Tiny Bahrain in the Persian Gulf has much more history than one might expect when compared to its larger neighbours. It is less glitzy than Dubai, or Doha, and more exciting than Kuwait. This is where Saudis go on the weekends to let their hair loose. Liberal Bahrain is as free as it gets in the Gulf. Bahrain was once referred to as Dilmun (going all the way back to The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was another name for Eden, and this Eden is open to visitors – just fly in and get your visa-on-arrival.
Want to see one of the most impressive forts in the region? Come to Bahrain. Walk around the winding alleys of Muharraq for some truly authentic Gulf charm, unlike the spruced up tourist versions you find elsewhere. Visit some of the ruins dating back to Dilmun’s time, or look at the modern skyline of Manama from Muharraq. And don’t forget to pay your respects to the Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat.
Bahrain is one of the most open and tolerant states in the Gulf region; that said, there has been some unrest between the majority Shia Muslim population and the ruling Sunni elite of late. It is worthwhile to keep abreast of the current events, however, on the whole, the antagonism is not directed towards tourists.
Bahrain is small and relatively easy to get around. You can visit quite a lot of the sights on foot if you want. Arabic is, as elsewhere, the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood.
Hints and Tips for Bahrain
- The easiest way in is flying and, upon entry, you get a 14 day visa-on-arrival.
- There are numerous buses going all over the country, though navigating the bus routes can be difficult.
- Accommodation is very expensive in Bahrain as elsewhere in the region, so it may be more cost-effective to look into hosting services like couchsurfing.
- Bahrain has the most liberal alcohol laws in the Gulf, with alcohol legal for both Muslims and non-Muslims from the age of 18.
- Homosexuality is legal in Bahrain, but it is still advised to remain careful in showing it.
- As always, while Bahrain is extremely liberal compared to its neighbours, they are still an Islamic country and, as such, public drunkenness or affection are not tolerated.
- There have been social tensions and riots in Bahrain, so keep an eye on the latest news.