Bahrain: Where Tradition Meets Modernity

Bahrain, an island nation spread over just 780 square km, receives more than four million tourists every year. It’s the preferred destination for business travellers who wants the best of both worlds – modern, world-class amenities offered by Bahrain’s luxury hotels, along with traditional, old-world hospitality. Bahrain’s proximity to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE also makes it attractive for those whose business extend to these neighbouring regions.

Bahrain International Circuit

The home of motorsport in the Middle East and one of the most modern top-tier racing facilities in the world, the Bahrain International Circuit sits in the Sakhir desert, in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Inaugurated by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa back in 2004, the circuit has played an important part in putting Bahrain on the world motorsports map. An FIA Grade 1 facility, the Bahrain Circuit was designed by German engineer Hermann Tilke and was built at a cost of around $150 million.

The full circuit is 6.29km long with 15 turns, though GP races held here have run over a slightly shorter 5.41km race distance in recent years. Up to 70,000 people can be seated at the track and, yes, the circuit often runs packed given the sheer variety of motorsports events held there. Indeed, it’s a mecca for speed freaks; last year, F1 driver Alexander Albon hit a shade over 340kph in his Toro Rosso STR14, which remains the highest top speed ever achieved at this circuit. However, while Formula 1 (run as a night race here) is the jewel in its crown, the BIC also hosts world endurance championship races, drag races, drift competitions, superbike races, burnout challenges and much more.

Bahraini heritage and tradition

Come for the motorsport, stay for the unique Arabic heritage and culture that Bahrain offers. With its parks, beaches, forts, museums, malls, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and theme-based tours that offer tantalising glimpses of Bahrain’s rich past, there’s never a dull moment in the island kingdom.

Those who like a bit of history may want to start with visiting the Qal'at al-Bahrain (the Bahrain Fort), a magnificent UNESCO world heritage site, which also has a museum that showcases beautiful artefacts from ancient Bahrain. For those who appreciate art, there’s the Beit Al-Qu’ran complex that has on display Islamic art, some very old Qu’rans and manuscripts from centuries ago. Other historic monuments like the Al Fateh Mosque in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, and the Riffa Fort are also well worth visiting.

Muharraq (the former capital of Bahrain) offers a unique glimpse of Bahrain’s past, with its very old, traditional houses that can still be found across the town’s narrow lanes. The Shaikh Isa bin Ali house is one of Bahrain’s most impressive examples of Islamic architecture, featuring four courtyards and beautifully carved wooden doors. Kurar House for traditional embroidery, Bin Matar House for pearling history, and the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research for insights into Bahrain’s heritage – these are all highly recommended and must be included in the traveller’s itinerary.

Find a Pearl

For those inclined to laze around in the sun, there’s the Al Jazayer beach in Zallaq and the Solymar beach on Amwaj Islands – two of the best options for lounging on Bahrain’s pristine sands and enjoying its clear, blue sea. There’s also pearl diving. Some of the best natural pearls in the world are found in the seawaters of the Gulf and Bahrain gives you the opportunity to try and find some of your own. Some basic training is required after which you can simply buy a ticket and proceed to Ras Rayyah (at the northern tip of Muharraq island), and go pearl diving with a licensed diving company.

In Bahrain, the sea is not the only place where you can look for pearls. Manama is a shopper's paradise and there’s many a gem to be found in its old souks and bazaars. If you’re willing to venture beyond airconditioned malls with their usual array of international luxury brands (which are, of course, all there and accounted for in Bahrain), go to the Bab Al-Bahrain, which marks the entrance to the Manama Souk. There you will find small shops selling local goodies – everything from sweets and spices to gems, jewellery, clothes and electronics. Haggle to your heart’s content and, if you can pardon the cliché, shop till you drop.

Have an Adventure

If shopping is a bit too tame for you, have no fear because Bahrain has enough opportunities for you to let you indulge your wild, adventurous side. For those with a need for speed, there’s Go-Karting at the Bahrain International Karting Circuit. The machines may look small but their pace and ability to tear around the 1.14km, 14-turn BIKC is actually quite amazing. Helmets, racing suits, gloves and balaclavas are provided by the Circuit, so just show up and go. For those who prefer to get their fix of adrenaline off road, BIKC also offers a Land Rover Experience, which lets you go sand bashing in a 4x4, with a qualified instructor by your side.

Once you’re done with the track, you can head out to the sea at Amwaj Islands for a bit of aquatic acrobatics. You can rent a Jet Ski – choose from fast, 700cc ones or the even faster 1100cc ones if you really want to scare yourself silly. Open the throttle as far as you dare and these Jet Skis will blast you across the clear waters of Bahrain at exhilarating speeds. There’s also the Flyboard, Jetovator and the X-JetPack, all of which require a bit of training and skilful handling. But once you spend a bit of time with one of the instructors and get the hang of it, these amazing machines will have you jetting a few metres above the sea, with you at the helm. It’s simply spectacular, and loads of fun. And for those who want things to be a bit more relaxed, there’s kayaking, dolphin spotting and a visit to Dive Bahrain, the world’s largest underwater theme park (spanning an area of 100,000 square metres), complete with a decommissioned Boeing 747 that’s open to diving enthusiasts.

The adventure continues even as you leave the water and return to land. Go to the Bahrain Fort and visit its Equestrian Centre for an opportunity to ride a full-blooded Arabian horse, a breed like no other. Instructors will guide you on the finer points of handling these magnificent beasts, after which you can go for a ride. Finally, to wrap up your day, go to the Gravity Skydive, which lets you go skydiving indoors. With its 12m tempered glass wind tunnel (the tallest of its kind anywhere in the world) and wind speeds of up to 250kph, this facility lets you defy gravity and free-float on air. For the really brave, you can even jump into this wind tunnel from the top and end up floating in the air as the air blast from below keeps you suspended mid-air. It’s a unique experience and an absolute must for adventure junkies.

Savour Bahraini Cuisine

Done with shopping, sightseeing, diving and adventuring? You must, then, turn your attention to the fabulous Bahraini food. Block 338, in Adliya, is Bahrain’s hot dining district and offers a wide range of choices that cater to every foodie’s wish list. Bahrain is known for its excellent seafood, so you can expect to feast on mackerel, shrimp and lobster, as well as local fish like Alknad and Sabiti, which are often served with rice. There’s also beans with tahini, garlic and lemon, tabbouleh (which consists of parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon), falafel (fried chickpeas served in sandwiches, with vegetables), makiosus (rice with fish), and qoozi (grilled lamb, stuffed with rice, eggs, onions, and spices.) The best part is, great food is available across Bahrain and Manama offers a massive selection of eateries – everything from speciality restaurants in five-star hotels to small, hole-in-the-wall joints that offer surprisingly delicious fare you won’t find elsewhere.

With so much to do and discover in Bahrain, you owe it to yourself to plan a trip the island kingdom this year.