While Qatar is a progressive society – open, relaxed and a regional hub for the arts – it also maintains its traditions and heritage. Visitors can search for bargains along the alleys and stalls of Souq Waqif, wander among one of the world’s most extensive collections of Islamic art in the I. M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art or take the family for a stroll along the scenic Corniche or beaches and shops of Katara.
For the more adventurous, a short drive yields everything from abandoned forts, archaeological sites and old cities along the northwestern coast to singing sand dunes (a sound produced by the wind) and desert adventures in the south. And that’s just the start. Qatar's natural heritage goes far beyond the desert and camels many expect to find.
The State’s 10 terrestrial and marine protected areas cover 30 per cent of the nation's land surface. Qatar’s eastern cape is home to mangroves, flamingos and a host of biodiversity, and the waters provide shelter to the planet’s second largest population of Dugongs (sea cows). Qatar’s trademark hospitality makes it easy to relax and explore this amazing gem of the Arabian Gulf.
Immerse yourself in Arab culture at Souq Waqif, a traditional market. Wander through the labyrinth of traditional Qatari architecture, where stalls sell everything from exotic spices and perfume, to fabrics and household goods.
Visitors can barter over the local handicrafts, see the falcons for sale or relax with a shisha pipe and some Middle Eastern delicacies.
The souq, which is open from 10am to noon and 4pm to 10pm, has a range of Middle Eastern and European restaurants and is always bustling in the evenings with tourists and residents.
Museum of Islamic Art
The museum, which opened in 2008, was designed by the world-renowned architect I. M. Pei and is worth visiting for the building alone. Perched on the water on a purpose-built island, the geometric structure is a marriage of Islamic and modern architecture and is a jewel in Doha’s crown. The museum houses one of the world’s most spectacular collections of Islamic art, with artefacts spanning 1,400 years and three continents. With items dating from the 7th to the 19th century, the museum contains items such as jewellery and ceramics to manuscripts and precious stones. You will understand why the museum has been described as a “house of masterpieces”.
For more information about opening times and exhibitions visit the museum’s website www.mia.org.qa.
Katara Cultural Village Foundation
Katara is the cultural centre of Doha, rich in exhibitions and attractions. Its facilities, such as the amphitheatre, opera house and theatre offer a series of world-class events. It also stages an impressive programme of art and photography exhibitions and works to foster local and regional talent via the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Qatar Music Academy, the Fine Arts Society and many more. The beach, with water sports facilities, is popular with families on weekends, and the restaurants, such as L’wzaar where you can pick your own fish, are always busy.
For more information about Katara’s programme of events, visit www.katara.net.
The Corniche / Dhow boat ride
The Corniche offers an unrivalled view of the city, particularly at sunset where Doha’s glittering skyline seemingly melts into water under the setting sun. This 8km promenade, dotted with palm trees and lawns, is popular at any time of day and there is always a steady stream of joggers, dog-walkers and families. Here you can see the traditional dhow fishing boats, the majority of which have been converted into pleasure boats offering trips around the bay.
Built on top of an old pearl diving site, this luxury development on the edge of Doha is set on an artificial island shaped like a string of pearls. With a selection of international restaurants and cafes, most with outside seating and marina views, it is a popular place to meet friends for a meal.
The walkway around the Porto Arabia marina is always lively, with people taking an after-dinner stroll alongside the mega-yachts, or visiting the luxury clothing stores.
Inland dune bashing to the Inland Sea (Khor Al-Adaid)
For the more adventurous, a trip to the inland sea – Khor Al-Adaid – should not be missed. To reach this large saltwater inlet, you must navigate 130ft dunes in a journey that is not for the faint-hearted. On reaching the natural wonder of the inland sea, you can swim in the warm waters and view the Saudi Arabia border. Trips, which can last for a half day, full day or can include a night at a traditional Bedouin camp, can be organised via tour operators.
About 40km from Doha is the tiny Al Khor, or Purple Island, next to the village of Al Khor. The fish-shaped island features a mangrove forest, which is home to fish, crabs, shellfish and many types of birds - the most notable of which are the pink flamingos. You can drive out for the day or camp on the island and enjoy a night in these beautiful natural surroundings.
Al Zubarah village is one of the largest and best-preserved examples of an 18th to 19th-century merchant town in the Gulf and is one of Qatar’s most important archaeological sites. It was one of the Gulf’s key pearl trading ports, with coins and ceramics showing trade links reaching Asia, Iran, Turkey, Africa, Europe, and the Gulf. Many of these artefacts are housed in the fort that was constructed there in 1938 on the ruins of a previous fort. It now houses a museum that can be visited for free.
Al Koot Fort
Al Koot Fort was built in 1880 to protect Souq Waqif. It is located in central Doha on the site of the old town. The fort has been used as a police station and in 1906 it began to be used as a jail. This led to the creation of one its most notable features – the roof of the mosque was removed so that guards could keep watch over the prisoners while they prayed. The building now houses a museum featuring photos and traditional Qatari handicrafts.
Al-Shahaniya camel racing stadium
During the winter racing season, locals gather regularly to watch the camels as they hurtle along the purpose-built stadium at speeds of up to 40kmph. Drive out to Al Shahaniya, about 60km west of the city, to visit the stables and watch the camels train, or join the locals on race day as they drive alongside the track, cheering on the camels, which are ridden by radio-controlled robot jockeys.
Culture of Qatar
Qatari women work shoulder to shoulder with men in creating the national vision
Oil and gas discoveries turned Qatar into one of the world’s fastest growing economies
There is a sense of urgency about Qatar’s response to environmental challenges
The country is pushing ahead with plans to produce more of the food it needs
Considering the future, Qatar has invested billions on projects and assets abroad
Qatar contributed $1.5bn in two years to help ease problems in other countries
Qatar Vision 2030
Plan for sustainable development across the main sectors of commerce and society
Islam is the dominant faith in a country that welcomes believers from other religions
Education & Research
The renowned university sector flourishes and 3% of GDP is spent on scientific research
Arts & Entertainment
World class museums and a lively music scene contribute to a cultural jewel in the Gulf
Visitors attracted to Qatar are approaching two million a year
The country is proud to be hosting the football World Cup in 2022