Whether you are just passing through, or are a resident of Qatar and want to know more about what to do in your spare time, the country has much to offer. Here are some suggestions to help you plan your time, whether that may be for a couple of hours, a day or longer. Visitors to the country for the first time will find there are many options; if you’re a resident, maybe we can inspire you to try something new.
These are just a few ideas on how to spend your time in Qatar. There is much, much more: desert safaris and dune-bashing for the adventurous; play areas and a water park for the kids; and plenty of options for sports fans including prestigious international competitions – tennis, golf, MotoGP and cycling events all take place. Don’t forget to check opening hours and locations before venturing out, and keep a Marhaba and the Marhaba Pocket Map with you at all times!
If you only have a few spare hours…
You will probably want to stay within Doha – in fact, you may find your cultural appetite will be sated within the seven‑kilometre stretch of the Corniche.
Your first port of call should be Souq Waqif – morning or evenings are considered the best times to visit. The revamped area houses numerous shops and stalls, where you can buy saffron, spices, nuts and dates, or maybe some souvenirs for the relatives back home. The main pedestrian street has an abundance of restaurants and cafés, including traditional Qatari dishes. View paintings by local artists at the Souq Waqif Art Centre, a two‑storey gallery and art education centre, with interiors reflecting Qatari and Islamic architecture.
No day trip is complete without a visit to the stunning Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by I M Pei, the museum juts out on a manmade island on the Corniche, and is just across the road from Souq Waqif. Here you will get to see masterpieces of Islamic art, including metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles and glass. If time permits, browse the shop, enjoy refreshments in the café, or stroll to the adjoining MIA Park, home of the Richard Serra sculpture ‘7’ or stop by AL RIWAQ a temporary exhibition space. Entry is free to the museum and the park, with a small charge for temporary exhibitions.
From the museum, do as the locals do and go for a walk along the Corniche. Admire the superb views of the towers in Al Dafna, the business district of Doha – there is some grandiose and award‑winning architecture, such as Doha Tower designed by Jean Nouvel. There is no excuse to overlook your fitness regime with exercise equipment located at various points along the Corniche.
For a more relaxing outlook, hire a dhow for a cruise around the bay. Try award‑winning Middle Eastern food at Al Mourjan while dining on a terrace overlooking the Arabian Gulf and the iconic Doha skyline.
Then finally, when the sun is setting, walk back to the Corniche and find a quiet grassy area to sit. Unwind and reflect upon a successful day of culture.
Still in Doha but looking to do something else…
Want to stay fairly close to home but get around a bit more?
Head to The Pearl-Qatar, home of stunning architecture and some of the world’s most prestigious brands – Hermès, Giorgio Armani, and Diptyque, to name but a few. Car enthusiasts can drool at the Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Maserati showrooms, while those of a naval persuasion will get their fix at the marina with its multi-million riyal yachts. Stop for a coffee or ice cream at one of the many cafés on the waterfront and enjoy the relaxing Mediterranean ambience.
Culture buffs should visit Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, part of Qatar Foundation. Mathaf is located in a converted school building and hosts exhibitions, programmes and events that explore and celebrate art by Arab artists. Entry to the library and cafe is free.
A stroll around Katara, known as the valley of cultures, is particularly pleasant. Built in traditional Qatari style with winding alleyways, there are exhibitions and cultural events held on a regular basis. Katara is home to the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, and houses galleries, arts societies, an opera house, an amphitheatre, a public beach and a wide selection of restaurants and cafés.
Going further afield…
Look beyond the city walls for some cool things to do on your road trip around Qatar.
Visit the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Sheehaniya, with its extensive collections of traditional artefacts in different halls, including weapons, Bedouin jewellery, vintage cars and manuscripts. The museum does not open every day, so visitors should email ahead to make an appointment.
Head to one of the many beaches for a great family day out. The water is spectacularly clear and for the most part is safe to swim in. Over the course of a few leisurely hours you can drive from Al Khor along the coast road up to Al Zubara via Al Thakira, Fuwairit and Al Ruwais – see the changing coastline of Qatar and don’t forget pit stops at Al Jumail ruins and Al Zubara Fort.
The Inland Sea is one of those ‘must do’ things in Qatar. It is a deep saltwater inlet, making it extra buoyant when floating around in the sea, and is surrounded by crescents of soft, white sand. Most people go to the Inland Sea with a tour company; if you decide to venture out on your own, it is advisable to go as part of a group, and go in a four‑wheel‑drive vehicle. You can now download the Inland Sea app on the App Store or on Google Play, which will help you navigate the desert. If you do get in trouble call 999.
Lovers of wildlife will be pleasantly surprised by the flora and fauna – there is more to the country than camels. Keep a close eye out for oryx, flamingoes, lizards, desert hares, foxes and ostriches in Bir Zekreet, dugongs in Al Ruwais, and crabs in the water at Al Wakra. Over 280 birds species have been recorded in Qatar. Bird watchers should ‘flock’ to Al Thakira and Al Shamal in the north, the wetlands in Al Khor, and the Ras Abrouq peninsula on the west coast.
Looking for something a bit more adventurous? Try dune bashing on the way to the Inland Sea, just south of Doha. Again, tour companies offer packaged trips with experienced drivers. Or try it yourself – before driving onto any soft sand at the beach and dunes, let the air out of your tyres, select the appropriate gear ratio on your four‑wheel‑drive, and venture forth! Don’t get too carried away – this can be a dangerous activity – and bear in mind most Qatar car insurance is invalid while off‑road.
Make getting around easier with these tips:
• If you don’t have your own transport, cars can be rented from one of the many car rental companies.
• The roads in Qatar have vastly improved over the last few years, with many places accessible to standard saloon cars. However, sightseeing outside of Doha may require a four‑wheel‑drive vehicle.
• Local tour companies provide day and overnight excursions, including trips to the Inland Sea.
• Use a GPS to keep track of where you are if venturing out of Doha. There are also several apps to use on smartphones, such as the Inland Sea app and Google Maps.
• If you’re planning a day of exploring and offroading, consider going as a convoy – if you get stuck, there will be someone to help you out! In case of emergency, call 999.
• Take a few essentials with you – tow rope, jump leads and shovel for the car; water, food and sunscreen for you. White vinegar is useful for jellyfish stings.
• Please ensure you take home any rubbish.
• Respect local customs, especially if visiting public beaches and mosques.
• Have fun – and don’t forget your camera!
Author: Sarah Palmer
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