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The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Arabic Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It's popular with travelers for its authentic "Arabness" but without the strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority
The country has few oil reserves, but it has established itself as a hub for refining as well as international banking, while also achieving a socially liberal (by Gulf standards at least) monarchy.
English is widely spoken by Bahrainis of all ages, and is a compulsory second language at all schools.
Arabic is the official language. Bahraini Arabic is the most widely spoken dialect of the Arabic language, though this differs slightly from standard Arabic.
What to see
Beaches. The year-round warm climate means that the water is very warm, even in wintertime, when cooler temperatures may occur. The water is known for being very calm and clear.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because of its location in the middle of the desert amidst the oil wells and other infrastructure of the petroleum industry. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
Bahrain Fort is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits. Next to it, is a museum 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.
Bahrain has three other small forts. Abu Mahir Fort is located in Muharraq and is also known as Muharraq Fort. It was built on the foundations of much old fort and was positioned to protect the western approaches.
The Sheikh Salman bin Ahmad Al Fateh Fort is located in Riffa, overlooking the Hunanaiya Valley in the centre of the island.
Museums. Bahrain has a number of musueums - Al Oraifi Museum in Muharraq (Dilmun era artifacts), Beit al Quran in Hoora (rare collection of Islamic manuscripts), Bahrain National Museum on the Al Fateh Corniche, Manama, Currency Museum in the Diplomatic Area (Bahraini coinage) and the Oil Museum in Sakhir (history of the local oil industry).
What to do
Bahrain has 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.
Bahrain's biggest yearly event is the Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race, held each April at the Bahrain International Circuit. Plan well in advance, as flights sell out and hotel prices triple.
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 Arabic 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.
See Manama for detailed shop and mall listings.
There are several 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.
The souq is also home to many excellent tailors. If you're there for long enough then you can take a favorite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
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. When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, or shorts, and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear.