Kuwait City is vast, spectacular, confusing and admirable. Basing yourself near the epi-centre of the nation’s heart is a great way to see modern day KC and so I stayed in both the Ibis Salmiya Hotel and the Ibis Sharq Hotel to get the best of both worlds. There are no hostels here and definitely no backpacker’s “scene”, or even any bars! So if the best budgets hotels are not an option for you, I can only recommend Couchsurfing or having a mate that lives in Kuwait. I flew into the country’s international airport (and one of only 2 airports in Kuwait) and got my Kuwait visa on arrival.
Incidentally something I thought of when I was here in KC was how many countries have their capital cities name or part of the capital city’s name in their title. When I looked back on some of the places I have been recently, I came up with this list:
1. Guatemala: GC/Guatemala City
2. Mexico: Mexico City
3. Tunisia: Tunis
4. Algeria: Algiers
5. Panama: Panama City
6. Luxembourg: Luxembourg City
7. Andorra: Andorra La Vella
8. Gibraltar: Gibraltar (Town/City)
9. El Salvador: San Salvador
10. Kuwait: Kuwait City
(I have been to all of the above)
11. Brasil: Brasilia
(I haven’t been to these cities, just the country)
Countries that have a city with the nation’s name in it, but that which is not the capital city:
1. Belize: Belize City
There is an abundance of things to see and do in Kuwait City and indeed lots of museums. However a lot of the sights are far apart from each other. This means hopping on and off buses, in and out of taxis or hiring a car is the only real way to see them all in a limited time frame. But I was in Kuwait to relax. I wasn’t here to prove myself as a hardcore backpacker. I was relaxing. Travel had taken its toll and rather than rush around for a few days like a maniac, I simply decided to take it easy, check out a few sights that held my interest and that was that. Even when backpacking in Salmiya, I just went for a brief stroll of the area.
So this is my personal top 10. A selfish top 10 – these are the things I went to check out, but it doesn’t mean it is a good guide to Kuwait City. I’ve missed out some of the key sights because for once, I didn’t want to go and see them. I truly chilled out and loved my time in KC. Here is my top 10.
1. Beit Dickson (Dickson House Cultural Centre)
This place was my number one hit for Kuwait City. Beit Dickson is a house that is now a museum. The Dickson House ic considered one of the most unique historical buildings in Kuwait. Along with the British Embassy Building, it is the only surviving example of the British-Indian colonial architecture in Kuwait.
The building is a white and blue house situated on Arabian Gulf Street. It was initially built for a Kuwaiti merchant back in the 19th Century. However, the British got involved and in the end, the Dickson House (as it’s now known) was used as offices and residence of British political agents in Kuwait for over 30 years.
The most famous British man in Kuwait is Colonel Harold Dickson. Of course the house is now named after his legacy of good relations and progress between the UK and Kuwait. Dickson is a well respected man and you can see his former house, get a full guided tour and learn about the oil links between Britain and Kuwait and the relationship between the two countries down the years.
The British in me (I’m from Northern Ireland) was fascinated by this place and I spent a couple of hours in here loving it. My tour guide was an expert.
2. Kuwait Towers
Distinctive, unusual, proud and in a hat-trick is how I’d describe these three pretty towers, known collectively as Kuwait Towers.
All three are different and they sit next to each other on Arabian Gulf Street. The observation deck costs 2KD to go up to the top. It was unveiled in 1979.
3. Corniche/Arabian Gulf Street
The Arabian Gulf Street, sometimes referred to as the Corniche, reminded me of both the corniche in Duhok (Iraq) and the one in Doha (Qatar). A long strip of road that runs right alongside the Arabian Gulf, winding its way in and out of sights as it goes, providing great views of sunrise, sunset and of the Dhows coming in and out of the harbour.
4. The Grand Mosque
To be honest, I probably should have left the Grand Mosque out in favour of the hundreds of prettier small Mosques that are on almost every corner of downtown KC. However Kuwaitis and visiting Muslims confess that this is the one that is the biggest and most important in the country and for that reason it’s worth a visit. It’s near Sief Square.
Just for good measure though, here are some cool photos of the other Mosques in and around KC.
5. Sief Square and Palace
A clock sits high in Sief Palace and a roundabout is known as Sief Square. This is the Sheik’s palace and is unfortunately not open for public or permitted to take photos of it. I took a few from across the road though and walked all along its edges.
6. National Assembly Building
I don’t want to shatter your illusions here by telling you that you also cannot go inside the National Assembly Building. But it’s well guarded by army and entrance and photography is forbidden. I took a quick snap from a distance and walked around the perimeter (which took a while in the heat). There is the old assembly building next to the new one. It was designed by Utzon, the same Danish architect who designed Sydney Opera House.
7. Al Hamra Mall
A shopping mall in my top 10? Yes, for sure. This air conditioned, state of the art mall is one of the most elaborate shopping centres I have ever seen. Brand name designer labels everywhere, coffee shops, restaurants and a huge cinema upstairs. It is also housed inside the Al Hamra building – one of Kuwait’s noticeable arty skyscrapers. WiFi everywhere too!
OK so I am putting the Souq in as just one place on this list. Realistically there are about 8-10 different Souq’s to join together to form one. Each Souq has vendors selling different things. There are the clothes section, the spice sections, the jewellery, the fruit, the household goods, fish market etc. You can easily get lost in amongst the many nooks and crannys of the Souq.
One thing to note about this Souq is that it is very quiet compared to others I have been in, so you don’t feel you are being chased or rushed. You can shop and relax. There are even a few gun and weapon shops, a reminder that Kuwait must protect itself due to the quantity of oil reserves they have. I also felt that while in the Souq, I was experiencing old school Kuwait City, before the vast array of skyscrapers and luxury shopping malls invaded this Arabian town.
9. Liberation Tower
The Liberation Tower is in the city centre and rises high above the KC skyline. I didn’t pay to go to the top as my hotel rooms all had great views, but you can head up to check out the views.
10. Jaber Al Ahmad National Football Stadium
Kuwait qualified for the 1982 World Cup you know. They finished bottom of their group which included France, England and Czechoslovakia (as it was then known). The crazy thing about their appearance in that World Cup is that it is the only time in World Cup history that the leader of a country has got a goal disallowed.
When Allain Giresse scored for France, the Sheik of Kuwait ran onto the pitch pleading with the referee that the goal was offside and should not stand. The referee ruled the goal out and France went on to win 4-1 anyway.
So that’s my personal top 10. There are tons of cool things that I just didn’t bother with, like I said I was there to relax rather than backpack the place hardcore. I didn’t visit the Oil Fields (just outside the city) or the Beit Al-Badr (old mud built house that is intact), the National Museum or the Al Qurain Martyrs Museum (sad place where Iraqis killed Kuwaitis back in 1990 – 1991). I’m sure you will find what you need in KC, it’s a really great city and it is still being developed. I’d love to go back and see the finish article someday. Also make sure you take some suncream, it’s the hottest city I have ever been to – it got above 50 degrees Celsius one day. Crazy!
Here are some of my videos from KC while backpacking in Kuwait: