With its beguiling mix of ancient and modern treasures, Bahrain packs a lot into a small island. The eyes of the world are on this Gulf country while it hosts the inaugural race of the 2023 F1 season at its impressive track, located in the heart of the Sakhir desert.
If you're one of the lucky spectators jetting in for the event, which sees Fernando Alonso make his highly anticipated debut for AMF1, be sure to check out the best food, shopping, culture and history off the circuit – and learn more about this little known Arabian nation.
Where is the most authentic village in Bahrain?
Manama oozes modernity like Doha or Dubai, and Bahrain has been hard at work building a modern metropolis since its independence in 1971.
But if you crave a little bit of history, step back in time at Al Jasra on the western coast of the main island. This traditional village has been preserved so you can stroll the shady alleyways and enjoy the whitewashed architecture that predominated for centuries.
The handicrafts centre here is rightly famous – local people weave baskets, and create decorative wooden trinkets, model ships and rugs too – many of which are for sale.
Who slings the crispiest chicken?
You haven't truly experienced Bahrain until you've indulged in the nation's favourite street food: chicken. The country loves it – grilled or fried – and always with chips doused in plenty of condiments.
Those in the know follow Chick Boom on Instagram to find out where the popular food joint's airstream caravan is pulling up next. Expect to queue, but rest assured the wait will be worth it – the Korean chicken wings and honey bun sliders are a speciality here, and all sauces are made from scratch.
How can I immerse myself in ancient history?
The Dilmun Empire ruled from Bahrain Fort, the site of Bahrain's ancient power, on Manama's waterfront from 2300 BC. Archaeologists unearthed ancient tools and decorative items at the mound, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, that revealed secrets to this intriguing history.
Portuguese caravels arrived later during the 1500s, and massively expanded the fort on the hill, which has been restored and preserved so we can all enjoy it today.
Where can I smell the scents of the souk?
Manama's ancient souk is a sensory overload: the colours of the carpets and agal headbands is a joy, and the smell of cinnamon and chilli hangs in the air as spice vendors sell their wares – don't forget to pick up a bottle of zatar, a concoction so versatile you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Fresh produce and fish plucked from the ocean are eagerly bought by home cooks and chefs from the city's restaurants, and the bustle of trade brings the whole scene to life. Grab a sweet tea from any of the little cafés en route, accompanied by some extra sweet kunafa.
Where is Bahrain's best shopping?
Bahrain's only waterfront mall, The Avenues, makes use of its seaside setting – there's a water taxi service for shoppers and plenty of sit-down space to enjoy the turquoise vista while you take a rest from your retail activity.
From Oakley to That Al Salasil Bookstore – with plenty of books published in English – this is the go-to shopping experience in the country. Crucially the place isn't too big, and the sunset views aren't bad either.
Where can I make the most of the F1 buzz?
The buzziest luxury hotel in Bahrain is undoubtedly the Four Seasons. This place exemplifies indulgence with all the attention to detail and standard of service you'd expect from the ultra-luxury brand, as well as glorious rooms decked out in lacquer, marble and mirrors, with fresh cut flowers and Murano glass lampshades.
Poolside cabanas offer the utmost in relaxation and there's a private beach too – in fact, the whole setup is on a private island with the rooms in an architecturally stunning skyscraper.
Naturally, the F1 race will be screened live here and on 5 March 2023; special garden party will see chef Wolfgang Puck dishing up a Japanese-themed BBQ of wagyu, bluefin, and onigiri to hungry guests on the lawn.
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