Bahrain travel guide
Bahrain means ‘Two Seas’, a fitting name for an archipelago of 33 islands in the Gulf, which defines itself in relation to the water that surrounds its shallow shores.
Those shallows once harboured a precious trade in pearls, the most important in the world until the 19th century. Now the shoreline is increasingly dominated by ambitious developments, such as the twin 50-floor towers of Bahrain’s World Trade Centre and the 2,787,000 sq m (30,000,000 sq ft) horseshoe of man-made islands at the southern tip of the country.
To those not in the know, Bahrain can seem a formidable place in the heart of the Gulf. But despite being situated just off Saudi Arabia’s east coast, it is for the most part a welcoming, open country. Manama is an intriguing capital city, if not quite so glamorous is some of the region’s other glittering metropolises. You’ll find a decent culinary and artistic circuit, partly buoyed by westerners living here. Expect plenty of craft markets and pottery workshops.
For history buffs, Bahrain is the location of ancient Dilmun, home to what was an important semitic civilisation in the Bronze Age; Bahrain was later conquered by Babylonians and Persians. There are a number of ruins, burial mounds and forts to explore.
In the middle of Bahrain, not far from where the Formula 1 racetrack now draws the crowds, is the point where in 1932 the Arab world first struck gold – black gold, that is – and oil has been the mainstay of the country ever since. As visitors travel the modest length of Bahrain, they will run into many reminders of this momentous discovery, not least in the relaxed affluence of Bahrain’s multicultural residents. Indeed, there are many signs of Arabian style and influence, along with more cosmopolitan vibes.
Since 2011, when the Arab Spring swept across the region, Bahrain’s fate has been an uncertain one. The initial wave of protests by the largely Shia population against the Sunni rulers were put down with the help of Saudi Arabia, but demonstrations and unrest persist. Check the current situation before travelling.
760 sq km (293 sq miles).
1,396,829 (UN estimate 2016).
1,771.2 per sq km.
King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa since 1999.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa since 1971.
220-240 volts AC, 50Hz (Awali, 110 volts AC, 60Hz). British-style plugs with three square pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Starting on Monday 13 March 2017 at 8pm through to Tuesday 14 March 2017, there have been some calls for strikes and unauthorised protests in some villages across the island.
On Monday 13 March 2017:
calls for an unauthorised protest in Aali, starting at 6:30pm
calls for an unauthorised protest in Bilad Al Qadeem, starting at 7pm
calls for an unauthorised protest in Barbar, starting at 7pm
calls for an unauthorised protest in Karranah, starting at 7pm
calls for an unauthorised protest in Malkyia, starting at 7pm
calls for an unauthorised protest in Al Daih, starting at 8pm
calls for joining an unauthorised sit-in in Diraz; while the times haven’t been announced, it will most likely take place in the evening
calls for unauthorised protests in a number of other villages; while the times haven’t been announced they will most likely take place in the evening
Demonstrations and protests take place regularly. These activities may include attempts to disrupt traffic, protests in villages and near economic centres, burning tyres, throwing Molotov cocktails, and the use of improvised explosive devices. As a result there could be clashes between government security forces and protesters.
While there have been no direct threats or attacks on British nationals to date, you should remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings wherever you are on the island. Violent protests pose a risk to those who might inadvertently find themselves near to an active demonstration.
If you encounter a large public gathering or demonstration, leave the area immediately. If you see any suspect item, don’t approach or touch it. Move away from the vicinity and notify the police calling on 999 or the Police Hotline 8000 8008.
Travel on the main routes during daylight hours is generally orderly. There are some police checkpoints. In September 2012 the Ministry for the Interior issued a warning about explosive devices on major highways.
During demonstrations, roads can become blocked, resulting in diversions. These may re-route you to areas you are unfamiliar with. You should familiarise yourself with alternative routes.
Developments in Syria, Iraq and on the Middle East Peace Process continue to have an impact on local public opinion in the region. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. Follow news reports and be alert to local and regional developments, which may trigger public disturbances.
The Ministry of Interior has issued a reminder that all residents and visitors must carry photographic ID. Under Bahraini law, it is an offence not to be able to present photographic ID if asked to do so by a member of the Bahraini authorities, and you may be subject to a fine of up to 300BHD.
Around 8,000 to 10,000 British nationals live in Bahrain, and thousands more visit each year. Most visits are trouble free. Female visitors should take care when travelling alone at night. You should use one of the reputable taxi companies.
You can drive using a UK licence for 3 months. If you are staying for a longer period of time, you should get an International Driving Permit. Bahrain operates a zero tolerance to drink-driving. If you are caught you will be arrested and put in the drivers prison. Your case will not be heard until the next working day. First time offenders will have to pay a minimum £900 fine and could be banned from driving in Bahrain. British visitors from Saudi Arabia will subject to the same punishment but with the addition of a driving ban there also. For repeat offenders the fine and ban will be more serious.
You may face lengthy security checks on arrival at Bahrain airport.
Although alcohol is available at Bahrain airport, security officers and airline staff deal firmly with passengers believed to be drunk – even those who are in transit through the airport. You may be denied boarding, detained and fined.
Take care when travelling by Dhow. The safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.
Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. Make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.
Regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.