Actually I had an interesting 2.5 days in Bahrain. I spent half of the day visiting the archeological site. I spent the other two days trying to cram it in as much as possible. I did do quite a lot but that is because I went over-budget on transportation. Hiring a car and driver is more value for money than taking cabs, and the latter can be hard to find and actually charge higher per hour. Relying on public transport would not get you anywhere. The best option is actually to rent a car. Similar to the other Gulf countries, land infrastructure is quite established and it is highway driving mostly.
Bahrain has ramped up its tourism efforts. In 2016, it was dedicated as Bahrain year of tourism. Year of 2017 is Bahrain’s Archeological year. When I was there in February 2017, on my last evening, they inaugurated the first Bahrain’s Food Festival in Bahrain Bay, next to the Four Seasons. The food festival was a great effort, but unfortunately I barely found local Bahraini food from the available selections. That evening I also had the option to go to a contemporary dance, which was part of the Spring festival.
I did a lot in Bahrain (guilty of kiasu mentality of Singaporeans), but I do not recommend all.
First day (half day):
1. Bahrain Museum is recommended. It gives overview of the ancient civilizations in Bahrain (Dilmun, Tylos) and not so ancient way of life in Bahrain.
2. King Fahd Causeway is a waste of time. It is just a long bridge across the strait linking Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. To me, the bridge has slight negative connotation, as it facilitates hypocrisy and double standards that are happening on Exhibition Road. I had been advised to steer clear of Exhibition Road, especially as a girl traveling alone as to not be fair game by the visiting males looking to let loose.
3. Tree of Life itself is decent, but the surrounding is not. The visitor centre is not maintained well. There was no facilities. No care was done for the archeological ruins by the tree. I do not even think they can agree on the age of the tree. There were also many camps in the desert for people’s leisure. They were badly done with tarps and plastic sheets. Heaven and hell compared to the desert camps in Wahiba Sands in Oman 😂.
4. The first oil well is not great, but it is near the Tree of Life. So visit it, if you decide to see the tree.
Second day (full day):
1. Fahat Mosque is recommended for the tour and short lecture. It is not the grandest mosque in the region, but it has a nice kufic calligraphy decoration. They will lend abayas and head covers for the ladies. I enjoyed the tour.
2. Beit Al Quran (Yes! Yes! Yes!) cannot be missed. I saw many amazing specimen of Qurans and calligraphy. I saw calligraphy written on rice and a split pea. I saw Qurans from Persia, the Mamluks, Sudan, etc. A few are ancient from 7-10th century I believe (no photos allowed and I could not recall exactly the oldest Quran I saw). Some are decorated with gold leaves. Most of the exhibits are well preserved. Do not miss this place!
3. Archeological Tour is not perfect, but I would recommend it. Please see details here.
4. Eat at a local grill, Matam Al Feitah (Al Fateh’s Grill) in Al Gudaibeia to try the mutton kebabs marinated with black lime. It was not worth it. The meal cost me 1 BHD (for 8 skewers of mutton), but the taxi cost me 12 BHD. It was an old restaurant and patronized only by locals. The food was not fantastic for me. I was the only girl, and was subjected to many curious, harmless stares.
Third day (full day):
1. A visit to Al Jasra house is quite interesting. It was an old residence of the ruling family. It was furnished so you could get some idea of how they lived in the past, but if one has traveled often in the Gulf region, it would not be the most impressive.
2. Shaikh Isa bin Ali House in Al Muharraq for the is worth a visit with a proper guide. I did not find it difficult to imagine how the people lived, though no corresponding furnitures were there. I went by myself and it would be nice if someone tells me the history of the place.
3. Al Muharraq souq is worth a visit to try and buy sweets/halwa typical to Bahrain (the red one made from rose water). Each shop would have a range of halwas and other sweets to try.
4. Beb Al Bahrain is a souq which had no character and soul. It was a recent development. The inside has been built to modern finishes. I would skip it.
5. I finished the evening attending the Food Festival in Bahrain Bay and had a drink at Blue Moon by Wolfgang Puck at the Four Seasons. At the food festival, I ate this Egyptian koushari rice dish and kunnefe at a Jordanian sweets stall (not as delicious as the one I had in Amman). I was hoping I could find more Bahraini typical food. It was a beautiful venue and weather for a stroll.
I enjoyed my time in Bahrain and I hope you would too. I hope this gives you an overview how to plan your Bahrain trip.