Walking Tour: Old Muharraq

  • Start Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa
  • End Souq Al Qaisariya
  • Length 3km; two to three hours

Unesco added Muharraq's pearling tradition to its World Heritage list in 2012, but the country's former capital city (until 1932) is about more than just pearling – it's a wonderful place to better understand Bahrain's cultural heritage. This walking tour leads you through the ancient beating heart of old Muharraq, integrating aspects of the pearling tradition with museums and cultural institutes, relaxing open spaces, historic markets and quaint coffee shops.

Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa is a fine starting point, a splendid example of the power and prosperity that pearling brought to Muharraq. Leaving the house, walk away from the mosque and then turn right onto Rd 916: you'll soon come to the restored Bu Khalaf Coffee Shop, which serves up thick Arabic coffee, tea and dates. After another 150m or so, turn right, walk a further 50m and then turn left: at this point you will enter an open square. Directly in front of you, overlooking the square's northwestern corner behind a delightfully simple, conical minaret, is the exquisite, semi-restored facade of Beit Seyadi, a traditional house from the pre-oil period. Back across the square, follow the signs east to Busaad Art Gallery, on your right as you emerge onto Sheikh Isa Ave.

Retrace your steps to Bu Khalaf Coffee Shop and then take Lane 920 running west for 150m. Where the lane ends (look for the intriguing sculpture high on the wall in front of you), turn left and then take the first right. Just 20m along on your right is the beautifully restored Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture & Research, its facade adorned with wooden arched windows and carved calligraphy. Directly across the lane from the entrance is Iqra Children's Library, set up by the centre for the use of local school children. A little further on to the west is the oasis-like Cafe Luqmatina, offering excellent local pastries, coffee and soft drinks in a lovely setting. Just around the corner is Heraf Al Diyar, a collection of community classrooms and workshops used by local adults. As you wander past, it is worth admiring the restored 1st-floor wooden balconies. Just northeast of this is Al Nukhida House, where once upon a time visiting divers and ship crews met up ahead of the pearl-diving season.

Return to the Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Centre for Culture & Research and then turn right and wander past the peaceful Water Garden. This open-air space adds to the beauty of this little stretch. From there follow the signs to the House of Coffee, a good place to stop if you're feeling peckish or simply want to know the history of coffee: it's a restaurant, cafe and museum. A few doors to the west, Al Korar House keeps alive the tradition of gold-thread embroidery. A few doors west again, on the other side of the lane, is Abdullah Al Zayed House for Bahraini Press Heritage, home of the founder of the first weekly newspaper in the Gulf, now aptly converted into a small museum dedicated to the country’s press heritage.

Walk down the gentle slope heading west, keeping the artsy, wavy, low wooden wall on your right, turn left onto Rd 931 where the lane ends, and then right onto busy Sheikh Abdullah Bin Isa Ave. A few metres along on your left is the Vertical Garden, a green landmark signifying the edge of the city's old quarter. Created by French artist Patrick Blanc, this oasis is home to 200 species of tropical plants from around the world. It comprises a single wall with an arch, planted with salt- and heat-tolerant plants. Continue west and then turn left at the roundabout. The sublime Bin Matar House, an art gallery and museum of the history of pearling, is clearly visible on your left.

Continue south and then turn left along Rd 1124, past the metal workshops, and then turn right onto Rd 1125, the starting point for Muharraq Souq. Immediately on your right is Beit Bu Zaboon, which is closed to the public but has a lovely Muharraqi facade. Continue south to Sheikh Hamad Ave, turn right and forsake all other sweet shops on your way to Hussein Mohd Showaiter Sweets, the king among local sweet merchants. Return east along Sheikh Hamad Ave and follow the signs to the under-restoration Souq Al Qaisariya.