Why Bahrain is fast becoming the pearl of the Gulf

Dive into the plentiful Kingdom of pearls and precious metals

With bustling markets, cloud-skimming architecture and fast F1 cars, Bahrain is a country on the move. Starting from The Merchant House, Bahrain’s new luxury hotel, delve into the historical city of Manama where a wealth of colour and perfumes will steal your senses. It’s the perfect stepping stone to adventures across the country. Whether you’re after sport-fuelled days, a glimpse of ancient history or a spot of shopping mall hopping, here’s our selection of unmissable experiences.

The Merchant House

SHOPPING

Up-market

There are two sides to shopping in Bahrain. The bustling, haggling adventure of the traditional souqs, and the contemporary supermalls, with their exclusive portfolios of luxury fashion brands.

For textiles, nuts and spices, just browsing Manama’s main souq in Bab el-Bahrain – right beside The Merchant House – is an adventure in itself. The immersive alleyways and intoxicating spices stun the senses and it’s hard to know where to look first. For jewellery, head to Gold City in Bab el-Bahrain, and the nearby Gold Souq. It attracts the crowds but with good reason – the craftsmanship and quality of gold here is second-to-none. Just like the main souq, you need to be a little discerning and only make conversation if you’re planning to buy – but the vendors here tend to be slightly more relaxed if you’re just browsing.

Chic and cheerful

For pearls, precious metals and high-end fashion, you may prefer the more structured setup of the city malls. City Centre Mall in Manama is the largest, with excellent jewellery stores – and, surprisingly, a water park. For exclusive and designer boutiques, try Al Aali Mall in Seef, or Moda Mall in Manama. Or, if handmade and traditional crafts are more to your taste, check out Capital Mall in Seef and the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre on Bahrain’s west coast.

ADVENTURE

A string of pearls

Beach culture in Bahrain isn’t top of the agenda for locals, but there’s no shortage of beautiful coastline. The kingdom is famous for its pearls, making it a global hub for pearl divers. With recent efforts to share this cultural heritage outside of the Middle East, you can now experience the thrill of pearl diving for yourself. Take a dive tour off the coasts of the island and you may catch glimpses of turtles and manatee-like dugongs as you look for pearl oysters.

For a drier wildlife encounter, head to Al Areen Wildlife Park where cheetah, zebra and honey badgers all roam the reserve. It’s worth noting that the park is split into two zones: the publicly accessible zoo, and the restricted reserve (open only to wildlife specialists).

Horse Power

Home to the iconic International Circuit, Bahrain knows how to do fast and furious. Book race tickets or get a piece of the action yourself on the karting tracks. With activities for the whole family including workshops, ziplines and VIP tours there’s no shortage of high-octane fun for thrill seekers.

For a different kind of horse power, the nearby Sakhir Racecourse holds races every Friday during the November to May season. Watch beautiful Arabian Thoroughbreds compete and see for yourself why the sport is so prominent in Bahraini culture.

Arabic Antiquity

Bahrain isn’t all fast cars and fashion. For an introduction to the country’s more domestic past, head to Bait Khalaf in central Manama. Here you can see restored examples of homes from past generations, including a pearl merchant’s house showcasing the rich history of pearl trading in Manama. East of Manama – past the impressive National Museum – is Arad Fort. This 15th-century fortress carries strategic historical importance – and is especially dramatic at sunset.

NIGHTLIFE

Bars and Bollywood

Whilst alcohol laws in Bahrain are a little more relaxed than other areas of the Middle East, it’s worth being mindful of local attitudes toward drinking. The rooftop bar in the Merchant House provides an elevated approach to bar service, while the Adliya neighbourhood is home to clubs, bars and authentic Asian dining. There’s also a vibrant live music scene in Adliya, so you won’t be short of evening entertainment. And Bahraini cinema is well worth investigating for its diverse mix of American, Indian and Arabic films.

STAY IN LUXURY

Bahrain’s mild winters and hot summers make it an excellent year-round destination. Its pearlescent waters and imposing skyline give it a sophisticated feel, with the luxury The Merchant House hotel making the most of the ancient city of Manama.