Why Bahrain is the coolest Arab country to visit

For those of you that are not familiar with the Islamic kingdom of Bahrain, it is a little island in the Persian Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia on the left and Qatar on the right.  Found it in google maps? Great!

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-108

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-109


Most people know it only for being the place where the Tree of Life is located or where Bernie Eclestone organizes a F1 Grand Prix every April. This being said, Bahrain is not like any other Arab Nation. Nowadays, Bahrain is not only the most liberal Islamic country within the whole of all the Arab World, but it is certainly is the coolest!Why so? What makes it so special might you ask?

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Bahrain_1 (4)Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-99

Firstly Islamic laws and regulations in Bahrain are a lot more relaxed than in other countries, and secondly, Bahrain’s culture and heritage date back to millennia and, besides being once a British Protectorate, it was also settled by the Portuguese during the Discovery Ages. What strikes me most – from a foreigner’s point of view – is that it has very relaxed rules and customs when it comes to its religious beliefs.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-4

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-138

Women are allowed to drive, and not mandated to wear a Burka, or a Niqab, or an Abaya or even a Hijab. This is very empowering for the Bahrain Arab Women, which means that they can indulge themselves in walking in broad daylight with full makeup and hair does. The Arab men appreciate it! Moreover, in Bahrain women are also business owners, with state provided help through a special business incubator for women start-up projects. 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-36 Nelson_Carvalheiro_Bahrain_1 (5)

Also, there are presently over 25 faiths and respective churches in operation and about 60% of its population are expats, so the cultural diversity is immense. The discovery of oil has led to rapid modernization of the Bahrain way of life, and within a few decades people went from living in desert tents to indulging the comforts of the Western world inside new 300 plus meter high skyscrapers, which are rapidly changing the Manama skyline.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-89

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-40 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-37 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-30

Contrary to its neighbouring , more notorious cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Doha, Bahrain enjoys a deeply rooted set of history and traditions which remote back 2000 BC, when the Dilmun Civilization thought that is little island was the land of eternity and immortality. This lead to as much as 200,000 burial mounds being created in the island over the following millennia.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Bahrain_1

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Bahrain_1 (3)Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-71Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-115

Also, due to its fresh water natural springs under the sea and pearl fishing, Bahrain has been a constant target of interest by armies and empires through the ages. Persians, Greeks, Ottomans, Arabs, Portuguese and more recently the British, all played an important role into the history, culture and heritage present in Bahrain. The Qal’at al Bahrain fortress, built by the Portuguese, along with the Bahrain Pearling Trail is both Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-73

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-42

They even have the only museum in the world entirely dedicated to the Quran – Beit Al Qur’an, where you can see the entire surahs (chapters of the Qur’an) engraves in rice and peas from the 14th century. There are two main souqs (arab marquets), one in the capital; al-Man?mah and one in the second largest city; al-Muharraq. While the one in al-Man?mah is mainly populated by expats from the Indian subcontinent, the one in al-Muharraq offers a very valuable insight into Arab trade, food, produce and basic daily life of local Bahrainis.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-114Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-129 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-130

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-134

I went for breakfast with my friend Ahmed Buhazza to an old 1920’s coffee shop, which had its walls lined with the photos of Arab Leaders, both from the present and from the past. Even one photo of Saddam Hussein holding an RPG!!! More on that experience soon! The restaurant and food scene was very surprising for me. I had the opportunity to experience a world class oriental meal at fine dining establishment, street grilled beef tikka, a traditional home made Nasi Mandy (Arab rice with roasted lamb) and the most succulent and perfectly spiced minced chicken shish kebab at an Iranian restaurant. Not enough?

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-122 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-120 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-119

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-117 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-124

Bahrain has its own version of McDonad’s, perfectly entitled as Jasmin’s, where they serve only halal fast food and are open 24h00. Check out their website at : http://www.jasmis.net/ The best one for me is that alcohol is widely available, being widely consumed by the Arab population. If anybody had ever told me that a in one of Bahrain’s sky bars, a  man wearing a thawb, a ghutrah and an agal would lecture me on the differences between new and old world wines, I would say that they were crazy.

IMG_2048[1]Nelson_Carvalheiro_ (1 of 1)

Well certainly enough it happened before my eyes, and I have to say that when money is not an object, one can certainly fine tune their palate to the flavours and bouquets of world’s finest wines. And cigars… How incredible is this! Not surprised enough yet? Wait until you check out the Salsa Dancing scene in the bars and clubs in Bahrain. Arab man and women, wrapping their bodies together in very intense Latino movements, get a chance to put into action last week’s dance lessons, often going into dance off with other couples.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-84

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-95 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-94 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-96

Check out all the salsa venues at the Time Out edition of Bahrain. This being said, and the main reason why Tourism is one of the main drivers of the Bahraini economy, is that every weekend almost 100.000 Saudis cross the King Fahd Causeway to enjoy Bahrain’s liberty and freedom for their own.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-75

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-87

All this touristic demand has gotten the world largest hotel groups into investing heavily into Bahraini property, with the manmade island of Diyar and the Dyar 2 Billion dollar development being a prime example. I feel that I need to state that what I just mentioned before would be unimaginable in other Arab Nations like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen. Not only they are dry nations, but their religious beliefs do not allow for any of the women or expat freedoms that I mentioned earlier.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-31 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-8 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-5

And at the end of the day Bahrain is an Islamic country, where the large majority of the population get up at 5h00 every day for morning prayers, where the words of Prophet  Mohammed and Allah are deeply rooted into the legislative, the judiciary and the executive branches of Bahrain.  It is incredibly safe, to the point of your wallet being returned with its full contents in case it got lost, as everyone is full aware of the severe punishments for stealing. Over the next few days, I’ll be detailing my experience in Bahrain so stay tuned for more.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-59

 

Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-58 Nelson_Carvalheiro_-1-54

 

I dedicate my award winning travel writing and photography to the soul and sense of place of the locations I visit, the people I meet and the food I taste.
  • Sónia

    Parabéns pelo blog! Estou a gostar mt! É bom poder viajar através das tuas palavras (qd não temos oportunidade de o fazer fisicamente).

    • Olá Sónia
      Obrigado pela mensagem. É sempre bom ler tais palavras de alguem que aprecia o meu trabalho. São momentos como este que fazem com que tudo vale a pena!

  • why dont u mention the borderline civil war going on.

  • Pingback: Portuguese Piri Piri Oil Recipe | Portugal Food Stories()

  • I am glad Bahrain left an impression in you. But i wish you would have spent perhaps a little longer period there, then you may have seen a little deeper into the soul of the Bahraini. I am presuming it was a short trip but I may be wrong. Having lived there for many years, I have never met nicer people than the Bahrainis, who accepted me as part of their families. Strangely, Bahrain has become more home to me than my country of origin.I will always have a special place in my heart for this nation of which you had a wonderful glimpse. But Bahrain is indeed more than the bars and liberal lifestyle – it is a place where the soul finds rest.

    • Hello and thank you so much for such a constructive comment. As a matter a fact I spent 2 weeks in Bahrain with the Discovery Bahrain project ) where I got a very good insight into what the Bahrain life is all about. Yes, I agree with you that the country is more than bars and liberal lifestyle, but for me it was important to stress this issue as it is the most interesting for my readers when comparing it to another Arab or Islamic Nation. The Bahrainis are wonderful people, with a very warm welcoming heart and very proud of their nation. Something that I can relate to very much as the Portuguese are also like this.

  • There is more to bahrain than its (relatively) open society.

    • Hi Anon
      Yes I agree, but for me it is important to make this relevant point for my readers in comparison to other Arabic nations.

  • Bahrain is not the only country in the gulf with such relaxed laws and freedoms. Oman has female ministers and business owners. Oman also has various ethnic and religious groups that are free to establish churches and temples within the country. Oman is also the only ARAB country to have sectarian co-existence between the Islamic sects of Sunnism and Shiasm; co-existence that has allowed individuals from any sect to pray side by side in any mosque. A feature that is extremely unique in the entire Islamic world.

    • Hi Ahmed. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes it true and a lot of times during my experience in Bahrain the parallelism to Oman was mentioned. Hope to go there one day and see what it is all about.

  • I’m glad you like it but I don’t think you’ve been to any Arab countries other than Saudi Arabia. Maybe your expectations are too low and this is why you think it’s the coolest. I don’t think you’ve been to Lebanon, Dubai, Jordan, Tunisia, or Morocco. These are the places to go to. Besides, I don’t see one unveiled woman in your photos. This is not cool frankly. I guess maybe you should’ve chosen a different title. But again, I’m glad you had fun in Bahrain.

    • Hi Gee. I have to admit that my expectations were a bit low, and I have been to Morocco too. The big difference between the point that I am making and the examples you give is that I am speaking about a country that is located in the heart of the Gulf and not a periferic Arabic country. And look at what happened recently in Tunisia and Lebanon…I would be very sceptic about find the same feeling that I describe in my piece in those countries. Maybe with the exception of Jordan.

  • Love the pictures. Reminds me of home!

  • I lived in BAHRAIN for 3 years and as a single mum who worked in different arabic countries. Bahrain is the best country I lived in so far. Unfortunately I had to leave for a new job but every times I have the opportunity I come back to visit my friends and go to my usual places that I enjoy sooo much. As a Muslim woman raised in Europe this country is my ideal place. People are very nice, open minded very cultured and helpful. A country full of tolerance which is lacking our days.

    • Hi Chera. Good to hear from you and thank you for such a wonderful comment, which mirrors the way I feel about Bahrain.

  • You should really visit Oman , now that would leave you awestruck. And people are equally awesome there.

    • Hi Syed! I know, so many people keep telling me this. For sure I will make it my next destination to an Arabic Country.

  • As a son of former expats, gosh Bahrain has been my home for 10 years of my life since I was 4. I consider Bahrain to be my first home and I have been shaped as an awesome and cultured individual due to my experiences in Bahrain. The Bahrainis talk loud, they enjoy freedom, are open to many different races and cultures, and I’ve met a lot of really good Bahrainis. I have friends who are still there and will probably remain there for the rest of their lives despite not being Bahraini. Though I have been treated with a slight bit of stereotyping….honestly it’s not that bad. And remember that it was 5 years ago that I moved out with my parents to the West. Times may have changed, I never felt discriminated, I never felt the need to defend myself, I walk through the street close to the cemetery at night coming from martial arts and have not felt at risk, and I have lived a great early life. Spend a little more time in a beautiful country. It will not disappoints. And despite having already lived there 10 years, I still hope to return and see my first home again.

    • Hi Hart

      Oh Gosh! What an emotional comment! Thank you so much for telling your story and how much Bahrain means to you!

  • I left my heart in Bahrain after living there with my husband and 2 sons from 2007 to 2010. Those were the most fantastic three years of my life. We were one of a group of Brazilian families and for most of us, Bahrain remains a magical memory. At the end of 2010, for professional reasons, most of the group left Bahrain and we moved to Dubai, which is a wonderful progressive place, but NO, it is not Bahrain! We missed the friendly atmosphere, the intimacy, the sensation of being at home. There are many more entertainment and cultural options in Dubai, but we have practically no contact with locals whilst in Bahrain we interact on a daily basis. We felt part of Bahrain but in Dubai it is clear we are just expats. And although people think of Dubai as a very liberal place, it’s “liberty” seems to me more like a tourist precondition rather than a country belief, while in Bahrain it is part of everybody’s life. So, to make it short, we are back in Brasil now but I miss our life in the Middle East and as I said, my heart still lives in Bahrain!

    • Olá Nina Valente.

      Do Brazil para o Bahrain e de volta para o Brazil! Que viagem? Thanks for making the point about Bahrain is different from its close neighbours, namely Dubai!

  • Hi Nelson. Well, what can I say! You seemed to have wore the wrong eye glasses with your report about Bahrain. It is a reality that Bahrain was regarded as the Garden of Eden by the Phoenicians who brought their dead to be buried in Bahrain some 5000 years ago. Have you visited any of the villages in Bahrain: Karranah, Jannoosan, Barbar, Diraz, Bani Jamrah, Sitra, Jidhafs, or Sanabis? Probably not. If you did, your report will be slightly different. You may still call it the coolest Arab country to visit, as all the villagers will welcome you and treat you very well, yet you may – as a decent reporter- add few words about the discriminating reality between what you reported and how those poor citizens really live and how they are treated by the regime. You may not be excused for forgetting to mention that over 150 Bahraini citizens were brutally killed between 2011 and 2014. Almost every newspaper/news channel reported on the fact that more than 4000 Bahraini citizens were sacked from their jobs between March 2011 and April 2011 for either participating in a anti government rally, or seen in the pearl roundabout where for two months, Bahraini citizens gathered demanding a say in how their country was governed and hold those responsible of ceasing public money to be held to account. Did you know that some 200 + senior doctors were sacked from their jobs and were put on trial in a Military Court and sentenced to up 15 years for treating the wounded after the security police fired live ammunition on the people gathering in the pearl roundabout. Well, I wonder what made you see with one eye rather than two! Something worthwhile, I hope!

    • Hi Fareed

      Thanks for your comment. Let me remind you that I am not a news journalist or publication. I am a Travel and Food Blogger, who tells the stories about the locations I visit. Surely there are problems in Bahrain, but aren’t they everywhere?!? Starting by Portugal, my birthplace country, which has so many social, economical and financial problems. Are they a part of the Portugal reality? Of course! Should I tell you not to visit Portugal because of these? Absolutely not! Every destination has its problems, however I choose to focus on what positive and inspiring a destination or a country has to offer. I leave the news reporting to the news reporters, and the opinions to those who think it is worthy. Just a little side note to your comment: this is my most famous post with over 30.000 hits, not to mention shares on social media, comments and other forms of engagement. Can you tell me what have you done to promote the good image of your country (I am assuming that you are a Bahraini) today?

  • jay

    Hi nelson,

    I have been living in bahrain for the past 17 years as an expact and to be honest I consider this home. I was born in Oman and bought up here in bahrain. I am originally from nother india. Bahrain has a lot to offer and it is also very calm place. I mean calm in the sense that it isn’t over crowded like other places in the middle east, even though bahrain may not be as high rise and lavish as places like dubai it still has its own charm. I was curious about the 1920s cafe you spoke about in your blog. I wanted to know the name of that place. I would definitely like to visit that place as it sounds like something different from the other cafes here. But I am glad you enjoyed your stay here in bahrain.

    • Hi Jay

      Great to hear from you and thanks for your wonderful feedback. Yes I have found Bahrain extremely likeable and definitely recommend it to all my friends. How is Oman? Everyone keeps telling me that it is beautiful. I have to visit one day. Ah the 1920 café in Muharraq. That is a precious gem. You have to go. It is my favourite place in Bahrain

  • jay

    Nelson,

    Oman is beautiful, it’s one the those rare places in the world and the middle east where you get all the terrains, you have water, sand, grass, mountains and many more magical spots and features that it has to offer. You should definitely make a trip there as well and spend a lot of good times there. Oman isn’t all that busy with malls after the malls ( must have changed, left there quite some years back) but again I would definitely go back there to visit and see my childhood. People, food and the terrain are just terrific. Can you tell me the name of that cafe shop. The 1920’s cafe shop I am referring to that’s in muharraq.

  • Your photos are completely stunning! Transports me to Bahrain from my bedroom!

    I’m so focused on the middle east now too so perfect timing!

    – Sheena

  • Pingback: 2015 FITUR TRAVEL BLOGGER AWARDS | NelsonCarvalheiro.com()

  • Pingback: Portuguese Piri Piri Oil Recipe - Nelsoncarvalheiro.com()

  • Altaf

    Hi Nelson,

    Nice Article. Your photos are nice. Bahrain is very good place to visit. Last year I visited to Bahrain in Vacations. I am most impressed when I was visit to Bahrain.In my life I have never seen such a nice place.I like all islands in Bahrain.Bahrain’s Night-life was awesome. I can’t forget all memories in Bahrain. Really Bahrain’s People are Wonderful.Bahrain Hotels also very good. I stayed In Ramee International hotel. there is no doubt that all services & facilities in this hotel was awesome. I like to visit again Bahrain & Ramee Hotel.you can see here this hotel :

  • I loved Bahrain as well! Did you visit the camel farm? I just posted about it – http://visit50.com/500-camels/

  • Nelson – thank you for this – I would very much like to use some of your images for a slideshow I am preparing for a reunion of “Awali Teenagers” which is taking place in Bristol on June 26th and 27th. I have already done a screen-grab of some of your excellent photo’s – and do hope you are OK with me using them? – email me MK.LUXY@GMAIL.COM if it is OK with you (or not!)
    Best wishes – Mike Knight (I am going to take a leap-of-faith and assume you will say yes – and start adding your images to the slide-show – if you say no – before the event – I will of course remove them)

  • James Rippingale

    Went to Bahrain a lot when I lived in Saudi,it was heaven.

  • Pingback: Opening Keynote at TBEX Europe 2015 Transcript | NelsonCarvalheiro,com()

  • James Rippingale

    Used to go a lot across the causeway when I lived in Dhahran Bahrain was paradise.

  • Rajesh Shetty

    Bahrain is one of the most visited tourist destination amongst the Middle East countries. Located in Persian Gulf, the kingdom of Bahrain is an island with various historical and modern sites to see. It is a perfect blend of 5000 years old Bahrain civilization and modern Arab culture. The best instance of this blend are high rising towers and captivating archaeological sites there. So, your trip to Bahrain will enable you to know about the metropolitan as well as the ancient lifestyle of Arabs living in that portion of the world.
    http://www.rameehotelsbahrain.com/

  • Pingback: Why Bahrain is the coolest Arab country to visit | MANDEEPSINGS()

  • Ileana Danaé

    Love the pictures this made me miss Bahrain, I lived there only 2 years but it felt like home 🙂
    It’s a small country but there is so much to do and see, living in cold Finland and watching this pictures makes me want to visit soon! Loved this article 🙂

  • Fatima

    A real pleasure reading your article.. You can check out my travel blog I am Bahraini 🙂
    http://www.voguenvagabonds.com

  • Hit me right in the feels. My hooooome.

  • Sam

    Bahrain is nice but not the coolest Arab country, its good to live in it as the quality of life is good and people are friendly ! BUT ? what about Lebanon??? Jordan? Tunisia ? Algeria? where did they go?
    it seems that the author haven’t been to any Arab country? Bahrain is good but offers little compare to other Arab countries?

    • Hello Sam. Thanks for your comment. I can understand your doubts but let me tell you that I have been to other Arab Countries and the closest I could find would be Qatar. All those countries you mention are no-go zones for tourism, because of wars and terrorism. I would never want to put my readers in danger.

  • Pingback: A sneak peek into my India Photography Trip - Nelsoncarvalheiro.com()

  • Nata8000

    Hello, would it be possible for you to add a map and mark out places to eat and visit? It would help very much as I shall be working in Damman, KSA 1st time, but would like to go into Bahrain every weekend if possible. Thank you.

  • Well, it is hard to argue that such beautiful and unexplored by the western tourists country with such rich culture is one of the greatest tourist destinations in the Middle East. Hope it becomes even more popular in future.

  • henry lovie

    HIV is a great illness cause by RNA virus,that can leads to co-infection.I will always appreciate Dr ISE for saving my life,i have been ill for 14 year’s showing HIV positive and it has be in the advanced stage[AIDS].My name is Jennifer Hardy,i am so glad and i want to use this medium to appreciate DR ISE for making me HIV negative.It make look somehow but it is real.I have never believe any thing is possible,now there is cure for you,always try to comfront him and your case will be like mine i.e HIV free generation and you will be very happy,leave comfortable life.you can contact him via email ;ISESPIRITUALSPELLTEMPLE@GMAIL.COM OR ALEXYBROWNY@GMAIL.COM

    The spiritual power of Dr ISE,the grate power from Ise shrine,have power to do any thing you wish for and have the ability to heal and cure any kind of illness,viral and

    parasitic infection.He is the owner and founder of Ise herbs research centre[IHRC] his English name is ALEX BROWN

  • henry lovie

    HIV is a great illness cause by RNA virus,that can leads to co-infection.I will always appreciate Dr ISE for saving my life,i have been ill for 14 year’s showing HIV positive and it has be in the advanced stage[AIDS].My name is Jennifer Hardy,i am so glad and i want to use this medium to appreciate DR ISE for making me HIV negative.It make look somehow but it is real.I have never believe any thing is possible,now there is cure for you,always try to comfront him and your case will be like mine i.e HIV free generation and you will be very happy,leave comfortable life.you can contact him via email ;ISESPIRITUALSPELLTEMPLE@GMAIL.COM OR ALEXYBROWNY@GMAIL.COM

    The spiritual power of Dr ISE,the grate power from Ise shrine,have power to do any thing you wish for and have the ability to heal and cure any kind of illness,viral and

    parasitic infection.He is the owner and founder of Ise herbs research centre[IHRC] his English name is ALEX BROWN

  • Pingback: Around the World on Fridays (“B”) - madalinadobraca.com()

  • Hi. This post is really amazing. I like this post very much. I am also heard more about Bahrain tourist places. Bahrain is one of the best places to visit in Gulf countries. Photos are looking so good, excellent captures. Thank you for sharing. In India so many travel agents offer best domestic and international tour packages from India for gulf counties. I will visit Bahrain in my future. Thank you.

  • Jack Wright

    Nice article and photos, but Bahrain could improve even more by banning halal slaughter, which demands that the throats of conscious animals are cut, resulting in them experiencing several minutes of pain and terror before dying. It’s a barbaric custom from the 7th century for which there is no excuse! It violates every animal cruelty law in Europe, yet many countries allow it in order not to “offend” their muslims. In other words it’s creeping shariah law, and along with shariah courts which treat women as inferiors who may legally be beaten by their husbands and must wear body bags and masks in public, is eroding centuries of social progress in the name of “cultural diversity.”

  • Pingback: Country Paper – Bahrain – Sachiko Jayaratne()

  • Paul Kelly

    I have lived all over the world but the two places I remember with affection are Bahrain and Portugal. In the 60s Bahrain mean rest and respite from a nasty little war in the Gulf including a longer stay working in the British HQ as a Civilian later I lived in Lisboa working for a “well known Bank” after the revolution. The fish restaurant outside Lisboa I rate at the best in the world! I wounder if they still have the rocks in the bottom of the soup tub LOL Where you could eat with Ministers and some of the world very famous deposed dictators LOL Also the place where they provide a lump of beef and a very hot stone so you could cook your own at the table! Memories of times past!

  • RAH

    Interesting insight into bahrain. Although i must say that it seems like alcohol constitues almost 50% of the article. There’s more to a country than booze.
    And I’m not sure why this article ended with a bias toward Saudi Kuwait and Yemen.
    Saudi has women serving in the Shura (consultative) council, can vote and run for municipal offices.
    Kuwait on the other hand was the first Gulf nation to appoint female ambassadors, University Rectors and CEO’s to state-run companies like it’s national airline. It also has the Gulf’s oldest democracy with the strongest parliament and people power as well as the Gulf’s most free press.

    Bottom line: there’s more to life than just booze and best not to speak ill of other nations unless proper research has been done to help give your blog more credibility.

    Don’t assume something as reality can be the exact opposite.