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Kuwait City is the capital of Kuwait and is the largest city in the country with about 2.4 million people living in the metropolitan area. It is located in the central coastal part at the Persian Gulf and is the economic, cultural and political heart, while the rest of the country being almost empty. The city has been inhabited since almost 300 years ago and has seen an enormous growth during the last decades.
Today, it is a wealthy city with many high-rise office buildings and several of the bigger international hotel chains all have luxurious hotels to choose from. This means that spending time here doesn't come cheap. Still, it's great place to visit and not many travellers come here although it has something to offer if you are into something different than Dubai. The Kuwait Towers are a main landmark and a display of wealth of both the city and the country.
The main residential and business areas are Salmiya and Hawalli. The main industrial area is Shuwaikh within the Al Asimah Governorate. The main palaces are As-Seef Palace in the old part of Kuwait City where the Emir runs the daily matters of the country, and the government headquarters is in Bayan Palace, while the current Emir stays in Dar Salwa.
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The three concrete reinforced Kuwait Towers dominates the skyline of Kuwait City. The principle tower is 187 metres high, has a restaurant, a viewing area at 123 metres and can move around doing a full rotation every 30 minutes. The second tallest tower is used to store water and can hold over one million gallons of water. The third tower controls the flow of electricity to the suburbs of Kuwait City. Opening to the public in 1979 it became a big tourist sight very quickly. The towers were heavily damaged during the war and were restored afterwards. Although a careful eye can still see some damage to the exterior of the towers.
The national holiday celebrated on February 26 marks the liberation of Kuwait via Operation Desert Storm at the end of the First Gulf War. Patriotism is shown by rejoicing in public buildings, parties, street parades and dancing, and the joyous waving of the flag. It’s a time of remembrance for the thousands who lost their lives during the Iraqi invasion, and for those who were captured and imprisoned.
Celebrated in February on the day before Liberation Day, National Day marks the final emergence of Kuwait from Ottoman rule and its transformation into an independent country. National dress is worn and it’s a time for family, parties and feasting.
The Hala Festival in February is a celebration of springtime, with the parched desert land alive with lush greenery and vibrantly colored flowers. Migratory birds arrive by the million, and cultural events, street parades, and carnivals are held throughout the month. Shops and stores hold their annual sales, drawing visitors from Arab countries and beyond.
The most important religious festival in Kuwait is the holy month of Ramadan in August/September, celebrated as the time when the Prophet Muhammad revealed the Koran to his followers. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking and pray five times a day instead of the usual four. The month begins with the viewing of the new moon, and evenings during the festival are spent eating, talking and celebrating life with friends and family.
The most joyous of all Kuwait’s festivals is Eid el-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. The festivities last for several days, and include visits with friends and family, gift exchanges and feasts. Eid is a time of peace, forgiveness, merry-making, and massive celebrations.
This October religious festival remembers Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and is commemorated with visits to mosques, family meals, new clothes and the giving of money and gifts to children. In rural areas, a sheep or goat may be sacrificed.
The Islamic New Year falls on the first day of the first month of Muharram in October, November or December, depending on the Islamic calendar. Kuwaitis watch the new moon in the early evening as days begin at sunset. Cards wishing health and wealth are exchanged along with gifts, and New Year resolutions are set. It’s a low-key event, centered on the family.
Kuwait has an arid climate with warm to hot weather. There is no rain whatsoever from June to August. From October to May, there are about 3 to 8 days a month with some rainfall, totalling less than 100mm of rain a year. Temperatures are pleasant from November to April. January is the coldest month with average maximum temperatures of 18 °C, dropping to 8 °C degrees at night. From June to September have daytime temperatures averaging 40 °C to 45 °C and nights still around 30 °C! Temperatures over 50 °C are not uncommon during summer and together with sometimes humid conditions makes this time almost unbearable.
Kuwait International Airport (KWI) is located 16 kilometres south of the city. The national airline, Kuwait Airways flies throughout the Middle East and to some parts of Asia. All Gulf countries are served at least daily. Destinations further away include Bangkok, Manila and Kuala Lumpur to the east and Paris, Frankfurt and London to the west. Even New York is served.
If you don't have your own wheels, taxis are the most practical form of transport. Meters are universally ignored (the official fares haven't changed in years), so agree on the price before you set off. There are three basic types:
The Kuwait Public Transport Company (KPTC) and CityBus run buses in and around Kuwait City, with a flat 200 fils fare for trips in the city. The two run on the same routes, so KPTC bus 999 will get you to the same place and for the same price as CityBus 999. However, bus shelters are spartan, schedules erratic and information lacking, making this a poor second to taxis if you're in any sort of hurry and not desperately short on cash.
There is a wide choice of options, ranging from traditional local food to international Western style cuisine.
Western chains are prevalent in Kuwait, with the JW Marriott and Sheraton as the largest five-star hotels in the downtown business district. The Courtyard by Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton are also present, along with two luxury Le Méridien properties. A Crowne Plaza is located near Kuwait International Airport; there are also two Holiday Inn properties, one in the shopping district of Salmiya and the other located in downtown Kuwait City. Additional resort hotels, such as the Hilton and Kempinski, are located on the coast.
See also International Telephone Calls
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