The capital city of Bahrain, Manama contains the country's best hotels, nightlife, shopping and primary tourist attractions. The city spreads over the northeastern corner of the island. At the heart of the city is the Bab al Bahrain (Gateway to Bahrain), a complex of government buildings erected in 1945 and distinguished by a large arch. Years ago, arriving visitors would disembark from their ship-to-shore launch and step through the archway to enter Bahrain. Since then, land reclamation has moved the shoreline 900 ft/280 m to the north and the arch is now the entrance to the main souk (marketplace).

The souk is charming. You'll find everything imaginable for saleā€”from parrots, brassware and carpets to drums, spices and herbs. Specialty areas include the gold souk (gold and diamonds), the spice souk (wonderful aromas) and cloth souk (bolts of silk and cotton stacked to the sky). The area around the market, seemingly unchanged for centuries, is full of small, winding streets. There's also a craft market across from the Adhari Hotel on Wednesday, where locals sell their work.

Shop under more modern (but less charming) conditions at the Bahrain Commercial Complex and Yateem Centre. Just beyond is the Mina Manama (a dhow port where you can watch the boats being built). Drop in at the blocky New Museum (a modern art gallery) and the Heritage Center (in the old law courts), which has exhibits on daily life, pearl diving and falconry. If you're interested in moldings and engravings used in the construction of homes, visit Gulf Arabesque on Budaiya Road for excellent displays. Also worth visiting is the Al Fadhel Mosque (beautiful design and decoration). Book lovers will enjoy the Beit Al Koran, with many early illuminated Koranic texts on display. The city also offers some great nightlife.

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