Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa

Top choice in Bahrain

Offering a fascinating look at pre-oil life in Bahrain, this building was constructed around 1800 and is one of the finest examples of a traditional house anywhere in the Gulf. The chief sitting room downstairs was kept cool in summer by the down draft from the badqeer (wind tower), the shutters on which could be closed in winter – stand beneath it to see how effective this system of natural air conditioning really is. There's fine gypsum and woodcarving throughout.

This was the seat of Bahraini power from 1869 to 1932, and its importance is reflected in the four different sections: sheikh, family, guests and servants. These are well captioned in English and a good half-hour could be spent rambling up and down the various staircases admiring the delicate arches, intricate wooden doors, courtyards and palm-trunk ceilings. Note the blackened walls and ceiling of the servants' kitchen.