Housed in a breathtaking and impressive building that seems to float effortlessly on calm waters, Bahrain's National Museum is the country's most visited attraction, and for good reason. It provides a thorough and fascinating tour through the archeological, artistic and cultural history of the country, with its numerous exhibits housed in nine halls, including one for traditional handicrafts, one for documents and manuscripts, and even one for burial mounds.
Just outside of Manama lies this imposing, centuries-old fort, originally built by the Portuguese in order to defend their outposts in the Gulf. The site has been in use for almost 5,000 years, and the archeological digs around the fort showcase the rich history of the area, including ruins of two earlier forts.
Bahrain's largest mosque, and one of the largest in the world, is a sight to behold. Covered by the world's largest fiberglass dome, its materials were brought from all over the world and processed by local craftspeople. It can accommodate 7,000 worshipers, and visitors have been endlessly fascinated by the beautiful calligraphy ornamenting the walls.
Some believe that Bahrain was the location of the Garden of Eden, and that this majestic tree is all that is left of it. At over 400 years old, this solitary mesquite tree has survived in the desert for centuries, and it believed to be the site where ancient cults practiced worshiping rituals.
Another astonishingly impressive architectural achievement, the National Theatre is the third largest theatres in the Arab world, after the Cairo and Muscat opera houses. It hosts performances by some of the foremost artists in the world, ranging from classical music and ballet to contemporary shows. Like the nearby National Museum, it seems to float on the water, and interestingly, it has exactly 1,001 seats.
This burial site complex is believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world, encompassing thousands of burial mounds spread throughout the island's northern area. Dating as far back as the Dilmun era (3rd to 1st millennium BC), some of the tombs are incredibly well preserved, particularly those around the village of A'Ali.
Bahrain owes much of its wealth to the oil reserves present on the island, and this museum, housed in an impressive white building at the site where oil was first discovered, provides insights into the oil industry in Bahrain through interesting exhibits and photographs. The country's first, rather primitive oil well, dating from 1932, can also be admired.
This breathtaking building was once the seat of power for the ruling Sheikh, and it is one of the finest and best-preserved traditional Gulf buildings found anywhere. A marvel of architecture, the rooms are kept quite cool in the summer heat through an inventive system of draft towers. Though unfurnished, the meticulous decoration in the different rooms deserves hours of examining.
A longtime favourite in Bahrain for both locals and visitors, Veranda is a beautifully-decorated restaurant that invites its guests to linger for hours over the homely Arabic dishes and some shisha. Thursday and Friday nights there is a barbecue buffet, the best way to discover and sample wide array of local specialties.
One is first struck by Maki's modern design, and then by how equally sleek the dishes are. Japanese cuisine is taken a step further here, combining typical Japanese ingredient to make innovative Asian fusion meals. It is located on the ground floor of the World Trade Center, in an area that is great for shopping and lounging well into the evening hours.
The name pretty much sums it up: Curry Country gathers a huge selection of curry dishes from all around the world, including Indian, Iranian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian, among others. Temporary menu additions are constantly being introduced, making it exciting and worthwhile to return time and time again.
Masso provides one of the best fine dining experiences to be had anywhere in Bahrain. Located in the Palace Boutique Hotel, the menu consists of southern European cuisine, and it is all organic, healthy and delicious. Guests can choose individual dishes or one of the sharing platters.
A taste of Paris in the Persian Gulf, Cafe Lilou is the best place in town to enjoy afternoon tea. The cosy sofas invite visitors to linger and laze the evening away over a hot cup of coffee and a fresh pastry. The food options range from refreshing salads and warm sandwiches to more hearty soups and full dinner platters.
A great way to immerse oneself into the Bahraini way of life is to spend a hot afternoon enjoying shisha at a place like Aroma. It is a casual, but beautifully decorated place, complete with reclining divans and cushions, that serves Arabic dishes and offers a great selection of shisha flavours.
Another traditional European-style cafe, Cafe Amsterdam takes pride in making everything they serve in-house, even the most basic ingredients like bread and jam. The coffee is fresh and the menu is varied, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all kinds of snacks for in between.
The best of Parisian patisseries can be enjoyed half a world away, in the middle of the Persian Gulf, at Cafe Delices. Mouth-watering pastries, cakes and cookie, homemade chocolates and delectable macarons are all available here, within the Gulf Hotel, the very best desserts in the desert.
Chawan greatly respects the role that tea plays in Japanese traditions and life. Under the shadow of a cherry blossom tree, guests can perform a traditional tea ceremony and let the professional staff guide them along the process of attaining peace and balance through this practice. Other Japanese customs can be practiced here as well, from karaoke to calligraphy.
On the second floor of the Bushido Restaurant you can find one of the most suave and sophisticated lounge/bar areas in all of Bahrain. The elegant decor and intimate lighting beg you to linger and enjoy one of the many varieties of specialty Sakes available. Don't miss the chance to take your drink to the refreshing terrace.
The decor and ambiance at Bizarre are exactly that: strange but beautiful, bizarre but welcoming. The violet cushions, baroque-style tables and fantastic lighting make it one of the most interesting places on the island. At night it transforms from a lounge to a nightclub, where every Friday is Salsa Night, where avid dancers can work up a sweat.
With its red brick facade and fortress build, this huge mall was designed to evoke the history and tradition of Bahraini architecture, along with the palm trees, torches and water features found within. It contains everything the modern shopper could need, department stores, boutiques, restaurants and more.
One of the most popular shops with tourists in the Manama Souq, Kingdom of Perfumes has a dizzying array of fragrances from around the world. All the popular brands are represented, and the real jewels here are the locally created perfumes with all manner of fresh ingredients from the area.
Bahrain is famous worldwide for the quality of its pearls and work in gold. The exclusive showrooms at Gold City showcase some the country's very best precious metals and gems, worked with incredible skill into true works of art. You are assured to find only natural pearls at Gold City.
One of the best parts of the souq experience is the feast for the senses that are the spice sellers. Their stall feature heaps of colourful and fragrant herbs and spices from around the world, along with other treats like seeds, dried fruit, lentils and countless other delicacies.
The Bahrain International Airport (BAH) is located about 7km northeast of Manama, in Muharraq, and serves as the hub for Gulf Air, the national airline. The easiest way to get to Manama or anywhere else in Bahrain is by taking a taxi from the terminal. They are safe, fast and comfortable. Make sure the driver uses the meter.