Arab Gulf Street
The best way to cast off those pre-conceived ideas you may have about people riding camels to tents pitched in the desert, and get an idea of what modern Kuwait is really like, is to take a drive down Arab Gulf Street. This wide boulevard, as the name implies, runs along the gulf waterfront for its entire length. Along this road are many of the sights of Kuwait City, both new and old. These include the Sief and Dasman Palaces (note that visiting the royal houses isn't possible and even trying to photograph them usually results in your being moved on by (armed) guards); Sadu House with its museum and shopping centre and the National Assembly building. You'll also find the National Museum along here as well as the bulbous Kuwait Towers; the dhow harbour; and the Sharq Market shopping centre. Also, on the beach side, you'll find just about every American restaurant chain you can imagine.
These water towers, resembling huge balls of sparkly yarn impaled on giant knitting needles, are practically a symbol of Kuwait. The towers sit on a promontory marking the southern mouth of Kuwait Bay. They are actually meant to evoke the shape of traditional Arabian rose-water sprinklers, and they really do hold water. There is an observation deck and coffee shop within the upper sphere of the tallest structure. The lower sphere also sports a restaurant. Open: 10h00-23h30. Admission to the observation deck: KD1. Tel: +965 244-4021.
The Old Souk
The old souk area lies off Palestine Street in the city's historical centre. Here you'll find a densely packed collection of small shops under covered walkways, selling everything from pots and pans to traditional clothing, food and carpets. For the tourist it's a marvellous photo opportunity as well as an excellent place to browse.
The National Museum
Arab Gulf St
Tel +965 562-7230
The National Museum on Arab Gulf Street near the National Assembly building was once the pride of Kuwait. It housed many ancient artefacts unearthed on Failaka Island and its collection of Islamic art was one of the most important collections in the world. Unfortunately, the Iraqis looted the entire collection and then set about destroying the buildings. They eventually returned most of the looted items, but the Kuwaitis decided not to restore the museum, leaving it as a monument to remind people what happened. Open: Sat-Wed 08h30-12h30 & 16h30-19h30. Admission: free.
Next to the National Museum is Sadu House, ostensibly a museum, though it's really more of a shop selling Bedouin arts and crafts, but worth a browse all the same.
Kuwait Scientific Centre
Arabian Gulf Rd
Tel: +965 848-888
If you like the underwater world then the Scientific Centre's aquarium is well worth a visit. This is the biggest aquarium in the Middle East and its large show tank contains numerous sharks, rays and eels from the Gulf waters. Also on site is the Discovery Centre where kids can get hands-on with scientific experiments, and the Dhow Harbour, containing six examples of the traditional sailing vessels of the Middle East along a palm-tree lined promenade. Open: Sat-Wed 09h00-12h30 & 17h00-21h30; Thu 09h00-21h30; Fri 14h00-21h30. Admission to aquarium: KD3, adults; KD2, children. Admission to Discovery Centre: KD3, adults; KD1.5, children. Admission to Imax theatre: KD3, adults; KD2, children. Combination tickets available. Tel: +965 848-888.
The Grand Mosque
Mubarak Al Kabeer St
Tel: +965 241-8448
The national pride of Kuwait, the multi-million-dinar Grand Mosque is the largest place of worship in the country. Built in 1986 it mirrors the classic lines of a traditional mosque, with its central dome spanning some 26 metres. It is estimated that up to 12,000 worshippers could be accommodated in the complex. The fixtures and fittings inside are suitably grand, with marble and gold decorations - including some quite magnificent chandeliers underneath the dome in the main prayer hall - and some fabulous mosaics in traditional geometric designs. Everywhere you look there are elaborate design details, look out for the ceramic engravings on the dome's interior, they depict the names of Allah in Arabic, and the carved verses of the Quran on the teak doors. The minaret is a dizzying 75m tall, dwarfing those of nearby mosques such as the Khalufa. The muezzin call to prayer from here can be heard all over the city. Non-worshippers can visit Sat-Wed, when guided tours are available from 09h00-12h00. As demand is sometimes slight if you want to take a tour it's advisable to check beforehand as to when the next one is available, rather than leaving it to chance.
Al Hashemi & Dhow Museum
(behind Radisson SAS Hotel)
Tel: +965 575-6000
Not in most guidebooks, but worth a look, is the world's largest wooden sailing boat and its adjoining museum. The Al Hashemi II is located on the grounds of the SAS Radisson hotel, right on the ocean-front in the Salmiyah district of Kuwait City. The Marafie family, one of Kuwait's most prominent trading families and owners of the hotel, built the ship to preserve Kuwait's maritime heritage. About 3,000 cubic metres of wood was used in the ship's construction, coming from such far-away places as Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and the state of Oregon in the USA. The ship is used as the hotel's ballroom and meeting venue. In the adjacent building is a small museum displaying seafaring-related items. Admission to the museum is free, but be advised that security can be a bit tighter than you might expect. It's understandable: Iraqi troops tried to burn down the Al Hashemi II's smaller sister ship in the grounds when they left Kuwait in 1992.