With the new moon having been sighted, Thursday, 15. October marks the first day of Muharram of 1437 AH (after hijra) in the Islamic calendar.
What better occasion to post my personal list of the top 15 things to see and do here in Bahrain in time for the long weekend:
- One of my favourite places is The Qal’at al-Bahrain (also known as the Bahrain Fort). It is one of these magical places from where you can travel back in time to 2300 BC by exploring the ruins of the fort of five successive pre-Islamic cities, gaze at the amazing artefacts in the museum and then enjoy some yummy Bahraini treats and a cup of gahwa (Arabic coffee) or chai (tea) in the coffee at Darseen Café overlooking the sea. Exploring the Fort is free, entrance to the museum is BD1.000.
- Or how about going for a stroll around Muharraq and explore the 3.5 km long Pearling Trail which was used by pearl divers during much of Bahrain’s history (dating back to 2000 BC) until the early 1930s, when the pearl market in Bahrain crashed as a result of the introduction of cultured pearls from Japan. The trail consists of old merchant buildings as well as the Sheikh Isa House, oyster beds located in the nearby sea, a segment of the coast where you can still see the traditional Bahraini vessels called Dhows being made. It is Bahrain’s second World Heritage Site after the Bahrain Fort. Whilst you are there, make sure you also stop by Muharraq Souq and stop for a typical Bahraini meal at Cafe Saffron.
- Talking about shopping, Manama Souq behind the Bab Al Bahrain is up next. Explore the little windy narrow lanes filled with spices, clothes, toys and home wear. Also look out for traditional crafts as well as antiques. I heard that there is hardly anything you can’t buy there. Of course there is also Gold City where you can find a wide array of jewellery from costume rings to diamond tiaras and of course original Bahraini pearls. Don’t forget to bargain!
- Whilst you are in that area, make sure you also visit the Bahrain National Museum. The museum showcases the collection of Bahrain’s ancient archaeological artefacts covering 6000 years of Bahrain’s history ranging from burial mounds and seals dating back to the ancient civilisation of the Dilmun to displays depicting the culture and lifestyle of Bahrain’s recent pre-industrial past. In the cooler months you can also take a boat across to the Bu Maher Fort.
- Further down the road is the modern landmark of the Grand Mosque or Al Fateh Mosque named after the 18th century conquerer and founder of the ruling Al Khalifa family, Sheikh Ahmed Al Fateh. It is the perfect place to find out more about Islam. Visitors are welcomed any day expect for Friday when up to 7000 worshippers descend on it. Please make sure you dress modestly. Women will also be given an abaya and a headscarf before entering. Shoes must be taken off at the entrance.
- And when you are getting hungry head across the road to Adliya with its many eateries, hotels, art cafes and carpet shops. If you fancy something authentic to eat, then head down to Shwarma Alley and chose from either a lamb or chicken wrap for 500fils.
- For a change of scenery, head south and visit the Tree of Life. This natural wonder is a 400 year-old tree that stands alone in the desert. It is believed it was also a site for cults practising ancient rites some 3000 years ago. Make sure you bring a picnic or even a tent during camping season (from November through to March) but make sure you camp within the designated areas. You will not believe how busy it can get in the winter months.
- Another highlight is also visiting the Bahrain International Circuit or otherwise known as the ‘Cradle of Motorsport in the Gulf’. Next year will be the 12. time the Formula 1 circus will stop in here. Check their website (http://www.bahraingp.com) for other events including regular tours of the track or watch out for one of the charity events when you can take to the track on your own two wheels.
- If you are hungry again, why not head to one of the many malls such as Seef Mall or Al A’Ali Mall or City Centre with its many eateries. Obviously there are also plenty of shops to have a look at and spend some money.
- Or drive all the way east and have lunch or dinner in Amwaj. There are also some beaches to dip your toes in the sea and a few nice walks. At the entrance of the man made island you can visit a bird sanctuary called Azizia Bird Kingdom (www.amwaj.bh/azizia-bird-kingdom).
- Talking about animals, Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve (www. alareen.org) is the place to go and watch Oryx and other local animals such as Arabian leopards and wolves, hyenas, lynx, tigers and not to forget camels.
- And whilst you are in the car, head to the King Fahad Causeway which is a 25 km long bridge connecting Bahrain with Saudi Arabia. Without a visa you can only go as far as a little island called Umm Al Nassan but there is cafe there as well as a little tower to enjoy the view.
- Coming back towards Bahrain, bear right and visit Al Jasra Handicraft Centre. It brings together and showcases the traditional crafts such as textile weaving, basket weaving or pottery as well as ship making industry. Close by is the birth place of Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who was the 1st emir of Bahrain from 1961 until his death in 1999 when his son Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa ascended to the throne declaring Bahrain a kingdom and making him the 1st king of Bahrain in 2002.
- After all that sightseeing head to one of the public beaches to cool off. There are not many of them and they are not well looked after but Budayia Beach in the north-west, Karbabad beach next to the Fort or Jazaer Beach down south near Zallaq are great places to play in the sand.
- Last but not least you need to hit at least one of the two waterparks here in Bahrain. Wahoo! Waterpark (https://www.theplaymania.com/wahooo) Is conveniently located in City Centre mall so you can try the water slides, stock up on the essentials and grab a bite before heading to the cinema. Lost Paradise of Dilmun (or LPOD as it is better known) is in the South close the BIC track and Al Areen. It is outdoors so maybe not ideal in the hottest of months but great fun for the whole family!