim world have yet to ripple with any discernible zeal in Kuwait, a few demonstrations have taken place. Though peaceful, it pays to be vigilant when large crowds gather in the city.

Last but certainly not least, remain respectful of Islamic customs and traditions at all times.

Getting Around

Kuwait City is easy to reach from a wide variety of destinations. The country’s only international airport, some 15 km south of the capital in Farwaniyah, will be able to serve as many as 20 million passengers a year by 2014. For now, visitors can reach Kuwait City from the likes of London-Heathrow, Mumbai, Frankfurt, Istanbul and Washington-Dulles.

Travellers can, alternatively, access Kuwait City by boat or ferry from Manama, Bahrain and Bushehr, Iran or by bus from Saudi Arabia. Normal visa rules and regulations apply.

Public bus transport in Kuwait City and the country as a whole is comfortable and widely available. Access from residential areas is sparse, however, and passenger congestion is notorious at peak rush hours. For these reasons, Kuwait City’s abundant, ubiquitous taxis provide the most popular means for travellers to get around. As a rule, try to call in advance to book a car as much as possible and negotiate fares beforehand.

General Information

The affluent capital of Kuwait is a proverbial study in contrasts in the modern Muslim world. At once traditional, at once cosmopolitan, the city with a metropolitan population of over 2 million people has a foot in both worlds. In the spirit of Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, the Kuwait City skyline has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, with super hotels and lofty condos in the works. Yet despite all the glass and steel, calls to prayer resonate in the streets and remind visitors that this is still a pious and sovereign Arab emirate.

With a top ten per capita income, Kuwait offers tremendous luxury to those that can afford it. The capital city, now two decades removed from Iraq's malicious invasion, is light years from the ominous pictures CNN sent around the world at the height of the Persian Gulf War. From Souq Al-Juma'a to the Kuwait National Museum, Kuwait Science and Natural History Museum, the city is a lively metropolis with many fine attractions to enjoy.

Attractions & Activties

Attractions

  • Kuwait Towers
  • Kuwait National Museum
  • Souq Al-Juma'a
  • Kuwait Science and Natural History Museum
  • Liberation Tower

Activities

  • Liberation Day
  • National Day
  • Eid ul-Fitr
  • Hala February
  • International Trade Fair

Restaurants & Nightlife

Restaurants

  • Totally Fish
  • Maki
  • Nino
  • La Marina
  • Kei

Nightlife

  • IMAX
  • Cinemas
  • Kuwait Little Theatre
  • Souq Marbarakia
  • Beit Lothan

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Hotels in Kuwait City

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1 Swiss-belhotel Plaza Kuwait

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2 Residence Inn Kuwait City

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3 Holiday Inn KUWAIT - DOWNTOWN

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4 Courtyard by Marriott Kuwait City

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