Now that Qatar is in the spotlight for the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, you might be curious about visiting Doha and its surroundings either during or after the event. Here in this article you can check a list of the top things to do in Doha Qatar and other tips to get the most of your trip.
Qatar is the first Middle East country to host the World Cup, and also the smallest one. It is a peninsula in the Persian Gulf with a 563 km (2,35 miles) coastline and its only land neighbor is Saudi Arabia.
Doha, capital of Qatar, is the largest and one of the few cities of the country. So if you are going on a trip to Qatar, Doha will be your headquarters and where you will find most of Qatar touristic points.
The city is a mix of traditional and modern life. You can enjoy an adventurous desert safari during the day and have a fancy dinner at a skyscraper rooftop at night. Between beaches, sand dunes, marvelous skyscrapers and secular architecture, Doha Qatar is an exemplar of Occidental and oriental influences. The perfect place to learn about the past and experience the future. There is a lot to do in Doha Qatar and we are going to tell you all about it.
First, it is useful to understand how Qatar became what it is now. This peninsular country was part of the United Kingdom and became independent in 1971. Until then, it was an almost uninhabitable place, a desert with temperatures getting as high as 50 degrees.
In the 1970s, they were one of the poorest countries in the world. Their primary income was fishing and pearl cultivation. Actually, pearls were once responsible for times of prosperity and have been part of their merchant culture since about 1500.
Qataris, as people from Qatar are called, are very proud of their pearl culture, and they love to talk about it. A proof of that is one of Qatar World Cup stadiums that refers to the country’s pearl history.
Today, it is one of the richest countries in the world with a GDP of more than US$ 60,000 per capita. And pearls are not the reason for all this wealth. Qatar is the third-greatest natural gas reserve in the world and it is very clever on how to make money from it.
In the 1990s, the Emir’s son at the time came to power and started to invest in natural gas. He pioneered the technique of transforming it into liquid and export to the world. But, as they knew gas is a finite resource, they started to use all this money to invest in constructions and companies all over the world. Today they are owners of Harrods (the famous department store in London), the Shard (the 72-storey skyscraper also in London) and are a major shareholder of Heathrow Airport.
It also has US$ 3.8 billion in properties in Manhattan, NY, and is the owner of Al Jazeera, the main media from the Middle East. In summary, it has invested more than US$ 400 billion in more than 40 countries.
So now we spoke a bit about the past, let’s get to what you really need to know about Qatar tourism and things to do in Qatar.
Things to do in Doha Qatar
Despite having basically one city, Qatar has lots of touristic points whether you are an adventurous traveler, an architecture and antique enthusiast or a mall and shopping lover. So, without further ado, here it goes the best places to visit in Qatar.
Explore the Museum of Islamic Art
The MIA is the most important cultural landmark in Doha Qatar. It was opened in 2008, and it is located in one-end of the 7 km (4.35 miles) long Doha Corniche. It holds artifacts from as old as the 7th century, exemples of ceramic, metalwork, jewelry, textiles, more than 800 manuscripts from the Qurans and the rarest manuscripts in the Islamic world, the Abbasid Blue Quran. Near the museum there is also the MIA Park which is a nice place for a picnic.
Take a look into the National Museum of Qatar
This tourist point in Doha tells through its arts the history from the earliest times to the present day of Qatar. There you can get to know more about the Bedouin culture, the tribal wars, the establishment of Qatar, the discovery of oil and the Qatar life in the modern day.
Go on a Desert Safari
If you want a truly Middle Eastern adventure, you can get into an SUV and enjoy a desert safari in the surroundings of Doha. You can go dune bashing across the area, try sand boarding, camel riding and be mesmerized by the awesome views. There are also overnight safari tour options if you want to spend the night under an open sky in the middle of the sand dunes.
Wanting to take a break from the city? The Inland Sea, also known as Khor Al Adaid, sits 80 km (49.7 miles) from Doha and is a top tourist attraction in Qatar. It is one of the just three places in the world where the sea meets the sand dunes. In fact, UNESCO considers it a natural reserve. This extraordinary landscape has a clear seawater great for swimming and is a great place to relax among the golden sand dunes. You can even pinpoint Saudi Arabia on the other side of the sea.
The Pearl, also known as the Arabian Rivera, is an amazing man-made island off the coast of Qatar. It is full of Mediterranean style marinas, residential towers, mansions and high-end stores. The island is a landmark that shows man’s abilities to imitate nature while building such a luxury and futuristic place.
Note: Plastic bags are banned on the Pearl so don’t get them to the island.
Walk down the Souq Waqif
Souq Waqif is a traditional market in Doha Qatar and one of the few places that shows the old Qatari village style. Souq means market and Waqif means standing. It holds this name, Standing Market, because during the inundations of the Persian Gulf the merchants had to work standing on their feet.
A thousand years ago the place was a street market where Bedouins and locals sold many kinds of products such as textiles, spices, and handicrafts. In the 1900s, with the development of the country through investments in gas and oil, the market has fallen into oblivion and has even suffered a fire in 2003.
Some years ago the government decided to revive it, rebuilding Souq Waqif and bringing back the scenery of the ancient bazaar. Walking down the streets of Souq Waqif is a nice way of experiencing the local culture, trying the traditional dishes and enjoy the charming architecture of ancient Qatar. There you will find clothes, rugs, wooden furniture, glass ornaments, local food, which are sometimes weirdly mixed with some modern occidental ingredients – such as nuttela. It is also a pleasant place to buy souvenirs if you are that kind of traveler.
Enjoy a walk down the Doha Corniche
This 7-km-long promenade (4,3 miles) links one end of Doha to the other one. And it is a charming place to take a walk while being delighted by skyscrapers, a marvelous sea landscape and the perfect scenery for great pictures. A good tip is to go for a walk early in the morning or late in the evening when the weather is milder. If you choose to do both, you will have the chance to compare the so-different atmosphere between the days and nights at Doha.
Have a brunch
Reserve a table and gather your friends for a sumptuous brunch in Doha. This is a popular program among tourists because it is where you can eat and drink in Doha Qatar as much as you want. Famous hotels offer brunches with different kinds of local and international cuisines. Some of them are served in front of a breathtaking view of the city, other ones are offered in fancy palaces.
Rent a boat and enjoy the afternoon on high sea
For you to relax among the clear waters of Qatar, there are many speedboats and yachts rental services. You can either go fishing, diving, observe the colorful marine wildlife or simply cruise along the coastline while watching the beautiful Doha sunset.
If you want a more local experience, hop on a dhow boat and go watch the city’s skyline from the sea. Dhow is how they call the traditional vessels used to carry merchandise through the coast of Arabian countries in earlier times. There are short and longer trips, many with guided tours with the history of the sailors and these boats.
Visit the Katara Cultural Village
Also known as the Valley of Cultures, in this village you will get to know the Qatari culture through many local activities, art, architecture, cuisine and Islamic features. As you walk through the cobblestone pathways and alleys, you can spot the beautiful Katara Mosque and the Gold Mosque, made of small golden chips in an Ottoman style. There is also a Greek style Amphitheater with capacity for 5000 people, and the Operahouse, home of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. The place is the perfect example of the rich culture, heritage, and architecture of Qatar.
We recommend a guided tour through Doha, which will also take you through the Souq Waqif and other parts of the city as well.
Hang out at the upscale Doha malls
Whether you just like wandering around or are a shopaholic, you will love the immense and thematic Qatar shopping malls. They are full of luxury brands, high-end stores and some peculiar entertainment places that might surprise you. If you are up for that experience, make sure you go to the Villaggio Mall. Inspired by the city of Venice, it has an internal canal where you can gondola ride. There is also the City Center Mall, the largest mall in Qatar, and the Landmark Mall, a Qatari-castle-like building, that houses the Circus Land amusement park.
Take a walk around Msheireb Downtown Doha
Msheireb Downton Doha is one of the coolest neighborhood in Doha Qatar. It is the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project, with a contemporary architecture and a central square with an innovative cooling system and a retractable roof to keep the sun out. It has loads of events, shopping options and wide variety of places to eat. And if the walking will get you tired, just get a free tram that runs every six minutes in a 2-kilometer-loop (1.24 mile) around the area.
Go kayaking in Al Thakira Mangroves
You might be surprised that a country mostly known by its deserts could have such a rich and lively forest. To explore this different side of Qatar, you can go kayaking through the Al Thakira Mangroves Forest. It is a large area of greenery filled with a rich ecosystem, including herons and flamingos that fly there during some parts of the year.
Chill in the beautiful beaches of Doha
Qatar is well-known for their luxurious beaches, and you should not miss that during your trip to Doha and its surroundings. There are many private and public beaches both in the capital or a one-or-two hour drive away from it.
One example is the public Katara Beach, located in Katara Cultural Village, which is one of Qatar’s most preserved beaches. There is also Al Wakrah beach just 25 minutes away from Doha or the Zekreet Beach, around 40 minutes from Doha, with interesting rock formations, archaeological digs, a fort and an abandoned film set. There are also options of private beaches associated with hotels such as the Four Seasons Beach, in the Doha Corniche, which is considered one of the most beautiful hotel beaches in Doha.
Before choosing where you will set your feet in the sand, make sure to check if there are services available in the area. You might need to bring everything you need for the day for the more deserted and far away beaches. You should also check the dress code policy, as they are more rigorous in public beaches and more flexible in the hotel associated ones.
Learn about Falconry in the Falcon Souq
The Falcon Souq is near the Souq Waqif and has everything you need to know about falcons and their major role in Qatar’s history. In the past, Bedouins would train their animals for hunting prey and still to this day it is a well-preserved culture. In fact, UNESCO has listed falconry as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. So in this Falconry market you will find sale of falcons and their accessories, equipment for hunting enthusiasts and flying competitions and also a hospital specially for falcons care.
Watch a peculiar Camel racing (with robots)
Camel racing has been the traditional Bedouin spectacle in Gulf countries for a long time. It seems like a crazy idea to use robots as jockeys, but there is an interesting and dreadful story of how robots came to be the rule in such an ancient sport.
Since the 1970s, children as young as 4 years old (the lighter, the better) have been used as jockeys in camel races. For a long time, human rights groups would protest against it, reporting that many kids were kidnapped and trafficked from poor countries, such as Sudan and Somalia, to work as a jockey, living in terrible conditions and at risk of suffering serious injuries during the races.
In 2005, Qatar finally created a law stating that jockeys should be over 16 and weigh a minimum of 45 kg (99 pounds). The solution to an awful human rights problem was in technology, and that is how Qatar started using robots as jockeys in camel racing.
Art Installations in Qatar
Qatar has many art installations around the country. One that really caught our attention was the “Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day“, by Olafur Eliasson. It is only possible to arrive there car, as it is in the middle of nowhere. On your way, make sure to make a quick stop at the Fort Zubarah, where it tells a bit of the culture of Qatar since the very beginning.
This particular art installation are large rounded mirrors in the desert. So, when looking up those large mirrors, it reflects the sandy ground below. Olafur wants viewers to realize that when they look up, they actually look back down. It is an invitation for travelers to contemplate their connection to the ground. You can read more about his artwork here.
A part from Shadows Travelling on the Sea of the Day, you can also visit the Slug Turtle, by Ernesto Neto; East-West/West-East by Richard Serra; and The Miraculous Journey by Damien Hirst.
Where to stay in Doha Qatar
Qatar has many places to stay. The first thing you should think about before booking your accomodation in Qatar is the region you would like to stay closer. For instance, Central Doha, near the Souq Waqif gives easy access to metro, providing good connection all over the city. West Bay, however, is a very modern and developed area of Doha. On the other hand, if luxury is what you are after, then staying at the Pearl, with their private beaches and huge buildings is your option.