With a skyline dominated by the daringly designed Bahrain World Trade Centre and no end of vast air-conditioned shopping malls, it is easy to think that Manama is merely a modern metropolis with little in the way of history or culture. The shiny capital certainly has all the hallmarks of Gulf prosperity, but beyond the glittering skyscrapers and modern architecture, you’ll discover nods to the city’s pearling past and a plethora of cultural attractions. Throw in a thriving art scene and it becomes clear that there is much more to Manama than first meets the eye.
Begin your trip by visiting the country’s most popular attraction, Bahrain National Museum, for an intriguing introduction to the kingdom. Within the striking complex are ancient artefacts that cover nearly 5,000 years of Bahrain’s history. These archaeological finds from the Dilmun civilisation provide a fascinating insight into what life was like when the country was a major trading port. The museum also boasts a natural history hall which focuses on Bahrain’s unique flora and fauna, while there are also numerous contemporary exhibitions of art and sculpture.
Providing another glimpse into the past, a trip to Manama Souq is an absolute must for any visitor to the capital. A warren of interconnected streets lined with vendors, the alleyways each boast their own unique sights, sounds and scents, making this an experience to remember. The place to go for those looking to haggle with traders and discover a truly unique souvenir, there are areas dedicated to fine gold jewellery, exotic spices perfumes and herbs. Take your time exploring the markets and wandering through the tight lanes, and make sure to stop off in order to drink chai and sample some shawarma.
After a busy day of walking, relax in the evening with a trip to Bahrain National Theatre. A stunning architectural showpiece that seemingly floats on water, the main theatre has hosted international superstars such as legendary composer Yanni and Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo. The striking complex also regularly hosts emerging talent, while even the number of seats in the auditorium is significant; 1,001 paying homage to the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ book of Middle Eastern folk tales.
A must visit for any thrill seeker, just half an hour outside the capital is Bahrain International Circuit where you can choose from one of the many track experiences. Try an exhilarating ride in one of the world’s most powerful drag racing cars or emulate modern-day F1 greats such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel by tackling the challenging circuit in a Radical SR3 sports car.
For those who prefer two wheels instead of four, the Ducati riding experience lets you speed round the track on an immensely powerful Ducati Panigale 1299 S, an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
After the excitement of the track, choose from one of the many art galleries that can be found in the capital. Al Riwaq Art Space is a small but dynamic destination that offers some of the county’s best exhibitions, cultural events and film screenings. Tucked away in the quaint Adliya district, it is here you will also find Arabesque Art Gallery. A long-standing venue, it exhibits the oils and watercolours of its owner, A Weheb Al Kooheji, a renowned local artist who specialises in painting Gulf architecture and street scenes. For a memorable end to the day, head to the beautiful Al-Fateh Grand Mosque which is made of marble from Italy, glass from Australia and teak from India. The largest mosque in the country, it is capable of holding up to 7,000 worshippers and features some stunning examples of interior design.