My home town: A local's guide to discovering Bahrain

07 Dec 2019 11:07 PM
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Bahrain is a country, not a city, but as it's so small it's difficult to narrow it down to specific areas to populate one guide. Growing up there, I lived in places such as Saar, Adliya, Seef, Barbar and Budaiya (we moved around every year or two!) – so this is a guide to a little bit of everything the nation has to offer, which is actually quite a lot.

My best breakfast places
Bahrain is a nation of foodies and, in particular, we love our breakfasts, especially those that consist of homely Khaleeji food (cuisine from the Gulf). One of my all-time favourite spots is Emma-wash, which has two branches, one along Budaiya Highway and another over in Hamala. Both are down-to-earth little eateries where the walls are completely covered in its patrons' scribbles and where the friendly chefs serve up classic dishes in the pans they're cooked in. Try the eggs with tomato, baked beans with parsley (trust me) and scoop it all up with the freshly baked khubz (bread).

For something a little more refined but still as local, head straight for the Riffa Fort, based in the stunning, arid Hunanaiya valley, where there's a branch of Saffron by Jena Bakery. Order the full Bahraini breakfast and you'll get a medley of traditional dishes that you can enjoy while taking in the lovely views from the open-air terrace that's built within a fascinating heritage site.

My top shops
No trip to Bahrain is complete without a visit to the Manama souq, where you can pick up souvenirs galore, from the tacky (camel plush toys) to the one-offs (local handicrafts). Spices, textiles, gold and gemstones are just a few examples of the treasures you can find. Yateem Centre, Bahrain's oldest mall, is also here, and if you get peckish you can dine at one of the very cheap-and-cheerful hole-in-the-wall eateries along the way (go to Indian vegetarian place Swagat or Bahraini haunt Haji Gahwa).

My one must-see
Bahrain isn't exactly flush with tourist attractions, but it's not bereft either, so choosing just one is pretty tough. I've narrowed it down, however, to the Qal'at al-Bahrain, also known as the Bahrain Fort or Portuguese Fort. It's a Unesco World Heritage Site (the country's first) and contains the richest remains documented from the ancient Dilmun civilisation. It's by the sea, so it's perfect for some holiday selfies, but it's also a really interesting, poignant and peaceful place to wander around. Once you're done at the site, you can wander over to the nearby museum to learn more about its history, then pop into the cafe for a cup of tea and a bite to eat while looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the Arabian Gulf beyond.

My favourite area
Seef is great for shopping, while Juffair is best for American-style diners and bars, and Muharraq offers a real taste of history. But, for me, the one area I definitely recommend you check out on any trip to Bahrain is Adliya. It's known for its thriving social scene, as among its pedestrianised alleyways lay some of the country's top restaurants and bars. You can wander around, hopping between venues, soaking up a more European-style vibe. A few Bahrain residents' favourites are Calexico for fun times and Mexican grub, Mirai for excellent sushi, Hash House for authentic Thai and Lanterns for great Indian food and post-brunch parties.

There are so many others, though, from cafes Coco's and Lilou, karaoke spot Beijing, burger joint Blaze and, not too far away, perennial Irish pub JJ's. At the end of the night, you have to walk down what's known as Shawarma Alley (Osama Bin Zaid Avenue) for a traditional Middle Eastern wrap.