Manama travel guide
First mentioned in Islamic chronicles in the year 1345, historical Manama is now the capital and largest city of Bahrain, at the north-eastern tip of the Persian Gulf island state. There is a strong colonial influence in the area, with Portuguese occupation in 1521 followed by Persian dominance in 1602. This lovely city is a great base from which to enjoy the stunning beaches, buildings and sites in the area. The economy of Manama was traditionally based on pearling, fishing, boat building and trade, displays of which can now be seen in local museums. In 1932 the discovery of petroleum boosted the city's economy, which has recently diversified into tourism and retail. Declared a free port in 1958, the facilities of the Mînâ Salmân port, in the al-Qulayah Inlet, have also aided economic growth and provided more access to tourists. Open-minded and tolerant of other cultures, Manama is visited by a large number of foreigners each year. These visitors can enjoy a vast array of attractions, from souks (markets) and shopping malls to forts and pearl museums, as well as the friendly nature of the locals. There is also an active nightlife with many popular restaurants, bars and clubs to choose from, making this a splendid vacation destination.
Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park
The park was designed to resemble Dilmun, an ancient kingdom in Bahrain that was said to contain the Garden of Eden. Guests can also relax by the pool in private cabanas. The park also has restaurants and souvenir shops. Though expensive by local standards and far from Manama (a 45-minute drive from downtown), the Lost Paradise of Dilmun is a great family excursion in Bahrain. Visitors should note that the park is only open during the summer. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult, and 'Ladies Nights' are held each Thursday evening.
Address: Gulf of Bahrain Avenue
Excavations have revealed the ruins of six cities near the fort, dating as far back as 3000 BC, however only 25 percent of the site has been uncovered. Visitors can see the remains of several necropolises along with city walls, and many copper and ivory artefacts and examples of Barbar pottery. There is also a visitors centre with displays of ancient life. Tourists can easily dedicate an entire afternoon to the site, which also has a cafe. One tip though: bottles of water are much cheaper at nearby shops, which do not charge tourist prices.
Address: North coast, Manama
To experience the true flavours, scents and colours of Manama, a visit to the souks (local markets) are a must. Here visitors can experience and purchase everything this beautiful country has to offer, from a variety of cloths in different colours and textures to jewellery and local crafts. The best buys include exquisite Persian rugs and natural pearls. The fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, spices and nuts available here are also outstanding, though less ideal as souvenirs. The souk is divided into several sections, including the Fareeq el-Hammam and Fareeq el-Hatab, which are home to several famous Matams. Most shops are open from 9am to 1pm and from 4pm to 9pm, and are closed during the day on Fridays. Touts are known for their aggressiveness, and visitors should be prepared to haggle for the best price.
Address: Near the Bab Al Bahrain
As the meeting place for locals and visitors, and a fantastic way to experience the true flavours, scents and colours of Manama, a visit to the souks (local markets) are a must. Here one can purchase anything from beautiful Persian rugs to rare and precious jewellery, all while sampling the local cuisine along the way. If one is to venture just slightly out of the city, Bahrain's special history can be encountered in numerous old fort buildings, dating back as far back as 3000 BC, and beautifully restored and preserved for visitors to admire.
And when the temperatures of the desert seem overwhelming, water activities seem extra tempting. Luckily 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 Persian Gulf. Sailing and scuba diving are particularly popular, but if you prefer to stay on land but still feel the need to cool down, you can visit the Lost Paradise of Dilmun Waterpark with the family, allowing kids to tube and slide the day away, while cooling off from the desert climate. Whether it is in the water or in the desert, there is plenty to choose from for the whole family in this versatile country of extremes.
Al Dar Island
Booking ahead is essential, as only 150 tickets to Al Dar are allocated per day, and international visitors are required to present their passports at the Port Office before embarking on the ferry to Al Dar. The Port Office is located in Sitra Fisherman's Port, a 20-minute drive from Manama.
A one-hour boat ride from Manama are the Hawar Islands, a cluster of 16 islands known for their spectacular scenery and wildlife. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hawar Islands are home to playful dolphins and bright pink flocks of flamingos, and the islands' resorts offer the chance to relax and enjoy the tranquil surroundings while indulging in activities like jet skiing, canoeing, bicycling and paddle boats. With a small population number around 4,000 people, tourism is the major industry there. Although the islands are geographically closer to Qatar, Hawar belongs to Bahrain, and makes a pleasant weekend excursion from Manama.
Jebel Al Dukhan and the Tree of Life
Jebel Al Dukhanmeans 'Mountain of Smoke', named for the haze which often surrounds it on humid days. There are various undetermined caves in the area for visitors to explore. Roughly a mile (2km) away, the Tree of Life stands alone in the desert, its water source a complete mystery. The mesquite tree is said to be around 400 years old, and stands 32 feet (10m) high. There is nothing else nearby to see or do, however the mysterious tree is a popular sight for tourists in Bahrain.
Address: Continue out 21 miles (33km) from Al Juffair, Manama
Bahrain Grand Prix
Every year the Bahrain International Circuit hosts its Grand Prix event, a round of Formula One races that see the world's top drivers zooming around a challenging track designed by Grand Prix legend Hermann Tilke. The Circuit features dramatic elevation changes and three areas for overtaking.
Venue: Bahrain International Circuit; Date:April 2017 TBC; Website: www.formula1.com
This international exhibition of Middle Eastern jewellery and watches is held annually at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre. The Arabian passion for fine jewellery has inspired the world's most dynamic jewellery market, of paramount proportions, with trade demand ranging from simple gold designs to exclusive and customised pieces.
Venue: Bahrain International Exhibition Centre (BIEC); Date:22 - 26 November 2016; Website: www.jewelleryarabia.com
Bahrain International Airport
Location: The airport is about four miles (6km) north of the capital, Manama, on Muharraq Island.
Time: GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +973 1733 9339.
Getting to the city: Many hotels operate courtesy buses for their guests to and from the airport. There is a bus service to the Muharraq bus terminal approximately once per hour.
Car rental: Budget, Europcar, Hanco, Hertz, Oscar, National, Avis, Gulf, Sixt, Al Obaisi, and other companies operate from Bahrain Airport.
Airport Taxis: There are taxis outside the terminal, but they tend to overcharge foreigners. It is better to phone for a metered taxi service. It is about a 15-minute drive to Manama.
Facilities: Facilities include banks and currency exchange services, restaurants, cafes and bars, gift shops, a post office, communications centre, tourist information and a prayer room. The Bahrain Duty Free shopping complex is internationally acclaimed. Disabled facilities are good.
Parking: Short and long-term parking facilities are available in front of the terminal. The cashier counters are available at the exits and they are open 24 hours. No credit cards are allowed, only cash payment. A free shuttle bus service operates between the terminal and the long-term car parks.
Departure tax: None.
There is little in the way of public transport in Manama, with most residents driving their own cars to get around. While long-haul buses link the major cities in Bahrain, local travel can be less organised and predictable for those visiting the capital city.
Taxis are perhaps the most popular way for travellers to get around Manama. There are plenty of cabs throughout the city, so finding a vacant one should not be much of a problem. Visitors should insist that the official metre is used, as it is extremely common for drivers to try and rip tourists off with an exorbitant fixed fee. If the driver is especially reluctant to use the metre, it is often best to simply vacate the cab and find another. There are surcharges for night-time fares (between 10pm and 6am), and hotel or airport pick-ups.
Hiring a car is the only other practical way to get around Manama, which is not considered pedestrian-friendly and has few sidewalks. All roads in Bahrain quite literally lead to Manama, so visitors who hire a car will also have considerable access to the whole country. Those who plan to stay within the city, however, will occasionally have to deal with periods of congested traffic, especially during rush hour.
Manama experiences extreme climatic conditions, with summer temperatures in July rising to 118°F (48°C) and winter temperatures in January as low as 45°F (7°C). The most pleasant time to visit Manama is in autumn (October and November) when warm temperatures are tempered by a soft breeze. Manama has an arid climate with little rainfall.
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