Bahrain is the largest and most heavily populated of the nation's islands. Use the capital city, Manama, as a base for exploration: Two days should be enough to see the attractions around the capital.
Just outside town is the Suq al Khamis mosque, the oldest on the island (built in AD 1058). From there, drive west to see the Qalaat al Bahrain, a complex of archaeological excavations that date back to 2800 BC, when the island was settled by the Dilmun people. There's not much to see, but you'll find an ancient bit of city wall, a 400-year-old Portuguese fort, an 11th-century Arab fort (of which mere traces remain) and some Assyrian ruins. A little farther on is Barbar Temple, probably dedicated to Enki (the god of springs). More than 3,000 years old, the temple has been restored and is open to visitors.
From Qalaat al Bahrain, head to the village of Sar and follow the road around to A'ali, which has pottery workshops. It also has important grave mounds: Throughout Bahrain's northern region you'll see Dilmun grave mounds dating from 2800-1800 BC. The ones near A'ali are the Royal Mounds—some are thought to be the graves of the rulers' concubines. Objects excavated from the Royal Mounds are on display at the National Museum in Muharraq.
Head south from A'ali into the central and southern desert regions to see Ar Riffa (a restored fort with great views of the surrounding valley), Jabal ad Dukhan (also called Jebel Dukhan, it's the highest point in the country at 445 ft/135 m), the Oil Museum (including the country's first well) and the Al Areen Wildlife Park (stocked with such native Gulf species as oryx). Southeast of Jabal ad Dukhan is the Tree of Life, fed by a spring and source of a legend that Bahrain is the original Garden of Eden. (Unfortunately, the tree is surrounded by litter and graffiti-covered walls.) There's a horse-racing track about 5 mi/8 km south of Manama where Arabian horses carry riders in traditional robes and headdresses. After the horse races are the camel races and, sometimes, falconry displays. Return to Manama via the peninsula of Sitrah—there's a nice view of the capital from the causeway.
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