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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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City Highlight: Kuwait City

With its stunning skyline, a plethora of fabulous restaurants and cultural hotspots, Kuwait City is definitely a top contender within the Arabian Gulf

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Featured Hotels


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.

Kuwait Continental Hotel

As the trophies behind reception testify, this no-frills hotel on a busy intersection is a favourite with regional sports teams. The refurbished rooms and bathrooms have an Arabian flourish with gilt-edged décor and furnishings that come as a pleasant surprise after the rather casual foyer. It also has a swimming pool and health club.

Hotel ibis Kuwait Salmiya

With a decent location near the Scientific Center, this budget chain hotel also affords some great sea views as well. The rooms are small, but clean and well appointed, and Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel. There's also an on-site gym and a buffet breakfast to set you up for the day.

Mirage Suites Hotel

What the Mirage Suites Hotel lacks in looks and luxury, it makes up for with its sea views. The rooms are basic, but comfortable and well maintained, although try for one that feature vistas over the Arabian Gulf. A short taxi ride from the Salmiya area, the hotel also has its own swimming pool, gym and sauna.