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Bahrain is popular for its authentic "Arabness". Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca.
Bahrain features a tropical desert climate, but due to land reclamation has very few beaches. Man-made beaches at luxury hotels are nice, but only accessible for a price. Winters in Bahrain are dry and average daytime temperatures in the low.
Bahrain International Airport (BAH), in Muharraq just east of Manama, is the main base for Gulf Air and has excellent connections throughout the region and London. The airport has good duty-free shopping for those awaiting flights. Many residents of eastern Saudi Arabia choose to fly out via Bahrain, and Gulf Air offers shuttle services to Khobar and Dammam to cater to this market; inquire when booking.
The low cost carrier Air Arabia offers daily flights from the Sharjah Airport (SHJ) north of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO), runs eight buses daily from the SAPTCO bus station in Dammam via Khobar in Saudi Arabia, across the King Fahd Causeway, to the bus terminal next to the Lulu Centre in central Manama.
The 26-km King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The border post is on an island in the middle of the causeway. The causeway has a toll for entering on each side: 2 BD from Bahrain and 20 SAR from Saudi. There are no tolls leaving the causeway.
You cannot walk across the border on the King Fahd Causeway, you have to be in a vehicle. So you cannot take a Saudi taxi to the border, walk through, then take a Bahraini taxi from the other side.
You can take unofficial taxis through the border. For example, from the Saudi side, get any regular taxi to take you to the causeway (you will pay an extra 20 SAR for the toll). Then find an unofficial taxi to take you through the border and on to Bahrain.
Arabic is the official language. Bahraini Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect of the Arabic language, though this differs slightly from standard Arabic.
English is widely spoken by Bahrainis of all ages, and is a compulsory second language at all schools.
What to see
The Qala'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is located off the northern shore and is a five to ten minute drive away from Manama city, in Karbabad. It is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits.
Bahrain has three other small forts. Abu Mahir Fort is located in Muharraq and is also known as Muharraq Fort. It was built on the foundations of much old fort and was positioned to protect the western approaches.
The Sheikh Salman bin Ahmad Al Fateh Fort is located in Riffa, overlooking the Hunanaiya Valley in the centre of the island. Open Sun-Wed 8am-2pm, Thur & Sat 9am-6pm, Fri 3pm-6pm.
Museums. Bahrain has a number of musueums - Al Oraifi Museum in Muharraq (Dilmun era artifacts), Beit al Quran in Hoora (rare collection of Islamic manuscripts), Bahrain National Museum on the Al Fateh Corniche, Manama, Currency Museum in the Diplomatic Area (Bahraini coinage) and the Oil Museum in Sakhir (history of the local oil industry). For example, this museum exhibits how to get oil in Bahrain and so on.
Beaches. The year-round warm climate means that the water is very warm, even in wintertime, when cooler temperatures may occur. The water is known for being very calm and clear.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because of its location in the middle of the desert amidst the oil wells and other infrastructure of the petroleum industry. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
There are a number of famous houses which can also be visited. Al Jasra House is located in Al Jasra village and was built by the late Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1933. It is an excellent example of Bahraini architecture.
What to do
Bahrain has history dating back 5000 years, from the ancient Dilmun period through the Islamic era. The country offers three forts which have been meticulously restored and opened to the public, although a lack of signs and general promotion by the country's tourist industry sometimes makes finding these sites difficult.
Bahrain's biggest yearly event is the Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race, held each April at the Bahrain International Circuit. Plan well in advance, as flights sell out and hotel prices triple.
The high temperatures in Bahrain make sea activities seem extra tempting and water sports are extremely popular in Bahrain, with tourists and locals indulging in their sport of choice all year round in the warm waters of the Arabic Gulf. Sailing and scuba diving are particularly popular.
Although a desert country, Bahrain boasts an international 18-hole grass golf course, which is about 15 minutes outside the capital, Manama. The par 72 championship course features five lakes and is landscaped with hundreds of date palms and desert plains.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Visit Royal Camel Farm
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
The currency in Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar (BD), which is divided into 1000 fils. One dinar is worth nearly three US dollars. If coming in from Saudi, there's no reason to change your money, but do try to get rid of any excess dinars before you leave the country, as they're hard to exchange elsewhere, even in Saudi.
There are several malls in Bahrain that offer international and luxury labels shops and boutiques, supermarkets and so forth, as well as food courts, contemporary and traditional cafes, play areas and arcades, cinemas and even an in-door water park. I recommend Bahrain city centre and seef mall. You can Moda mall for luxurious brands and restaurants.
A visit to the local souq is a must. There you can negotiate the price on simple cloths, Bahrain's famous gold, and many other gifts. The souq is also home to many excellent tailors. If you're there for long enough (say a week) then you can take a favorite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
Drink plenty of water. April through August can be very hot (up to 50 ºC) and humid. Use an umbrella to protect you from the harsh sun. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are outdoors during the day. Bottled water is sold practically everywhere in the city from "Cold Stores" and small restaurants at very reasonable prices. In the souk, walking vendors offer small chilled bottles but you may end up paying more than the bottle is really worth. If you are living in Bahrain for an extended period of time, you can set up an arrangement for a neighborhood Cold Store to deliver bottled water to your flat, or sign up for water delivery through several companies on the island. Water on the island is barely potable, but not recommended for drinking due to amount of bacteria and heavy mineral content.
Bahrain is a fairly gracious host nation but it is imperative to demonstrate respect and courtesy in reference to their particular cultural practices and religion at all times. When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, or shorts, and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear. Do not show signs of affection to members of the opposite sex in public. People of the opposite sex have been arrested for kissing in public and it is just not socially accepted. Always avoid any confrontation and never become involved in an argument, especially with a local.