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Kuwait is one of the lesser visited countries in the Middle East. Because of the lack of tourists, there is little info on what to see and do in Kuwait. As with everywhere I go, I like to go to places that aren’t over run with tourists but it does make it challenging to find good, reliable information.
I normally like to include as much useful knowledge in my posts as possible, but Kuwait doesn’t have an endless supply of activities, doesn’t have a major food or drink scene and isn’t the sort of place that will attract hordes of visitors looking for a good time.
But what Kuwait does have is its own Arabian charm. A place with skyscrapers and souks, malls and mosques, traditional dress driving Ferrari’s. It’s wealth is pushing it into the future but its culture anchors it to its past. Those expecting a Dubai style city will be sorely disappointed.
Most people come to Kuwait for a few reasons: they or someone they know works as an expat, probably in the oil industry in Kuwait and is visiting them, they are travelling Iraq or Saudi and would need to pass through Kuwait, or you don’t know much about it but like going to lesser travelled countries so decide to spend a few days in Kuwait. I’m firmly in the latter (with a bit of the second as well).
I’ll explain everything about how to travel Kuwait from entry to getting around and a list of what to do when staying in Kuwait city. Enjoy!
Where is Kuwait
Kuwait is a small country in the Middle East that looks like it has taken a bite out of Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. The coastline of the Persian Gulf makes it another gulf country similar in culture to Bahrain and Qatar.
Facts about Kuwait
- The capital of Kuwait is Kuwait City and is the only major city in the country
- The national language is Arabic although many speak English
- It is known as one of the hottest countries on earth with summer temperatures regularly over 45 degrees and hitting 50 degrees on occasions
- The population of Kuwait is 4.5 million but only 1.5 million are Kuwaiti citizens with the rest being immigrant workers and expats. Egyptians being the highest number
- Kuwait is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and its GDP per capita is in the top 5 worldwide
- Most of this wealth comes from oil which was first discovered in the 1930’s and accounts for 90% of the countrys revenue
- Kuwait doesn’t have any permanent rivers in the country
What to wear in Kuwait
Kuwait is a conservative country and dress should reflect this. Although modernising quickly with skyscrapers and shopping malls, many men and women still wear traditional dress in Kuwait, the men wearing a white dishdasha or thobe with headdress and women wearing an abaya with a headscarf.
Tourists and foreigners in Kuwait have a bit more flexibility although men should always wear trousers and a cover their shoulders with a T-shirt. Only small children wear shorts. Women should also be covered, long dresses or trousers and long sleeves or at the minimum a T-shirt will suffice for tourists. Outside of mosques, foreign women do not need to cover their hair.
Visa for Kuwait
Most western countries can either get a visa on arrival or an eVisa for Kuwait. It is recommended to get the eVisa as this speeds up the process at the airport or land border.
The official eVisa site can be found here. The cost of the eVisa depends on your nationality, with British citizens getting a visa for free.
How to get to Kuwait
Most people would get to Kuwait by flying to Kuwait International Airport. Due to being a major hub for oil workers, various airlines have flights to Kuwait including regional airlines such as Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad as well as European airlines British Airways and Lufthansa.
Local Kuwaiti airlines, Jazeera and Kuwait Airways, also offer flights to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
It is also possible to enter Kuwait via the land borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. My friends entered from Basra this way and an example of it can be found here.
Arrivals at Kuwait airport
I arrived into Kuwait from Doha. Even though I had an eVisa, I had to get the visa officially.
DO NOT follow the lines to passport control, but follow the signs for Visa Office, close to gate 23. Take your ticket and wait your turn. You’ll then be called forward, have your passport scanned and fingerprints taken and given your official visa. This is the only visa that I have ever received that is a full A4 piece of paper! Do not loose this as you’ll need it to check into most hotels as well.
Take your massive piece of paper and head to passport control for a stamp.
(A word of warning, Kuwait airport has the air conditioning cranked up and is one of the coldest airports I’ve been in, only just behind the airport in Bahrain… You may want a jumper in your hand luggage its that cold!)
It’s easy to buy a sim card and exchange money in the arrivals hall with plenty of places available.
With my new SIM card, I ordered a Careem to take me to the city centre for KWD 9.5 ($30, £25). A return journey from the city centre to the airport was only KWD 6.1. Various airport taxi’s are available for similar prices.
Local buses also run to the city centre, check out lines 13, 99, 501 and cost 250fils ($0.80, £0.60) however I had mixed feelings with Kuwaiti buses and their reliability. They are also unlikely to give change if you haven’t had a chance to change money and don’t accept card.
Getting around Kuwait
Local buses run all over Kuwait city and Careem is also an option, although more expensive.
Most bus routes can be found on Google maps which you can use to plan your journeys. However I found the timetables to be erratic at best and the routes a bit loose. Don’t expect the bus driver to stop for long, he’ll be speeding off with the door open as soon both of your feet are inside.
Some bus stops are tricky to find and some buses may not run at all despite having a timetable. A friend was recommended against taking a bus to the airport for an early flight as the hotel couldn’t confirm the bus actually runs!
Best things to see in Kuwait
As mentioned, there isn’t an endless list of things to see and do in Kuwait. Almost everything is located in Kuwait City, which makes it easy to see as much as possible in just a day or two. Below is a list of the best things to see in Kuwait but most of them only need brief stops.
Kuwait Water towers
This is probably the most famous monument in Kuwait and the only real tourist attraction. These towers are simply water towers, used to store water for the city. There is a restaurant at the top of the largest tower and it is possible to have look around. The area outside the towers is nice to sit and relax next to but doesn’t require too much time to enjoy. Head to the towers around sunset for the best photo opportunities.
Get lost in the Souq Al Kuwait
Unlike in other Arab countries that have modernised, the traditional souq in Kuwait city is as local as they come. Here, vendors still sell everything from meat and vegetables, to clothing and gold. A small courtyard serves tasty local meals. Try and find a bargain amongst the spices or enjoy a tea with men wearing their traditional dress as it feels like stepping back in time.
Explore the shopping malls
The shopping malls are a necessity in Kuwait in summer, the air conditioning is a dream! But shopping malls in Kuwait are also a place for locals to come and hang out, share a coffee or ice cream and shop designer and local brands. The two I recommend would be Avenues Mall and Marina Mall.
Visit the beach
Not known for its beaches, Kuwait has decided to create its own! Close to Marina Mall and the Marina itself, there is a small beach and the only place in Kuwait where I saw men in shorts. Popular with locals and foreigners alike, especially on weekends, there are a few food and drink stands close by (but I would only use them as a last resort after looking at a few of them).
I do love a museum and the National Museum of Kuwait tells the story of Kuwait from its humble beginnings as a fishing village, to a major global oil exporter that it is today. Be aware of the opening times: 8.30am-12.30 then 4.30-8.30pm.
Al Shaheed park
Strangely for a park of this size, there is only one entrance and exit, so make sure you don’t miss it if you decide to walk there. This custom made park in the centre of Kuwait City is one of the few places in Kuwait where you can enjoy a walk or even a jog as it cools down in the evenings with wide open paths that locals enjoy. There are a couple of extremely overpriced cafes and restaurants within the park as well.
Grand Mosque of Kuwait
Have you been to an Islamic Country if you haven’t been to their grand mosque? The Grand Mosque of Kuwait lies close to the souq and provides guided tours to examine the architecture and learn more about the Muslim faith.
The Scientific Centre
I stumbled upon this science museum by accident after walking too far from Marina Beach but it is one of the best things to do in Kuwait. With an aquarium, discovery centre for kids and an Imax cinema, this is one of the few attractions that is great for children visiting Kuwait.
Failaka Island lies 20km from Kuwait City in the Persian Gulf. It is infamously known as a place where Iraqi troops invaded during the first Gulf War, kicking out the native population, destroying all homes and offices leaving them abandoned as they remain today. The Iraqis used the island a place to practice shooting and planting mines on the beach. Now it is a popular tour destination to see the destruction left behind and a part of Kuwait that isn’t normally seen.
I have been told that there are tours that run into the desert, which covers roughly 90% of Kuwaits land area. However when I visited, I couldn’t find any tours running. I hope that improves in future and anyone can let me know if they go on one!
Other places that might be of interest to visitors to Kuwait would be the Tareq Rajab Museum, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Center, Sadu House Museum, Mirror House Museum and Liberation Tower to name a few.
Where to stay in Kuwait
Kuwait doesn’t have much in the way of budget accommodation. One of the cheapest places to stay is the Ibis Sharq hotel, providing simple and clean rooms. Also on the budget end, City Tower Hotel and Oasis Hotel are both centrally located and within walking distance of most major sites.
With more cash to spare, the Courtyard by Marriot and Four Seasons Hotel are worthy of their 5 stars and like any other top hotel in the world. There are a few beach resorts further south along the coast of Kuwait if you desire.
Food and Drink in Kuwait
The food is not the main reason to come to Kuwait. Much of the food in Kuwait is similar to other countries in the region with rice, bread, and meats being staples. Shawarma can be found in most places bringing the influence of other parts of the Middle East. Western and world cuisine can be found in shopping malls.
Freej Swaeleh is a chain that has traditional Kuwaiti food including tashreeb, machboos, maqluba and biryani. Their Arabic coffee is also very tasty.
Tea is a staple of life in Kuwait, and like other places in the region, it is served in small glasses and very sweet. There are also an abundance of fruit juices available at almost every restaurant, my personal favourite being pomegranate juice.
Alcohol is totally banned in Kuwait. (I did manage to have an alcohol free beer with a curry on my birthday though!)
Other useful Information About Kuwait
The internet in Kuwait is fantastic. I never had any trouble with any speeds. My SIM card also gave very good speeds and excellent coverage wherever I travelled.
Kuwait uses the two round pins for their electricity sockets, similar to European countries.
The calling code for Kuwait is +965 and the number for emergency services is 112.
Careem is your go to taxi app in Kuwait and is very easy to set up.
Alcohol and pork are totally forbidden, don’t even try and search for it.
Their currency, the Kuwaiti Dinar, is the strongest currency in the world. 1KWD is equal to $3.25USD, €3.00 or £2.50. I also found their notes to be a very unusual size but maybe that’s just me!
Summing up my Complete Kuwait Travel Guide
Kuwait isn’t a country that everyone is going to flock to anytime soon. However, there are enough things to keep a casual traveller occupied for a couple of days of exploring. There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Kuwait, a few top places to stay
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.