Bahrain is the pearl of the Gulf. This 33-island archipelago is one of the world’s smallest countries, but it manages to pack a lot into a little area. Known for its exquisite pearls, historic forts, and more liberal attitude than some of its Middle Eastern neighbors, the kingdom has drawn me in and shown me a wealth of things to do in 2 days in Bahrain.
2 Days in Bahrain
I’m here as a guest of the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority. They’ve invited me to experience a taste of what the country has to offer. After a direct flight with Gulf Air on which they send us in business class, I land ready to explore. The itinerary they’ve planned is a bit disorganized—I keep showing up to places only to find they’re closed, and things that should be booked aren’t. But in spite of the snags, I manage to see and do a lot.
I start at the Bahrain National Museum, which has everything from ancient cuneiform tablets from the Dilmun civilization to life-size recreations of traditional souqs. It’s a great place to learn about Bahrain’s past and get a feel for its layers of history. There’s a lot more than I ever imagined.
I experience said history first-hand at Bahrain Fort, where I climb centuries-old towers and descend into cavernous rooms. An evening light show with Mathias Tourism reveals more, even if it’s a bit difficult to follow the story. In any case, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by excavated ruins of past civilizations, immersing me in thousands of years of cultural heritage.
And a big part of Bahrain’s heritage relates to pearls. This country is famous for these natural beauties, which have attracted everyone from Alexander the Great to Jacques Cartier. Today the ancient capital of Muharraq’s Pearling Trail is in the works, and I get a chance to tour some of the old merchant houses that have been restored in recent years.
They offer insights into the lives of those who were involved in the industry and reveal beautiful contemporary interiors that are giving their homes new life.
There are religious highlights, too. No cultural exploration of Bahrain would be complete without a trip to the Al Fateh Grand Mosque. Built in the 1980s, it’s the largest in the country. I tour the inside, soaking up the sunshine as it splashes off the marble floors and listening to the melody of the prayers of the faithful.
But perhaps my favorite part of Bahrain’s culture is the people. Everyone here is friendly, and my guide entertains me with so much humor and so many stories about her life and family that I find myself laughing at every turn. And unlike many other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, Bahrainis work regular jobs and interact with visitors, offering a chance to have a local experience.
Speaking of local experiences, I focus the next part of my trip on activities. First up is the Manama Souq. I have breakfast nearby at a restaurant called Haji’s Cafe, which has been around since 1950 and is frequented by Bahrainis and foreigners alike. Sitting in the buzzing room, I sample everything from eggs with tomatoes to local cheeses and delicious yellow lentils.
The meal is a great way to start a souq tour, not least because there are lots of spices on display here. Passing through stalls filled with household goods and souvenirs, I make my way to the food vendors. Orange spice cones draw my eyes in, and soon I’m discovering everything from the tart flavor of dried black lemons to the sweet gooey taste of halwa.
Later I burn off some calories on a pearl diving excursion. They take me out on a boat to dive in the shallow water for oysters. I struggle with the weight belt and coolness of the water, but the rest of my group hauls in a decent number of bivalves. We shuck them on the boat in the hope of striking it rich with a beautiful specimen. If we find any, we get to keep them. Sadly, we aren’t successful, but there’s always next time.
I have more luck horseback riding, which is one of the highlights of my 2 days in Bahrain. I hop on an Arabian and ride past Bahrain Fort to get to Karbabad Beach. It’s late afternoon and the sky is warming, making for great views as I go.
After all the activity, I’ve worked up an appetite. Luckily, I enjoy good meals while I’m in Bahrain. From lunch with a view at re Asian Cuisine by Wolfgang Puck at the Four Seasons, Bahrain Bay to dinner in the hip Block 338, I indulge in everything from dim sum to prawn masala. And that’s to say nothing of roof terrace bars like Attic, where music and cocktails please the senses into the wee hours.
And when the wee hours come, I drift off in the Rotana hotels. I spend the first two nights in the Downtown Rotana and the last in the ART Rotana. Both of my rooms have sweeping views—the former of the city and the latter of the sea—and both hotels feed me well and give me a warm send-off.
When I board my flight to London, I’m amazed by how much I’ve done in 2 days in Bahrain and sad I don’t have time to do more. This place is home to everything from a Formula 1 circuit to art galleries and ancient temples. And lots of pearls I haven’t found yet.