words Al Woods
After spending so much time in lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19 with very limited opportunities to travel, most of us feel the urge to explore the world. If that’s you, why don’t discover Qatar?
Qatar is a busy hub that connects various destinations around the world and its international airport has fast become a global gateway for overseas travelers. Despite being a tiny Gulf nation, it offers year-round sunshine, Arabian hospitality, a rich variety of food, adventure, sand dunes and beaches.
Doha is its capital city and the centre of everything. It has become a popular tourist destination in recent years and seduces tourists with its striking combination of historical sites, skyscrapers and a wide range of activities you can do.
Located in the Persian Gulf, bordering Saudi Arabia, Qatar is one of the seven Arab States and a must-see destination. Despite being small in size, there’s plenty to see and enjoy here and renting a car is probably the best way to explore it comfortably. Besides, driving in Qatar is very easy, roads are in very good condition and having street signs both in English and Arabic is definitely helpful. American travelers can enjoy an extra safety road trip here if they purchase beforehand an insurance policy for their rental.
Qatar: Important Travel Information
Despite its central role as a travel hub, Qatar is still quite an exotic destination for most travelers. And since it’s a Muslim country, tourists are expected to respect certain rulesfor a truly enjoyable experience. We’ve listed below the most important of them:
- Qatar and its capital city Doha are perfectly safe for female solo travellers as long as you dress appropriately and avoid certain behaviours such as drinking alcohol in public.
- Traditionally, unmarried couples weren’t allowed to share a hotel room. Even though this rule may have relaxed in the recent years, it’s wise to email your accommodation in advance to double check the house policy if this is something that worries you.
- Dress modestly. Tourists are expected to cover their shoulders and knees. Rules are stricter, of course, when visiting a religious site or a mosque.
Get Lost in Souq Wakif
Wandering through the narrow alleys of Doha’s Souq Wakif is a trip back in time. This iconic souq is a maze of shops bursting with spices, fabric, sweets, huge pots, arts and souvenirs. There’s also an abundance of restaurants and eateries and it’s one of the best ways to try a plate of kebabs and other delicious Arabian traditional meals.
Even if you’ll only be in Doha for a couple of hours, you can’t miss visiting this old market to have an authentic experience of Qatari food and culture. Built on an ancient market site where centuries ago Bedouins would bring their goats, sheep and wool to trade for essentials, is the place where to look for the beautifully embroidered girl’s head covering, perfumes, spices and incense. The souk is one of the most visited destinations in the country, that seduces visitors with its endless passageways of stalls with vendors selling almost everything.Looking for a souvenir to take back home? You’ll definitely find it here!
Bursting with an eclectic mix of great cafés and restaurants and rich culture, the Souq Wakif is a melting pot of Qatari tradition. Though usually crowded, it’s a great place to visit in the evening where you can see the Souq come alive.
The Falcon Souq, adjacent to Souq Wakif, is the place to go if you love falcons. Its airy shops are filled with hundreds of falcons and other birds.
Walk Along Doha Corniche
Indulging in a relaxed walk along the Doha Corniche is probably the best way to spend a late afternoon. It’s a 7-kilometre promenade that stretches across the Persian Gulf in the West Bay that starts in the Sheraton Hotel and ends in the National Museum of Islamic Art.
The city makes full use of this pedestrian area. Children fly kites, people jog or go for long walks and tourists take some of the best photographs of Doha. Some of the city’s best restaurants can be found here. The best views are from the water’s edge close to the Museum of Islamic Art, with dhows (traditional cargo boats) in the background and the skyscrapers of West Bay across the water. At the southern end of the Corniche you can find the National Museum of Qatar.
The Corniche is considered the heart of Doha and here you can find anything you might need from large green spaces for relaxation to cafés and restaurants for a short break between sightseeing.
Don’t miss the opportunity to ride on a traditional wooden dhow boat to take in the unrivalled vista of the city’s skyline. The experience is a trip back in time and a refreshing unforgettable experience.
See the Museum of Islamic Art
Situated just off the Corniche and designed by the architect I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art looks as if it was floating on water. The building is absolutely stunning and is a beautiful home to a vast collection of calligraphy, jewelry, Islamic patterns, glass ornaments and textiles from three different continents with some of the items dating from the VII to the XIX centuries.
The Museum of Islamic Art, also known as the MIA holds the title of flagship museum of all the museums in the country. It’s not only one of the largest museums of Islamic art in the world but it also accommodates a well-stocked library with books in English and Arabic and a beautiful park.
You’ll definitely need to admire the building itself. The white building has sharp, boxed edges and stands alone on the water. As you step inside, the intricate interiors sharply contrast with the simplicity of its facade.
The stunning collection is spread over three floors. The first two are devoted to the permanent collection. Since the different items are showcased conceptually and visitors can appreciate how a single motif is illustrated and adapted in gold pieces, a ceramic floor tile or a weave of a carpet, visitors can more easily understand the homogeneity of Islamic art.
There’s a café downstairs, a restaurant on the top floor and a large museum shop on the ground floor. Allow plenty of time to browse the museum, you’ll definitely need it! One of the highlights of the museum is the holy Quran from the XVII century which is extremely rare to find anywhere in the world. Other interesting pieces of the permanent exhibition are the protective suites made for the horses to the King’s jewellery collection including the iconic ruby falcon, intricately patterned Georgian rugs, immaculately preserved remnants from Damascan palaces, even war relics from Turkey and porcelain wares.
Visitors are advised to avoid strappy tops or vests and shorts as they may be refused admission.
Visit the National Museum of Qatar
Inaugurated in 2019, the National Museum of Qatar is the newest museum in the country and a must-see for anybody visiting the country. The design of the building is inspired by the desert rose crystal found in Qatar and it’s so intricate that it can easily be mistaken for an origami masterpiece.
The National Museum of Qatar spans over a distance of 1.5 kilometres and tells the story of the country in three major themes: the Beginnings, Life in Qatar and Modern History of Qatar. The exhibits focus on Qatari heritage and history in an immersive, thrilling and educational experience.
Built around Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani’s original palace and the seat of government for 25 years it’s one of the best places to visit in Doha. The museum complex includes room for permanent and temporary exhibitions, a large auditorium, a restaurant, two cafes, specific facilities for school groups and VIPs, a gift shop, heritage research centres, museum collection storage space and conservation laboratories.
Be Amazed at Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum is probably the most interesting and amazing museums in Qatar as it showcases the fantastic and eclectic collection of Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani, a distant relative of the country’s Emir.
The Sheikh started his collection when he was a young boy that now includes more than 15 thousand artifacts. The collection includes textiles, old cigarette packets, an XVII century Ottoman bomb, religious books, textiles, Bedouin outfits, traditional pearling boats and more than 600 astonishing vintage US cars. There’s definitely plenty to see and admire! By far, one of the highlights is the Syrian house that was shipped piece by piece to Qatar before the war and then put back together again!
Fortunately, the museum is organized in four different areas: Vehicles, Coins & Currency, Qatar Heritage and Islamic Art so it’s a bit easier to explore the whole assortment. You can find items all the way back to the Jurassic period right through to modern-day history.
Enjoy Qatar Endless Desert!
With sand dunes as high as they are steep, one of the best things you can do in Qatar is to enjoy its endless desert. There’s little as stunning as miles and miles of pristine, smooth sand! Adventurous travelers can make a drive across the desert towards the or go dune bashing, an absolute thrill!
If you’ve always wanted to experience what it’s like to spend the night in the desert gazing at the stars above, staying at a Bedouin Camp can be your best option.
Another interesting way of enjoying the Qatari desert is going on a safari where you can admire the mesmerizing sunsets over Doha, dune bashing, sand boarding and do many other exhilarating activities.
If you need an extraordinary rush of adrenaline, what about heading off-road and across the golden sand dunes until you reach the camels? Take a short ride up the dune on the hump of one of these friendly mammals and have a blast! Needless to say, don’t forget your camera to get that ultra Instagrammable post!
Visit Katara Cultural Village
Katara Cultural Village, located on the way to The Pearl, pays homage to its name and is the heart of Qatar’s culture and art scene. A maze of waterways and passages reveal spaces for filmmakers, photographers and artists in general. It’s also home to the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and it is also where concerts and festivals are held.
There are many international cafes and restaurants here where you can grab a bite if you’re hungry.
Katara Cultural Village is particularly seductive for those who are enthusiastic about culture, art and architecture. It was opened a decade ago as part of Doha Tribeca Film Festival and there’s plenty to see and do: catch a show at the amphitheatre or the opera house, admire the rich cultural heritage in its art galleries and heritage centre and know more about the interesting history of the country in its well-equipped libraries. There are also museums and a nice mosque decorated with tiles and mosaics.
It’s definitely one of the most diverse and interesting areas to explore while you are in Qatar!
Let The Pearl Amaze You!
Built on reclaimed land, The Pearl spans about 4 million square meters and is made up of a lavish mix of commercial, residential and entertainment outlets. One of its highlights is the picturesque Qanat Quartier with its Mediterranean atmosphere, restaurants, cafés and pedestrian-friendly squares or the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, a European based resort blended with Arabian touches..
Located less than 500 metres off the shore of Doha’s West Bay Lagoon’s Coast, The Pearl is a haven for those who love world-class comfort. Luxurious and extravagant residential and commercial buildings are developed close to award-winning beaches, a wide range of high-end restaurants and top notch entertaining facilities.
From the anthropological point of view, The Pearl Qatar gives you an interesting insight of how the rich Qatari people live.
Climb Up the Barzan Towers
Located 20 kms away from Doha, the T-shaped former watchtowers were turned into a museum in 2013. The towers represent the old history of Qatar and it’s a very popular attraction both for locals and tourists.
They are also known as the Umm Salal Mohammed Fort Towers and they were built during the XIX century as a lookout to protect the water sources. They are one of the best tourist attractions in Doha!
While the building is totally awesome, climbing up the top gives you stunning panoramic views of Doha and surrounding areas.
Gaze At The State Grand Mosque
The State Grand Mosque is located in the Jubailat district of Doha. It’s the national mosque of Qatar and the largest in the country. The State Grand Mosque is absolutely impressive with its 93 domes and 20 entrances. It can hold up to 30000 people at once in its grand white prayer hall covered with red carpets and lit with simple chandeliers.
Also known as the Imam Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Wahhab Mosque, it stands out because of its stunning design that resembles a fort. Non-Muslims are allowed inside the Mosque outside of prayer times and should be booked in advance.Grand and extravagant, it’s an absolute wonder that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Qatar.