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Kuwait City History

The 'black gold' (oil), which was discovered in Kuwait early in the 20th century, has been the secret of Kuwait City's dramatic transformation from modest pearling town to thriving, international business hub. Now dominated by glittering steel and glass towers, the earliest inhabitants arrived to find little more than a beach and a stretch of scrubland when they arrived in 1613.

When the Bani Utubs people arrived in 1716, they took over what had existed as little more than a sleepy fishing village, and turned it into a hub for trade coming from India and the Far East. By 1750, Kuwait had become an essential stop on the trade route from Calcutta and Muscat to Baghdad, Aleppo and beyond.

The success of the Bani Utubs had turned Kuwait into a tempting hub and in 1775, Iraqi merchants fleeing Basra, then besieged by the Persians, added to its trading prowess. The British East India Company followed, making Kuwait a key stop on their trading routes, helping grow its wealth.

By the 1800s, Kuwait had become so rich, it was being spoken of as ‘the Marseilles of the East’ - a reputation and a reality that continued well into the early years of the 20th century. Although the Great Depression and the two World Wars reduced trade, the wealthiest families, among them the Al-Ghanim and Al-Hamad, remained among the world’s richest families well into the 1950s.

Oil was discovered around this time, giving the city’s economy yet another boost and leading to what locals describe as a ‘golden era’ for Kuwait. But with the 1990s came economic turmoil courtesy of plummeting oil prices and recession, while the Iraqi invasion in 1990 left much of the city in ruins.

In March 2003, a now-rebuilt Kuwait became the springboard for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. The city was also the scene of Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2012. Nevertheless, Kuwait is well and truly back on its feet and open for business once again.

Did you know?
• Kuwait was a protectorate of Great Britain from 1899 to 1961.
• Full political rights were granted to Kuwaiti women in 2005.
• Kuwait’s Failaka Island was an ancient trading post, with evidence of settlement dating to the third millennium BC.

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Featured Hotels


Mövenpick Hotel and Resort Al Bida'a Kuwait

An elegant, contemporary hotel just 2km (1.2 miles) from the city centre, this lively chain stay provides the perfect antidote to a hot day downtown. With an excellent spa, five swimming pools, two restaurants, landscaped gardens and a private beach, it's a relaxing place to unwind in 5-star indulgence.

Le Méridien Kuwait

With views of the Arabic Gulf as well as the iconic Kuwait Towers, this hotel has a flavour of the French Riviera about it, including rococo furniture and brass-rimmed mirrors. Rooms are sleek and modern, with huge luxury bathrooms, and the service is excellent. The onsite restaurant is decent and free Wi-Fi is available throughout.

Luxury Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel and Spa

With the utmost luxury in mind, this beautifully refurbished 5-star hotel feels like an Arabian palace. Its spa has hydrotherapy baths, plus drift and salt rooms, while palm trees line the swimming pool. Other perks include yoga, pilates and reiki classes, its seven stylish restaurants and its private beach.

Marina Hotel

For this price, don't expect the Ritz. Overlooking Mutrah fish market, this is a simple, harbourside hotel offering great views of Muscat's famous corniche. It's basic, and its basement bar can be a little noisy, but its location is within walking distance of Mutrah Souk, making it convenient for sightseeing.

Ghani Palace Hotel

It could do with a bit of a facelift, but the Ghani Palace is one of the few hotels in the city where you don't have to check the address to remember you're in the Middle East. The quirky Arabian-style hotel sports Syrian furniture, Moroccan lanterns and local stucco, plus local-style hospitality to match.

Sheraton Kuwait Hotel and Towers

Jutting out of the commercial centre, this iconic Sheraton is a steal for those on a moderate budget. With 5-stars on its chest, guests can expect everything from king-sized beds and fast Wi-Fi to five fine restaurants and an English tea lounge. Mixing Arabic lavishness with European furniture, it also has a health club and a swimming pool.