To many, Kuwait is famous for all the wrong reasons. Since the end of the Gulf War, however, the country has reemerged as the hub of Arabian culture and liberalism that it once was. Kuwaitis are a humble but highly principled people, meaning they haven’t aspired to the superlative-chasing excess of other oil-rich Arabian lands. That isn’t to say the signs of a global trade power aren’t evident in its characteristic skyline, just that a flight to Kuwait will open the door to a considerably more authentic taste of Arabian life.
The National Museum is still recovering from the Iraqi invasion, with many exhibits either in storage or moved to other museums. Nevertheless, it’s still a good place to get a feel for Kuwait’s history and culture. You might prefer the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyya, however, which is a smaller museum but beautifully curated. Its highlight is the Al Sabah collection of historic Islamic art and textiles. There’s also the Tareq Rajab Museum, which houses many valuable artifacts dating back to the early days of Islamic history, from jewelery to headdresses to the clothing of princes and peasants. Don’t miss its collection of old Arabic manuscripts.
To better understand the events that led to the Iraqi invasion – and the sacrifices made by Kuwaitis throughout the course of the war – the Kuwait House of National Works: Memorial Museum can’t be beaten, with miniature cities illustrating the effects on infrastructure and daily life, as well as more immersive elements, such as navigating dark corridors lit only by intermittent shell fire – simulated of course! And if all that leaves you craving a little serenity, head to Kuwait’s Grand Mosque, opposite the Emir’s Palace, for an insight into the local spiritual life.
People and Traditions
Kuwaitis are fairly liberal and hold education in very high regard. There can be some tension between traditional Kuwaiti Islamic values and more Western ones, but society is very tolerant as a whole. Expats make up a huge 70% of Kuwait’s total population so be mindful that some Kuwaitis can be quite sensitive about being a minority in their own country. Nevertheless, you’ll find Kuwaitis to be mostly hospitable to foreigners, particularly during religious holidays and celebrations. Ramadan is no exception, but note that eating, drinking and smoking in public is strictly forbidden during this time, even for non-Muslims.
Temperatures in Kuwait vary greatly depending on the season. Winters are much colder than most countries in the Persian Gulf, while daily highs in the summer tend to fall within the 40s (ºC). Rainfall and even thunderstorms are not uncommon, particularly between October and April. Sandstorms are a common problem in June and July.
Kuwait has many shopping options but two very different highlights are The Avenues and Souk Marbarakia. The former is Kuwait’s premier shopping mall and home to all the top brands, while the latter is a traditional marketplace selling all sorts from food to jewelery.
A great way to spend the day is to take a trip out to Kubbar Island. This sandy paradise is a great place to relax, but you might prefer to go snorkeling or scuba diving out in the coral reefs of the Persian Gulf, spotting lionfish and damselfish among the diverse marine-life. And that’s not all – the island is also home to great numbers of flamingos, turtles, molluscs and other creatures. Animal lovers will also love taking a camel ride out in the desert.
The iconic Kuwait Towers opened in 1979 and look slightly antiquated now, yet they nevertheless add to the charm of the city’s Corniche, or seafront promenade. The Corniche itself is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of Kuwait City’s urban centre, and looks resplendent lit up at night. It also provides access to Green Island – an artificial island park.
The Corniche is home to Kuwait’s Scientific Centre. There you’ll find the sort of entertaining, family-friendly and educational exhibits you’d expect from any science museum, however, there’s also an IMAX cinema, the only surviving sailing ship from the nation’s pre-oil era, and an exceptional aquarium with gigantic tanks full of sharks, rays and other enthralling marine-life.