For a long time, Qatar seemed to exist in the shadow of its flashy neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, which lies just 70 kilometres to the east across the Persian Gulf. But today, this small country, which occupies a peninsula that measures just 160 kilometres from tip to toe, is finding its way into the big leagues. Set to become the first Arab host of the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and with a national airline that is enthusiastically flying in tourists from all corners of the globe, there are plenty of reasons for you to consider a stay in this fascinating country; whether you only have time for a quick stop in the capital city of Doha, or you intend to stick around for a while to see what’s on offer, here are a few of our favourite must-see-and-dos.
Designed by the same architectural superstar who gave the world the Louvre Pyramid, this monumental museum is home to what some say is the world’s greatest collection of Arab art, textiles, furniture and more. The jaw-dropping building offers a modern interpretation of traditional Arabic design and it’s a major attraction in itself. But once you step into its cool interior you’ll be entranced by the collection which showcases over 1,400 years of Arabic works of art. Be sure to cover your arms and legs or you may be refused entry. Just next door you’ll find the entrancing MIA Park: it’s an excellent spot from which to view the Doha skyline, and if you’re travelling with kids, its playground is a great place to let them run off some steam!
You can’t come to Doha and not do a little shopping, and what better way to combine retail therapy with an authentic Arabic experience than by visiting the Souq Waqif? This is the spot where shopping has been done for centuries, and despite almost falling into ruin in as recently as 2004, it has since undergone an massive rejuvenation, thanks to a determined effort to preserve a snapshot of traditional Qatari life. As well as the usual perfumes, textiles, furniture, fabrics, jewellery, food and spices you’d expect from any self-respecting souk, you’ll also find the Falcon Souk, where these magnificent birds can be bought and sold, and a Falcon Hospital.
Take a stroll along the seven-kilometre stretch of waterfront that stretches from West Bay at the top end to the Museum of Islamic Art at the other end. It’s a great place to stretch your legs, enjoy the cooling effect of a gentle sea breeze and take in the city skyline from a different perspective. The southern end is marked by the Pearl Monument, which recognises the role the pearl industry played in the historic of this city and stands at the entrance to the dhow harbour. From here you can take a sunset dhow cruise and see the city from yet another angle.
Named in honour of the pearl industry that once formed the backbone of Doha’s economy, the Pearl-Qatar is an impressive symbol of all that modern Qatar represents. This purpose-built network of artificial islands is designed to resemble a string of pearls, but it’s still a work in progress. It’s not expected to be completed until 2018, at an estimated cost of $15 billion, but it’s already home to apartments, hotels, shops, marinas and restaurants and will eventually add 35 kilometres of shiny new coastline to the city of Doha.
If you have time enough to spare, it’s well worth escaping the city of Doha and exploring a little further afield. Because it’s a small, low-lying country, it’s relatively easy to see a substantial portion of it in the space of a day trip. Whether your preference is for adrenaline-pumping four-wheel-drive dune bashing or a sedate camel ride, time spent in the “Inland Sea” will be well-rewarded. We recommend you conclude your visit with a traditional dinner in a Bedouin camp setting.
If Qatar has inspired you, talk to your personal travel manager about designing an itinerary to suit.