The Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: البحرين , al-Baḥrayn) is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Persian Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It displays relative social liberalism compared with more conservative neighboring countries, where Islamic law is applied in a much stricter way. Case in point: alcohol is legal here. Although Bahrain has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its political, social, and cultural peculiarities helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class and a politically conscious working class.
A string of political unrest (culminating in the demonstrations in 2011 and the following government crackdown) exposed significant discomfort as well as sectarian and social cleavages.
Bahrain means "two seas" in the Arabic language.
- 1 Manama (المنامة , al-Manāma) – the capital of Bahrain.
- 2 Hamad Town (مدينة حمد , Madīnat Ḥamad)
- 3 Isa Town (مدينة عيسى , Madīnat ʿĪsā)
- 4 Muharraq (المحرق , Al-Muḥarraq)
- 5 Riffa (الرفاع , Ar-Rifāʿ)
- 6 Sitra (سترة or سِتْرَة , As-Sitra)
- 7 Juffair (الجفير)
- 1 Hawar Islands (جزر حوار , Juzur Ḩawār) – just off the coast of Qatar, these islands are very popular with birdwatchers.
|Currency||Bahraini dinar (BHD)|
|Population||1.3 million (2013)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||999, 112 (emergency medical services, fire department, police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Bahrain is the smallest of the independent Persian Gulf states, and has often had to walk a diplomatic tightrope in relation to its larger neighbours. The country has few oil reserves, but it has established itself as a hub for refining and for international banking, while also achieving a socially liberal monarchy.
Officially 220 V 50 Hz. Most outlets are the British standard BS 1363 type. Generally speaking, U.S., Canadian and Continental European travellers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use their electrical equipment in Bahrain.
The best time to visit Bahrain is November-March, with October and April being just bearable. Be sure to take along a sweater during December-March as evenings can be cool. Bahrain's summer, May-September, is very hot and humid, though occasional cool northerly winds blow to provide some relief. More frequent are the qaws, the hot, dry summer winds that can bring sandstorms.
Rain is occasional, and happens only in the winter season.
Citizens of 67 countries may obtain a 14-day visa-on-arrival, while citizens of 114 countries, including all those eligible for a visa-on-arrival, are eligible to apply for a 14-day online visa. Check the web-site of the Ministry of Interior for the latest details. If your nationality is not eligible for either of these, or if you are visiting for purposes other than tourism or business, you will require a sponsor in Bahrain to file your visa application for you.
Bahrain is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli passports (although you'll need a visa) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Visa is not required for nationals of GCC member states and a short stay visa will be granted on arrival to residents of GCC member states as well regardless of nationality.
Bahrain International Airport (BAH IATA), in Muharraq just east of Manama, is the main base for Gulf Air and has excellent connections throughout the region and to London. The airport has good duty-free shopping; a Transhotel offering beds and showers (for a fee) to those awaiting flights is being renovated. 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.
Unlike other airports, this one is comparatively small. This is beneficial for a quick and easy departure and arrival.
The Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO) , tel. +973-17252959, runs eight buses daily from the Saudi Public Transport Company (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 service uses comfortable aircon minibuses with a trailer for luggage. Tickets cost SR60/BD 6 and can be purchased in advance, although they'll squeeze you in without a reservation if there is space. As crossing the Causeway involves two passport checks and two customs checks, figure on 2 hours for the trip, plus any traffic delays at busy times like Wednesday evenings. At congested times, buses may actually be slightly faster than private cars, as they can use separate lanes at immigration and customs.
Bahrain Saudi Transport & Tourism (BASATCO) offers what seems to be similar buses for a slightly lower fare of BD 4, although four times a day only (2011).
The schedule for SABTCO in January 2011 was:
|From Dammam||From Khobar||From Manama|
The 26-km King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Rental vehicles usually cannot be taken across, but SABTCO's BahrainLimo taxis that seat up to four can take you across for prices starting from BD 30/SR300. Unofficial taxis, found hanging around bus stations at both ends, can offer slightly lower fares.
There are no official boat services between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The official rates start at BD 1 plus 0.200 fils per kilometer. In practice, though, meters are often "broken", covered, missing or just ignored, and you'll need to agree on fares in advance. Cabbies will often ask for ridiculous prices. A growing majority of taxis now use their meters. Rates vary from BD 3-5 for a ride within Manama.
The airport gives guidelines as to the official way of calculating taxi fares. An extra BD 2 will be added if you take a taxi waiting at the airport.
On the whole taxis offer a good service but you do encounter some bandits. When travelling from the airport always use the white with red roof or London-style taxis. There is a rule if the meter is not used there is no charge; hold your ground on this and call the police, and the driver will cooperate very quickly with the correct fare for the trip.
Finding a taxi can be difficult, although major hotels and malls usually have a few waiting outside. Some privately owned companies operate in the kingdom, the most popular of which are:
- Speedy Motor Service Radio-Meter Taxis SMS Radio-Meter Taxi is the oldest & most popular radio-meter taxi company in the Kingdom, and the most reliable. Advance booking of taxi is possible, and they operate a 24-hour service, 365 days a year. Call +973-17 682999
- Bahrain Taxi Online Get meter taxi online within 10 minutes. Tel: +973-36688614
- Bahrain Limo is the sister company of the transport giant "Saudi Bahraini Transport Company" (SABTCO) which provides luxurious bus and limousine services across the King Fahad Causeway.
- Bahrain Taxi Group Radio taxi services with more than 973 taxi drivers driving orange and white cars equipped with radio meters and most of them with credit card devices. Booking online taxi services is available and can be applied by filling the form and with placing a call to call center +973 66966976.
However, there have been occasional reports of taxi drivers trying to charge overly expensive fares (like BD 50 for a short trip, when it should be BD 3), though they are generally rare. Sticking to the official taxi services is usually your best bet.
There are also public buses that run to many parts of the island. Bus fares are low, English-language schedule and map are available online.
For tourists the most important route is a1 (Airport-Manama). To get to the Bahrain Fort take a2 from airport via Manama and get out in Seef, from there walk 2 km to the fort.
If planning on visiting several sites, consider renting a car. Prices are BD 10-20 per day, but allow you freedom to drive around the island.
If arriving by the bus at the Lulu centre parking, simply turn your back from the centre's entrance, walk out of the parking, and you'll find car rentals in the group of buildings across the road. A map or a GPS is strongly advised, as road signs can be scarce, and it is not too difficult to go from one part of the country and land up in another, though fortunately the country is small.
Speed limits are generally 50 km/h in the roads and 80-100 km/h in the highway. Fines for breaking the traffic law is pretty severe, though the rules are not always properly enforced.
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. It is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits. Admission is free.
Next door to the fort is a museum, completed in February 2008, which contains many artifacts ranging from the ancient Dilmun periods through the Islamic era, many of which were found at the fort and additional ruins next door. The museum is a large rectangular and white building with absolutely no signs to indicate that it is a museum. The hours are 8AM-2PM daily; admission is free.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because it is a over 400-years tree which had survived the harsh desert climatic conditions. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
To reach the tree, take the Zallaq Highway heading east, which becomes the Al-Muaskar Highway. You will eventually see a sign for the Tree of Life indicating a right turn. (Although the sign seems to point you to turn onto a dirt road which actually goes nowhere, do not do so, instead wait until the next intersection which is several metres ahead.) There are no signs as you travel down this road, but pay attention to a scrap metal yard on your right. Before you reach a hill which warns you of a steep 10% incline, take a right. As you continue straight down this road (including roundabouts), you will begin to see Tree of Life signs again. The signs will lead you down a road which will then be devoid of these signs, but you will eventually see the tree in the distance on the right (it is large and wide, not to be mistaken for other smaller trees along the way). You turn onto a dirt path at Gas Well #371. You can drive up to just outside of the tree, but make sure you stay on the vehicle-worn path, as turning off of it is likely to get your car stuck in the softer sand.
Although it seems like a chore to reach, the Tree of Life is worth the visit for the oddity of it. The tree is covered in graffiti, although this is not visible until you get up close. Try to make your arrival near sunset for a picturesque view of the tree and the surrounding desert.
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 tickets sell out and hotel prices triple. Discounts are also usually offered to early bookers at rates of 10-20%. Tickets normally cost from BD 150 to BD 60 depending on the grandstand.
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 Arabian 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.
City Centre Bahrain is the most popular mall in Bahrain, which includes a cinema, a water-park, and a lot of western brands.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
Haggle for goods at the local souk markets.
Exchange rates for Bahraini dinar
As of January 2018:
The currency in Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar, denoted by the symbol " .د.ب " or "BD" (ISO code: BHD). It is divided into 1000 fils. One dinar is worth US$2.66, as the exchange rate is fixed, making this one of the world's highest-valued currencies (second only to Kuwait). This can get some getting used to: that seemingly cheap BD 10 taxi ride is in fact almost US$27 and thus an extortionate rip-off.
The dinar is a fully convertible currency, and there are no restrictions on its import or export. Denominations for coins are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils and 100 fils (500 fils coins are rarely seen, but are valid). Denominations for banknotes are 500 fils (BD 1/2), BD 1, BD 5, BD 10 and BD 20.
Being fixed to the US dollar means that it is effectively pegged to the Saudi riyal at 1:10. Saudi Riyals (SAR) are accepted almost everywhere at that rate, although odds are you'll get your change in dinars and hotels may try to screw you out of a few percent. If coming in from KSA, 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 Arabia.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain is not cheap. With recent rising costs a decent dinner can cost around BD 4.0, and car rental at BD 10-20/day is reasonable, but hotel prices will put a dent in your budget: a perfectly ordinary room in a "good" hotel can set you back BD 50. Do not travel to Bahrain during the annual F1 race in April if looking for reasonable prices, as hotels will quadruple their rates. A room at the Gulf Hotel during this race could cost you upwards of BD 300/night.
- See Manama for detailed shop and mall listings.
There are several major malls in Bahrain that offer international and luxury labels shops and botiques, supermarkets and so forth, as well as food courts, contemporary and traditional cafes, play areas and arcades, cinemas (3D & 2D) and even an in-door water park.
A visit to the local souq is a must. There you can negotiate the price on “rolexes”, jewellery, 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 favourite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
- See Manama for detailed restaurant listings.
Bahrain has an impressive dining scene, with numerous restaurants to choose from. The main dining area is Adliya. In Adliya, you can take your pick among numerous cafes, trendy lounges and restaurants.
Restaurants in Bahrain run the gamut for cheap stalls offering local food to fancy restaurants in fancy hotels. American fast food franchises are ubiquitous. Western (mostly American) style-foods and franchises can be found around the malls and in the city centre, offering food for upper mid-range prices.
There is even a popular alley in Juffair called 'Americans' Alley', this is due to the huge variety of American-based restaurants in that area.
- Machboos (also known as Kabsa) - mainly made from a mixture of spices, rice (usually long-grain basmati), meat and vegetables
- Muhammar - a sweet rice dish which is typically served with fish
Snacks and bread
- Samosa - a fried or baked pastry with a savory filling, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, ground lamb or chicken.
- Khubz (flatbread). Available in almost all supermarkets and cold stores.
- The most popular traditional dessert is Halwa Showaiter, also known as Halwa Bahraini. It is a jelly like halwa made with corn starch, saffron and various nuts.
- See Manama for detailed nightlife listings.
Bahrain has relatively liberal laws regarding alcohol and has long been a favorite getaway for visitors from Saudi Arabia and other nearby "dry" countries — don't be surprised to see Arabs in thobe and gutra sipping cool brewskis as they watch dancers strut their stuff in the nightclubs.
Under Bahraini law, any sign of having consumed alcohol may be taken as prima facie evidence of driving under the influence, which can lead to imprisonment and/or fines of up to BD 1,000.
Coffee, called gahwa ( قهوة ) locally, is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Bahrain. It is usually poured into a coffee-pot, which is called dalla ( دلة ) in Bahrain. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called finjan ( فنجان ).
Mostly public schools, but enough private schools to serve majority of overseas. Bahrain School, St Christopher's School  educates to British GCSE and A-level qualifications and has a very diverse base, with students from many ethnic backgrounds, although most British expats working in Bahrain send their children there. There are also schools mostly frequented by the children of Indian expats.
Also many private universities and the University of Bahrain is in Sakhir next to Bahrain International Circuit.
The majority of the population in Bahrain are expatriates (they make up 57% of the population). A minority of expats work in the financial sector however the majority are engaged as labourers, policemen, drivers and lower class lowly paid artisans. Conditions for many of these people are poor and there are regular alegations of human rights abuses and 'Modern Day Slavery'. Labourers are often paid rates as low as BD 50, although most are paid BD 150 (higher or lower).
For some expats, life is easy with the clubs, cocktail parties, dinners and balls which remain one of the last throwbacks to the British empire. However for others it is extremely hard and dangerous. In former times it was the tradition that employers provided benefits to expat employees including;
- House or housing allowance
- Medical insurance
- Free flights home every year
- An additional salary of a minimum of 15 days for every year worked (there are slabs according to the number of years worked)
However, this is widely no longer true with 'Lump sum' self-sufficiency 'local hire'contracts now becoming the norm.
At present, there is a 1% charge on salary (gosi tax) which goes to subsidize the unemployed, but a lot of employers are giving their employees an additional bonus by paying it themselves instead of deducting it from the salary.
Some executive positions used to have their children's education sponsored however this is now dwindling.
Working hours differ across different industries. Government offices work from 07:30 to 14:00 and the private sector now tends to be 07:30 to 18:00 or much longer for Asian expatriates. Friday and Saturday is the official weekend for all public sector establishments as well as government schools and universities.
One of the major difficulties for expatriates in Bahrain is debt. The economy is in many ways structured to encourage expats to live right on the edge of their earnings and it is virtually impossible for most people to save money. There are legal processes which result in a 'travel ban' being placed on expatriates in a matter of minutes if they are unfortunate enough to get into debt. An effect of the travel ban is that the work permit is automatically suspended thus meaning that the expatriate can not work to pay off the debt not can he /she leave the country. Many expats have been stuck in Bahrain for years caught in this dilemma and a significant number have died in the country unable to travel for treatment or afford medical bills.
During 2011, a state of near civil war broke out in Bahrain, with many deaths, hundreds of injuries, and a large number of activists and health professionals arrested and tortured. Though massive demonstrations were brutally put down, the atmosphere remains tense, and demonstrations, riots, and shootings by the police may recur at any time. Travellers should avoid the rural areas and the villages to the northwest of the country. Large demonstrations can occur at any time, can sometimes become violent but are typically not anti-Western. Avoid areas where crowds of people appear to be assembling.
The ordinary social crime rate in Bahrain is fairly low and violent crime is rare. However, burglary, petty theft, and robberies do occur. Incidents of petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching are reported especially in the old market areas known as souks. Most hotels have discos frequented by some unsavoury characters. Though the hotels have proper security systems including cameras installed, there are instances of tourists having their rooms burgled.
If you are in the streets Exhibition Avenue (near Hoora), take care, as women may encounter unfriendly experiences with (mostly) Saudis, who are mostly drunk. If you do go there at night, it is a good idea to be accompanied by a man.
Drink plenty of water. April through August can be very hot (up to 40ºC) and humid, and can occasionally feel like 60ºC. Use an umbrella to protect you from the harsh sun. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are outdoors during the day. Among the best brands are Nestlé, Berain, and VOSS. 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, common with Nestlé, or sign up for water delivery through several companies on the island. Many cold stores (and a lot of hotels) also deliver your goods (or food) free to your hotel or flat.
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, rather than 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.