Where is Kuwait and Why Would you go There?
My Flight from Iraq to Bahrain had a stopover in Kuwait so I decided to push back the flight to have a few days in the tiny country on the Gulf coast.
The hottest temperature I’ve ever experienced was in Kuwait when it reached 48C. For someone that loves to walk around cities and also the heat, I found it way too hot and had to keep taking breaks in the shade just to cool down.
Kuwait is small, the 43rd smallest country, just behind Fiji. But most of the small nation is dessert which makes it feel even smaller when you’ve only got a few cities and towns to see.
Kuwait Dinar – The Worlds Strongest Currency
Did you know that Kuwait has the world strongest currency?
1 Kuwait Dinar buys you $3.25USD, €3 EUR , £2.7 GBP , $4.9 AUD or about 140,000 Iranian Rials.
My $200USD got me 61 Kuwaiti Dinar
Where to Stay in Kuwait
The two main areas to stay are in Kuwait City near the Older part of town around the Mabarakiya souq or in Salmiya which has a beach and nice waterfront promenade. If you’ve got a day or two in Kuwait then you’ll want to visit both areas anyway so it’s not too important where you stay. Salmiya is busier at night so if you want to walk around when the temperatures are cooler there’s more happening at Samilya compared to the city. A taxi between the two areas costs about 3KD. I chose to stay in Salmiya because I wanted to enjoy the beach and habourfront to escape the heat. I also found a great AirBnB in Salmiya where I could meet some people living in Kuwait.
I stayed with host Alladin in his rooftop Bedouin tent which he makes available on AirBnB. Aladdin was a fantastic host and even picked me up from the airport which helped a lot. Aladdin had the great idea of putting a couple of large Bedouin tents on his rooftop apartment and renting out spaces on AirBnB, he also has rooms available in the apartment so you can either book a bed in a shared tent to keep you costs low or book a private room in the apartment for more comfort.
Aladdin had his friends over for a movie night while I was staying there so I got to meet many expats living in Kuwait and soon learned that the locals don’t really mix with foreigners too much. I would’ve loved to meet some Kuwaitis but I didn’t get many opportunities during my time in Kuwait. Instead, I heard many stories from expats from across the world tell the same story about how Kuwaitis tend to stick to themselves and seemingly look down on the foreigners no matter where they come from. I didn’t experience this myself but I also didn’t speak to any Kuwaitis other than a few brief conversations.
Arriving in Kuwait Airport
As an Aussie I was able to get a visa on arrival or apply for an e-visa. Many of the usual passports are eligible for visas on arrival, you can find a complete list on the Kuwaiti e-visa website in the Resources section below. I chose to go for the visa on arrival and the process was straight forward but it’s easier and quicker if you already have the e-visa which you can get online for 3KD.
After going through immigration I went to the money exchange counter as I had left over USD that I didn’t use in Iran. I exchanged $200USD at the money exchange counter for a decent rate at the time and received 61Kuwaiti Dinars in notes. I asked if I could swap one of the notes for coins because I had a friend that collects foreign coins. The exchange guy picked up almost all the coins he had, gave them to me then told me to keep the note. In the end I got 4KD in coins which is $13USD. Where else in the world would an exchange place give you coins for free? Thankfully at the place that has the strongest currency in the world.
A taxi from the airport to Salmiya costs about 8Kd and takes 25 minutes, you won’t have to negotiate because the prices are shown. You can also take two busses which takes close to an hour and costs under 1KD.
Things to do in Kuwait
Salmiya has great views over the Kuwait City skyline plus a beach and modern promenade. The beach was empty when I was there and had nice sand and calm water. You can walk along the modern promenade lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops or take your own food for a picnic on one of the grassy areas. I thought the nicest area was around the Marina Yacht Club and it’s close to the beach so can go for a swim to cool down.
The old area of Kuwait City is known as Mubarakiya and has one of the oldest markets in the Arabian Gulf. Although busy, I was surprised at how little the sellers harass you to buy things. The souq full of stalls selling traditional Kuwaiti items like perfume, linen, rugs herbal medicine and even camping gear if you’re planning to stay in the dessert. The souq preserves the traditional architecture so you get a feel for what Kuwaiti life was like before oil was discovered in 1938.
There are few restaurants where you can stop for lunch or grab a snack for generally cheaper than other parts in the city. I tried the local pastry khanfaroosh which I’d recommend.
Kuwait Water Towers
In 1953, Kuwait City began a water transformation project with the installation of two massive seawater distillation plants. But thanks to a lack of pipelines, the purified water was transported by tanker throughout the city. To fix the problem for clean running water in 1965 they contracted a Swedish engineering firm to construct a system to connect the factories to Kuwait City via a network of water towers.
The last water tower project was completed in 1979 and consists of three towers that each look like a needle and two of them going through a sphere. Between the three spheres there are water reservoirs, a rotating viewing platform, a café, restaurant, indoor garden and a banquet hall.
The Avenues Mall
This place is huge but the main reason I went there was to escape the heat. It doesn-t take long walking around outside in 45c+ temperature to be exhausted so going to the Avenues Mall provides an escape from the heat and something do to other than sit in an air conditioned coffee shop.
House of Mirrors
The House of Mirrors is an interesting site with an interesting story. The owners are Khalifa al-Qattan a Kuwaiti accomplished artist and his Italian wife Lidia al-Qattan, also an artist. When Khalifa went to an exhibition overseas Lidia decorated a cabinet with mirrors. Khalifa returned to the house and liked the cabinet and I guess when you have two artists living together one mirrored cabinet turns into an entire house covered in colourful mirrors and mosaics. The House of Mirrors is located half way between Salmiya and downtown and you can find more details in the Resources section below.
If mirror and mosaic designs are your thing you can read about the mirror room at the Golestan Palace in Tehran or Mosaic House in Los Angeles.
The island is about 20 km from Kuwait City and you can take either a fast ferry or slower ferry. The fast ferry takes about 30 minutes and a return ticket costs 15kd. There was a public ferry but it’s no longer operating, however, to get the latest timetable it’s best to go to the Marina the day before as I couldn’t find anywhere that publishes an up-to-date ferry schedule.
Prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, two thousand people were living on Failaka Island. But as the Iraqi invasion drew closer, most residents fled for safety to the mainland, leaving few residents remaining who were subsequently deported by occupying troops. Unfortunately their departure was not enough to save it from destruction and the Iraqi forces eventually used the island as a target practice destroying the islands infrastructure. The bombardment lasted until February 1991 when the Iraqis were formed to surrender Failaka Island by the coalition.
Here you will also find Jahra Fort built by Ottomans during their rule over region followed by nearby museum dedicated solely to documenting history behind Bedouin tribe living here since centuries ago. Afterwards head over towards Messilah Beach where you can enjoy stunning sunset views while swimming or relaxing on its golden sands.
The Grand Mosque of Kuwait is one of the largest mosques in the region and is located in the heart of Kuwait City. It covers an area of 13,800sqm and has a capacity for 10,000 worshippers. Built in 1986, this grand mosque is considered to be a piece of architectural brilliance with its grandiose domes, elegant minarets, expansive courtyards and intricately detailed interiors. The mosque is a popular place of worship for locals as well as curious tourists wanting to explore the magnitude of this grand structure.
The Grand Mosque also houses several other facilities such as an Islamic library, an Islamic art gallery, a video theatre, a museum and even a bookshop. The mosque is open to visitors outside of prayer times and provides guided tours for visitors. The Grand Mosque has become an important religious, educational and cultural centre that attracts pilgrims from all across the world.
Kuwait has enough things to do for a few day stopover but longer than that then you’re going to want to explore other Gulf countries or find yourself a good group of locals or expats to socialise with.
Travel Resources for Visiting Kuwait
Kuwait Visa – The official site to get the Kuwait e-visa.
House Of Mirrors – More details about the house created by Lidia and Khalifa al-Qattan.
Aladdin’s AirBnB – Superhost Aladdin has multiple listings in Kuwait
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.