Bahrain is an ever-evolving mix of old and new: a modern, forward-thinking Gulf State with a fascinating history stretching back over 5,000 years. If you're planning a trip to Manama, the capital of Bahrain, you can easily get a taste of both sides of this complex nation. Along with fantastic shopping and dining, lively nightlife, and a wealth of beaches and outdoor activities, you can also explore the region's rich history at a number of historic sites and museums. First on your list: pay a visit to the National Museum of Bahrain.
Bahrain's top museum
First opened in 1988, the Bahrain National Museum is run by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities and is one of Manama's leading attractions. The complex occupies a commanding location on a purpose-built peninsula with a stunning view of the island of Muharraq off the coast. Designed by Danish architects Krohn and Hartvig Rasmussen, the handsome building is made of white travertine stone and boasts around 20,000 square meters of space inside, as well as a sunny courtyard displaying contemporary sculpture. Widely considered one of the Gulf region's best museums, it's less than 10 minutes' drive from The Diplomat Radisson Blu Hotel, Residence & Spa in Manama – our staff will be happy to provide directions or arrange transportation for you.
Remember, the museum is large, with plenty of permanent and temporary exhibits to discover, so be sure to allow at least several hours for your visit.
What can you see?
In the main building of the museum complex, you'll find a dazzling range of artefacts spanning over 5,000 years of Bahraini history and culture, all housed in nine bright, airy exhibition halls with labels in English and Arabic. From Neolithic pottery and Hellenistic glassware to Islamic manuscripts and rare Qurans, not to mention countless treasures from the ancient Dilmun civilization that once flourished in the area, you can quickly come to appreciate the richness of the area's archaeological heritage.
Along with its material history, the exhibits provide plenty of insight into the evolution of Bahrain's social customs and rituals. Browse the Hall of Customs and Traditions for a captivating look at long-established ceremonies for births, weddings and other celebrations, as well as common religious beliefs, storytelling and popular medicine. If you're more interested in the region's nature and environment, including native plants and animals, the newer Natural History Hall (added in 1993) is well worth exploring.
Other highlights of the National Museum of Bahrain include reconstructions of ancient burial mounds dating from 2300BC to 200 AD, each painstakingly dismantled and reassembled in the museum, and a replica of a traditional souq that vividly illustrates the country's long history of trade and fine craftsmanship – as well as its famous pearl fishing industry. Take some time out to admire the massive satellite map of Bahrain, which takes up most of the ground floor.
Other things to see and do at the museum
Alongside the nine galleries containing the permanent collection, there are several spaces hosting temporary exhibitions, as well as an art gallery showcasing works by leading Bahraini artists. There's also a lecture theater for talks, concerts and other events, plus a gift shop full of souvenirs and a stylish café where you can relax after your visit.
Visit the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities' website to find out more details about visiting the National Museum, as well as other historic and cultural attractions throughout Bahrain.