Port of Bahrain
Although Bahrain has been accepting cruise ships since 2008, the small kingdom of islands on the Arabian Gulf doesn't appear on too many itineraries. That's partly because the country lacks the manmade superlatives pursued by nearby United Arab Emirates (where most cruises there embark) or the natural beauty of Oman. The country also experienced some turmoil in 2011 following the Arab Spring that took place one year earlier, which prompted ships to pull out until stability returned.
Yet Bahrain offers enough attractions for a one-day visit. The country has a history that dates back to 2300 BC, when the ancient city of Dilmun served as a major trading post between Mesopotamia and India. Remnants of this merchant culture have been found at an archaeological dig near Bahrain Fort (Qal'at al-Bahrain), one of the country's two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The modern shopping equivalent can be found in Manama's labyrinthine souk and -- of course, given its location on the Arabian Peninsula -- monster malls.
Other draws include the Bahrain International Circuit, a major Formula 1 track that's the site of the Bahrain Grand Prix and a major attraction for gearheads. Some cruise lines offer excursions to Muharraq, which has some traditional homes, a souk and a trail highlighting the country's pearling industry (the other UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Bahrain features shore excursions that cover an array of landmarks, activities and experience.
A less-frequented, thus less-crowded port, Bahrain offers several historic attractions including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites
This port isn't as scenic or dazzling as other Middle Eastern ports and does have a history of civil unrest
There are more interesting ports in the region, but most travelers will find some form of diversion in Bahrain
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Where You're Docked
Built in 2009, Bahrain's cruise port Khalifa Bin Salman is located on Muharroq, an island about 20 minutes away from Manama, the country's capital and main city. The terminal is within a major container port, and passengers are not allowed to wander outside the area.
The cruise terminal has restrooms and a small duty-free shop where you can buy candy, perfume and some alcohol, as well as souvenirs. Excursions purchased from the cruise line leave directly from port.
Because the port is in a restricted cargo area, you'll need to take a complimentary shuttle bus to the port exit, where you can find taxis or meet previously arranged private transport. Cruise lines do offer a bus transfer into Manama's city center, where taxis are also available.
Good to Know
As a Muslim country, Bahrain is conservative, so women should dress accordingly. That means no strapless or tank-style tops, no short skirts or shorts. If you're going to visit a mosque, bring a shawl or sweater to cover your shoulders and wear capris to cover your knees.
Displays of affection in public are forbidden, especially between unmarried or same-sex couples. (Unlike in the UAE, homosexuality is not illegal, but it is not condoned.) Also avoid photographing Arabs or Bahrainis in their native dress without asking permission. It's also illegal to say anything negative against the king or royal family, so think twice before you joke about their photos, seen everywhere.
On Foot: The ship shuttle bus drops you within Manama's city center, within walking distance of the Bab el-Bahrain souk. Bahrain's other tourist locations are not close together, so if you want to see more than one attraction, it's best to take a ship excursion or prepare to pay for taxis.
By Taxi: Taxis are available at the port gate, as well as at the shuttle bus drop-off point. While most are metered, make sure your driver has the meter on, and if you're going to sights farther afield, such as the Bahrain International Circuit, it's best to agree on a price ahead of time.
By Bus: The cruise ship shuttle bus drops passengers off in downtown Manama, for a fee. There is no hop on, hop off tour bus.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Bahrain's currency is the dinar, but many currencies are widely accepted, including the dirhams from the United Arab Emirates and the riyal from neighboring Saudi Arabia. Euros, dollars and U.K. pounds are also accepted, which is good, as there is no ATM in the cruise terminal; if you're on a ship excursion, you won't need local currency. One dinar equals 1,000 fils. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for current exchange rates.
Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken.
Food and Drink
Bahraini cuisine draws heavily from the Arabian Gulf, with seafood (particularly grouper, mackerel and bream) and rice a mainstay. Other local dishes incorporate lamb, dates and pomegranates. Bakeries turn out flatbreads daily.
Similar to other Gulf countries, Bahrain's restaurant and social scenes are often centered on the country's luxury hotels, which don't have the same alcohol restrictions as other venues. (Three star hotels, however, were prohibited from serving alcohol in 2014.)
The Adilya District, near the post office and souk, is your best bet to find restaurants and cafes. This area isn't far from where the cruise ship shuttle bus drops you off.
Cafe Lilou: This French charmer has Parisian brasserie-style decor and a menu of pastries, salads and sandwiches. The comfy couches and terrace are a good place to retreat from the heat. (Saturday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Gulf Hotel: This five-star hotel reigns as one of Manama's best, rivaled only by the new Four Seasons Bahrain Bay. The building has nine restaurants with varying cuisines (Iranian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Indian and "Western") and four cafes/lounges, as well as two bars.
As merchants, the Dilmun people used seals with images of animals, gods and the natural world to mark their goods. Jewelry with these seals is available in the gift shop of the Bahrain National Museum and makes a unique keepsake from this country. Otherwise, the souk has various trinkets found in other Middle Eastern markets, including Arabian coffee pots, dates and camel paraphernalia.