From the moment I stepped off the plane in Manama, I was transfixed by Bahrain. I love the sensation of being jolted awake by a place that feels truly exotic, and that’s what my first taste of the Middle East did for me.
With just twenty-four hours, I’m in awe of just how much I took in. A lot of that is thanks to my hosts at the Intercontinental Bahrain, who set me up with both a driver and one of their lovely managers, Mohammed, to show me around the tiny island nation. The diminutive size of Bahrain also made our super charged sightseeing tour possible — nothing is too far from anything else. While I had mentioned a few highlights I was anxious to see, I mostly handed over the reigns to the local experts and allowed myself to be shuttled around in style.
1. Bahrain National Museum
Lonely Planet listed the Bahrain National Museum as the country’s most popular tourist attraction, and I could quickly see why. The stark modern architecture of the exterior was the perfect contrast to the complex cultural and historical stories told within. While I spent about an hour here, I could have easily spent two or three.
As interesting as the ancient history sections were — Bahrain is brimming with important archaeological sites and is hypothesized by some to be the setting for the fabled Garden of Eden — I found the exhibits on contemporary Bahrain most intriguing. With a modest entry fee and so much insight into the local culture, it would be crazy to miss this museum.
2. Al Fateh Grand Mosque
Though I’ve traveled a fair bit in Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, the only mosques I’ve ever entered have been in Istanbul. So I was looking forward to visiting Bahrain’s Al Fateh Grand Mosque, the largest building in the country.
Mohammed informed me that I’d have to don an abaya and headscarf in order to enter the mosque, and true to his word, I was whisked away into a women only dressing room upon walking through the doors. There, a friendly girl around my age chatted to me about my travels while expertly wrapping my shawl into a fashionable headscarf. Like any visitors to the mosque, we were then handed off to a volunteer guide.
I deeply appreciated the guide’s thorough explanation of the roots of Islam, and her patient answering of my endless questions. As we were about to enter the prayer room, I breathlessly asked why we were taking our shoes off — what was the history? The meaning? “To keep the carpets clean,” she replied dryly, tossing her slippers aside.
This is another unmissable stop in Bahrain. Unlike some mosques that are visited like any other tourist attraction, Al Fateh is dedicated to education and I was touched by the hospitality I was shown here.
3. Royal Camel Farm
You can’t go to the Middle East and not see camels. It’s a fact. Which is why I was so excited to visit Bahrain’s own Royal Camel Farm. I was also admittedly somewhat confused, because what even is a Royal Camel Farm actually. Details were thin, with even Mohammed a bit perplexed as to the purpose of the camels.
What we did know was the camels were owned by the royal family, they were not raced or worked in any way, and throwing unwanted materials was strictly prohibited by security.
I was content snapping away and squealing at every movement the camels made when I caught sight of Mohammed, who didn’t look so well. “I have never been outside for so long in August,” he explained, wiping sweat from his eyes. We had been out of the car for ten minutes. In his defense, the heat index was hovering around 100°F.
4. Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve
Because you can never have too many camels in your life, we also stopped by the Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve. The sprawling reserve is home to indigenous Middle Eastern bird and mammal species, including our favorite humped horse (okay, know they’re not actually horses.) Due to the heat, we didn’t stay long, but I think it would be a lovely spot to explore on a more mild day. For short stopovers, you’ll probably give Al Areen a miss, as it’s located outside Manama in the Southwest of the island.
5. Formula One Racetrack
Our visit didn’t coincide with one of the three days a week that official behind-the-scenes tours of the track are given (that’s Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, in case you were curious), but we charm the guards into letting us take a peek at Bahrain’s own Formula One Racetrack. While I’m not much into that scene, I did regale Mohammed with stories of my one time behind a race car wheel.
The racetrack is easily combined with a visit to neighboring Al Areen Wildlife Park.
6. Looking Out the Window
It’s the mark of a place that feels truly exotic when you can’t tear your eyes from a car window. Simple things like signs for turnoffs to Saudi Arabia, the familiar Subway logo unrecognizable in Arabic, and endless miles of desert stretched out in front of us all gave me a smile.
The time I spent in the car chatting to Mohammed about his experiences living and working around the Persian Gulf was one of the highlights of my day. I was fascinated especially by his stories of Saudi Arabia, which felt suddenly so close yet so ideologically far. Technically, it’s just across the King Fahd Causeway, where as my fellow blogger Raymond wrote, “you’ll catch the slightest scent of oil money and human rights violations wafting across the Gulf.”
A country where alcohol and cinemas are forbidden, women can’t drive, malls have separate opening hours for men and women, public spaces from post offices to restaurants are segregated by gender, and the only non-familial men that most women every meet is their driver? I was starting to understand why so many Saudis flock to Bahrain for weekend fun, leaving most of their rigid rules behind. As for the Saudi’s taste for splendor, Mohammed explained, “luxury is a band aid for the lack of rights.”
As we approached one neighborhood en route back to Manama and the airport, Mohammed explained that the area was known for political protests. The words had barely left his mouth when a thick blanket of back smoke appeared, and soon we approached an intersection where tires where tires had been set aflame by indignant demonstrators. Rather than stop traffic, cars inched slowly around them; when it was our turn, we both snapped photos with our iPhones, and Mohammed laughed nervously. I just smiled. I really was seeing quite a bit in just twenty-three short hours.
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I think what makes this brief stay so significant for me is that it has opened up an entirely new region of the world to my realm of possibilities. Previously, I think I was equal parts intimidated by and indifferent to travel in the Middle East. Yet in spite of the burning tires and the metal detectors at the entrance to my hotel, I felt incredibly safe and welcome, and intrigued to learn more about this culture so exotic to me. Leaving Bahrain, I started to daydream about traveling to countries that were never really on my radar before.
Back at the airport just a day after I’d touched down, I strained to hear my boarding call announcement over the amplified evening call to prayer. And as I made my way to my gate, I smiled again — I’d be back soon.
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Still holiday shopping? Don’t forget to check out my new Wanderland Wearable collection!
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Many thanks to the Intercontinental Bahrain for their overwhelming hospitality. As usual, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.
It’s amazing that visiting Bahrain has made you want to explore more of the Middle East, you obviously got a lot out of your trip. What an interesting country, it looks beautiful in your photos!
I guess all I needed was a little taste to pique my interest! Someday I will explore more…
What an incredible experience. Everything looks so bright and exotic! I think you really spent your time well. You’ve certainly given me some travel inspiration!
I’m so glad to hear that Marie! It really did feel deliciously exotic. That’s what I loved so much about it…
I love your admission that you were “equal parts intimidated by and indifferent to travel in the Middle East.” That’s probably how a lot of Westerners feel…
One place I am DYIIIING to go is Socatra in Yemen. Bucket list item for sure!
WHOA! I had never even heard of Socatra. Gorgeous! So added to my bucket list. Thanks for the inspiration Becky!
Absolutely beautiful photos, Alex! You really crammed a lot into 23 hours. Love the headscarf selfie but am actually surprised cameras were allowed inside the mosque.
I was too! I asked Mohammed somewhat timidly ahead of time and he assured me it was fine. When I arrived I asked again and was assured it was welcomed! I suppose it goes along with their goal of spreading knowledge about their religion…
Alex, I have wanted to go to Bahrain for some time, and I think a stopover is really the way to do it. Which airline were you flying? I love, love, love the camels…so cute!
It was Gulf Air. They were great — would fly again!
I think it’s amazingly cool that you were able to have this experience. And that you were opened up to traveling in a whole new part of the world is just awesome. I haven’t been to the Middle East myself, but I’m endlessly fascinated by it. And I think now that I’m living in a Muslim country I’m even more interested in exploring the Middle East. I had my first taste of Islam while traveling in Malaysia earlier this year. I visited the National Mosque there where, like you in Bahrain, I was required to be covered head to toe. The whole experience was just incredibly interesting and I seriously fell in love with Islamic architecture during that trip. I’m so glad to hear that you had such a great 24 hours in Bahrain and if/when you do travel to the Middle East again I would so love to read about it!! Oh, and your camel photos are so great 🙂
I’m sorry to say I never visited the National Mosque in Malaysia. I’m sure I will be back again someday though… I’ll be sure to hit it up next time!
I can’t believe how much you got out of your time in Bahrain! And I absolutely love your camel photos, haha. Brilliant!
Thanks Miriam 🙂 They made my trip!
I had a similar jolting experience when I got to Qatar. SO different. Loved that… after traveling a lot, it takes a big change to really give a good jolt.
Love your flamingo dress, so cute.
And I had to giggle about the shoe removal at the mosque. And WHAT a mosque. Stunning.
Exactly. It is an exhilarating feeling and almost a relief that it can still happen! It’s just too easy to get jaded sometimes. It was a very refreshing, if short, trip 🙂
I have a friend who spent 6 weeks in Bahrain and she absolutely loved it! Considering the island is so small, you can see quite a bit in just one day. But it seems like there is a lot to do, your pictures make me want to visit right now!
Six weeks would have been a bit much for me, but I certainly could have used longer than this! I’m glad your friend had a great experience though 🙂
I love your dress! I just met someone recently who did his masters degree in Israel and traveled extensively throughout the region. The Middle East is certainly an area that I am interested in exploring, but I’m not sure it would be a place I would do alone.
I definitely was put at ease by having a local accompanying me. I’m sure I would have managed on my own, but this was a really nice way to try out the region for the first time. I have considered joining a small tour to explore more of the Middle East in the future.
Yet another great post, Alex. I haven’t commented in awhile, but I’m still reading every post! I love how open you are to trying new things and visiting new places – don’t ever lose your open-mindedness! 🙂 … also, the flamingo dress is fab.
Aw, thank you Kelly — and it’s so great to hear from you! I try to keep an open mind… yes girl for life 🙂
Something I am always asking myself when I read your posts and see your amazing pictures is how you learned to takes these great photos and which program you are using to edit them!
I am so impressed by the richness of colors your pictures always have!
Hey Jana — check out my Obsessions page, I use the Adobe suite to edit 🙂 Obsessed!
The Middle East has an intriguing & mysterious exotic charm that I’m anticipating to discover as well. A visit to the UAE at least within the next couple of years is definitely a must. How cool that you landed a stay at plush Intercontinental, and were able to see so much in a day! Your mosque photos are beautiful.
Thanks Kristen! It definitely feels like there is a big new corner of the world out there to explore now…
That really looks exotic. How great that you got the chance to see so much in just 24 hours. Lucky you 🙂
I know, I was very lucky to have such great hosts! They really made it possible for me to see as much as possible.
I love this! I am *so* intrigued by the Middle East, I would love to travel there someday. I think I would find the mosque so interesting – I am extremely intrigued by Islam and I’d love to learn more!
This would be a great one to visit then — so much education and information!
Bahrain is one of our favorite countries. We were there in 2010 and were able to explore with our friend May, a local. Her father is veterinarian to the Royal Family and we were able to tour their personal zoo as well as watch as a few royal falcons were trained to hunt. It was an incredible experience!
I love that story 🙂 You guys are the coolest!
What a whirlwind! It really looks like you saw everything in 24 hours. I felt similar to you about travel to the Middle East until reading this, and now I’m very intrigued!
Maybe your mind will be similarly blown by an unexpected layover, one of these days 🙂
I always love reading about places I know next to nothing about, and I’ll admit Bahrain is one of them. It seems like such a fascinating place, and Al Fateh Grand Mosque looks beautiful. The Middle East is definitely a region of the world that has been calling to me lately- especially Jordan and Iran.
I love getting the opportunity to write about places that maybe I’ll be the first one to share with some of my readers. There’s no greater feeling 🙂
What a day! I’ve never been to the Middle East before, but it’s incredibly intriguing!
Agreed — I’m definitely on the lookout to return sooner rather than later.
I’m so impressed with how much you managed to fit into one day! And your pictures are absolutely stunning. I — like you — have always been a little afraid to travel to the Middle East, but your post is inspiring me to step out of the box a little. It looks like a beautiful and interesting place!
Thanks Erika! I still can’t really believe I crammed so much in — I didn’t sleep much, that’s for sure!
I have to say that I feel mainly indfferent to the Middle East although I am very interested in going to Jordan, Socotra Island in Yemen and maybe Oman, but the rest just doesn’t really interest me. I think it has a lot to do with desert scenery not being terribly exciting to me and also because of the attitude towards women. Interesting post nonetheless 🙂
This is why I love this blog — I had never even heard of Socotra Island before this comment section! I’m obsessed and now must go! I do understand your hesitations about the inherent misogyny in the region, though. The rash of women being imprisoned in Dubai for reporting their rapes has definitely turned me off visiting that country 🙁
I know right! I found out about Socotra from Wandering Earl and have wanted to go ever since
I am so intrigued by the Middle East and would love to travel there sometime. That mosque looks amazing!
O and if this whole blogging thing doesn’t work out you could always try out professional camel photography. Love those camel photos!!!
Haha. I’d love to see that on LinkedIn!
A royal camel farm?? Awesome.
(Also, love that flamingo dress!)
Thanks 🙂 I rarely, rarely ever splurge on clothing. But when I saw this baby for 60% off at a design co-op in Athens, it had to be mine!
You know, I never really gave Bahrain much thought (hate heat) but if I’m ever traveling somewhere far and Bahrain is a possible stopover option, I’d love to visit. Not sure I could pack in as much as you did in a day’s time but I can try. Did they have a/c pumping everywhere? Very cool!
AC was indeed EVERYWHERE! In fact, I had to ask them to turn it down in the car! The temperature leaps were just too wide.
I’ve wanted to go somewhere in Arabia for a really long time, but places like Bahrain were never really on my radar either… to be honest, I didn’t even know that there were so many interesting things to see!
On a different note: I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years now and while I always thought that your photographs were great, I’ve also noticed that they just keep on getting better! 🙂 I’m wondering: Have you ever considered writing a post on Photography tips? Not so much the technical side, but your creative tips? I’d love to learn from you! 🙂
Wow, thank you so much Melanie! I’ve had a few requests for a post like that recently. Thanks for the nudge — I really need to make that happen!
I never would have thought about visiting the Middle East but this post has really made me think! And by the way, you look great in the abaya and headscarf!
Thanks Jade! That is a huge compliment — well, that I made you think. But also the second one 🙂
I loved this post! I have never been to Bahrain or even thought about visiting, but you’ve got my interest piqued.
I love hearing that Laura! Thank you 🙂
I have to admit that on my only stopover in Bahrain (also en route from Europe to Thailand) I didn’t make it much further than a hotel…
But I went to Jordan for the first time earlier this year and it’s left me absolutely obsessed with travelling more in the Middle East – it was one of the most interesting, beautiful countries I’ve ever visited! If your travels take you in that direction, I highly recommend it.
Believe me, I was definitely tempted not to leave the grounds of that Intercontinental! It was gorgeous. And hoping to make it to Jordan someday for sure!
Great picks for your 24 hours – the mosque and museum look pretty cool! You got a ton done in that short time – impressive… I’m gonna keep an eye for flights with a longer layover now, they’ve always sold before I get around to buying them… 🙂
I really lucked out with these two, I think! I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes out for more in the future…
Wow, kind of embarrassed to say that I hadn’t even heard of Bahrain before and had to Google exactly where it was!
I’m definitely interested in spending time in the Middle East. I’ve been to Egypt and Morocco before, but I’m so fascinated by the culture so I’d love to travel extensively through the area when the time is right. Plus, the landscapes are beautiful!
No shame, I’m pretty sure I had to do the same when I first saw the layover location 🙂
You really did manage to cram quite a bit in. I’d love to visit the camel farm! When I went to Morocco I saw some camels but none of them looked this happy!
Ah, I’m dying to get to Morocco. It’s on my radar for sure!
You definitely made the most of your day! I got my first (only, so far) taste of the Middle East a couple of years ago when I spent two weeks visiting a friend who was living in Dubai. The UAE is a fascinating juxtaposition of traditional Middle Eastern culture and Las Vegas-on-steroids opulence. I’d be willing to bet you’d love it! We also spent a weekend in Oman, which was VERY different but super amazing – canyoning in the wadis, watching sea turtles nest. I highly recommend both places when you’re planning future Middle East adventures!
I absolutely love that description of the UAE! I had a friend who taught diving in Oman — sounding seriously intriguing.
What a wonderful little taste of Bahrain!
I’m even more excited now for our first visit to the middle east in the New Year (Iran)!
Wow, I can’t wait to read about that! Sounds fascinating. Enjoy!
I’ll admit, I don’t know a lot about Bahrain! But from your post alone, it looks like a very interesting and intriguing country.
You definitely made the most of your 23 hours there – how did you manage to get to all these places in such a short period of time?!
The Royal Camel Farm looks great. The camel in the first photo looks like he’s go a bit of attitude! 😛
Bahrain definitely sounds intriguing. It’s somewhere that I had never even given a second thought to previously – I’m not sure why. But the Middle East is a region that is great to explore, it’s a shame that it gets such bad press at the moment but it’s important to realise that it’s not every country in the region.
When I went to Jordan earlier this year it was sad to hear from locals that they felt tourism numbers were down thanks to problems in neighbouring countries. Like you in Bahrain I felt very safe and welcome there, much more than I expected.
That is a shame. I don’t think tourism (outside neighboring Middle Eastern countries) is a huge thing in Bahrain. But I feel that it’s a fantastic introduction to the region!
Wow you did quite a lot in 24 hours. And some great places to. Happy to hear that you found the mosque tour so informative, we also found it one of the friendliest ever. I am surprised however that you did not visit any of the world heritage sites or of the burial mounds. I found it so fascinating that an estimated 5% of the country is covered in thousand of year old graves but maybe that is just because I love archeology.
Do hope that you will follow up with some more visits to the middle-east it is such a fascinating region to travel.
I think because of the time of year — it was one of the hottest weeks of the year — I was steered away from outdoor activities. Which I was pretty okay with 🙂 I did read all about them in the museum, though!
Ha ha, that camel is adorable. so cute. I’d be interested to hear if you saw many women on the streets. Chris went to Quatar earlier this year and women weren’t allowed in restaurants, museums etc by themselves.
Bahrain is definitely on the more liberal side of the region. While due to the heat I barely saw ANYONE outside on the streets, from what I understand women are definitely given tons of agency in Bahrain and can definitely go anywhere in public by themselves. Many choose to wear (albeit conservative) Western dress as well.
Great post! You’ve visited an amazing country! I’ve never considered it to be my dream destination, but after all those pictures and marvelous animals i think i will change my mind! Just inspiring….
That’s lovely to hear Olga! Glad I could inspire you to add somewhere new to your bucket list 🙂
Hi, I need that flamingo dress. And camel, too, please.
(This surprisingly reminds me a lot of Brunei, which we spent a few days in while on Borneo for our honeymoon.)
Interesting! I’m definitely planning to make it to Brunei someday (I want to hit all the countries in Southeast Asia eventually). And yes, we need to twin out in some flamingo gear soon!
I can see how you might have found The Middle East intimidating up until now and I’m happy to hear your eager to explore more. I’ve traveled extentively through the region and it’s my favourite. I’ve only been to Bahrein’s airport, but reading this post has inspired me to make sure I get out of the airport during my next layover there. By the way, if you want to explore the ME further, I would recommend Oman!
Definitely worth leaving the airport 🙂 The museum in particular is super close by — you could get there with even a pretty short layover! And Oman has definitely piqued my interest…
Really enjoyed this post, must say had to Google Map where Bahrain is on the map 🙂
These 24 hour stopovers are becoming more and more accessible now, its awesome. Have done Singapore and Seoul myself, both countries I wouldn’t normally visit. It is impressive how much you can get done in 24 hours!
Singapore was a similar stop for me too! I really am so grateful for these two layover previews I’ve had of really cool countries.
Great stuff. Love the architecture. On my radar now, for future trips!
Glad to hear it, Hugo! It’s a really interesting little country.
Just stumbled across your website on my lunch break at work today and am already becoming quite addicted!
Love this post on Bahrain, has definitely given me a great flavour of the place. I’ve travelled a bit in the Middle East (Dubai, Jordan, and off to Oman next week!) and I have always found them to be incredibly welcoming countries, even travelling alone as a woman 🙂
I so look forward to seeing more of the Middle East, Kat! How amazing that you’ve traveled so much in the region.
was great pleasure to have you in Bahrain , looking forward seeing you again
and many thanks for your nice comments
Thank YOU Mohammed! I look forward to returning to Bahrain someday!
Logistical question for you, as I’m also considering a 20 hour layover in HongKong. Did you have a checked bag, and if so, were you able to retrieve it for your layover?
I was indeed! I’m not sure what the cutoff is for when they do or don’t allow you to do it but with 20 hours you’ll definitely be in the clear. I’m pretty sure that when I checked in for the flight they asked me whether or not I would be. Good luck!
Just came across your website whilst browsing Pinterest.
Was great to finally see a blogger write about Bahrain. Ive lived there for 7 years, it is definitely worth exploring!
Your pictures and writing captured Bahrain perfectly 🙂
That means a lot from someone who has spent so much time there, Savannah! Thank you! Hope you stick around and read more 🙂
I think one place you miss to see that is Bahrain International Circuit is certainly a must see place for the motorsport lovers. This circuit has hosted many events like Grand Prix, V8 Super Cars, Desert 400, etc. It is mostly visited by a large number of sports lovers around the world.
Check my other post on Bahrain, Rajesh — I did go to the circuit!
Your flamingo dress is the cutest!!
Thanks Christy! It’s amazing how much use I’ve gotten out of that thing, ha.
I would like to share one place which I experienced in bahrain that Bab Al-Bahrain which is located in Manama, it is a beautiful market with variety of shops ,dry fruit, accessories clothes, gold and various other sellers,the famous Gold Souq and Bahrain gold city is just 50 yards away. The market has a beautiful fountain right in front of the entrance gate. It is a cool place for shopping sprees with soothing ambience.
I am bummed I didn’t get to visit the market! Unfortunately as I was there in the middle of the August heat it was just way to warm to be outside of air conditioning for more than a few minutes. Next time! 🙂
Bahrain’s a pretty interesting country. I spent a year there when I was in the U.S. Coast Guard. Bet you didn’t know that U.S. Coast Guard was all the way over there! Bahrain has a huge foreign military presence, as they are one of many important middle eastern allies.
I didn’t know that before I visited, but I sure did after! The Coast Guard definitely has a big presence, considering it’s such a tiny country. I really enjoyed my time there!
YAY! I’m happy I stumbled upon this post, I love Bahrain and I’m happy to see you had a great time!
I really can’t wait to go back to the Middle East! Hoping to make another trip one of these days…
If you’re ever in Bahrain again feel free to send me an email and I’d be happy to show you around! Bahrain may be tiny but it has so much to offer, and I think seeing the country with a young Bahraini woman would be a lot more fun. I really enjoyed reading your posts xx
What a sweet offer and I will absolutely take you up on it if I’m ever back! Thank you so much! x
I loved the images on this blog. Regards to whoever clicked the shots.
Bahrain is a wonderful place and so are the people. It is a good travel destination in Arabia after the UAE.
Thanks Zarah! I loved Bahrain and look forward to exploring more of the Middle East!
Wonderful post with great information and beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing
Thanks Sarah! Bahrain was such an adventure — even if it was a whirlwind one!