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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. 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 (markets) and shopping malls to forts and pearl museums. There is also an active nightlife with many popular restaurants, bars, and clubs to choose from, making this a splendid vacation destination.
On a swelteringly hot day, the perfect activity for both children and adults in Bahrain is a trip to the Lost Paradise of Dilmun. The biggest waterpark in the Middle East, The Lost Paradise of Dilmun has a number of water rides and attractions catering for all ages, ranging from lazy rivers to high-speed waterslides, man-made waves to the interactive Dancing Fountain. 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.
Located roughly two miles (4km) from Manama along the coast of Bahrain, the archaeological site of Bahrain Fort (Qal'at al-Bahrain) is one of the largest in the country and has been listed as a World Heritage Site. As the capital of the ancient Silmun Civilization, this site represents Bahrain's role as a centre for commerce and cultural exchange. 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. Be aware that bottles of water are much cheaper at nearby shops, which do not charge tourist prices.
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.
Manama experiences extreme climatic conditions, with summer temperatures in July rising to 102°F (39°C) and winter temperatures in January as low as 57°F (14°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.
Every year, the Bahrain International Circuit hosts its Grand Prix event, a round of Formula One races that see the world's top drivers race around a challenging track designed by Grand Prix legend Hermann Tilke. The circuit features dramatic elevation changes and three areas for overtaking.
This international exhibition of Middle Eastern jewellery and watches occurs annually at the Bahrain International Exhibition Centre. The Arabian passion for fine jewellery has inspired the world's most dynamic jewellery market, with trade demand ranging from simple gold designs to exclusive and customised pieces.
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 meter 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 meter, 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 pickups.
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.
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) is 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.
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.
Al Dar Island is Bahrain's best-kept secret. A Mediterranean beach resort with sparkling blue seas, it offers activities like dolphin viewing, pearl collecting, fishing, scuba diving, boating, and other water sports. Because Bahrain's beaches are notoriously poor, Al Dar is a popular excursion for both locals and tourists in Manama and all over the country. Though small, there are several beaches on Al Dar to choose from, none of which are overcrowded due to the strict limits regarding the number of visitors per day. The beaches are all clean and well-kept with good shower and ablution facilities, plus several decent restaurants and shops. The island is also known for its beach parties and a nightlife which, in Bahrain terms, is quite lively. Booking ahead is essential, as only a few 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.
A one-hour boat ride from Manama are the Hawar Islands, a cluster of 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, cycling, and paddle boats. With a small population of around 4,000 people, tourism is the major industry. Although the islands are geographically closer to Qatar, Hawar belongs to Bahrain and makes a pleasant weekend excursion from Manama.
At 439 feet (134m) above sea level, the Jebel Al Dukhan hill is the highest point in Bahrain. Translated from Arabic, Jebel Al Dukhan means '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.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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