Crowning the Persian Gulf, the Emirate of Kuwait has a rich history of trials and triumphs. Kuwait City, also known as Al-Kuwait, has the proud distinction of being the capital of this oil-rich state. Home to government offices, towering buildings and sprawling parks, it is located just 16 kilometres from the Kuwait International Airport. One among the more cosmopolitan cities of the Middle East, it has managed in recent years to put the horrors of the '90s Gulf War behind it and rise once more from the ashes, a bustling metropolis that makes the rest of this tiny sheikhdom proud.
Geographical Outline The State of Kuwait is divided into six governates, namely the Capital (Kuwait City), Hawally, Mubarak Al-Kabeer, Al-Ahmadi, Al-Farwaniya and Al-Jahraa. Although the Capital is the only actual city here, it is nevertheless classified as a governate surrounded by the other areas of Hawalli, Salmiya, Jabriya etc. The city is an amalgamation of sorts; pretty residential areas, commercial hubs and the scenic landscapes—all clamor for your attention.
When talking about Kuwait it is difficult to forget the fact that considering the country's not-so-large size, it boasts of a 290 kilometer coastline! So in effect what you behold when you get to Kuwait City is the lightness of the coastal areas along with a rich, desert ambience.
Important Streets and Neigborhoods Kuwait City is anything but large, and as such, it is easy to find your way around. The most important coastal and commercial streets in the city are Arabian Gulf Street and Fahd Al Salim Street respectively. These streets cross and curve their way through major shopping areas and scenic routes. The six Ring Roads, on the other hand, are important as major link-ways. Their network includes Maghreb Expressway, the Fahaheel Expressway, Shuwaikh, Fahaheel, Jahra and the all-pervasive Gulf Street.
Arabian Gulf Street is home to many a market, ranging from the smelly fish markets to the huge centers like the Sultan Chopping Center . Important landmarks like the National Museum and the Al-Shaab Sea Club are accessible through Gulf Street. It also runs through the pretty Messila Beach . Fahad Al Salim Street, on the other hand, is home to posh hotels like the Sheraton Kuwait Hotel & Towers and the four-star Kuwait Continental Hotel nearby. The Ring Roads which run through Fahaheel, Jahra and Shuwaikh (among the city's surrounding areas), are filled with markets and souks selling everything from gold and jewels to fruits and vegetables. Apart from all the shopping, visitors and locals are captivated by the magical Musical Fountain on 1st Ring Road. If you get tired of this busy mosaic known as Kuwait City, plan a trip to the beautiful and peaceful Failaka Islands , just off the city-coast!
Whether you want to explore bustling Kuwait City Centre or enjoy the sparseness of its outskirts, you will appreciate the Arabian warmth and hospitality, as well as its colorful history.
Although the Gulf War of the '90s destroyed pretty much everything in the capital city of Kuwait, it has risen once more from the ashes to become one of the most attractive Middle Eastern destinations. A visit can cause one to forget the tragic past; there are skyscrapers reaching for the skies, landscaped gardens, shopping malls and restaurants in every direction. Those who expect a few scattered souqs (traditional markets) and Arabian joints are in for a surprise—no longer is Kuwait grappling with the after-effects of war. The little city is flourishing, and has a whole lot to offer visitors by way of accommodations, tourist attractions, and eateries. Yes, it does have a Pizza Hut a T.G.I. Friday , a Dairy Queen , and even a Fuddruckers ! But in order to get a feel for Kuwait's Arabian roots, it is recommended that one opt for some authentic Arabian cuisine before jumping head-first into an international franchise restaurant!
Despite the city's modern outlook, establishments serving traditional food abound. If the mention of items such as Shish Kabob, Shish Taouk and Kofta has your mouth watering, do not fail to make a trip to the confectionery-cum-cafe Zahrat Al Midaen in Safat. Not only will you enjoy the succulent fare, you can pick out such desserts as Baklava and Konafa to take home with you. A classier option also in Safat, is Al-Boom , next to the Radisson SAS Hotel. This restaurant is housed in a dhow boat, and is known for its authentic grilled meats and seafood. The prices, as expected, are considerably high, but the experience is sure to leave you satisfied.
Indian and Lebanese cuisines are similar to Arabian fare, and can be just as enjoyable. Visit Mughal Mahal in the Fahaheel area of Kuwait City for delicious Tandoori Chicken and Mutton Biryani. Mais Al Ghanim in Safat, on the other hand, is arguably the best Lebanese joint in the city–the shawarmas and falafels served up are sure to have you smacking your lips!
If the Eastern attractions begin to wane and you start craving international fare, you will never run out of options. City restaurants serve up American, Italian, Mexican, Swedish and even Greek dishes if you please! Of course, you can also opt for Chinese and Japanese if all you're looking for is a slight change of pace (and taste!). For those with a decidedly Italian turn of mind, you can try Johnny Carinos Italian Kitchen on Gulf Road—the pastas will have you exclaiming 'Mamma Mia!' You can don a sombrero and go Mexican at Chi-Chi's downtown; it offers not only quesadillas, burritos and the regular fare, but also fried ice-cream! For some other Continental capers, try Capri at the swanky Le Meridien Hotel. Here is European dining at its best—so you can expect a huge bill of fare. The Swedish eatery IKEA welcomes you with meatballs, Gratine, and Carrot Cake, and Zorba the Greek Taverna in Salmiyyah does so with Greek Stew!
Chinese and Japanese cuisines are also popular in Kuwait. Gulf Royal Chinese in Salmiyyah is renowned for its tangy Cantonese and Szechwan preparations; the Peacock Room in Safat, on the other hand, is famous for both the delicious food and the prices! It is most likely the priciest Chinese eatery in the city. The mention of Japanese has sushi-lovers drooling— Kei in the JW Marriott Hotel on Al Shuhada Street, and Sakura in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Farwaniya are both pricey but as authentic as can be.
If you are not bold enough to go in for sushi but still enjoy seafood, head to Shrimpy in the Sharq area—the international seafood chain has seen much success in Kuwait. Al Noukhaza in the Crowne Plaza Hotel is also very popular—live lobsters and fish are on display for you to choose from so you are guaranteed freshness, but the prices may have you wrinkling your nose all the same!
For those who prefer fast-food, the list is endless. If hot pizzas, juicy burgers, thick shakes and salty fries are what you thrive on, you can head to one of several international restaurant chains in the city. Domino's Pizza in Salmiyyah serves up the feistiest chicken wings, Fuddruckers' world-famous chicken and fish burgers live up to its international reputation, and the all-American Johnny Rockets offers hash browns, sausages, cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies. What more could you possibly ask for?
The sale and consumption of alcohol in Kuwait is illegal, and the penalties for breaking this law can be severe. Despite this fact, there is a black market for liquor in the Capital City, and several affluent citizens are known to serve it to guests in the privacy of their homes. Alcohol is contraband, however, and keeping this in mind, one should respect the laws of the country and steer clear of it. Opt for tea, coffees, fruit juices and aerated drinks instead—they are a safer alternative, and are available everywhere.