The Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: البحرين , al-Baḥrayn) is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Persian Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It displays relative social liberalism compared with more conservative neighbouring countries, where Islamic law is applied in a much stricter way. Case in point: alcohol is legal here. Although Bahrain has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its political, social, and cultural peculiarities helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class and a politically conscious working class.
- 1 Manama (المنامة , al-Manāma) – the capital of Bahrain.
- 2 Hamad Town (مدينة حمد , Madīnat Ḥamad)
- 3 Isa Town (مدينة عيسى , Madīnat ʿĪsā)
- 4 Muharraq (المحرق , Al-Muḥarraq) – the kingdom's former capital
- 5 Riffa (الرفاع , Ar-Rifāʿ)
- 6 Sitra (سترة or سِتْرَة , As-Sitra)
- 1 Southern Governorate (المحافظة الجنوبية, Al-Muḥāfaẓat al-Janūbīyah) is the sparsely populated southern part of Bahrain. The Formula One racetrack is here.
- 2 Hawar Islands (جزر حوار , Juzur Ḩawār) just off the coast of Qatar are popular with birdwatchers.
|Currency||Bahraini dinar (BHD)|
|Population||1.4 million (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (BS 1363)|
|Time zone||UTC+03:00, Asia/Bahrain|
|Emergencies||999, 112 (emergency medical services, fire department, police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Bahrain is the smallest of the independent Persian Gulf states, and has often had to walk a diplomatic tightrope in relation to its larger neighbours. The country has few oil reserves, but it has established itself as a hub for refining and for international banking, while also achieving a socially liberal monarchy. That said, a string of political unrest (culminating in the demonstrations in 2011 and the subsequent government crackdown) exposed significant discomfort as well as sectarian and social cleavages. Although the population is predominantly Shi'a Muslim, the royal family is Sunni Muslim.
Despite being much closer to Qatar, the Hawar Islands are part of Bahrain after a long, drawn-out sovereignty dispute between the two nations, with the International Court of Justice affirming sovereignty to Bahrain in 2002.
Bahrain means "two seas" in the Arabic language.
The standard is 220 V 50 Hz. Most outlets are the British standard BS 1363 type. U.S., Canadian and Continental European travellers should pack converters/adapters for these outlets if they plan to use their electrical equipment in Bahrain.
The best time to visit Bahrain is November–March, with October and April being just bearable. Take along a sweater during December–February as evenings can be cool (about 15 °C/60 °F). Bahrain's summer, May–September, is very hot and humid, though occasional cool northerly winds provide some relief. More frequent are the qaws, the hot, dry summer winds that can bring sandstorms.
Rain is occasional, and happens only in the winter season.
Bahrain has a rich history going back 5,000 years and was the site of the ancient Dilmun civilization.
As one of the earliest places to convert to Islam, Bahrain was famous for its pearling industry. After a period of Arab and Persian rule, it was then ruled by the Portuguese Empire. The House of Khalifa has ruled Bahrain since 1783.
Following successive treaties, Bahrain remained a British protectorate until its independence in 1971. Since then, it has been ruled by a constitutional monarchy.
Citizens of 67 countries may obtain a 14-day visa-on-arrival, while citizens of 114 countries, including all those eligible for a visa-on-arrival, are eligible to apply for a 14-day online visa. Check the web-site of the Ministry of Interior for the latest details. If your nationality is not eligible for either of these, or if you are visiting for purposes other than tourism or business, you will require a sponsor in Bahrain to file your visa application for you. With the normalisation of relations between Bahrain and Israel in 2020, Israeli citizens are now eligible for the online visa.
Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) do not need a visa to enter Bahrain and may stay indefinitely. A short stay visa will be granted on arrival to residents of GCC member states as well regardless of nationality.
Bahrain International Airport (BAH IATA), in Muharraq just east of Manama, is the main base for Gulf Air and has excellent connections throughout the region and to London and to South-East Asia. The airport has good duty-free shopping and has a transit hotel (Bahrain Airport Hotel), with sleeping pods (3 hours provided free to those with Priority Pass/LoungeKey provided by many credit cards) and rooms. Many residents of eastern Saudi Arabia choose to fly out via Bahrain, and Gulf Air offers shuttle services to Khobar and Dammam to cater to this market; inquire when booking.
The low cost carrier Air Arabia offers daily flights from the Sharjah Airport (SHJ IATA) north of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Major carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways also offer regular services from Bahrain to Dubai/Abu Dhabi.
Unlike other airports, this one is comparatively small. This is beneficial for a quick and easy departure and arrival.
The Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO), tel. +973-17252959, runs eight buses daily from the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) bus station in Dammam via Khobar in Saudi Arabia, across the King Fahd Causeway, to the bus terminal next to the Lulu Centre in central Manama.
The service uses comfortable aircon minibuses with a trailer for luggage. Tickets cost BD 6/SR 60 and can be purchased in advance, although they'll squeeze you in without a reservation if there is space. As crossing the Causeway involves two passport checks and two customs checks, figure on 2 hours for the trip, plus any traffic delays at busy times like Thursday evenings. At congested times, buses may actually be slightly faster than private cars, as they can use separate lanes at immigration and customs.
Bahrain Saudi Transport & Tourism (BASATCO) offers what seems to be similar buses for a slightly lower fare of BD 4, although four times a day only (2011).
The 26-km King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Unofficial taxis, found hanging around bus stations at both ends, but they are often illegal. From Khobar, before the causeway entrance taxis can be found to Manama for BD25/SR250. This includes bridge toll of SR25. Uber is available from here for around SR115-125 plus toll.
While the occasional cruise (specifically those of Italian line MSC) calls at Manama, there is no scheduled passenger service overseas.
The official rates start at BD 1 plus 0.200 fils per kilometre. Cabbies will often ask for ridiculous prices. Most taxis now use their meters. Rates vary from BD 3-5 for a ride within Manama.
The airport gives guidelines as to the official way of calculating taxi fares. An extra BD 2 will be added if you take a taxi waiting at the airport.
On the whole taxis offer a good service but you do encounter some bandits. When travelling from the airport always use the white with red roof or London-style taxis. There is a rule if the meter is not used there is no charge; hold your ground on this and call the police, and the driver will cooperate very quickly with the correct fare for the trip.
Finding a taxi can be difficult, although major hotels and malls usually have a few waiting outside. Some privately owned companies operate in the kingdom, the most popular of which are:
- Speedy Motor Service Radio-Meter Taxis SMS Radio-Meter Taxi is the oldest & most popular radio-meter taxi company in the Kingdom, and the most reliable. Advance booking of taxi is possible, and they operate a 24-hour service, 365 days a year. Be punctual - they can come a few minutes before the time you gave. Call +973-17 682999
- Bahrain Taxi Online Get meter taxi online within 10 minutes. Tel: +973-36688614
- Bahrain Limo is the sister company of the transport giant "Saudi Bahraini Transport Company" (SABTCO) which provides luxurious bus and limousine services across the King Fahad Causeway.
- Bahrain Taxi Group Radio taxi services with more than 973 taxi drivers driving orange and white cars equipped with radio meters and most of them with credit card devices. Booking online taxi services is available and can be applied by filling the form and with placing a call to call center +973 66966976.
However, there have been occasional reports of taxi drivers trying to charge overly expensive fares (like BD 50 for a short trip, when it should be BD 5), though they are generally rare. Sticking to the official taxi services is usually your best bet.
There are many unofficial taxis operated by expats (mainly Asian). While illegal, they are popular for their low prices, and are generally reliable as well. You're likely to know them through word-of-mouth.
There are also public buses that run to many parts of the island, however it may not be as robust as what you may expect elsewhere. Bus fares are low; English-language schedules and maps are available online.
For tourists the most important route is A1 (Airport-Manama). To get to the Bahrain Fort take A2 from airport via Manama and get out in Seef, from there walk 2 km to the fort.
If planning on visiting several sites, consider renting a car. Prices are BD 10+ per day (or from BD 150 per month), but allow you freedom to drive around the island. A map or a GPS is strongly advised, as road signs can be scarce, and it is not too difficult to go from one part of the country and land up in another, though fortunately the country is small. Speed limits are generally 50 km/h in the roads and 80-120 km/h in the highway. Fines for breaking the traffic law is high, though the rules are not always properly enforced. It is common for drivers to change lanes without using the indicator - watch out for that as it can be frustrating.
If you own a car, you will need to go to the GDT for a vehicle inspection every year (if your car is old enough) - aim to be very early (before 7:30 am) because the queues are ridiculous, and it is normal to spend 3 hours in the queue of cars waiting to be inspected. Once (and only when) that is done, you can renew the vehicle registration online - do this not more than 3 months after the inspection or you will need to redo the inspection again.
Getting a driving licence
As a visitor, you can use an international driving licence or often from your home country to drive in Bahrain. Otherwise, you can exchange your driving licence for a Bahraini equivalent if it comes on a list of countries (the UK, US and GCC countries all qualify), and for non-GCC licences, if it has not expired yet. Otherwise, you will need to take driving lessons of at least 22 hours (if you've never driven) or 6 if you have prior experience, and generally cost BD 7 per hour for up to 2 hours per day. To start, you need to obtain a learner's licence (schedule the appointment at the GDT/General Directorate of Traffic using Skiplino) (only for those aged 18 and up), which will also involve a quick eye check (though be early - even 12:30PM can be too late and you will be asked to come back later!). Then you'll need to get an approved driving instructor - finding a good one can be difficult and can require some searching from your side, with instances of driving instructors training you for less than the agreed time but collecting the full fees not unheard of. All driving instructor cars are now with an automatic transmission (up to about 2015 they were purely manual). There is a large driving instruction "playground" that your instructor will make you practice on (covering the basics such as traffic signals, roundabouts, traffic signs, lane changes etc), and also some training would be done outdoors - how much would depend on the instructor as the test itself is mainly, but not entirely, indoor-focused.
Once you have gotten the minimum number of hours, you can schedule a driving test on the government website. The test will focus on indoor (mainly testing common driving skills) and some outdoor driving, with the very final section being reverse parking. The test is short but fairly harsh - even one mistake can result in a fail depending on the severity (though this can also depend on the testing official) and it is common for people to pass on their second or third attempt, though you should not face any surprises on what would be tested. There is no theoretical test as is the case in some other countries. If you fail, you have to take at least 8 additional hours before taking the next test. If you fail 4 times, you risk a one-year cooldown period before the next test.
Bahrain is not known to be particularly a "motorbike" country, but active communities do exist. The first stage of getting a motorbike licence is the same as for the car - go to the GDT, pass the eye check, and get the learner licence documents (this phase costs BD 47). However, from then on, the process has little in resemblance with the process for getting a car licence. Knowing Arabic (or Hindi/Urdu) is a significant advantage, as not all of the officials speak English (and if you look like an Indian/Pakistani, expect to be spoken in Hindi even if you do not understand it). Note that women are allowed to get a licence, but very few tend to get a bike licence. If you can exchange one from another country, that's a better choice.
- You'll need to go to the "Public Security Driving School" building on the other side of the driving school complex and ask for "new date". You'll be sent to a room with other students (for bike, heavy vehicles etc - anything except a car licence comes here). Be prepared to wait for hours. When it's your turn, you'll be given the training days (which would be a continuous block of five days from Sunday to Thursday). Expect this to be two months (or more) from the current date in the summer, and up to 6-7 months in the winter - you should aim to start the process as soon as possible as a result.
- During this time, get the necessary safety gear. A helmet is mandatory - beware that many use cheap helmets (that often have the name of a delivery company) - these are not recommended as they are not safe. A good helmet costs BD 50 onwards, and can be found in specialist motorbike shops. A pair of riding gloves is also recommended. If you have no prior experience with riding, it's strongly recommended to get some private training if you can afford it (see below).
- On the training days, you'll be trained by the police officers. They are competent, but are known not to teach well (for example, they may give unclear or no feedback at all despite prompting - most of the students have had prior experience riding in their native countries), often have a short temper, and some of what they teach go against general norms (for example, you'll be told only to use the rear brakes). You'll be trained on Honda CB Unicorn 160 bikes, which are relatively low-powered but are popular amongst delivery bikers (and you'll notice that the majority of people applying for a bike intend to join a delivery company or work as a delivery boy for a restaurant).
- You'll be asked to ride in circles (initially on a smaller circle for those starting without experience). When the trainer decides that you're good enough, they'll take you on a round outside. This is the exact path you'll take in the test, so it's important to be aware of the important bits in the route (such as roundabouts, changing lanes etc).
- If you do well, you can be asked to take the test as soon as two days into the training (which means that if you pass it, you can get the licence without having to complete all five days of the training). Conversely, if you run out of days (which can happen if you fail the test, or if the trainer decides that you're not ready for the test), you'll be sent back to the building to get "extra date". These come in blocks of 2 days (and cost BD 8 respectively). Unlike the "new date" phase, you should be able to get the next two training days within one or two weeks (at most). As with the first phase, be prepared to wait an arbitrary amount of time inside.
- When the trainer decides that you're ready for the test, they will fix a date for you (unlike the case for a car, you have no choice, and for most people, it's going to be a Thursday), and you'll have to pay BD 16 (the trainer will tell whether it must be done on the same day or on the day of the test). On the "test date", you'll wait as usual, till an examiner (a police officer again) is available for you. Unlike the training phase, you'll ride in front of the examiner (not back). The route is exactly the same, and while chances are that one or two minor mistakes won't be an issue, they still tend to be strict and you can expect to fail for a variety of mistakes (for example, not using the indicator when changing lanes, or forgetting to cancel once you've made the change).
- If you've passed the test, you'll be sent back inside the building and (again after waiting for potentially hours) your name would be called, and you would be asked to pay BD 20 to get the licence. Note that car and bike licences are separate and are not on the same card. Once you've gotten the licence, you are free to ride any kind of bike; unlike some other countries, there are no power restrictions for young or inexperienced riders.
The unfortunate reality is that the majority of the people applying for a bike licence intend to work as deliverymen, and this is evident in the choice of bikes and safety gear. 150cc bikes as a result are popular - this is not recommended as such bikes can struggle to pick up fast enough in a country as road-dense as Bahrain (most non-deliverymen get at least a 300cc bike). Similarly, many use low-quality helmets - and it's rare to see people wear other protective gear (such as jackets and knee protectors). This is again a bad idea, as crashes and deaths do occur. Similarly, there are regular reports of deliverymen flouting traffic rules, which they are often pressurised to due to demands from customers and restaurant owners (as their goal is to deliver as quickly as possible - some are paid by the number of deliveries). Most people reading this page are unlikely to be in that group, but it's important to provide context on why most people see bikes of a certain type.
Petrol vehicles are predominant in Bahrain, with diesel being significantly less prevalent. Either way, it is highly subsidised by the government - it used to be the case that petrol was cheaper than water. While prices have increased since then, they are still cheaper in comparison with the rest of the world, especially because Bahrain does not peg its petrol prices to some benchmark. This is partially the reason high-performance V6/V8 vehicles are common here, even through a 2.0 L engine would be more than enough.
Petrol stations are scattered around the country (mainly from the government-owned Bapco), and you'll always get two kinds of petrol - Mumtaz (95-octane petrol) and Jayyid (91-octane petrol), with the latter being about 20 - 30% cheaper. The latter is perfectly fine for daily use in most cars. Some have a Super 98 option as well. Unlike those in some other countries, you'll always be served by an attendant, and you aren't supposed to fill the car yourself. Cash is always accepted; credit cards are generally (but not always) accepted as well. Many petrol stations also have some kind of convenience stores.
Arabic is the official language, although English and Persian (Farsi) are widely spoken. Urdu and Hindi are also understood and spoken by many Indians and Pakistanis on the island, with Malayalam being another popular language.
The Qala'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is located off the northern shore and is a five to ten minute drive away from Manama city. It is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits. Admission is free.
Next door to the fort is a museum, completed in February 2008, which contains many artifacts ranging from the ancient Dilmun periods through the Islamic era, many of which were found at the fort and additional ruins next door. The museum is a large rectangular and white building with absolutely no signs to indicate that it is a museum. The hours are 8AM-2PM daily; admission is free.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because it is a over 400-years tree which had survived the harsh desert climatic conditions. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
To reach the tree, take the Zallaq Highway heading east, which becomes the Al-Muaskar Highway. You will eventually see a sign for the Tree of Life indicating a right turn. (Although the sign seems to point you to turn onto a dirt road which actually goes nowhere, do not do so, instead wait until the next intersection which is several metres ahead.) There are no signs as you travel down this road, but pay attention to a scrap metal yard on your right. Before you reach a hill which warns you of a steep 10% incline, take a right. As you continue straight down this road (including roundabouts), you will begin to see Tree of Life signs again. The signs will lead you down a road which will then be devoid of these signs, but you will eventually see the tree in the distance on the right (it is large and wide, not to be mistaken for other smaller trees along the way). You turn onto a dirt path at Gas Well #371. You can drive up to just outside of the tree, but make sure you stay on the vehicle-worn path, as turning off of it is likely to get your car stuck in the softer sand.
Although it seems like a chore to reach, the Tree of Life is worth the visit for the oddity of it. The tree is covered in graffiti, although this is not visible until you get up close. Try to make your arrival near sunset for a picturesque view of the tree and the surrounding desert.
Dilmun Burial Mounds, that is, burial mounds of the Dilmun culture from the late 4th century BC onwards, can be seen in Bahrain. 21 of them, mostly in and around the city of A'ali, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019.
Bahrain has a history dating back 5000 years, from the ancient Dilmun period through the Islamic era. The country offers three forts which have been meticulously restored and opened to the public, although a lack of signs and general promotion by the country's tourist industry sometimes makes finding these sites difficult.
The high temperatures in Bahrain make sea activities seem extra tempting and 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 Arabian Gulf. Sailing and scuba diving are particularly popular.
Although a desert country, Bahrain boasts an international 18-hole grass golf course, which is about 15 minutes outside the capital, Manama. The par 72 championship course features five lakes and is landscaped with hundreds of date palms and desert plains.
City Centre Bahrain is the most popular mall in Bahrain, which includes a cinema, a water-park, and a lot of western brands, but there are many others scattered across the country of varying sizes.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
Haggle for goods at the local souk markets.
Bahrain, despite being largely Muslim, has luxurious hotels that are known for observing Christmas, because of a number of emigrant Christian expats. The festive event also sees malls display wreaths decorated with countless Christmas ornaments.
There are several telecom operators available in Bahrain, the most popular being Batelco (which is the oldest), Zain and STC Bahrain (formerly called Viva). It is pretty easy to get a prepaid SIM (where you reload before using) at the airport, or at many cold stores (small shops) around the country, and Batelco has one designed for travellers (though it would be cheaper to just get a regular prepaid). Free home delivery of the SIM should also be possible. 3G and 4G are universally available in the country, and 5G is being rapidly rolled out. Batelco removed 2G support at the end of February 2021. It is possible to get a reasonably decent internet package for BD 5 - 10 per month depending on provider (which would give you 5 - 10 GB of data); this should be enough for the average traveller.
International calling charges will depend on the country; calls to the Indian subcontinent are usually the cheapest, though a VoIP service such as WhatsApp/Skype is recommended if you plan to do a lot of international calling. Bahrain's international dialling code is +973, and is always 8 digits - landline (and faxes) will normally start with 17, while common prefixes for mobiles include 3, 66 and so on. The list does expand, Bahrain being one of the more mobile-dense countries with its proliferation well beyond 100%.
Internet access can be found in many malls (Seef Mall, City Centre are known to provide; Ramli Mall and Sitra Mall do not or only have the 15-minute Bahrain Wi-Fi service) and restaurants; it's hard to find out beforehand whether they provide it so you may need to call up if this particularly bothers you. Some malls subscribe to Bahrain Wi-Fi, where you can get a 15-minute free trial per device per 24-hour period (entering fake details works) which can be enough depending on your use-case. Some shops in these malls provide Wi-Fi for free as well.
Exchange rates for Bahraini dinar
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency in Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar, denoted by the symbol " .د.ب " or "BD" (ISO code: BHD). It is divided into 1000 fils. One dinar is worth US$2.66, as the exchange rate is fixed, making this one of the world's highest-valued currencies (second only to Kuwait). This can get some getting used to: that seemingly cheap BD 10 taxi ride is in fact almost US$27 and thus an extortionate rip-off.
The dinar is a fully convertible currency, and there are no restrictions on its import or export. Denominations for coins are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils and 100 fils (500 fils coins are rarely seen, but are valid). Denominations for banknotes are 500 fils (BD 1/2), BD 1, BD 5, BD 10 and BD 20.
Being fixed to the US dollar means that it is effectively pegged to the Saudi riyal at 1:10. Saudi Riyals (SAR) are accepted almost everywhere at that rate, although odds are you'll get your change in dinars and hotels may try to screw you out of a few percent. If coming in from KSA, there's no reason to change your money, but do try to get rid of any excess dinars before you leave the country, as they're hard to exchange elsewhere, even in Saudi Arabia.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain is not cheap. A decent dinner can cost around BD 5 - 15, and even more if you're with a family, and car rental at BD 10-20/day is reasonable, but hotel prices will put a dent in your budget: a perfectly ordinary room in a "good" hotel can set you back BD 50. Do not travel to Bahrain during the annual F1 race in April if looking for reasonable prices, as hotels will quadruple their rates. A room at the Gulf Hotel during this race could cost you upwards of BD 300/night.
- See Manama for detailed shop and mall listings.
There are several major malls in Bahrain that offer international and luxury labels shops and boutiques, supermarkets and so forth, as well as food courts, contemporary and traditional cafes, play areas and arcades, cinemas (3D & 2D) and even an indoor water park.
A visit to the local souq is a must. There you can negotiate the price on “rolexes”, jewellery, and many other gifts. The souq is also home to many excellent tailors. If you're there for long enough (say a week) then you can take a favourite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
Since January 2019, most products and services have a VAT (value added tax) of 10% with some exceptions at 0%, which is usually included in the product cost. Bahrain does not have personal or corporate tax however unlike most other non-GCC countries.
It's likely that many products you're looking for would be expensive in Bahrain (or straight-up unavailable, especially for specialist goods such as customised laptops), and hence importing personal goods is popular. Common options include
- Amazon (from amazon.ae and the US store) - they deliver directly using international shipping
- any other store, and you use something like Aramex's Shop and Ship to deliver to Bahrain. Some stores in the US don't deliver to such addresses as a result, and you may face trouble paying with a non-US card (they are likely to give errors).
It's important to note that
- if the value of the good is over BD 300, you'll be hit with a 10% customs duty
- depending on where and how the product is brought, you may not be able to claim warranty.
Tipping is generally not done, though it's fine to tip the underpaid and overworked delivery person that brings your food or delivers your groceries.
They can be found in most supermarkets and cold stores, though like most countries, cigarettes are heavily taxed (200%, called as the sin tax) and a pack generally costs BD 2 (~$5.5). The legal age to buy them is 18. The duty free shop offers them for cheaper prices and (for some reason) does not have most of the health warnings that a retail-sold packet has. In any case, quitting is a better choice and nicotine patches can be found at most pharmacies.
Shishas are also common in some cafes and restaurants and can also be found in supermarkets. Again, they are not healthy.
E-cigarettes/vaping has exploded in popularity and there are many specialist shops that offer them now. There are also dedicated tobacconists, though harder to find.
- See Manama for detailed restaurant listings.
Bahrain has an impressive dining scene, with numerous restaurants to choose from. The main dining area is Adliya, where you can take your pick among numerous cafes, trendy lounges and restaurants. There are also traditional Arabic restaurants around the country.
Restaurants in Bahrain run the gamut for cheap stalls offering local food to fancy restaurants in fancy hotels. American fast food franchises are ubiquitous. Western (mostly American) style-foods and franchises can be found around the malls and in the city centre, offering food for upper mid-range prices.
There is even a popular alley in Juffair called 'Americans' Alley', this is due to the huge variety of American-based restaurants in that area.
- Machboos (also known as Kabsa) - mainly made from a mixture of spices, rice (usually long-grain basmati), meat and vegetables
- Muhammar - a sweet rice dish which is typically served with fish
Snacks and bread
- Samosa - a fried or baked pastry with a savory filling, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, ground lamb or chicken.
- Khubz (flatbread). Available in almost all supermarkets and cold stores.
- The most popular traditional dessert is Halwa Showaiter, also known as Halwa Bahraini. It is a jelly like halwa made with corn starch, saffron and various nuts.
Traditional Bahraini food is very hard to find in restaurants, and is typically confined to the homes of locals. If you have Bahraini friends, being invited home for a meal is the best chance you have to sample the local cuisine.
Home delivery (that is, having food delivered to your place of residence) is offered by the restaurant itself in some cases. With the pandemic, the popularity of third-party delivery services (the most popular being Talabat) has exploded and the majority of restaurants support home delivery today, if not by the establishment themselves. Talabat, PizzaHut, KFC etc require either Bahrain phone number or GCC number to register. Unless you have a very good reason (keep in mind the distance from the restaurant to your residence), do not pester or call up the restaurant or delivery person. The delivery people (who are paid relatively low) have to handle the harsh weather and traffic to get the food to you, and it is imperative that you respect them for that. There are complaints that deliverymen, pressured by restaurants and customers, break traffic rules, overspeed or worse end up in accidents themselves. Of course, if you can a perfectly valid alternative is to get the food yourself from the restaurant (this is called as takeaway) or simply dine in concordance with COVID rules.
Vegetarian food is easy to get in Bahrain - considering the large Indian population, you can simply go to any Indian restaurant and you'll have a wide variety of vegetarian options (some of which are pure-veg in that they do not have any non-vegetarian food). Other than that, while restaurants will usually have something to cater for those who don't eat meat, it can vary wildly with the restaurant - it's unlikely that you're going to find much in a small Arabic restaurant, if at all. The supermarkets and fast-food chain restaurants will usually have some vegetarian options too.
Vegan options are limited outside of specialist and high-end restaurants (and supermarkets), and you may end up struggling to find good options. Some restaurants may not understand what it means to be vegan and may confuse it with vegetarian.
That being said, there are occasionally discounts on "fake meat" products - check the clearance/discount section, with the provision that some of them label egg products as vegetarian.
- See Manama for detailed nightlife listings.
Bahrain has relatively liberal laws regarding alcohol and has long been a favorite getaway for visitors from Saudi Arabia and other nearby "dry" countries — don't be surprised to see Arabs in thobe and gutra sipping cool brewskis as they watch dancers strut their stuff in the nightclubs. However, alcohol can only be served by four-star hotels and higher, and you wouldn't find it in supermarkets.
Under Bahraini law, any sign of having consumed alcohol may be taken as prima facie evidence of driving under the influence, which can lead to imprisonment and/or fines of up to BD 1,000.
Coffee, called gahwa ( قهوة ) locally, is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Bahrain. It is usually poured into a coffee-pot, which is called dalla ( دلة ) in Bahrain. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called finjan ( فنجان ).
Mostly public schools, but enough private schools to serve majority of overseas. Bahrain School, British School of Bahrain, St Christopher's School  educates to British GCSE, A-level and IB qualifications and has a very diverse base, with students from many ethnic backgrounds, although most British expats working in Bahrain send their children there, however they can be extremely expensive. There are also schools (the most notable one being Indian School Bahrain) mostly frequented by the children of Indian expats.
Also many private universities and the University of Bahrain[dead link] is in Sakhir next to Bahrain International Circuit.
The majority of the population in Bahrain are expatriates (they make up 57% of the population). Some expats work in the financial sector however the majority are engaged as labourers, policemen, drivers and lower class lowly paid artisans. Conditions for many of these people are poor and there are regular allegations of human rights abuses and 'Modern Day Slavery', with employers taking the passports of workers (though Bahrain does not practice the kafala system present in some other GCC countries such as Qatar), though things are improving. Labourers are often paid rates as low as BD 150 (or even lower), and have to spend hours in the hot sun - so much that a law exists preventing people from working outside between noon and 4 pm during July and August.
For some expats, life is easy with the clubs, cocktail parties, dinners and balls which remain one of the last throwbacks to the British empire. However for others it is extremely hard and dangerous. In former times it was the tradition that employers provided benefits to expat employees including;
- House or housing allowance
- Medical insurance
- Free flights home every year
- An additional salary of a minimum of 15 days for every year worked (there are slabs according to the number of years worked)
However, this is widely no longer true with 'Lump sum' self-sufficiency 'local hire' contracts now becoming the norm.
There is a 1% charge on salary (gosi tax) which goes to subsidize the unemployed, but a lot of employers are giving their employees an additional bonus by paying it themselves instead of deducting it from the salary.
Some executive positions used to have their children's education sponsored, however this is now dwindling.
Working hours differ across different industries. Government offices work from 07:30 to 14:00 and the private sector tends to be 07:30 to 18:00 or longer for Asian expatriates. Friday and Saturday is the official weekend for all public sector establishments as well as government schools and universities.
One of the major difficulties for expatriates in Bahrain is debt. The economy is in many ways structured to encourage expats to live right on the edge of their earnings and it is virtually impossible for most people to save money. There are legal processes which result in a 'travel ban' being placed on expatriates in a matter of minutes if they are unfortunate enough to get into debt. An effect of the travel ban is that the work permit is automatically suspended thus meaning that the expatriate cannot work to pay off the debt not can he/she leave the country. Many expats have been stuck in Bahrain for years caught in this dilemma and a significant number have died in the country unable to travel for treatment or afford medical bills.
During 2011, a state of near civil war broke out in Bahrain, with many deaths, hundreds of injuries, and a large number of activists and health professionals arrested and tortured. Though the crisis has mostly died down since then, problems occasionally occur, and visitors should be cautious when visiting sensitive areas (black billowing smoke from burning tyres is a telltale sign that something is wrong there).
The ordinary social crime rate in Bahrain is fairly low and violent crime is rare. However, burglary, petty theft, and robberies do occur. Incidents of petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching are reported especially in the old market areas known as souks. Most hotels have discos frequented by some unsavoury characters. Though the hotels have proper security systems (including cameras) installed, there are instances of tourists having their rooms burgled.
If you are in the streets of Exhibition Avenue (near Hoora), take care, as women may encounter unfriendly experiences with (mostly) Saudis, who are mostly drunk. If you do go there at night, it is a good idea to be accompanied by a man. There is a police station in Exhibition Avenue, which you can go to if needed.
Drink plenty of water. April through August can be very hot (up to 50ºC) and humid, and can occasionally feel like a lot hotter. Use an umbrella to protect you from the harsh sun. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are outdoors during the day. Bottled water is sold practically everywhere in the city from "cold stores" to major supermarket chains at reasonable prices. In the souk, walking vendors offer small chilled bottles but you may end up paying more than the bottle is really worth. If you are living in Bahrain for an extended period of time, you can set up an arrangement for a neighbourhood cold store to deliver bottled water to your flat, or sign up for water delivery through several companies on the island. Many cold stores (and some hotels) also deliver your goods (or food) free to your hotel or flat, though you may wish to tip the one delivering who often have to ride in the hot sun for a low salary.
Though tap water is reported to be potable, bottled or boiled water is recommended for drinking.
In an emergency, call ☏ 999. There are many public health centers (that charge BD 7 per visit for expatriates); the Salmaniya Medical Complex is the largest government hospital and is free to all residents and citizens.
Bahrain is a fairly gracious host nation but it is imperative to demonstrate respect and courtesy in reference to their particular cultural practices and religion at all times. Bahrain is an Islamic country where you should behave conservatively. For example, appearing in public places under the influence of alcohol, wearing overly revealing outfits and public displays of affection should be avoided.
When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, rather than shorts (it is not possible to visit some government offices and museums if you're wearing it), and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear. Do not show signs of affection to members of the opposite sex in public. Couples have been arrested for kissing in public and it is just not socially accepted. Always avoid any confrontation and never become involved in an argument, especially with a local.
As an Islamic country, Bahrain has a negative attitude towards children born out of wedlock. Before travelling, pregnant women are advised to consult the hospital in their destination to ensure access to emergency care and the possible legal consequences in the absence of a marriage certificate.
In certain cases, Islamic Sharia law applies in criminal cases. Sharia offences include alcohol abuse, adultery (extramarital affairs) and homosexuality. The "wearing of gender-unconforming clothing" is also prohibited. Pregnancy outside marriage can also lead to a conviction.
Drug use is punishable up to life and penalties for possession of even small quantities of drugs are severe.
While freedom of expression is often better than its neighbouring countries, that does not mean that you can make unnecessary comments - defamation of the king is a punishable offence and the local newspapers are generally pro-government. Bahrain is religiously tolerant by the standards of the Gulf, and is the only Gulf country with native Christian and Jewish communities.
During Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking in public is strictly prohibited, and offenders risk a fine or even a jail term. Restaurants will be closed during daylight - while they may appear to be open after lunchtime, that's actually them preparing for the breaking of fast and you will not be able to order anything until Iftar.