Keep Cool in Kuwait: Top 5 Places to Visit
You won’t find many places more exotic and opulent than Kuwait (vending machine dispensing 24-carat gold, anyone?), but you’ll also be hard-pressed to find a hotter location in summer. Nobody’s recommending that you avoid this jewel in the desert, but we do suggest you focus your time on some of its cooler attractions, like these:
What better way to keep cool than by surrounding yourself with water? You’ll find the Middle East’s biggest aquarium in the Scientific Centre, based in a spectacular (even for Kuwait), sail-shaped building on the corniche. A gift from the late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to the Kuwaiti people, the Scientific Centre is designed to promote Kuwait’s scientific and cultural heritage, and to highlight the natural environment of the Arabian Gulf region.
The Aquarium incorporates the Arabian Peninsula’s three main ecosystems – desert, coast and sea – and features a unique intertidal display, in which waves break at eye level. This is where you’ll see shoals of black-spotted sweetlips and the resourceful mudskipper. The wraparound, full-height shark and ray tanks are the most memorable element, particularly for children, so be sure to check the feeding times. Other spectacular features include 3.8m-legged giant spider crabs, luminous jellyfish, and a living reef
As well as the Aquarium, the Scientific Centre features an IMAX cinema and an interactive learning centre called Discovery Place where children can see the planets up close or make their own sand dunes. In the Dhow Harbour, you’ll find Fateh al-Khair, the only surviving Kuwait sailing ship from the pre-oil era. Your admission price will depend on what section(s) of the centre you visit.
Tareq Rajab Museum
Tucked away in the basement of a spacious villa, this magnificent ethnographic museum is not to be missed. It centres on a treasure trove of Islamic art collected by Kuwait’s first minister of antiquities and his British wife. The tone of the exhibition is set by the pair of ornate doors from Cairo at the entrance, leading visitors to a glittering hoard of beautiful objects.
These include inlaid musical instruments, Omani silver and Saudi gold jewellery, royal costumes, enamel from Jaipur, and pearls from Bahrain, but pride of place goes to the Arabic manuscripts. The items are all the more precious because they survived the Iraqi invasion (which gutted the National Museum) after the owners bricked up the doorway to the entrance to deter prospective looters.
To find the Tareq Rajab Museum, drive your rental car to Jabriya, close to the intersection of the Fifth Ring Motorway and the Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman al-Saud Expressway (also known as the Fahaheel Expressway). The building does not have a sign, but you will recognise it by its carved wooden doorway, composed of four door panels embellished in gilt metal.
You should give yourself at least an hour for your visit, and considerably more if you have an interest in textiles. If you’d prefer not to drive, take either bus 102 or 502 to Hadi Clinic. Walk south along the Fahaheel Expressway for a few minutes and turn right just before you reach the Iranian School. The museum is on the left about 50 metres further on.
Step back through the swirling sands of Kuwait’s rich history with a visit to the old souq. Part of it may be housed in a sophisticated modern building, but the souq still evokes ancient times, with its hagglers practiced in the arcane art of trading everything from olives to oxtails.
Anchored right in the heart of the bustling city, the souq is a marvellous Aladdin’s cave in which to while away a morning – or, indeed, a lunch time, as it’s a great place to tempt your palate with local delicacies in the vast food halls of Souq Marbarakia.
See the covered Souq al-Hareem, where Bedouin women in traditional garb sit cross-legged on velvet cushions selling kohl eye makeup and gold-patterned dresses. Pretend you’re Aladdin at the Persian rug souq, and if you’re feeling flush, you’ll find the city’s central gold market in the nearby Souq ad-Dahab al-Markazi.
For the ultimate fusion of Arabian fairytale and contemporary excess, you can’t beat Kuwait’s most famous landmark, the Kuwait Towers. Soaring like turrets from 1,001 Nights, each of the towers features globes studded with a total of 55,000 steel “sequins” in shades of blue and green.
The towers were designed by Swedish engineers Sune Lindström and Malene Björn and officially opened in March 1979. The coloured sequins are intended to symbolise the sea and sky, which are stunningly presented in all their glory from the two-level revolving observation deck in the tallest (187m) of the three towers.The revolving platform rotates 360° in 30 minutes. This tower serves meals in the Horizon Restaurant and Le Cafe.
The main tower has a second sphere lower down, which is used to store about 1 million gallons of water. The middle tower is also used for water storage, and the smaller third tower illuminates the other two.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Islamic faith is tightly woven into the fabric of Kuwait City’s culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Grand Mosque. The mosque is an appropriately opulent neighbour for Sief Palace, located opposite, which features a blue-tiled watchtower and roof of pure gold. Opened in 1986, the mosque cost 14 million Kuwaiti dollars to construct.
The Grand Mosque is Kuwait’s official mosque and the biggest in the entire country. It covers an area of 45,000 square metres and towers higher than any of Kuwait City’s 800 mosques, with a 74m minaret. As many as 5,000 worshippers can fit into the main hall, and a further 7,000 can be accommodated in the courtyard. The well-informed staff run excellent tours, which are best arranged via a local tour operator. Make sure you are appropriately dressed, with arms and legs covered, before you attempt to enter the mosque.
Tip: Book your rental car in Kuwait well in advance to ensure you get a car with air conditioning.