Kuwait has a population of just over 4 million but is currently ranked as the world’s 7th richest country. For centuries modern-day Kuwait City had served as an important port of call for merchants operating on the highly profitable trade routes through the Persian Gulf. By the late 1920s the country’s role in international trade had slumped as the Great Depression began to take effect. Even Kuwait’s lucrative pearling industry collapsed as demand from Europe’s elite was curtailed by the world’s economic meltdown.
But then everything changed after 1936 when oil was discovered and set the foundation for a golden era of prosperity. Huge public investment saw standards of living rise dramatically as Kuwait became the region’s largest oil exporter. Dependence on the oil industry remains acute to this day which has led to a new, government sponsored development plan called ‘New Kuwait 2035’. This plan seeks to transform the country into an important commercial and financial centre with a strong focus on promoting tourism.
Currently this sector is very small representing just 6% of visitors to the country. Kuwait City is well represented by major international hotel chains but occupancy rates show that 70% of guests are corporate travellers. The cruise industry is just one part of this emerging market which should see significant funds directed at establishing a dedicated cruise terminal which will attract calls from major operators serving the Gulf region.
Visitors arriving on cruise ships will find plenty to pass the time during a day in Kuwait City including a tour of the Grand Mosque, a wander around the historic Souq Mubarakiya and visit to the observation deck of the Kuwait Towers. Alternatively, there are some great beaches within close proximity of the port for those who prefer to just chill out during their time in port.
Port of Kuwait City
Cruise ships visting Kuwait City dock in the Port of Shuwaikh which is the country’s main commercial port. It lies approximately 11km south-west of the iconic Kuwait Towers which are visible from vessels approaching the port. There’s nothing of interest for cruise ship passengers in the industrial port area so it is recommended that you book transfers or tours with your cruise line or take a local taxi to see the main tourist attractions.
Kuwait City Airport
Cruise ship passengers arriving in or departing from Kuwait will travel through Kuwait International Airport which lies just 15km south of Shuwaikh Port. The airport currently deals with 15 million passengers but the development of terminal 2 as part of the ‘Kuwait 2035’ plan will see its capacity increased to 25 million. The airport is well served by national operators including British Airways, Lufthansa and KLM and is a hub for both Kuwait Airways and Jazeera Airways.
The most economical way to travel to or from the city is by means of public bus (#13) which has a stop outside the Sheraton Kuwait. Taxis are also widely available. Far more convenient is to pre-book a private transfer from Kuwait Airport to or from the port and have a driver awaiting you on arrival.
Getting Around in Kuwait City
Whilst there are three public bus companies providing air-conditioned services throughout Kuwait City the majority of passengers tend to be locals. Street taxis are easily available but the experience can prove a little scary for passengers who are accustomed to Western safety standards. Visitors are advised to order reputable taxis from their hotel reception. Some taxi drivers will be happy to agree to provide you with a tour of the main attractions but you should confirm the total price before setting off.
Main Tourist Attractions
Anyone interested in learning a little about the Islamic religion during their time in Kuwait City should visit the Grand Mosque where friendly local guides lead tours of the country’s largest mosque. Be sure to dress appropriately when leaving the ship as no form of revealing clothes will be tolerated at this religious site.
Cruise ship passengers who are interested in Islamic art simply must visit the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyya Museum which exhibits one of the world’s greatest Islamic art collections. The Tareq Rajab Museum is also worth a visit to see its impressive collection of Islamic art and calligraphy.
Those who enjoy the atmosphere of local markets when arriving in a new port will love the historic Souq Mubarakiya which was central to the city’s commercial life before oil was discovered. Today it remains the main traditional market where visitors can stroll around the food stalls selling typical regional produce. This is also a good place to look for souvenirs of the Middle East such as silk products, perfume and gold jewellery. There are many local restaurants in the market area which are ideal for lunch or simply to enjoy a strong Arabic coffee whilst people watching.
More modern shopping is available at the city’s many air-conditioned malls such as the Avenues Mall which is one of the largest in the Middle East. As well as being home to hundreds of retail outlets this mall is also an entertainment centre which is home to numerous restaurants, cinemas and play areas for children. The Marina Mall and Souk Sharq are other similarly upmarket shopping venues.
Probably the most recognisable attraction in the whole country is the Kuwait Towers which stand on the north coast of the city overlooking the Arabian Gulf. There’s a lift which takes visitors to an observation deck from where there are stunning views over the city and out to sea. The restaurant in the tower is another good spot to have lunch during your day in port.
Passengers who prefer to simply relax at the beach rather than spend their time sightseeing can head for Shuwaikh Beach which is just 7km from the Port of Shuwaikh in the direction of Kuwait City. Further afield is Marina Beach in Salmiya which lies 20km east of the port and is a very popular spot for families. Conservative beachwear is expected when sunbathing and swimming in Kuwait.
Shore Excursions Beyond Kuwait City
Whilst there is plenty to see in Kuwait City some cruise ships may offer excursions to attractions beyond the city limits such as Failaka Island. Located around 20km offshore and accessible by ferry this historic island is home to important archaeological sites dating back 4000 years to the Mesopotamians. Jeep trips into the desert can also be arranged including a visit to the Kazmah Desert Cliffs from where it’s possible to look down on Kuwait City.
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