Qatar is one of the smallest nations in the Persian Gulf, yet its size is offset by its invitation to leisure and luxury. This small country blends the ancient culture of the Middle East with modern amenities and experiences to provide an unforgettable travel experience. Having recently hosted the World Cup and being designated as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2023 by the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism, we went to find out more about this interesting destination and the top reasons to visit Qatar.
Qatar’s capital, Doha, introduces itself as one of the most interesting tourist and cultural cities in the Middle East. Famous for its hospitality, it brings together cultural and natural attractions and excellent shopping spots, such as typical shops and markets or luxury malls. Before 1940, Qatar was a country reliant on fishing and pearl diving; the discovery of oil turned it into a cosmopolitan and exuberant nation. Still, the country is packed with traditional souqs and poetic sand dunes, and it is home to the magnificent Museum of Islamic Art.
What to visit
Built on the site of Doha’s old trading market on the banks of the Wadi Musheireb, this souq seems like an anachronism, especially against the backdrop of Doha’s dramatic modernist skyline. With a mud-covered construction, the market dates back to a bygone era, but it remains a hub of activity, where commerce and conversation collide. On the other hand, the winding alleys of the souq Waqif offer a picture of traditional street life.
Museum of Islamic Art
Fairly close, set on a purpose-built island beside the Corniche, Doha’s waterfront a promenade overlooking the waterfront, the building is an architectural masterpiece designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei. The museum contains four floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions, a gift store, a café, and a haute-gastronomy restaurant by renowned chef Alain Ducasse.
It also houses a historic library with a collection of 21,000 books, including 2,000 rare editions in Arabic and English.
Doha has other incredible museums, equally as impressive on the outside as on the inside, such as the Qatar National Museum, designed in the shape of a desert rose, or the Sheikh Faisal Museum, which occupies a perfectly preserved historic fort, an attraction by itself.
One of Doha’s landmarks, this neighborhood is home to the most modern buildings in Qatar. Housing large hotels such as the Hilton – the only one with a private beach – and important companies such as Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Airways, and the Al Jazeera TV network, it is a great place for a late afternoon stroll here and to be enchanted by the colorful lights of its skyscrapers.
Qatar National Library
This imposing library occupies a modern architecture building in the center of Doha’s Education City, an enormous campus that houses some of the world’s leading educational institutes. The Qatar National Library holds the most important collection of texts and manuscripts from the Arab-Islamic civilization of the Middle East, as well as an impressive collection of maps, cartographic instruments, and historical photographs.
Al Zubarah Archaeological Site
Adjacent to the walled coastal town of Al Zubarah, this 20th-century fort is the youngest and most prominent feature of this archaeological site, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An early example of a typical Arab fortress, its meter-thick walls kept out invaders and helped keep rooms cool during hot weather. This important site is home to residential palaces, mosques, houses with courtyards, streets, a canal, and cemeteries. Not to be missed!
Before or after visiting MIA (as the Museum of Islamic Art is known), it’s worth enjoying a stroll through MIA Park, stopping at the museum’s café, which has a terrace facing the sea from which you can enjoy a unique view of the Doha skyline; if you do it at the end of the day, the shades of sunset make the scene even more spectacular. Then you can just wander around the grassy lawns and hills of the park and sit there enjoying the warm evening breeze, with the moon, stars, and a few people for company.
Another beautiful stroll is a morning walk on the Corniche promenade. The long waterfront promenade connects the historic part of the city with its more modern and futuristic side. The seven-kilometer promenade connects the Qatar National Museum and the modern buildings of West Bay. Once here, take a boat ride on the traditional dhows, boats used in pearl-diving that now cruise the Qatari Sea, making for a pleasant late-afternoon trip.
One of the best examples that in Qatar, in terms of investment, there are no limits. The neighborhood, which functions as a small town, was built on reclaimed land from the sea. Its geography, seen from above, resembles a string of pearls, recalling the ancient tradition of pearl diving in Qatar. Once on it, we realize that it is divided into ten thematic precincts, the most interesting being the one inspired by Venice, which even has small boats cruising on the canals.
A few kilometers away from The Pearl is the Katara Cultural Village, a huge hub of culture, gastronomy, and entertainment. Opened in 2010, it brings together beautiful religious temples, such as the blue mosque and the golden mosque, covered with gold chips. This is where the headquarters of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra are located, featuring an open-air amphitheater. Also here are the Galeries Lafayette, a real shopping paradise. In addition, there are museums, restaurants, a public beach (open from 4 pm to 10 pm, with dress code) and stores, most notably the impressive Katara Plaza, an open-air shopping mall adorned with huge Murano glass sculptures. For shopping or just wandering around its alleys, it is worth spending some time in this spot and taking a break for lunch or a snack.
More traditional shopping experiences can be found in Qatar’s souqs, such as the one mentioned earlier, where you can purchase local handicrafts, from pots and pashmina shawls to aromatic spices and handmade baskets. However, Qatar also offers luxury malls that house some of the world’s most luxury fashion brands, such as Christian Louboutin, Dior, Gucci, Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, Manolo Blahnik, Tiffany & Co. among others. We are talking about Place Vendôme Qatar, Villaggio Mall, The Gate Mall, Lagoona Mall or the Mall of Qatar. In the latter it is possible to spend an entire day just strolling through its hundreds of stores and almost five hundred thousand square meters of retail and entertainment space.
Dining and leisure
Doha’s dining scene is developing rapidly thanks to its growing cosmopolitanism. A variety of Arabic, Asian and international restaurants can be found here. Starting with the aforementioned IDAM, located in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art, by chef Alain Ducasse, which offers contemporary French Mediterranean cuisine with an Arab touch.
Chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s blend of traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients fits well into Doha’s international culinary scene. There are a handful of Nobu restaurants around the world, but the one in Doha is the largest in terms of size. Of particular note is the shell-shaped terrace over the Persian Gulf, which has a spectacular view. Inside, it is elegant and luxurious, resulting in a memorable experience from start to finish.
With its name translating to “dining table” in the Khaleeji dialect of Arabic, this restaurant promises to redefine the feel and taste of local cuisine, and take us on a culinary journey through Qatar’s unique culinary heritage, characterized by its distinctive origins, signature dishes, as well as unique ingredients, spices, textures and flavors.
Located in the alleys of the Waqif souq, this restaurant is a feast for the senses, with its elaborate interiors studded with mirror work and hand-painted artwork. Providing a variety of Persian specialties, Parisa is a must and reservations are recommended.
But going out at night in Doha is not just about dining out; there are several interesting bars. Take the excellent example of the rooftop at the St. Regis Hotel. The Shisha Terrace, which is at the top of the Four Seasons Hotel, offers panoramic views of the city and the sea, as well as narghiles, water pipes also known as hookah or shisha. If you want to experience the nightlife with elegance, the Pure Lounge at the DoubleTree by Hilton Doha offers exclusive cocktails in a classic lounge with panoramic views of the Persian Gulf and the West Bay skyline.
As for La Cigale Hotel, the rooftop bar is called Sky View and is on the 15th floor, where you can enjoy tasty cocktails while listening to live or DJ music. We end this tour with one of Doha’s most praised nightlife venues, the Society Lounge, located on the top floor of The Hilton Doha, where you can enjoy the view over the skyline while marveling at the laser shows and purple rooftop lighting. There is no shortage of options for enjoying the night on Doha’s rooftops, so it is advisable to put some effort into your appearance.
Before You Travel
In the summer months (May to September), temperatures in Qatar average between 37 oC and 42 oC – but can climb to 50 oC. The winter months are therefore much more pleasant and cooler. Sandstorms are common throughout the year but happen more frequently during the spring. And while Qatar is one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East, know also that it is somewhat conservative. They accept the Western way of dressing for women, without the need to cover their heads, and it is possible to go to the beach in a bikini. It is always advisable to get the necessary information before going on an adventure.