Twenty years after the short-lived invasion of Kuwait by neighbouring Iraq, this tiny oil rich city state’s tourism industry is yet to recover even as the Gulf nation continues to be a magnet for foreigners who need luxury beach resorts and glittering shopping malls.
Kuwait City lies in one of the most contested corners of the world. In the early part of its history, its sea breeze attracted Bedouins fleeing from recurring drought in the interior.
The one-time fishing village has seen huge prosperity during its Golden Era between 1946 and 1982.
This was fuelled by its oil wealth, liberalism and the ability of Kuwaitis to enjoy a modern and high standards of living with free housing, education and medical facilities even though most of them are very affluent. Very few countries in the region can match that. Kuwait City remains an oasis where foreign visitors are largely attracted to the rich cultural and culinary delights, museums, combed beaches, lively souks, restaurants and malls.
If you are not keen, you will find very little to see in Kuwait where the only main activity in the desert plains is drilling for oil which brings major revenues to the country.
It is because of this black gold that Kuwait’s tourism sector is lagging behind and is in dire need of a strong shot in the arm. It is yet to take a lesson from Dubai and Qatar which have succeeded in boosting their tourism fortunes.
There is a lot to see and enjoy in Kuwait City alone. These range from shopping malls, museums, the Grand Mosque, Kuwait Towers, cultural centres, souks, parks, not forgetting beach resorts.
The breathtaking Grand Mosque is the largest in the country. It is very popular and has a stunning interior where Kuwait’s great sheikhs offer prayers.
Its highly sophisticated decoration, with beautiful Islamic drawings and verses of the Holy Quran all around, are praised.
It is a very nice place to visit after sunset and enjoy in the well-lit building. Please make sure you are dressed appropriately as this is a sacred place of worship and it is important to give it proper respect.
Among the top shopping malls is The Avenues in the city’s Al-Rai area. It is the largest in Kuwait with 800 shops in a wide area that offer the ultimate shopping experience in a building described as world class work of architecture.
You will find top international brands, restaurants and cafes in this 270,000-square metre building which also has an 11-screen cinema.
It has seven multiple design districts: 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue, Prestige, Grand Avenue, Soku, The Mall and The Souk.
I was fascinated with the 400-metre long Grand Avenue with the outdoor shopping scene similar to London’s Oxford Street or Champs-Elysees, with stores selling international brands. Only the addition of palm trees along the 22-metre wide street reminded me that I was in Kuwait.
Another wonderful place to visit within this Mall is The Souk District, which, with its hallways, doors and wooden ceilings, reflects the old traditional Kuwaiti markets that offer authentic local cultural trinkets and foods. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes to explore the Avenues, otherwise you will be nursing aching feet! Kuwait has several other malls, including the 360 Mall, Marina Mall, Alhamra Tower and Mall, Souq Sharq Mall and The Gate Mall.
A holiday in this fascinating country will be incomplete without a visit to The Kuwait Towers, the city’s most-famous landmark which has colourfully painted steel towers. It may not be among the highest towers in the world, but it is certainly worth the experience.
It has been undergoing refurbishment but merely visiting its accessible parts will enhance your memorable Kuwaiti experience. There is a very good restaurant there.
Don’t miss the stunning sunset and a 360 degree view of the city and the Gulf on a rotating platform. Stay on into the night to enjoy the amazing colourful illuminations and light effects.
The local souks and markets are an interesting distraction from the modern bling as they give you a chance to enjoy the local scene.
There is no shortage of sea food in the Fish Market. When I visited the open market, I wished that I had not been staying in a hotel but had hired a cook in an apartment to prepare some of the choicest fish dishes!
Kuwait has approximately 290 kilometres of coastline and many wonderful public and private beaches. The largest is situated at the Messila coast at Fahaheel expressway. Messila seashore is known for its white sandy beaches and clear blue waters.
The Jumeirah Messila Beach Hotel and Spa, part of the world famous Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts chain, ranks among some very popular places to visit in Kuwait.
Its facilities and restaurants have received rave reviews from thousands of happy guests who have stayed there. Locals also turn up here to enjoy the superior facilities and food.
The Seashell Julaia Hotel and Resort, which faces a crystal clear sea water and which claims to be the only Five-Star white sandy beach resort, can also be an interesting place to spend a holiday. It offers luxurious beachfront Mediterranean style villas and chalets.