Submerge Yourself in Relaxation through Checking Out Manama
Manama means ‘Sleeping Place’, but with its central atmosphere, its late-night shopping, and its lively bars and nightclubs, it’s hard to see when the city gets a chance to sleep. Manama is a night bird and people flock in on weekends for fine dining and an off-duty drink.
For those who prefer an early start to a late night, the city is sleepy enough by day, and it’s unlikely there’ll be much of a queue for the excellent Bahrain National Museum. That said, Manama’s recent role as Arab City of Culture has led to a much greater emphasis on music, art and heritage events that has been of benefit to all.
The city is located in the north-eastern corner of Bahrain on a small peninsula. As in the rest of Bahrain, the land is generally flat (or gently rolling) and arid.
Manama is the capital and largest city of Bahrain, with an approximate population of 157,000 people. Long an important trading center in the Persian Gulf, Manama is home to a very diverse population. After periods of Portuguese and Persian control and invasions from the ruling dynasties of Saudi Arabia and Oman, Bahrain established itself as an independent nation during the 19th century period of British hegemony.
Bahrain may be an island, but it’s a desert island – meaning summers are scorchingly hot and even the winters are warm. The climate is arid, not tropical. When oil was first discovered in Bahrain, the nation quickly developed heavy machinery and turned agricultural lands into oil-producing ones, resulting in an expansion of the desert. The government is now trying to reverse Bahrain’s economic dependence on oil, but the climate change may be more persistent: summer temperatures regularly hit 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) even in Manama, the capital.
Winters in Manama are slightly cooler but far less humid, with a temperature ranging from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius (about 58 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit). Evenings during both seasons tend to be five degrees cooler, which makes the nighttime a much-needed relief from the relentless heat.
The “rainy season” in Manama is technically December through February, but since the region only receives 10 cm of rain every year, this shouldn’t be taken into consideration when planning a visit. Actually, winter is the most pleasant time to go, simply because it can be unbearably humid in summer. Most of Bahrain’s beaches are closed to the public, so there isn’t much reason to visit specifically during summer.
Taxis are expensive, yet they are the only way to get around without renting a car. Extra charges are added to fares starting from the airport (2 Dinars) and any hotel (1 Dinar). Always use the meter or you will, guaranteed, get ripped off. A ride to the central parts of city will cost around 5-6 Dinars. Taxis are easy to find, and there are taxi stands outside Bab al-Bahrain and many hotels.
Taxis in Bahrain have meters and the flag fall is BD1 for the first 2km. Thereafter the meter ticks over in increments of 200 fills for every subsequent kilometer. Fares officially increase by 25% between 10pm and about 6am. For a better guarantee of meter use, try Radio Taxis. Alternatively, for a far more comfortable experience, try Bahrain Limo, which charges BD1.200 for 2km and 250 fills per each half-kilometer thereafter.
Renting a car is far more efficient economically. Manama is a small city on a small Island; you won’t get lost for very long. Make sure to buy a map / it should cost around 0.50-1.00 Dinars.
Most airline offices are situated around Bab al-Bahrain, in the Chamber of Commerce & Industry building, or inside the Manama Centre, which is where you’ll find Gulf Air, the main national carrier.
Most people get around town by car or taxi, despite there being a rudimentary bus service available. The bus system is largely designed for the use of expatriate construction workers and routes seldom relate to tourist destinations. Locals consider the use of buses rather eccentric but if you are determined to, then call into the Manama bus station for ad hoc information.
What to See
Bahrain National Museum
Deserving its reputation as the most popular tourist attraction in Bahrain, the Bahrain National Museum is the best place to start for an intriguing, well-labeled introduction to the sights of the country. The museum, housed in a postmodern building with landscaping that brings the waterfront location up to the windows, showcases archaeological finds from ancient Dilmun. Among these finds are beautiful agate and carnelian beads and earthenware burial jars – used for the body as well as its chattels.
Don’t miss the section on contemporary Bahraini culture – the reproduction souq on the 1st floor is particularly worth the stairs, as the barber could double for Sweeney Todd.
The museum also includes a wildlife hall, several gallery spaces used for contemporary exhibitions of art and sculpture, a shop selling Bahraini crafts, and a chic cafe. There’s plenty to keep the family amused for several hours, but it will reward even a quick 10-minute visit and is particularly worthwhile if you want to gauge the progress of up-and-coming new attractions such as the national theatre, part of the museum complex.
Built in 1938, this mosque is easily identifiable by its elaborately crafted minaret, the mosque’s most interesting architectural feature. The mosque is reflected in the glass windows of the neighboring Batelco Commercial Centre, providing a suggestive reflection of old and new Manama. The mosque is not open to tourists.
An amusement park called Kids Kingdom has a few rides if nearby construction work isn’t off-putting, and you’ll find plenty of information about what’s on for children in the media; in particular, the ‘Teens & Kids’ section in the magazine Bahrain this Month has heaps of information on fun activities including lessons in hip hop and salsa.
Built by the British in 1945, Bab al-Bahrain, the ‘Gateway to Bahrain’, was originally designed by Sir Charles Belgrave. It was redesigned in 1986 to give it more of an ‘Islamic’ flavor. The small square in front of the bab (gate) was once the terminus of the customs pier – an indication of the extent of land reclamation of the past two decades. The building now houses the Tourist Department (under renovation at the time of writing).
Despite having been moved back from the water’s edge, the gateway is still aptly named, as goods of various descriptions, people of all nationalities, street vendors, shoppers and workers pass under its arches in a constant pageant of activity in this, the heart of Manama.
La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art
Showcasing regional and international contemporary artists, this beautiful space hosts regular exhibitions. The venue, a magnificent elaboration of a 19th-century Bahraini town house, is a fine artistic expression in its own right with many features typical of Gulf Islamic architecture, including covered colonnades, archways and the signature fountain. The complex also includes an amphitheater, a fine-dining restaurant, one of the city’s best spas and a dance studio.
With its wrapping of carved Kufic script, the distinctive Beit al-Quran is a fine example of modern Bahraini architecture. It houses a large and striking collection of Qurans, manuscripts and woodcarvings and functions as a good introduction to Islam in general and Islamic calligraphy in particular.
Look out for the miniature Qurans, the smallest of which (from 18th-century Persia) measures only 4.7cm by 3.2cm. The exhibits are well labeled in English and can be superficially perused within an hour. The bookshop in the foyer sells crafts. Visitors should dress conservatively. The building is next to the Bahrain Red Crescent Society, but the main entrance and car park are at the back.
Tours are often organized – call ahead to check.
Sights in Manama, Bahrain