Bahrain means ‘Two Seas’, a fitting name for an archipelago of thirty-threee shallow islands that sits in the Persian Gulf. Well known for being the only Gulf state where you can legally buy alcohol, Bahrain is more liberal than most of its neighbours and has a huge influx of foreign immigrants working and living there.
Not far from the Formula 1 racetrack is the point where oil was first struck in 1932 and Bahrain is also the location of ancient Dilmun, home to what was a semitic civilisation in the Bronze Age. Manama is an intriguing capital city and ironically its name translates to ‘sleeping place’. Here you’ll find a decent culinary and artistic circuit. Expect plenty of craft markets and pottery workshops with late night shopping, lively bars and nightclubs.
Despite its modern look, patriarchy is thriving and although cafes can be found throughout the city, be warned that most are intended for men only. Life is more liberal for women here that other Islamic countries but it’s still outrageously oppressive and its common for women to be seen wearing the full burka whilst being accompanied by men.
The cost of Bahrain and the heat can be relentless, even in winter. It’s not impossible to travel Bahrain on a budget but it is a challenge. There are plenty of local dive companies operating dive trips to the abandoned pearl beds off-shore and for a totally surreal experience, try the ice disco in the rink at the Funland Centre while outside it’s pushing 50 degrees.
Top Cities in Bahrain
- Manama – 154,700
- Riffa – 111,000
- Muharraq – 176,583
- Hamad Town – 57,000
- A’ali – 51,400
- Isa Town – 39,800
- Sitra – 60,100
- Budaiya – 33,230
- Jidhafs – 32,600
- Al-Malikiyah – 14,800
What to Know about Bahrain
- Languages in Bahrain: Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, English
- The currency is the Bahraini dinar (BHD). Cash and credit cards are regularly used and ATMs are widely available.
- We used our Reevolut Card which was accepted in big restaurants but only cash was accepted in tourist sites for tickets.
It’s possible to apply for an evisa prior to arrival. Citizens from these countries are eligible to apply before they arrive.
- Apply for your evisa here.
- You can also apply for your visa on arrival, which we found to be quicker and cheaper than online. The cost was $65 (for all 5 of us), we paid in American dollars and he gave us Bahrain Dinar as change.
Like everything in Bahrain, accommodation is expensive.
- A bed in a hostel costs around $40-70 per night whereas private rooms in hostels might cost $70-100 per night. Free WiFi is usually included in hostel stays and some include breakfast. The quality can vary wildly so be careful to read reviews prior to booking.
- AirBNB is available in certain locations with prices starting at $120 per night but be prepared to pay roughly $200 per night for anything decent.
- Booking.com offers a comprehensive list of hotels, hostels, guest rooms and private villas/houses. Hotels vary from $200+ per night depending on which type of hotel and how many rooms you have. Most hotels have interconnecting rooms or apartment style rooms. See below for a comprehensive list of the sites we use to book accommodation in Bahrain.
- Bahrain food can be expensive. A basic restaurant meal for one will cost about $10-30 but stall side shops and cafes cost less.
- Plant based food restaurants are not easy to find outside the main cities but we found that we could order quite a bit of food in most restaurants.
- If you plan on buying and cooking your own food, fresh produce is available from small market shops, markets and supermarkets.
- Supermarkets can be found in most towns and cities although at a price. Expect to pay about $150 for a small shop.
- Hiring a car proved very easy and relatively cheap. The price of petrol is negligable. We used rentalcars.com to find a car which cost £70 (including full insurance) for 2 days.
- The Bahrain Public Transport (BPTC) is responsible for the operation of the entire public bus network. Find a map of all bus routes here. Prices start at 300 Fils.
- Taxis should all use a meter but many drivers will try to cover them up. Make sure your taxi has a working meter before you get in it
- Hiring drivers and cars for the day is an option. You can rent a driver or book an entire day trip around Bahrain.
Activities in Bahrain
- Arad Fort – A very small fort near the airport. Great for an introduction to forts and a view over the city.
- Bahrain Fort – An enormous fort to explore and we loved the audio devices for learning more.
- Al Khamis Mosque – The Khamis Mosque is believed to be the first mosque in Bahrain.
- Al-Fateh Grand Mosque – Built in 1987, the Al-Fateh Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world, encompassing 6,500 square meters and having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time.
- Shaikh Isa Bin Ali House – residence of the former ruler in Muharraq. Isa ibn Ali Al Khalifa KCIE CSI (1848–9 December 1932) was the ruler of Bahrain from 1869
- Siyadi House – Consisting of three buildings, it was built for the pearl merchant Abdullah bin Isa Siyadi in the 19th century.
- Aali Burial Grounds – A set of seemingly erroneous bumps and lumps in the stoney desert that are ancient burial grounds.
- Sitra Bridge Walkway – An elongated walkway that houses small parks, play parks, work-out areas and small cafes. It has a great view over the city and is a hotspot for birds.
- Al Ghous Park – This corniche is perfect for kids as it has a large play-park and hugs the water’s edge. This is also a great park to watch the sun set from.
- The Tree Of Life – A very bizarre place that is situated in the middle of a gas field and a semi-permanent tent city. If you didn’t go here, you wouldn’t miss much but it is a total contrast to Bahrain’s glitzy image.
- Bahrain National Museum – A museum with different areas that highlight Bahrain’s history from skeletons right through to art.
- Museum of Pearl Diving – Celebrates the culture behind pearl diving and pearl art.
- Oil Museum – By appointment only, the oil museum delves into Bahrain’s history of discovering oil.
Where To Stay In Bahrain
These sites offer you the chance to swap homes with other people which significantly reduces all costs. Some homes also offer car swapping too. You might need to pay an annual fee of up to £70 but this is small change in comparision to forking out for accommodation.
How About Working For A Free Stay
Have you thught about exchanging work hours for free accommodation, some meals and time off to explore a new country?
Sign Up For Membership Discounts
Many (non-hotel/booking site) memberships provide discounts on hotels and hostels worldwide. Often you simply type the membership/discount code in a coupon box when booking online. Some programs that offer discounts include:
- Hostelling International (HI) (provides discounts at HI membership hostels worldwide)
- CAA/AAA (provides members-only discounts on international hotel chains and car rentals)
- International Student Identity Card (ISIC) card (provides discounts on accommodation, transport, and attractions worldwide)
Booking Platforms That We Use
These are the platforms that we use the most. They each have benefits and it takes time to compare the deals on them but always look for good & honest reviews and look at the booking conditions.
- Holiday Lettings
- Holiday Cottages
- Hotels Combined