The Best Non-Touristy Experiences in Bahrain
The Farmers' Market in Budaiya | © Mandeep Singhs / Shutterstock
Bahrain’s rich cultural fabric makes it a great destination to visit and explore. You can enjoy a wide range of touristy activities, from diving in the middle of the sea for authentic pearls to discovering centuries-old bakeries, but there are many hidden gems that are worth unravelling too. After you’ve hit the must-see sites, check out these unique experiences on the island.
Shop organic at a local farmers’ market
The best way to know more about a place is to interact with the locals. Farmers’ markets are great places to break the ice with Bahrainis; you will find many farmers selling organic produce and a number of locals and expats flocking to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The Farmers’ Market at Hoorat A’ali, near Gulf Air Club, was launched in March and is open on weekdays all year round. There are 32 booths selling homegrown produce right from colourful peppers and kale through to root vegetables and herbs of all kinds. There is a dining area too where you can tuck into a delicious Bahraini breakfast. The Budaiya Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday from December to April. Both these markets have other attractions like basket-weaving stalls and henna tattoo stalls.
Explore the island’s nightlife
Remember the viral article that listed Bahrain as 8th among the world’s top 10 sin-cities? That’s reason enough to explore the vibrant nightlife here. When the sun goes down, the island comes to life with DJ parties, Bollywood nights, salsa parties and more in a vast variety of venues. In the past, Bahrain has hosted famous artists like Sean Paul and international brands like Ministry of Sound and Hed Kandi. If hunger pangs strike hard after all the partying, just head to ‘shawarma alley’ in Adliya for a malgoom (a hearty meat wrap).
Hop onto the Bahrain Bus to nowhere
It’s easier to commute via transport than on foot in Bahrain, especially during the hotter months. In addition to taxi services, registered private cab services and car rentals, the island has a public bus service called Bahrain Bus. It’s widely used and is well-connected to various areas of the Kingdom, perfect for exploring the city through the eyes of a local. Moreover, it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, with ticket fares starting from a mere 200 fils ($0.53). You can look up the schedules on their website or download their app for more details.
The red bus spotted in Manama © EQRoy /Shutterstock
Try this vegetarian thali that’s not served in a restaurant
Bahrain is home to some fantastic Indian restaurants, thanks to its ever-growing Indian community. But if you’re craving home-cooked vegetarian meals, head to the Gurdwara (a place of worship for the Sikh community) in Um Al Hassam. Every Friday, the island’s closely knit Sikh community cooks langar (lunch), which when translated means ‘communal free kitchen’, for over 100 people. Refresh yourself with some meetha pani (milky rosewater) and tuck into rotis (flatbread) lathered in ghee (clarified butter), vegetable, curry, rice, yogurt and a sweet dish. You can even try your hand at cooking, which is called seva (service), a social gesture deeply ingrained in Sikhism.
Go fabric shopping at the local markets
Manama and Riffa souqs (markets) are home to a number of fabric shops. You can choose from a variety of colours and materials including chiffon, lace, sequinned fabrics and more. Bahrain imports most of its fabrics from India, Sri Lanka and China. Roopam and Divya Textiles in Gudaibiya also sell fabrics by the roll at equally rock bottom prices. Jill Boggiss, a former Bahrain resident and fashion enthusiast, organised Kaftans for a Cause and Repassion Fashion, for which she used fabrics from local shops and teamed up with local tailors to manufacture a range of designer kaftans under her label Sweet Jilly Designs. Both charity events were a huge hit, which spurred her on to organised a pop-up in London this year.
Learn Arabian belly dancing
Channel your inner Shakira with some sensuous belly dancing. There are many fitness and dance studios, including Ballare Studio in Saar, Fitness First at Bahrain Trade Centre and Dessange in Manama, conducting regular classes. Though it originated in Egypt, this expressive Arabic dance has evolved to take many different forms depending on the country and region. Not only does it have entertainment value, it is also a great workout and is said to increase fertility!
A breathtaking view of Manama’s skyline © Vinod Pillai / Shutterstock
Sip on karak chai while admiring the sunset
Karak chai, which when translated means a cup of robust tea, has caught on with hot-beverage drinkers in Bahrain like wildfire. There are several tea shops across the island that serve this spiced milky concoction for as little as 100 fils ($0.26) per cup. Head to Bahrain Bay or one of the many corniches on the island with a cuppa and enjoy breathtaking views of the Kingdom’s sunset skyline. Bahrain’s sunset skies, with hues of pink and yellow, are captivating, to say the least.
Shisha pipes at a roadside café in Bahrain © Mandeep Singhs / Shutterstock
Relax at a traditional shisha café
Shisha is a very common trend with Arabs and has rubbed off on expats too. There are a number of traditional shisha cafés, as well as standalone shisha restaurants, across the island. Even the five-star hotels in Bahrain serve shisha. We recommend you go to a traditional café or shisha restaurant to get the most bang for your buck. Most shisha cafés have a fully fledged kitchen serving some really good food like toasted shawarma, beef stroganoff, potato skins, creamy mushroom pasta and Oreo milkshakes. You can even catch the latest sporting events live on the many TV screens at the cafés.
Challenge Chambers at Al Raya Mall in Juffair © Challenge Chambers Bahrain
Spend a day with rescues at Tony the Dogfather’s
Tony Waters, lovingly called Tony the Dogfather, passed away this year. He was an animal lover who took care of over 300 strays at his shelter at Saar. The Dogfather’s legacy is now being carried forward by his close friends and children. The rescue and rehabilitation centre, located behind Saar Cultural Sports Club, is always looking out for volunteers who can help with the heavy lifting as well as take the dogs for a walk and feed the cats. Though quite a few animals, including the baboons and rabbits, have been homed, there are birds, cats, dogs and a gorgeous goat, Geraldine, who you can spend the day with. Don’t forget to pop by their revamped thrift shop for some great bargains. Who knows, you might find a pair of Louboutins in there somewhere!
Get a nightcap at Old Beams
Bar, Restaurant, Middle Eastern, Contemporary, American, Indian, Chinese, $$$
An unpretentious space offering a quiet ambiance, this quaint little bar and restaurant is the perfect place to get a nightcap. Tucked away in Adliya, it has a charming interior with vintage posters and photo frames adorning its walls and many antique interior decor pieces that add to its unique look. You will also see wooden shelves stacked with an interesting collection of novels. If you’re still hungry, the menu here offers a variety of bites right from sandwiches and soups through to grill platters and other main-course items. Whether you go for a gin and tonic or a chilled malt beverage, a simple yet comforting plate of their signature peppered sausages is a must-try. We bet you’ll call for seconds.
Dig into Tikka Abul's mouthwatering grills
Restaurant, Food Stall, Middle Eastern, $$$
Tucked away in Qudaibiya, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant serves arguably the best grills in Bahrain. They are spicy and succulent, good value for money and come in generous portion sizes. Whether you try their meat kebabs or chicken legs, you will be served fresh, tandoor oven-baked flatbread, or khubz as they call it in Bahrain, along with your order. You will also get a side of white onion slices, crunchy greens, a lemon wedge and an immaculate mint and yogurt dip. Though there are a few chairs and tables right outside this joint where you can sit and eat, if you’re a big group or visiting as a family you’d be better going in for a takeaway.
Croon away at JJ Irish's karaoke night
Bar, Gastropub, Irish, $$$
Bahrain’s largest and only authentic Irish pub hosted the 13th edition of its legendary Karaoke Idol competition during the months of November and December last year. This annual talent show is quite a big deal, with cash prizes amounting to BD1000 (over $2,600), a professional panel of judges and a social media-based people’s voting system. The pub also hosts a weekly karaoke night, which is quite popular with locals and expats alike. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a singing nightingale or a croaking frog, because everyone is welcome. So, drop the mic or simply come here for the beer.
Get lost in a fantasy fiction world at the Raven’s Nest
Cafe, Contemporary, $$$
A first of its kind on the island, this fantasy fiction themed café has carved a niche for itself among fantasy-world lovers within just a few months of opening. An intriguing interior beckons you to enter, with walls adorned with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings frames, as well as an endless shelf of board games that you may have never even heard of and used books that are truly interesting. The café menu is pretty basic, but then it’s not really the food and drinks that you’re coming here for. This tabletop café even hosts Dungeons & Dragons sessions, comedy nights featuring local stand-up artists and aspirants, a trivia quiz night and more.
These recommendations were updated on August 6, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.