Why Kuwait City?
Kuwait's tiny capital, a city of about three million people, is also the country's political, cultural and economic heart. Some say there isn't much to see except for oil tankers and the flares from the nearby oilfields, but the reality is different - the booming economy has resulted in the construction of several new luxury hotels, a flourishing contemporary art scene, and more mega shopping malls than you can count.
This month is a good time to visit: National Day will be celebrated with much pomp and grandeur on the 25th, and Liberation Day, which marks the end of the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion, is commemorated on the 26th. The city gets a further boost from Hala February 2012 (www.hala-feb.com), a month-long celebration a lot like the Dubai Shopping Festival. The line-up this year includes shopping deals, exhibitions, a circus and a yacht race.
A comfortable bed
Most luxury hotels in the Kuwaiti capital occupy prime property along the coast. Safir Marina (www.marinahotel.com; 00 965 2223 0030) boasts the largest rooms in the city and its own stretch of golden sand. The boat-shaped Atlantis restaurant overlooks the bay. Double rooms cost from 100 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh1,256) per night.
The chic Hotel Missoni Kuwait (www.hotelmissoni.com/hotelmissoni-kuwait; 00 965 2577 0000), opened last year in Salmiya, the city's shopping and entertainment district. A joint venture between the Italian fashion house Missoni and the Rezidor Hotel Group, it is part of The Symphony, a mixed-use development that includes an office tower and a shopping mall. The hotel offers glamorous rooms, a Six Senses Spa, restaurants and a bar on the 18th floor with views over the sea. Double rooms cost from 115 dinars [Dh1,523] per night, including breakfast.
The Palms Beach Hotel & Spa (www.thepalms-kuwait.com; 00 965 2564 6266) has more affordable accommodation, with double rooms from 60 dinars [Dh795] per night. The resort is set in landscaped gardens, with six outdoor pools and a private beach.
Find your feet
Bait al Watani, the Kuwait National Museum, on Arabian Gulf Street (open Monday to Saturday; entrance is free) is housed in four buildings around a central garden. It is easy enough to find, thanks to the traditional dhow stationed in front of the main entrance. Opened three decades ago (and restored after it was looted and partly destroyed during the Iraqi invasion), the museum showcases historical artefacts from Failaka, a Kuwait-owned island once colonised by the ancient Greeks. It lies 20km off the coast of Kuwait City.
A short walk from the museum is Sadu House (closed on Fridays; entrance free), set up in 1980 to preserve local handicrafts. Visitors can watch Bedouin women work on sadu, embroidery in geometrical patterns. Stop for a cup of coffee at Sadu House's cosy Abu Adnan cafe, where the walls are covered with colourful textiles.
At the other end of the street is Kuwait Towers (www.kuwaittowers.com; open daily 8am-12pm), inaugurated in 1979 and the symbol of the nation ever since. The tallest of the three towers houses a rotating "viewing sphere".
Meet the locals
Much like in the UAE, everyone spends a lot of time outdoors in the cooler months (November to early April). This is the season for mukhayam, or camping, so drive to the desert, pitch your tent among the dozens dotting the sand and strike up a conversation with your neighbours. Don't be surprised if they invite you to join their party - Kuwaitis are extremely friendly and known for their hospitality.
Book a table
Kuwait City has a large number of high-end restaurants as well as Arabian eateries. For local fare, go to al-Muhallab (the Palms Beach Hotel and Spa; 00 965 2564 6266), a beachfront restaurant specialising in traditional Kuwaiti seafood. Old sea songs play in the background and TV screens show old black-and-white Kuwaiti movies as you dine on seafood prepared to your specifications. A meal for two costs from 14 dinars (Dh184).
Mais Alghanim (opposite Kuwait Towers; 00 965 2 225 11 55), is regarded by residents as the best Lebanese place in town. Its menu features all kinds of hot and cold mezzes, plus grilled kebabs and seafood. A meal for two costs between 8 dinars and 16 dinars (Dh110 to Dh220).
For the best sushi and teppanyaki in town, visit Sakura (Crown Plaza Hotel; 00 965 1848 111), where Akio Miyajima, the new Japanese chef, has revealed a new menu. Dinner for two costs from 16 dinars to 33 dinars (Dh220 to Dh440).
Like most GCC cities, you'll find sparkling shopping malls everywhere you go. Avenues (Al-Rai industrial area) is the most popular for its gourmet restaurants and top-end designer stores.
Souq Al Mubarakia, near the Grand Mosque, is an atmospheric Arabian market selling everything from fish to gold. After you're done shopping, stop for hot samosas and tea in one of the small cafes in the market's winding alleys.
What to avoid
Entertainment City, Kuwait's answer to Disneyland. Located 20 minutes outside Kuwait City, this massive park was built in the 1980s. Stay clear of it, especially during the weekends when it's overrun.
A trip to Failaka Island. Besides being Kuwait's most impressive archaeological site (historical interests include a museum and the Icarus temple digs), the island boasts a different ecosystem from mainland Kuwait, and is slowly beginning to attract tourists for its laid-back vibe and myriad water-based activities (fishing, sailing and scuba diving, to name a few). Kuwait Public Transport Company runs ferries daily from Ras Al Salmiya; the 30-minute ride costs three dinars (Dh40) per person.