With a civilisation dating back to the Bronze Age, Bahrain was an important trading centre linking routes between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley and beyond from around 5,000 years ago.
The Kingdom’s vibrant history has given rise to a number of fascinating sites and attractions that are ideal for keeping incentive groups engaged.
Bahrain National Museum
Inaugurated in 1988, Bahrain National Museum is the crown jewel in the country’s efforts to preserve its rich heritage and history. Occupying a central location between Manama and Muharraq, the museum houses nine main halls with artefacts documenting the heritage of the Kingdom divided into six different sections.
Visitors will be taken on a 4,000 year journey through time as they pass through its halls, from the traditional handicrafts hall, to the customs and traditions hall, burial mounds hall, ancient documents and manuscripts hall, Tylos hall, and Islamic period hall. Numerous international culture and art exhibitions have been hosted here over the years and the museum plays an important role in promoting global culture within the community as well as enhancing the understanding and knowledge of Bahrain’s history among locals.
Bahrain National Theatre
This 1,001 seat theatre, located next to Bahrain National Museum, is one of the largest theatres in the region and the third largest opera house in the Arab world after Cairo Opera House in Egypt and Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.
The striking building, situated next to Bahrain National Museum, boasts a serene waterfront setting and is celebrated for its unique architectural design and wood-covered interior walls that draw inspiration from the tales of The 1,001 Arabian Nights. Designed by the French firm Architecture-Studio, it stands out across the city skyline with its golden roof.
Since it opened in November 2012, the National Theatre has played host to prestigious performers from around the world including the Orchestra of the 21st Century of Russia, legendary composer Yanni, Spanish opera superstar Placido Domingo and the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets from Russia.
In addition to the main auditorium, the National Theatre houses a bustling cafeteria and an outdoor hall overlooking the lake, as well as a smaller hall that can accommodate up to 100 people for training, press conferences, product launches, events and gatherings, as well as small-scale celebrations.
Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research
Designed to provide a forum for debate and exchange on cultural, social and political issues, Bahrain’s Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research is a modern construction on the original site of the Shaikh’s majlis.
Opened in 2002, the popular centre has welcomed more than 200 artists, speakers, philosophers and poets to share their art and knowledge. An auditorium was added in 2008 to cater to larger audiences, with a seating capacity of around 300.
It is linked to a number of cultural houses including Bin Faris House for Sut Music – a museum that celebrates the achievements of the famed Bahraini singer and musician Mohammed bin Faris. Regarded as a master of sut music, Mohammed bin Faris is responsible for putting a distinctly Bahraini stamp on the musical genre that originated in the Gulf. The house is essentially a reconstruction of his home at the site of the original building.
Also linked to the centre is Ibrahim Al Arrayed House of Poetry, an esteemed venue for poetry events and houses a large collection of books and works by leading poets from the region.
Memory of the Place Bin Matar House is another special attraction, built in a traditionally Bahraini manner, using palm tree trunks, sea-stone and gypsum on reclaimed land in 1905. It was initially the permanent majlis of Salman Hussein Bin Matar, one of Bahrain’s most prominent pearling merchants, and the top floor was retained as a residence by the Bin Matar family until 2002. Prior to its restoration and re-opening in 2009, the building lay empty and in disuse. For more information, visit shaikhebrahimcenter.org.
Bahrain pearling trail
Officially named the Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy, Bahrain’s pearling trail is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that provides a fascinating experience for visitors.
The trail serves as an important reminder of the country’s pearling history, which fuelled prosperity until the 1930s when the rise of cultured pearls in Japan affected the economic viability of the traditional trade across the Gulf and beyond.
Bahrain’s historic site consists of 17 buildings in Muharraq City, three offshore oyster beds and part of the shore, and Qal’at Bu Mahir fortress on the southern tip of Muharraq Island where boats used to embark on their journey towards the oyster beds. The listed buildings include residences of wealthy merchants, shops, storehouses and a mosque. It is the last remaining complete example of the cultural tradition of pearling and provides a shining example of how the sea’s resources were once utilised to maximum effect.
The house of a well-known pearl merchant in the 19th century, it is a prime example of the historical architectural styles of buildings that Muharraq is known for. Siyadi house is part of the Bahrain pearling trail, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dilmun Burial Mounds
Groups can take time to reflect at what is believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world.
Among Bahrain’s mysterious ancient remains are thousands of burial mounds that dominate the landscape north of the island. Spanning the Dilmun era (3rd to 1st millennium BCE) to the Tylos era (200BCE to 300CE) the burial mounds are a unique sight in terms of sheer number and concentration. The best-preserved and most impressive mounds are the royal burial mounds in the village of A’ali.
Pottery workshops in the vicinity of the mounds have developed organically over the years allowing artisans to incorporate their installations around the tombs – even using some of the burial chambers as kilns.
Bahrain Fort (Qalat Al Bahrain)
Officially registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bahrain Fort is the site of the former capital of Dilmun. Located atop a 17.5 hectare artificial hill that was built while enduring over 4,000 years of continuous occupation, excavations over the last few decades have unearthed historic commercial, military and public structures.
Open to the public since 2008, the on-site museum offers five exhibition halls with over 500 artefacts showcased.
Tree of Life
Around 400 years old, this imposing prosopis cineraria tree stands atop a 7.6 metre high (25 feet) sandy hill formed around a 500-year-old fortress. Located in Sakhir, it is a leading attraction visited by around 50,000 tourists annually. In recent years, archaeologists have unearthed pottery and other artefacts in the vicinity – some of which are thought to date back to the Dilmun civilisation. The visitor centre, surrounding the tree, provides a wonderful view of the surrounding desert landscape.
Bab Al Bahrain
Meaning ‘gate of Bahrain’, Bab Al Bahrain was built in 1949 and was originally home to government offices. Bahrain’s Authority of Culture and Antiquities preserved it as a cultural landmark and today stands as a gateway to the Manama Souq, one of the best places to enjoy traditional shopping.
A favourite stop-off point for visitors from around the world, this traditional marketplace has been carefully preserved over the years. Inside, there is a vibrant collection of shops offering a wide range of goods, from textiles and spices, to incense, perfumes, handicrafts and souvenirs, as well as more modern products from all over the world. There are also a number of strategically placed coffee shops that are ideal for providing an energy boost in between buys.
Beit Al Quran
Translated from Arabic as House of Quran, Beit Al Quran is nestled within a striking building decorated with Arabic calligraphy inscriptions. It showcases a significant collection of Quranic manuscripts and scriptures that dates as far back as the seventh century AD. It also displays prominent Islamic artefacts.
Al Fateh Mosque
One of the largest mosques in the world, Al Fateh Mosque can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers and is crowned with the largest fibreglass dome in the world. Its walls are beautifully decorated with Kufic calligraphy.
Al Khamis Mosque
Dating back to the 11th century AD, Al Khamis Mosque is one the oldest mosques in the region. The structures that stand today are the result of several phases of rebuilding in the 14th and 15th century and the monument is now instantly recognisable thanks to its identical twin minarets.
Add to the itinerary
If time allows, these celebrated sites deserve a space on your programme
One of the best examples of the traditional houses of Manama, Bait Khalaf is a reminder of the island’s strong ties to pearling. It is part of Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research.
Consisting of three successive temples built over five stages and dating back to the second and third millennium BCE, the Barbar Temple complex is thought to have been built as a place of worship. The site features a sunken chamber enclosing a fresh water spring.
Located just a few metres from where the first oil well was unearthed in Sakhir in 1932, this museum hosts drilling gear, underground rock samples, maps and information about the companies that initiated oil exploration in Bahrain, which was the first country in the Arabian Gulf to find oil.
Shaikh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh Fort
Commonly known as Riffa Fort, due to its location in Riffa, this iconic address preserves the memory of the ruling family of Bahrain. The fort is being brought back to life with a series of programmes that present a chronological history of the Al Khalifa family. The fort also houses the Saffron Café, which overlooks the picturesque Al Haniniya Valley.
Featuring an entire residential quarter comprising courtyard houses, a temple and a honeycomb-shaped cemetery, the settlement dates back to the third millennium BCE and offers a fascinating insight into Bahrain’s ancient inhabitants.