Bahrain is made up of 33 islands in the Middle East, of which the two largest are Manama and Muharraq. Each has its own charms. Manama is home to the capital and a major financial district, while Muharraq is most notable for its historic buildings. From fine dining and high-end shopping to adventure and sports, there's something for everyone. Here is our top of the best things to do in Bahrain.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.
The two 50-storey towers that soar over the financial district are a major landmark on the waterfront. Inside, they offer such attractions as a five-star hotel, 160 luxury retail outlets in the MODA Mall, and eating spots ranging from casual cafés to fine restaurants with a range of world cuisines.
Where: Waterfront, Manama Island
You will have seen this magnificent racetrack on the Formula 1 circuit before – even if only on television. If you're in the country a visit is one of the best things to do in Bahrain. Tours take you to the Sakhir Tower which offers a 360-degree bird's eye view, the Race Control Tower, BIC Media Centre and the track itself.
Looking for a thrilling experience? Try driving on the track in anything from a motorbike to a single-seat racing car, or you can even try your hand at off-road 4x4 driving in a Land Rover.
Where: BIC, Manama Island
Arabian horses have a beauty and mystique all their own, with a history dating back thousands of years. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba gave a pure Arab mare to King Solomon to show her love.
One of the most exciting things to do in Bahrain is riding your horse across the sands of Karbabad Beach as the sun sets over the Gulf. You don't need to be an expert rider, experienced handlers will be there to make sure your trek is a safe one.
Where: Qal`at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort), Manama Island
Bahrain’s dining scene has been getting international attention in recent years, and a good taster for the experience is Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant on the waterfront in Manama.
The view outside is matched by the sleek inside of this American-style steakhouse, equally famous for its seafood as its prime beef. It’s recognised as one of the world’s best restaurants, so you might want to make a reservation before you even leave home.
Where: Four Seasons Hotel, Manama
Bahrain’s pearls are recognised as being among the very best in the world, and the industry here once employed almost half the male population. No wonder diving for them was off-limits to visitors for decades. However, scuba divers can now take to the clear blue waters offshore to collect up to 60 oysters at once, keeping any pearls you may find once they are opened.
Where: Jarada Island, off Manama Island
Named after the founder of Bahrain, this mosque was built with imported Italian marble, Austrian glass and Indian teak. It’s one of the largest mosques in the world, with a library holding many historic volumes.
Visitors are made to feel very welcome and knowledgeable guides (who speak English, Hindi and many other languages) are on hand will answer any questions you have about the building or Islam during the regular free guided tours.
Where: Grand Mosque, Manama
A visit to Bahrain's National Museum is one of the best things to do in Bahrain to embrace the country's rich history. The museum is located in Manama and is one of the largest and oldest museums in the country.
The design of the building in which the museum is located reflects traditional Bahraini architecture. Here you will find galleries featuring artefacts and exhibits on Bahraini history, including a display of ancient artefacts from the Dilmun civilisation, which dates back to the third millennium BC.
One of the oldest and most popular markets in Bahrain, Manama Souq is renowned for its lively atmosphere and colourful stalls full of different goods for every taste. The Souk is a tangle of narrow alleyways and streets with shops offering a variety of goods including traditional clothing, spices, perfumes and more.
The souk is famous among visitors and locals in Bahrain for its gold market, where impressive gold jewellery in both traditional and modern designs can be purchased. In addition to gold, you will also find a textile section where you can buy beautiful fabrics and clothes.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Manama
The wonder of water is even more marked amid the majesty of the desert sands. This oceanside lake is a great place to stroll, sit with a coffee, enjoy a meal or visit the shops and other sights. Visiting the park is one of the best things to do in Bahrain for families – many attractions here are aimed at kids. In winter, you’ll be drawn outside to enjoy the cool evening breezes and the myriad lights reflecting off the lagoon.
Where: Amwaj Islands
Bahrain is a paradise for water sports and strapping into the Jetovator – a kind of flying water-propelled bike – is one of the most unique thrills you can have anywhere in the world. Flying 40ft in the air on a jet of water, doing acrobatics if you feel up to it or just taking in the view, this is a thrill of a lifetime.
Where: Amwaj Islands
Muharraq Island is full of historic houses, including the spectacular Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa. Built around 1800, it is probably the oldest house in Bahrain and was once the ruler’s residence and the centre of government.
Now open to the public, the elegant two-storey building is also home to the Ethnographic Museum which takes up a whole city block. Its thick mud walls, shaded courtyards and wind tower show how the residents of Bahrain adapted to the hot climate before air-conditioning.
Where: Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa, Muharraq Island
Al Dar Island is a small uninhabited island off the coast of Bahrain. A boat trip to the island is one of the most popular things to do in Bahrain, thanks to the island's lovely beaches and relaxed atmosphere. You can take a boat trip to the island from various locations in Bahrain, including the capital Manama. The trip usually takes about 30-45 minutes and offers stunning views of Bahrain's coastline and surrounding islands.
On Al Dar Island itself, there are plenty of beach activities to suit all tastes. Visitors can either just relax on the beach or choose from a variety of water sports, including jet-skiing and kayaking. Because the island is surrounded by coral reefs, snorkelling and diving are also popular activities.
The Royal Bahrain Camel Farm is located in the Janabiya district of Bahrain. Camels have been an important part of Bahraini culture for centuries and the farm breeds and raises these majestic animals.
The farm offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, breeding and care of camels. Here you can observe the camels up close, feed them and, if you like, take a short ride on one of the special-trained animals.
If you're in search of an escape from bustling city life, a trip to the Hawar Islands is one of the great things to do in Bahrain for a secluded quiet holiday. The Hawar Islands, a group of small islands off the coast of Bahrain, are known for their pristine beaches and diverse marine life.
Several operators in Bahrain offer boat tours by boat. The trip to the islands usually takes about an hour and offers spectacular views of the Persian Gulf and the neighbouring islands.
Find more inspiring ideas for your exotic journey in our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world. When considering a Middle Eastern destination, take a look at Jordan, where you will also find plenty of exciting things to do.
Explore the true wonders of Bahrain and experience why this country has so much to offer, including top places to visit, eat and shop. Find out more
For more inspirational travel tips for your future trips check our Rough Guide books.
If you prefer to plan and book your trips without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.
Top image: Bahrain cityscape © Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority