Qatar, right now you could call it a hidden gem of the Middle East. Although 2022 might see “hidden” dropped from that title. More than three billion people are preparing to turn on their tellies this November for the world’s most popular sporting event. You know, the one with the round ball and 22 players on a lush green field? With that will come a spike in interest to experience the “gem” part. Qatar is about to become one of your new favourite stopover destinations en route to Europe or the UK. But what is Qatar really like? We’ve taken eight of the most common myths and unknowns and busted them wide open for you.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Qatar is just a big desert. However, it has many diverse landscapes. Yes, there are desert scapes, spectacular at that, but there are also around 600 kilometres of stunning coastline and private beaches. Have you ever heard of an inland sea? There are few in the world, and Qatar has one of them – the UNESCO heritage listed Khor Al Adaid (the Inland Sea). The sea encroaches into the desert offering some extraordinary experiences. There’s also the Al Thakira mangrove forest, a green oasis and winter home of hundreds of flamingos who migrate from Europe and Siberia. This is a great spot for explorers – we recommend kayaking through this natural wonder.
Speaking of explorers, yes, the options for those who like a little adventure are seemingly endless. As host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar will be on the sporting world stage. The eight stadiums of the tournament are architectural masterpieces and certainly worth touring. Football aside, there is hot-air ballooning, world-class scuba diving, kitesurfing, paragliding, sandboarding and 4WD dune bashing. One adrenaline-packed activity after the other. For golf lovers, Qatar is fast becoming a paradise for chasing the little white ball.
There are many options for travellers to enjoy a cold beer or favourite type of wine. While drinking is not a common way of life for locals, many restaurants and hotels offer an opportunity to enjoy a relaxing drink. In fact, a must do when you visit is to find yourself front row seats overlooking Doha Harbour to watch the sun set as you sip your favourite cocktail – one which matches the hues of the evening sky – it could be anything from a peach martini through to a lavender mule.
Qatar has been ranked the Safest Country in the World by Numbeo each year from 2019 to 2022. Crime rates are very low and 95% of the population of Qatar’s capital city of Doha speak English. Visitors are encouraged to respect local customs and religious beliefs by dressing modestly – knees and shoulders covered.
This one couldn’t be further from the truth. Qatar is very proud of its rich history and traditions, and is even prouder to share a wide range of cultural experiences with its visitors. Travellers should at least visit a selection of world-class museums, UNESCO archaeological sites, and the Katara Cultural Village whose architecture will have you completely mesmerised and likely late for the next stop on your agenda. You won’t want to be late for your cruise on a local Dhow, an integral part of Qatari culture which dates back to as early as 600 AD. Of course, no visit to Qatar is complete without spending at least a couple of hours wandering through the alley ways of the Souq Waqif, where traders have been peddling for centuries. It’s not just a market, it’s a sensory experience into the life of a local – exotic spices, cultural performances, art showcases, sweet dumplings, and beautiful Arabian horses.
As a family-oriented nation Qatar is well set up to welcome visitors travelling with kids. You can find plenty of accommodation, food and entertainment options for kids both big and small. If you have youngsters who tend to nag, don’t tell them too far in advance about the world’s tallest indoor rollercoaster, the indoor snow centre, or Desert Falls Water and Adventure Park, the Middle East’s largest water park.
Qatar is a great place to take your special someone. For some, the allure starts with the taboo… no displays of affection in public. In contrast, the accommodations are so luxurious you’ll struggle to leave your room. Affection aside, the experiences you can share will grow your bond deeper – think hot air balloon over the desert, spa treatment in the afternoon, a sunset cruise and fancy dinner to end your spectacular day.
As you’d expect from the richest country in the world, you can certainly enjoy an ultra-luxurious experience. But it doesn’t necessarily have to come with the price tag. Australians taking a long-haul trip to Europe and the UK can actually turn one holiday into two with a two-night 4-star stopover from just $29 per person. You read that right, $31! A five-star experience will set you back $48, and a five-star-plus option starts at just $202including breakfast.