When was the last time you did something that scared you? Fear is a reminder that I still have a lot to learn about the world . . . and about myself.
I was born and raised in an incredibly diverse and dynamic city, yet it wasn’t until I began traveling that I had realized the world I was living in was small. As an American, you hear so many terrible, and often, grossly false or misleading things about the Middle East. So undoubtedly, the thought of traveling to the Middle East might give some people pause. These days, I’m an expat living in a small, middle-eastern nation. Thankfully, my fears and ignorance were short lived. My world purview is my larger now.
The Kingdom of Bahrain – have you heard of it? Bahrain is situated approximately 15 miles off the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia and an hour, more or less, by speed boat from the Qatari peninsula. It’s just under 300 square miles, making it the third-smallest country in the world. Bahrain has a population of just under 1.5 million, a large percentage of which are expatriates and immigrants. Unlike my hometown of Miami, Florida, rain in Bahrain is rare and irregular. This geographic area also produces high levels of humidity, which can make summers extremely hot, humid and unbearable. Although the climate during the fall, winter and spring are quite pleasant, during the summer, temperatures can reach up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).
From a travelers perspective, Bahrain is smack in the center of the world. If you’re traveling from the eastern to western hemispheres (or visa versa), it’s likely that you may end up at the Bahraini International Airport for a stopover. If your layover is 8 hours or more, I highly recommend that you step out of the airport to explore! Bahrain has an interesting history and is a tad-bit more progressive than its Saudi neighbor. Ladies, you are free to dress as you normally would, without any requirements to cover your hair. Bahrain is a very safe country; I’d even argue safer than most cities in America. Most people speak English very well, making it an easy-breezy and, hopefully, enjoyable layover.
Entering Bahrain & Visa Process
As a general rule, visitors with the intention to enter Bahrain for tourism purposes must obtain a visa, with the exception of citizens of G.C.C. nations. Bahrain’s eVisa process is efficient and streamlined, making it very simple to apply online and receive a response within 5 business days or so. An electronic visa does not require a stamp. Just be sure to have your visa approval e-mail and reference number handy.
Also, there are also dozens of nations where its citizens may apply for a visa-on-arrival. If you are a citizen of one of those countries and plan to stay for in Bahrain for two weeks or less, I recommend that you purchase your visa-on-arrival and save a few bucks in online processing fees. If citizens from your country require an eVisa, be sure to apply no less than 5 days prior to arrival, which will allow time for your visa to be processed ahead of your visit. Once your visa is approved, you’ll receive a confirmation via e-mail and you’ll have 30 days to enter Bahrain from the date of approval. Otherwise, you’ll have to reapply. NOTE: Once you have applied for your eVisa, neither a receipt nor a confirmation will be sent to your e-mail, so be sure to write down the reference number provided before closing out the webpage. I highly encourage you to visit the Bahraini eVisa website for detailed information on your countries’ visa requirements.
For the purpose of this guide, let’s assume you’re an American, such as myself, and will just be visiting Bahrain as a tourist on a layover. U.S. citizens may purchase a visa-on-arrival for up to a two-week visit. You may be asked to show proof of a departure ticket out of Bahrain, or even be asked to show proof sufficient funds in your bank account to sustain yourself during your visit. The latter is highly unlikely, however, just be prepared. For U.S. citizens, the visa-on-arrival costs approximately $14 USD.
Bahrain Currency Exchange & SIM cards
Despite Bahrain being a highly developed nation, where most establishments accept major credit cards, there are a few places, however, that may only accept cash. The Bahraini local currency is called the Bahraini Dinar (BD or BHD). I recommend exchanging some money to have cash on hand for those small shops, for example at the souq, that may not accept credit cards. Bahrain is NOT a cheap country relative to U.S. currency rates. As of March 2020, to purchase $1 BD, you have to spend $2.65 USD. Keep that in mind but don’t be too alarmed. You won’t go completely broke during your stopover (LOL).
If your cellphone is unlocked, I highly recommend purchasing a SIM card at the airport. SIM cards are relatively cheap in Bahrain. 1 GB of data and 100 minutes of local calls will cost you around $8 USD ($3 BD). Having data will be beneficial to help you navigate throughout Bahrain.
Getting Around & Uber in Bahrain
Uber is widely used in Bahrain and will be your cheapest option, as opposed to the local taxis. Oddly enough, the taxi drivers also operate as Uber drivers, so don’t be alarmed if you see a taxi picking you up. For this stopover, however, I highly recommend that you rent or hire a car. Car rentals are relatively inexpensive. You can hire a car at the airport for less than $25 USD per day, including collision insurance and taxes. Gas is also very cheap here. Public transportation is not the greatest, if non-existent. I wouldn’t rely on buses to help you get around. Also, the streets aren’t very pedestrian friendly, so walking wouldn’t be a smart nor efficient. Depending on the time of year, you’ll probably want to be in air conditioning as much as possible (lol). Similarly to the U.S., Bahraini’s drive on the right side of the road and the highway system is equally decent here. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around in a rental car, with the exception of a few narrow streets in the older parts of town. Caution: Watch out for inpatient and crazy drivers on the road. It’s likely that you’ll come in contact with a few reckless drivers, who don’t give any deference to the driving laws, nor will they have common courtesy or common sense for that matter.
Top Things To Do in Bahrain
Okay, now that we’ve officially entered Bahrain, picked up our SIM card and rental car, it’s time to hit the streets to explore!
Bahraini National Museum & Bahraini National Theater
DURATION: 1 HOUR. Just a 10-minute drive outside of the Bahraini International Airport is the Bahraini National Museum. The museum is open from 8 A.M. – 6 P.M. daily and cost approximately $2.65 USD ($1 BD) to enter. The ticket office does not accept credit cards, so be sure to bring cash. This $30 million USD complex was built in 1988 and is the largest museum in Bahrain. The Bahraini National Theater is located adjacent to the museum. The museum houses over 5,000 years of Bahraini history and artifacts. Galleries are devoted to Bahraini pre-industrial culture and civilizations, the natural history and environment of Bahrain, and the preservation of manuscripts of the Quran and other historical documents. After perusing the halls of the museum, be sure to also walk the perimeter of the sister building to get a view of its stunning architecture and skyline views of the capitol city.
(Bab Al-Bahrain) Manama Souq
DURATION: 1 – 2 HOURS. The Manama Souq is located in between the old parts of the city and a newer business district. Located next to the souq is also the only synagogue in all of Bahrain. This old bazaar has seen waves of redevelopment and renovation, making it more modern and pedestrian friendly. One could easily get lost wandering the many alley ways and streets of spices and gold. The souq is a great place to pick up a few souvenirs and also work on your bargaining skills.
If since leaving the airport you’ve worked up an appetite, Saffron by Jena, located inside the souq, would be an excellent place to grab some traditional, Bahraini food.
Bahrain World Trade Center
DURATION: 1 HOUR. Bahrain is quickly growing in terms of its economy, development, and business and trade practices. According to 2017 figures from the World Bank, Bahrain’s GDP is growing at an annual rate of 3.9%. Those changes are most visible by all of the construction of sky-scrappers and mega-malls popping up on every corner; None of which is more evident than the 800 foot, 50-floor, twin-tower complex known as the Bahraini World Trade Center. Completed in 2008, it is the first skyscraper to integrate 3 massive wind turbines into its design. Each turbine measures 95 feet in diameter, making it, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular buildings in all of Bahrain. Adjacent to the twin towers, is the luxurious and high-end shopping complex: Moda Mall. It houses designer stores, such as Gucci, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Fendi, etc.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque
DURATION: 1 HOUR. The next stop is my favorite and is, in my opinion, one of the most important, must-see places to see in all of Bahrain: the Al Fateh Grand Mosque. The Al Fateh Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosque in the world, holding up to 7,000 worshippers. The dome, made of fiberglass and weighing over 60 tonnes, is currently the largest fiberglass dome in the world. Its interior floors are made of Italian marble and houses a dramatic chandelier imported from Austria. The mosque is one of Bahrain’s premier tourist attractions and is open for tours between the hours of 9 A.M. – 4 P.M. Both men and women should be dressed modestly while inside of the mosque. For the ladies, abayas, which look like robes with a hoodies, are provided. You’re also welcome to bring your own scarf to cover your hair and may wear loose-fitting clothing, such as a long sleeve top and slack-bottoms. There is no charge to enter the mosque. It does close temporarily to visitors during prayer times, which take place 5 times per day. You may also request a guide, free of charge, to give you a quick lesson about the history of the mosque and answer any questions you may have related to the Quran and the Muslim faith. If you’re lucky, you might even be around when they begin the call to prayer. The vibrations of the hymn from inside of the mosque is truly astounding.
Qal’at al-Bahrain Fort
DURATION: 1 HOUR. The Qal’at al-Bahrain Fort (or the Portugese Fort) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is said to have been occupied from 2300 B.C. and later abandoned in the 16th century. It was once the capitol of a Bahraini ancestral population known as the Dilmun civilization. The unearthed, archaeological findings reveal much about Bahraini history and culture. The site contains many areas of walls and fortification, a perfect backdrop for some Instagrammable pics! The excavation site is free to visit. However, if you’d like to learn in more detail about the fort, for a small fee of $5 USD ($2 BD), you may visit the Fort Museum, which holds antiquities found during the excavations. The fort is open daily from 8 A.M. – 6 P.M. The museum stays open until 8 P.M. and is closed on Mondays.
Royal Camel Farm
DURATION: 1 HOUR. What’s a trip to the Middle East without getting to see a few camels along the way! Open daily from 8 A.M. – 6 P.M., visitors are free to visit the Royal Camel Farm. Located on the western side of the island, the camel farm houses hundreds of camels that belong to the Royal family. For many centuries, Bahrainis treasured camels as sacred animals and used them as means of transportation. Today, they are mostly regarded as a symbol of power and wealth. Owning several camels is symbolic of the wealth of that family.
If you’re sensitive to animal captivity, as I am, you may not enjoy this part of the trip as much. Male camels are chained up separately, while females and baby camels are housed together in a pen. Apparently, this is because male camels tend to fight each other in competition of mates, and therefore, for their safety, they keep them separated from one another. I don’t personally believe keeping an animal chained up in the sun, day-in-and-out is very humane. But then again, a part of traveling is being open to learning about other cultures and how they operate, without judgment.
If Time Allows: A Few Other Places of Interest . . .
The mentioned points of interest should give you a head start to your layover in Bahrain. If you do have time to spare, however, below are a few other places that are equally worth the visit.
- City Centre Bahrain – is the largest shopping mall in Bahrain. It houses 340 stores, 60 dining options, a movie theater and Carrefour grocery store. There is also a climate-controlled waterpark and an arcade. It would be a great place to kill several hours and escape the heat outdoors.
- The Avenues Bahrain – is another beautiful shopping mall in Bahrain on a waterfront. The mall features a water taxi service that can jet you around the bay to nearby destinations or if you’d just like to enjoy a slow cruise around the bay.
- The Tree of Life – is a solo-existing, 400-year old tree in the middle of the barren, Arabian desert. Located in the southern part of the island, this tree is the only one growing abundantly in an area of harsh climates, with little to no water around. Scientists aren’t certain of how the tree is able to survive in those conditions. It is believed that the tree has learned how to extract moisture from the surrounding sand and/or perhaps has roots buried hundreds of feet deep to an underground water source. A more mystical explanation is that the tree stands in what was once the biblical Garden of Eden. Either way, this tree is special simply because it provides refuge for hundreds of birds from the desert heat. With no life in sight, you can hear the music of hundreds of birds, who call this beautiful tree home.
That’s all for now, folks!
I hope that you’ve found this guide to 24 hours in Bahrain helpful. If you’re planning to visit Bahrain, or have had the chance visit a few of the places in this guide, I welcome you to leave feedback on your experience below!
I’ve really enjoyed my time here as an expat, and there is still so much more I want to share. Stay tuned for future blogs on my top places to eat in Bahrain (because the food scene here is AMAZING), my experience being an expat and woman in a Muslim country, as well as, the cost / differences of living in Bahrain versus the U.S.
“Tell yourself that you’re not the person you used to be and your old limits and fears don’t apply to you anymore.”