Bahrain has been one of the Gulf’s most important commercial crossroads for over 4,000 years. The word Bahrain means ‘two seas’ in Arabic, indicating how the country’s geographic position as a collection of islands has been important throughout its history. As the land of the ancient Dilmun civilisation, Bahrain has long been a trading centre linking east and west. Historically, the country has benefited from its position at the centre of the Gulf’s trade routes and rich pearl diving industry.
By the mid-19th century, the country was the Gulf’s pre-eminent trade hub. Merchants from countries across the Gulf and beyond established themselves on the islands. In 1932, Bahrain was the first Gulf state to discover oil, which led the regional transition to a modern economy. And the realisation of the need to build a society based on more than simply energy resources meant Bahrain has now become the region’s most diversified economy.
Since the 1980s, the Kingdom has become the region’s leading financial centre supported by manufacturing, logistics, communications, professional services and real estate sectors.
In 2002, Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy and a democratically elected parliament was established. This marked the beginning of a period of ongoing reform. The Kingdom also benefits from an established legal framework and respected regulatory system.
Manama is the capital of Bahrain and also its largest city and enjoys a distinct reputation as a tourism and cultural hub regionally and internationally. This was reflected by its selection as the Capital of Arab Culture in 2012, Capital of Arab Tourism in 2013 and Capital of Asian Tourism in 2014.
Weather-wise, Bahrain is defined by two seasons. Arrive here in summer and expect extreme heat, while the winter period offers some respite through cooler temperatures. Hence, most visitors to the Kingdom choose the winter season. From June to September, the heat shows little mercy, with the daytime temperatures regularly reaching 38°C and humidity climbing to over 70%. If you are planning to visit Bahrain in the summer, it is crucial you come prepared with sun block, sunglasses, a hat and protective clothing. It is also essential that you book accommodation with air conditioning. November to March is a much gentler introduction to explore the country – with daytimes being comfortably warm and evenings pleasantly mild. This is definitely a more suitable time to visit if you plan on bringing children with you.
Bahrain is an archipelago made up of 33 islands located off the coast of Saudi Arabia with the 25km King Fahd Causeway providing a direct road link between the two countries. By 2022, a causeway will also link Bahrain with Qatar, to the southeast. At over 40km, this causeway known as ‘The Friendship Causeway’ will be the world’s longest land bridge.
The majority of the population live in Manama, the capital, which is located on the northern tip of Bahrain Island, itself the largest of the 33 islands.
Culture and Lifestyle
Visit Bahrain and you will soon realise that the popular misconception that the Middle East is a closed, insular society, is exactly that, a misconception. With a friendly, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-denominational society, along with a low cost of living, excellent education facilities offering curricula from around the world and high-quality healthcare, Bahrain is an attractive destination for expat families.
Culture comes old and new with the Kingdom providing a holiday destination boasting an archipelago of 33 islands, a cosmopolitan capital city, an attractive liberal lifestyle and a rich history and culture. At sea, you can experience the ancient art of pearl diving, sailing, dolphin and whale watching, fishing, scuba diving or kite surfing. On land, there are ancient mosques and forts, gyms, horse riding stables and sports clubs, including rugby, tennis, soccer, cricket and basketball. If you like your sport at a sensible pace; The Royal Golf Club, designed by internationally-renowned professional Colin Montgomerie provides a testing but beautifully landscaped course or if you prefer life in the fast lane visit the home of Formula One in the Gulf at the Bahrain International Circuit, where you can even take your own car around the circuit.
Whether you like your shopping old or new style, Bahrain delivers. Much of the buying and selling in Manama occurs in the Bab el-Bahrain Souk district (souk means market in Arabic). Here, you’ll find stall after stall lined with vendors encouraging you to buy their crafts, fruits, spices, clothing – and the kitsch but fun souvenirs. In addition to these cultural wares, it is possible to buy high quality gold and pearls. With its legendary pearling tradition, Manama has historically been one of the world’s premier places to find pearls and the Souk does not disappoint. Haggling is not simply welcome, but expected on even the most expensive goods at all markets throughout Bahrain.
If you’re looking for a more modern proposition, you’ll find plenty of possibilities in Manama’s malls. The Seef district alone contains five malls: A’ali Mall, Seef Mall, Bahrain Mall, Dana Mall and the largest and latest addition, the Bahrain City Centre Mall – where comfortable shoes are a must if you intend to explore every shop.
There is also a gold souk called Gold City, opposite the Delmon Hotel, a short walk from the Bab al Bahrain. This souk sells watches, bags and real gold and diamonds and will even buy the gold you no longer find fashionable.