Lap up the culture: 8 things to do this weekend in Bahrain

As the 15th Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix kicks off, Katy Gillett tells you how to make your most of your time on the island

A general view of the Sakhir circuit in Manama during the second practice session ahead of the qualifiers for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on April 6, 2018. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)
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The Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix put the small island nation of Bahrain on the international map in 2004.

Almost every year since, the race has been held between the end of March and beginning of April and, thanks to the cool weather and a packed schedule, these months have quickly become the best time of year for tourists to visit. This year's race takes place on Sunday, and there are plenty of events leading up to the F1 action. Here's our guide to what to do if you're there this weekend.

Watch the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix

Of course, that's what you're in Bahrain for, after all. Tens of thousands of people flock to the country every year to catch all the racing action, and this year will be no different. Not only will you get to see the best drivers battle it out on the world-class track in Sakhir, but there's also plenty of on-site entertainment planned for the weekend, including performances by superstar DJs Martin Garrix and Kygo. F1 fans will get the chance to check their reflexes by subjecting themselves to the same test used by drivers; they can have a go at being an F1 commentator in the TV Challenge; and can even try their hand at being a mechanic in the Pit Stop Challenge. Meanwhile, video-gamers can check out the esports section, while racegoers can also ride on the 42-metre-tall Ferris wheel and the 60-metre Star Flyer. For children, there are carnival games and roaming performers, such as stilt walkers and clowns.

Eat your way around Adliya

The restaurants in the Adliya area of Bahrain. Getty Images
The restaurants in the Adliya area of Bahrain. Getty Images

Bahrain is a country of foodies, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Adliya, where some of the country's best restaurants sit side by side in a sprawling block of pedestrianised pathways and meandering alleys. Whether you have a hankering for Italian or Thai food, want to relax with a coffee in a chilled-out cafe or prefer more upbeat vibes in a contemporary lounge, there's something for everyone in the area, which is colloquially dubbed "Block 338". A few recommended options include industrial-style steak spot The ­Foundry; beloved Indian restaurant and bar Lanterns; and Mexican favourite Calexico.  

Visit the Pearling Trail

R028FW A Bahraini man wearing dishdash, guthra, and aghal walking along a narrow alley on the Pearl Trail, old Muharraq, Kingdom of Bahrain. Alamy
The Pearl Trail. Alamy

One of two Unesco World Heritage Sites in Bahrain, the Pearling Trail is a series of buildings and landmarks that forms a 3.5-kilometre pathway and is the perfect introduction into the island's past. It consists of three oyster beds, a segment of coast, Bu Maher Fort and nine clusters of buildings with 17 architectural structures in the historic town of Muharraq. The trail highlights the importance of the centuries-­old pearl-collecting tradition to Bahrain's economy.

Go to Manama Souq

A visitor looks at traditional light-shop in local souq at Bab al Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain June 27, 2018. Picture taken June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
Manama Souq in the capital. Reuters 

There are a number of traditional marketplaces you can visit, but the most famous is in the capital. Wander through Bab Al Bahrain arch to explore its labyrinthine alleyways, where hawkers sell everything from local perfumes to exotic spices and plenty of gold. You'll find a plethora of hole-in-the-wall restaurants too, including Bahraini favourite Haji's Cafe and the vegetarian Indian spot Swagat, which is found near the Sri Krishna Temple, which is more than 100 years old.

Take a boat to Aldar Island

The small island is worth visiting as a tourist, and you can get involved with all sorts of fun family-friendly activities, such as water sports, pearl-­diving, fishing and volleyball. Refuel at the restaurant and bar, and then head back to the main island, or spend the night in one of the modern, comfortable chalets on Aldar. Prices to get there start from 5 Bahraini dinars (Dh50) for adults and Bd2 for children older than five years. It's free for the younger ones

Wander around the Bahrain Fort

Riffa, Ar Rifa and Southern, Bahrain, Middle East. Getty Images
The eponymous fort in the city of Riffa. Getty 

Bahrain's first Unesco World Heritage Site was Qal'at Al Bahrain, also known as the Bahrain or Portuguese Fort. This 3,000-year-old archaeological site is where hundreds of antiquities and treasures have been unearthed over the past century. Wander around the ruins and then head to the nearby museum, which gives you an insight into the area, the landmark and the country's rich history. There's also a lovely little cafe there to pick up a coffee or a bite to eat, as well as a tiny souvenir shop.

Eat breakfast at Riffa Fort

Bahrain's forts are among the most beautiful in the region, and so a trip to the restored Riffa Fort never goes amiss. You can carefully tread through history here, but also pop into Saffron by Jena, where a traditional Bahraini breakfast – complete with balaleet, foul and balila – is served inside or on the terrace, which offers gorgeous views over the Hunanaiya Valley. Saffron cafe is a bit of an institution in Bahrain, and it also has a couple of other branches at well-known landmarks in the country, including the Manama Souq and on the Muharraq Pearling Trail. This one is our favourite, though.

Take in the arts scene

At any time of year, Bahrain has a unique and interesting arts scene for visitors to enjoy, with a wide range of small galleries on offer, such as Albareh Art Gallery and La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, showcasing works by local and regional artists. This weekend is a particularly good time to pay them a visit if you're into the arts, as the annual Spring of Culture Festival coincides with the Formula One racing. Grammy Award-­winning rocker Steve Winwood will perform tonight in Bahrain Bay, while tomorrow evening Scottish musician Scott Booth will take to the stage at the Cultural Hall, a performing arts theatre located not far from the Bahrain National Museum (this is well worth a visit too, if you have the time to stop by). Also on the agenda this weekend is the Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition, which is being held at the stalwart Ritz-Carlton hotel.