Manama is the capital city of the Kingdom of Bahrain, situated on the island of Bahrain, the largest of the 33 islands comprising this archipelago, scattered in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The city lies in the northeast of the Bahrain Island and is home to one fifth of the entire emirate’s population.
It is surrounded by a mostly flat and arid landscape, but as Manama lies on a peninsula it is blessed with a beautiful waterfront. The city is a major transportation center, served by the Bahrain International Airport and is also the hub of the country’s road network.
The city is also the center of an economy based on the sales promotion industry, since the role of crude oil as the main basis of wealth is now diminishing. It is also the country’s commercial center and is home to a large number of shopping malls.
The city is expanding, constantly sprouting new skyscrapers on land reclaimed from the sea. The cosmopolitan city pulses with activity in the evening; from late-night shopping, to vibrant nightlife, with bars, pubs and nightclubs serving alcohol, attracting visitors from not only from overseas but also from the more conservative emirates in the Gulf. Other diversions to be found include diving, sailing, riding camels and playing golf.
Manama has an arid climate. Summers are extremely hot, with temperatures soaring as high as 48 °C. Winters are mild but temperatures can dip to 15°C. The spring and autumn months usually see temperatures between 15°C and 24°C and around 15°C to 20°C during winter.
January average temperature 16 deg Celsius 15 mm rainfall February average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 15 mm rainfall March average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall April average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall May average temperature 30 deg Celsius, 3 mm rainfall June average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall July average temperature 34 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 34 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall September average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall October average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall November average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall December average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 18 mm rainfall
Manama is served by the Bahrain International Airport, a premier hub airport in the Middle East. Located on the nearby island of Al Muharraq, 6 km northwest of Manama, it is connected to the city via a causeway. Web: www.bahrainairport.com
Taxi: a taxi rank is located outside the arrivals terminal. A fare to the city costs approximately 4 BDH and takes 15 minutes. Bus: the bus stop is also located outside the arrivals hall with hourly services, operating 24 hours daily. In addition, many hotels offer courtesy shuttle buses.
Taxis are available throughout the city and can be either flagged on the street or ordered by phone. The fares are quite expensive. Taxis are metered but you must insist the drivers use them. Taxi ranks are found in front of several hotels.
The other option is to hire a car, which is a cheaper way of getting around than in a taxi. The city and the island are not too difficult to navigate.
Manama has relaxed policies towards alcohol and so is a popular nightlife getaway for many living in the Gulf region. The country’s best clubs can be found here, and numerous bars where revelers can enjoy a variety of jazz, opera, ballet, and theatre performances, as well as salsa and belly dancing. Among the city’s hot spots are the 100 Club at Metropolitan Hotel, Al Baradi at Grand Hotel, Al Basha at Palace Inn Hotel and Ali Baba at Windsor Tower Bars.
Bahrain has a long history of pearl diving, but the underwater world has many other attractions. The warm climate allows year-round diving as water temperatures range from 20°C in the winter to 34°C in the summer. There are various reefs, wrecks, and caves to explore and numerous species of fish to see, including trigger fish, surgeon fish, grouper, trevally and barracuda, as well as turtles and other sea animals. Diving trips can be organized for all levels of expertise and snorkeling gear can be hired.
Boats tours are available to for watching dolphins and manatees. There are usually three tours a day on most days. Contact: +973 1770 0677.
The Riffa Golf Club is an 18-hole golf course, located a short distance from the city and has excellent amenities for golfers of all levels. It covers 24 hectares and was designed by a leading golf designer, Karl Litton. The shrubbery and palms in the desert landscape gives it an exotic feel and is on par with international courses. Due to the warm climate the course is available year round and, due to stadium style lighting, night golf is also available.
The city’s premier shopping venue, the Manama souq, is a busy and vibrant marketplace and should not be missed. The bustling market, located in the heart of the city, features numerous traditional as well as modern shops. You can browse through fabrics, spices, kaftans, handicrafts, souvenirs, dry fruits, nuts and numerous other items. The Gold Souq sells hallmarked gold jewelry of 18K and 21K. But it is pearls that have put Bahrain on the jewelry map. They are the world’s only natural pearls harvested today. Of course, Manama has a large selection of shopping malls, where you can buy the latest fashions as well as the best in photographic and electronic goods. The Moda Mall, located in the Bahrain World Trade Center, features numerous well known stores. The three-storey Sitra Mall is one of the most sophisticated and has drawn inspiration from a traditional souq for its ambience. Dana Mall features a large selection of stores and entertainment venues, catering to the needs of a large clientele. For photography ware head down to Ashrafs showroom on Palace Avenue in Hoora, while computer buffs should swing by the Apple Centre on Exhibitions Road (also in Hoora), or Mazin Computers located at the Corniche end of Lulu Avenue in the city centre.
Address: Government Ave, Souq Phone +973 17 210 600 Open: Sat-Wed: 8:00 am – noon; Thu: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Web: www.bnmuseum.com
The impressive building that houses the museum was constructed in 1937 and was at the time the seat of Bahrain Court. In 1984, however, the building was turned into the Traditional Heritage Center, portraying the Bahraini ways of life prior to the period when oil ran the economy. On display is pearl-diving gear, antique weapons, traditional games and costumes, musical instruments and a collection of photographs portraying state occasions and various dignitaries in the 20th century.
The Oil Museum, situated near the first oil well drilled in Bahrain, details the discovery of oil in Bahrain, which was actually the first country in the Arabian Gulf region to do so. The museum features old drilling equipment, rock samples from deep in the earth, topographical maps, old photographs, documents and information on the period of oil exploration in the Gulf, as well as a working model of an oil rig.
The vibrant colors, aromas and sounds of the traditional souq or market are an experience for the senses and should not be missed. Located in the old part of town, it has typically Middle Eastern narrow and partially covered alleyways. At the entrance to the souq is the imposing Bab Al Bahrain, 'Gateway to Bahrain', the city’s former business district. It was built by the British in 1945 and designed by Sir Charles Belgrave but was later remodeled to give it a more Islamic look. Visitors can browse among the spices, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, golden and pearl jewelry, and textiles and bargain for souvenirs, or enjoy a local snack or coffee in one of the sidewalk cafés.
Address: North coast, Manama
The fort, located on the north coast of the island, is an outstanding example of the country’s ancient history. One of Bahrain’s largest archeological digs; it was once the capital of the ancient Silmun Civilization and has now been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 14th century, but further excavations have revealed other sites in the close vicinity that date back to 3,000 BC.
Bahrain’s largest place of worship and one of the world’s largest mosques can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers at a time. It is topped by a huge dome made of fiberglass, and is currently the largest such dome in the world. The mosque also features the new National Library, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bahrain.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is a famous tree, growing in the middle of a dry desert, some 30 km from Manama. The tree is 400 years old and its large trunk and branches, reaching 10 meters in height, make it a magnificent sight. What stirs everyone’s imagination is its source of water. All underground water sources in the vicinity contain salt, so there is speculation as to whether the tree has developed a tolerance towards salt. Surviving in the desert heat of up to 45° C with no known fresh water source, the tree is considered a natural wonder.
Manama is a cosmopolitan city with and an array of restaurants catering to both western and eastern preferences. Arabic food, however, is the main event here especially seafood as the city is located right on the sea. Try the delicious king fish steaks and prawns in tomato and masala sauce, or the baked shari fish with local spices. Other cuisines are also well represented. There are many Indian restaurants, owing to the large number of immigrants from the region. Visitors can also find Japanese, Chinese and even Balinese restaurants. For quick and amazingly cheap eats stop at one of the street-side shwarma stalls selling local fast food, similar to kebabs. Western fast food chains are also present, such as McDonald’s and Burger King and easily found anywhere in the city. Other Western food is available from the known chains to upscale venues. The latter are mostly located in the four and five star hotels and the prices are usually quite high.
Al Abbraj Grill
Address: Sehla Highway Phone: 1759 6161
This is a modest restaurant with reasonable prices and a big selection of grilled Arabic food.
The Blue Elephant is a spectacular restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine and excellent seafood. Enjoy cocktails and live jazz at the recently opened Blue Bar, which is a reproduction of the Suphannahong, a royal Thai barge.
The largest and most prestigious jewelry exhibition in the Middle East, showcasing world famous names and artisan designs from across the globe, the festival is held annually at the international exhibition center.
Bahrain National Day
Date: annually, 16 December
Bahrain gained independence from British imperial rule on December 16, 1971. The event is now celebrated over two days with parades, marches, speeches and fireworks all over the island.
The race attracts visitors from all over the Middle East. Its track was built by the renowned Formula One track designer, Hermann Tilke. The total circuit length is almost five and a half kilometers. The race is divided into 57 full laps and the distance that each driver has to cover is around 308 km.
Manama is a thriving nightlife destination. Bahrain is the only country in the Middle East with very relaxed policies towards alcohol and thus attracts locals as well as expatriates from all over the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The numerous entertainment options include a variety of jazz concerts, opera, ballet, and theatre performances, as well as the exotica of salsa and belly dancing. The city has numerous restaurants, bars and clubs where drinks are easily available. It is also home of he Bahrain’s top clubs, some of which are 100 Club at Metropolitan Hotel, Al Baradi at Grand Hotel, Al Basha at Palace Inn Hotel and Ali Baba at Windsor Tower Bars.
Sherlock Holmes bar
Located in the Gulf Hotel, the bar is especially packed during the weekends. Entertainment features pool tables and live bands that play most nights.
A sports club aimed at the expatriates. The pub also serves food and has live sports coverage.
The bar is located in the Elite Hotel, mostly popular with Americans on the nearby Navy base.
This is the largest Irish pub in the city and is located in the Al Bustan Hotel. It has an entry fee, but ladies drink for free 6 nights per week. The bar is very popular due to its location next to BJ’s, the hottest club in town
Address: Al Bustan Hotel Phone: +973 17 17742323
This is one of the best known and most popular nightspots in Manama. It plays a variety of music, including house, hip hop, Latin and R&B and world music.
Address: City Center Hotel, Gold City Building Phone: +973 17 36766627
This underground electronic music club is the place to be. The trendy space is funky yet cozy and boasts an excellent sound system and great service. The club plays house music and jazz.
The history of Manama goes back along way. The country’s main island has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Around 3,000 BC it became the seat of the Dilmun trading empire, which existed for some 2,000 years. The Greeks came on the island in 300 BC, naming it Tylos. In the 7th century most of the island inhabitants converted to Islam. The city was first mentioned in the Islamic chronicles in 1345 and was conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The island was used by them as a pearling port and military garrison. After an uprising led by Rukn El-Din, Europeans were driven out of Bahrain. The island was taken over by the Persians, but soon came under the control of the Al-Khalifa clan, Bahrain's current ruling family. The new rulers sought protection by the British. Manama thus entered a period of colonialism.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
Oil was discovered in the region in 1902, but large scale drilling did not start until the 1930s. At that time the pearl market was collapsing and the new-found source of wealth also brought education and healthcare to Bahrain. The oil, however, also increased the British colonial presence but anti-British sentiment grew. Arab nationalism blossomed in the 1950s culminating in riots breaking out in 1956 during the Suez crisis when Britain brought in their troops. Britain decided to leave the Gulf 15 years later and Bahrain regained full independence in 1971. As the oil prices skyrocketed during the 1970s and 1980s, so did the country’s wealth. In 1986 the King Fahd Causeway opened, linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, a move that brought about a boost of tourism and business. During the Gulf War Bahrain was targeted by Iraqi missiles but they all landed in the sea, nevertheless the relationship between the countries cooled considerably.
Today one third of the entire country’s population lives in Manama. The city continues to grow at a fast pace, owing to revenues from oil and banking. Land reclamation helps the city to expand and become more cosmopolitan and more like its regional rivals.
Although Bahrain is a liberal country, it is still Islamic so their customs should be respected. Visitors should refrain from smoking, drinking and eating in public in daylight hours during Ramadan. Women are expected to dress modestly. Scanty clothing is seen as offensive. Men usually wear good quality conservative clothes.
Alcohol is tolerated and non-Muslims are able to drink in bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs, as well as buy liquor at off-license stores, but it is illegal to drink it in public. Also, it is wise to take a cab if you have been drinking. There is no minimum blood alcohol content and drunken driving will warrant an arrest.
Smoking is restricted similarly to Europe. Except during Ramadan, when it is illegal to drink, eat, and smoke in public in daylight hours.
It is also polite to ask permission before taking photographs of people. However, it is considered offensive to take photos of Muslim women and as a general rule, it is forbidden to take photos of military installations and government buildings. Gift giving: never give alcohol.
Tipping: most restaurants and bars include a 10 – 15% service charge, but you may also leave a tip for the waiter. Porters expect a tip as well.
Bahrain follows the Islamic Calendar, which makes Friday a day off, equivalent to Sunday in Western countries. Do not initiate a handshake with Muslim women. Note diligently that the left hand is considered unclean, and so are the feet.
The city is a very safe destination and crime rates are very low. Petty theft does occur so be vigilant in public places and take the necessary precautions. One common annoyance is the practice of taxi drivers reportedly refusing to use the meter. Settle the price before the ride.
There are no vaccinations required for visitors to Bahrain, however a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended. Consult your doctor prior to departure. The city has good medical facilities, but the services must be paid for so good travel insurance is recommended. Pharmacies are well-stocked. During the summer take precautions against sunstroke and dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids, cover your head and keep out of the strongest midday sun.
Water is considered safe for drinking but visitors usually prefer to drink bottled water.
The main tourist season runs from November to February. Summers can be uncomfortably hot and temperatures can often surpass 45°C. Reconsider or book well ahead when visiting during the Eid holidays and Ramadan, as hotels and facilities are usually fully booked by Saudi tourists.