Bahrain has a long way to go to become more accessible for mobility, visually and hearing-impaired travellers. Efforts are being made in some areas: many high-end restaurants and hotels are more accessible, and the Bahrain bus service is is equipped with a driver-operated ramp for wheelchair users, though pavements are often so poor that no wheelchairs can get to the bus stop. Buses allow trained guide dogs on board.
In most cases, it is best to phone or email ahead and request the specific assistance you require. Most establishments will make an effort to provide this, but in some instances, they simply will not have the resources.
Bahrain International Airport has services to assist travellers with accessibility concerns. Ask staff for assistance or contact the duty operations manager on 17 321 444, open 24 hours.
Bargaining in the souqs and in most shops, together with asking for a discount, is expected.
Dangers & Annoyances
Travelling around Bahrain feels safe for foreigners, but take the usual precautions.
- Ongoing tensions with Qatar means there's a curfew in place on the waterways around Bahrain from 6pm to 4am.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Ambulance, Fire & Police||999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- The importation, purchase and consumption of alcohol is permissible.
- Non-Muslim visitors can import 1L of wine or spirits, or six cans of beer duty free.
- If planning to enter Saudi Arabia, be aware that alcohol is completely banned there.
Visas for 24 and 72 hours, two weeks and three months are available on arrival or can be applied for in advance via www.evisa.gov.bh.
Visas on Arrival & in Advance
Visas are needed to visit Bahrain; for people of 66 nationalities, these can be obtained on arrival at the airport or at the border with Saudi Arabia. A three-month, multiple-entry visa, valid for stays of two weeks to 30 days, costs BD25 and is payable in cash (either Bahraini dinars or major international currencies).
You can also apply for an e-visa online – follow the links on www.evisa.gov.bh – with the main advantage being that you'll spend less time passing through immigration on arrival.
Bahrain is a liberal Muslim country; however, some parts are more conservative, and it is therefore worth observing a few social norms.
- Greetings Men will be happy to shake hands with tourists, as will most women, but male travellers should wait to be invited by the latter, especially in more rural areas.
- Dress Men and women should generally dress modestly in public and avoid sheer clothing.
- Bargaining Although an expectation in traditional markets, large malls and supermarkets have fixed prices.
Wi-fi is widely available for free. All hotels and most cafes offer free wi-fi access to customers.
All visitors to Bahrain must carry photographic ID with them at all times. Failure to do so can result in an expensive fine.
Bahrain has strict drug laws. Anyone caught using drugs can be imprisoned and/or deported, and anyone caught selling them faces life imprisonment.
Drunken behaviour is punishable with imprisonment.
During the day in Ramadan, it is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, play loud music or dance in public places, and this is punishable by law.
Same-sex relationships between consenting adults over the age of 21 are legal. Bahrain is a liberal country, but many locals do harbour conservative social views and therefore public displays of affection are not advised.
ATMs are widespread, and credit cards are widely accepted.
ATMs & Credit Cards
Major credit cards are widely accepted throughout Bahrain. Most banks have ATMs that accept Visa, Cirrus and MasterCard, while the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait has ATMs that take Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and American Express.
Bahrain’s currency is the Bahraini dinar (BD). One dinar is divided into 1000 fils. There are 500-fil and one-, five-, 10- and 20-dinar notes. Coins come in denominations of five, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 fils. With huge numbers of Saudi tourists regularly visiting, local businesses in Bahrain also accept Saudi riyals.
The dinar is pegged to the US dollar and rarely fluctuates. For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Money can be changed at any bank or moneychanging office. There is little difference between banks and moneychangers in terms of exchange rates, and it’s rare for either to charge a commission. Currencies for other Gulf states are easy to buy and sell.
- Restaurants A service charge is added to most bills in restaurants and hotels, so tipping is at your discretion. An appropriate tip for good service would be around 10%.
- Porters Airport porters expect a small tip of BD1 despite their services being covered by the airport tax.
- Taxi Drivers do not expect a tip for short journeys. For longer journeys (more than 5km), 10% is appropriate.
The weekend in Bahrain is Friday and Saturday for most commercial and government organisations.
Banks 7.30am–3pm Sunday to Thursday
Restaurants 11am–3pm and 6pm–1am
Shopping centres 9am–10pm Saturday to Thursday, 10am–10pm Friday
Shops 8am–noon and 3.30pm–7.30pm Saturday to Thursday
Post offices are easy to locate all over Bahrain. The cost of sending letters, documents and parcels is determined by the item's weight and the class of post: ordinary, registered or express mail. Each item also incurs an 'advice on delivery' charge, which starts at BD0.71.
In addition to the main Islamic holidays, Bahrain celebrates a number of public holidays.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Tasoa’a & Ashura 9 and 10 Muharram (1st month in the Hejira calendar). Ashura marks the death of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet. Processions led by men flagellating themselves take place in many of the country’s predominantly Shiite areas.
Labour Day 1 May
Arafa Day Observed on 9 Dhulhijjah (12th month in Hejira calendar). This marks the hajj pilgrimage, which commemorates the Prophet Muhammad's final sermon and completion of the message of Islam.
Islamic New Year 1 Muharram (1st month in Hejira calendar)
Prophet Muhammad's Birthday 12 Rabe’a Alawwal (3rd month in Hejira calendar)
National Day 16 December. Celebrating the country’s declaration of independence from the British.
Accession Day 17 December. Celebrating the accession of the late emir Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa to the Bahrain royal throne.
- Smoking Bahraini law strictly prohibits smoking in all enclosed public areas; anyone breaking the law can be fined.
Taxes & Refunds
Tax is included in the cost of items, but there is no resource for tourists to claim tax back.
Bahrain’s telephone code is 973, and there are no area or city codes. The international access code (to call abroad from Bahrain) is 00. There are several help lines, including local directory assistance (181) and international directory assistance (191).
Bahrain’s network runs on the GSM through Batelco and Zain. Visitors can purchase SIM cards for BD1, BD5 and BD10 at Batelco and Zain outlets. Recharge comes in many denominations up to BD20 and is widely available at most supermarkets.
Bahrain is on Arabia Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus three hours).
Toilets in and around the major cities are all sit-down toilets, usually stocked with toilet tissues and wash hose. Public toilets are rare, except for those connected to mosques. These, however, are usually accessible only by men in the smaller mosques.
Outside of the big cities, expect some places to have squat toilets. These are rarely stocked with toilet tissue, so it is worth carrying your own.
The country's only tourist information office is inside Bab Al Bahrain. You can also get tourist information via the government websites or by approaching concierges at the bigger hotels.
Bahrain Tourism (www.btea.bh & www.bahrain.com) Official government sites for tourism.
Bahrain Culture (www.culture.gov.bh) Official government site for culture and antiquities.
Bahrain Events and Festivals (www.calendar.bh) Official government site for all forthcoming festivals and events
Travel with Children
Bahrainis welcome visiting children, and a lively expat community means kids are never short of something to do.
Look out for a handy booklet published biannually called Fab Bahrain (www.fabbahrain.com), available from bookshops, schools and Seef Mall. This free directory gives a full A–Z listing of what to do and where to go in Bahrain as a family, from the story-telling activities of ‘Wriggly Readers’ to waterskiing and wakeboarding. Also check out the 'Teens & Kids' section in Bahrain this Month magazine, which has heaps of information on fun activities, including lessons in hip hop and salsa.
Almost all tourist sites in Bahrain offer free or reduced admission for children, but few are pushchair friendly. Sights that will appeal specifically to little travellers include the Royal Camel Farm, where children can get up close and personal with Arabia's most famous animal. In fact, if you tip one of the workers, they may even let the kids ride one. Older kids will love the Bahrain International Karting Circuit, where smaller engines suited to younger drivers are available. Meanwhile those who prefer four legs to two wheels will surely appreciate riding one of the Dilmun Club's beautiful ponies.
Both the Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve and the spectacular Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park are popular with the entire family, especially the toddler pool in the latter and the bus tour of the park. For younger children, there are some really good indoor entertainment options, such as the Wahooo! water park and Magic Planet in central Manama.
Bahrain, like many Gulf countries, is very family orientated, and children are pretty much welcome everywhere; however, this does not necessarily mean facilities specifically aimed at parents are widely available, though this is changing. Most new malls, for example, have baby-changing facilities, as do some well-known restaurant and cafes, but these are often restricted to female toilets and are rarely found outside Manama. Pavements are not very well suited for pushchairs; however, the country's buses do have space for them. Car hire companies provide children's seats at an added cost.
When booking accommodation, families will be far better off staying in either excellent-value suites and apartments, like Fraser Suites, or in one of the very good family-friendly resorts up and down the country. They offer more space and facilities geared specifically to those travelling with children.
Few restaurants or eateries have a children's menu, with Melissa's Emporium being one of the exceptions. As a result, buffets at the bigger hotels are popular with families. As well as being able to provide high chairs, the huge choice of food on offer means even the fussiest child will find something they like. Try Al Waha or Le Domain, and if you decide to drag them through the chaos of Manama's Souq, be sure to reward them with a delicious ice cream at Naseef.
Weights & Measures
- Weights and measures Bahrain uses the metric system.
Bahrain is fairly liberal compared to some Gulf countries, which can be both a blessing (less of the staring) and a nuisance (more of the hassle). Muharraq, much of the Manama Souq and Shiite-dominated areas such as Budaiya are much more traditional, and it's best to dress modestly in these areas.
To work legally in Bahrain, an expat needs a sponsoring employer who will file an application for a work visa on their behalf. Looking for work on a tourist visa is very difficult and most expats secure work from abroad through a specialist recruitment agency or via an international internal transfer with their company. Sites like Gulf Talent (www.gulftalent.com) and Naukrigulf (www.naukrigulf.com) have regular listings for positions in Bahrain. Expat Arrivals (www.expatarrivals.com) offers practical advice for anyone thinking of working in Bahrain.