Located between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is one of the least touristic countries in the world. You will come across many foreigners here, but few of them are visiting. Instead, they are Kuwait’s managers, doctors, shop personnel and construction workers. Before the exploitation of oil, this was one of the poorest countries in the world, but the country has developed rapidly over the past 70 years. Kuwaitis today grow up with the fanciest clothes, most expensive cars and travel to Europe at least once a year, but their love for their own traditions and the desert too remains strong. Kuwait is where the modern and the traditional meet. A truly fascinating place, which grows on you the longer you stay.
1. Kuwait Towers
Your first stop will be the Kuwait Towers, Kuwait’s famous landmark. Recently renovated, the Kuwait Towers are now once again open to the public. The main tower has both a viewing platform and a restaurant (for those on a larger budget). On a clear day, you have an overview of almost the entire country – or at least the inhabited parts of it. Because yes, that is how small Kuwait is.
2. Visit the Grand Mosque
Learn more about Kuwait’s main religion by visiting the largest mosque in the country (completed in the 1980s). Arabs are warm and welcoming people, and the people running this mosque are no exception to that. Guided tours take place on an almost daily basis and are free of charge, just call in advance to confirm. An imposing and beautifully decorated building, it is a must for every visitor. Outside it is busy and warm, but here you will feel yourself come to rest immediately. A bubble of peace in a vibrant city.
3. Failaka Island
Take the ferry to Failaka, one of Kuwait’s islands. Before the Gulf War people lived here, but the island was deserted during the war, and many of the buildings were never rebuilt. Now it is mainly a large open-air monument to the horrors of war. Visit destroyed houses, schools and offices and see what war does to a country. If you are short on time and still want to experience the history of the Gulf War Al Qurain, the House of Martyrs is an impressive alternative that is somewhat easier to reach.
4. A night in the desert
No visit to Kuwait is complete without a visit to the desert. First stop should be one of the many camel herds. Drink camel milk, pet the baby camels (spring only!) or maybe even get invited for a ride if you are lucky. Then leave the herds behind you and drive further into the desert. Stop for a short quad ride, but then continue your drive until all signs of civilization have disappeared on the horizon. This is where you camp for the night. It is here when you can feel truly alone in the world. Experience the vast emptiness and silence. Take some meat and a few (non-alcoholic, of course) drinks, a grill and enjoy a night under the stars. A compulsory word of caution: do not do this without a guide. The desert is a dangerous place for those without local knowledge.
5. Go shopping in the Avenues Mall
One of the largest malls in the Middle East, the Avenues is more than just a mall. When the temperatures in Kuwait reaches 50 degrees in summer, here is where people go to walk, run and enjoy themselves in general. Try one of the many cafés and restaurants and enjoy people from all walks of life passing by. Shopping is almost an afterthought here, but there is a shop for every budget here. For the poorer travelers, there is always the local H&M or Forever21. The rich and famous shop at Dior or Chanel. Do not expect to find many local brands here, though. IKEA and Starbucks rule the world, including Kuwait.
For a more traditional shopping experience, you go to the Moubarakiyya or traditional souq (market). Here is where the more conservative locals gather at night. At the Moubarakiyya you can find a few items that will serve as souvenirs in the absence of the traditional postcards or fridge magnets (no tourists here, remember?). Possible options are spices or local cookies. Especially the latter are very good, and they come in all sorts of varieties. Local salesmen are always happy to let you try one or two. While you are here, pass by the fish hall and the butcher’s street. Not quite like the Avenues, no? Try to eat at the Moubarakiyya at least once during your stay. Food is delicious, authentic and cheap. Two main dishes will serve to feed a family of 6, and you will still have food left. From Lebanese to Egyptian and Iranian: everyone will find something to his or her liking here.
7. House of Mirrors
The Italian artist Lidia and her late Kuwaiti husband turned their private residence into an art museum centred around mirrors. And no, not just a few mirrors: the entire house is covered with mirrors! A truly wonderful place. A gifted artist, Lidia does tours by appointment which include tea, home-made cookies, and good conversation!
Where to Stay in Kuwait
Best Budget Hotel in Kuwait – Royal Inn Hotel
This property is a 12-minute walk from the beach. Royal Inn Hotel offers accommodation in Al Salmiya.
Every room at this hotel is air-conditioned and has a flat-screen TV. Each room is fitted with a private bathroom fitted with a bath. Extras include slippers and a hairdryer.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Kuwait – Le Royal
Featuring panoramic views of the Gulf, this 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms and free Wi-Fi in public areas. It has an outdoor pool and a gym on site.
Breakfast is served at the Al Marsa Restaurant. Room service, including breakfast, is also available. A complimentary shuttle service from Kuwait International Airport can also be arranged.
Best Luxury Hotel in Kuwait – The Regency Hotel
Situated on a private beach on the Arabian Gulf Sea coast in Kuwait, this luxurious 5-star resort offers elegant rooms with Italian furniture and marble bathrooms. The Regency Kuwait’s freshwater swimming pools include a lap pool, an infinity pool, two children’s pools and one ladies-only pool.
Silk Road is an all-day dining restaurant offering à-la-carte menus, lavish buffets, brunch, barbecues and festive fare. Balsamico an authentic Italian restaurant that offers an à-la-carte menu in an elegant and warm environment. The Gourmet Boutique serves fresh, refined pastries, a selection of gourmet coffees, espressos and cappuccinos complimented with your favourite cakes made by the award-winning pastry team.
The Regency is less than a 5-minute drive from the Salmiya Souk and 15 minutes’ drive from Kuwait’s International Airport. The fashionable Salmiya area with its shopping, restaurants, and cafés is only minutes away.
About the Writer
Brigitte (28) is a researcher from the Netherlands, now based in Hamburg (Germany). She fell in love with Kuwait during a six-month internship in the country in 2014. Since then, she tries to return to her desert home at least once every year. On The Life and Times of a Dutchie Abroad, she writes about her adventures in her adoptive Heimat as well as her travels in the Middle East, and Kuwait specifically. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well.