So most of you are probably know a bit about Qatar since I know you personally. You either live (or lived) here or you knew me before we lived here ourselves so we’ve talked about what it’s like to live here. But do you know about the incredible things to DO in Qatar?
But let’s go back… anything over a year ago you probably didn’t know much at all about Qatar. And then came 5th June 2017. Let’s be honest. You probably learnt more about Qatar than you ever needed to know 365 days ago.
365 days ago
That was the day that we all woke up here and learnt that a blockade had been imposed on Qatar by some of it’s closest allies. We learnt that we suddenly had no accessible land border through Saudi Arabia. Many of us went and panic bought chicken and eggs and milk. Those leaving for the summer via various regional hub airports found themselves needing to reroute flights.
We discussed the likelihood of how serious this could get and whether or not we would need to evacuate. We didn’t but it was a wake-up call to make sure we had a grab bag ready. Some people simply weren’t prepared to live with the risk. They got on a plane and left.
1 year on
One year on and it’s hard to believe it has only been a year since that all happened.
A now iconic image of Sheikh Tamim, the Emir of Qatar appeared on the sides of buildings and on bumper stickers. Billboards with the same image were signed by people of every race and nationality. There was an outpouring of support from locals and expats alike for the country that we all call home.
While we watched the political posturing on both sides, Qatar was busy bringing in its own cows and chickens to alleviate the “food crisis”. I say “crisis” like that because the media was quick to pick up photos of empty shelves from other years, other countries, other times. Sure, some things were sometimes in short supply (Diet Coke unfathomably was practically a black market item for months). But no-one went hungry, we just changed our shopping and eating habits.
Those images around the city are all still there today – you can even find them on ice lollies! A reminder that the blockade has still not been resolved but that in the meantime we have found a new sense of solidarity and community.
There’s more to Qatar than the blockade
One of the things I forget is that telling you what it’s like to live here isn’t the same as telling you about all the incredible things to do in Qatar. Those of you who don’t know me or maybe follow me on Instagram because I sometimes post some interesting pictures might not know the first thing about Qatar. Even knowing what you know about the blockade, you mightn’t know where Qatar is or that it’s it’s own country, let alone what there is to do here. And to be honest, before we moved here, neither did I.
A chance encounter
I had a chance encounter with a couple of travellers yesterday. Stranded in Doha after they failed to make a connecting flight, they had been put up in her hotel by their airline and found themselves wandering around one of the malls where I happened to be shopping with a friend. They told us they were looking for a place to buy alcohol which is impossible in this country during Ramadan. Looking crestfallen, they asked if there was anything we would recommend doing since they had another 12 hours to burn before their connecting flights left. They were “stuck” in transit.
Those flights would take them far far away from here. I thought it would be a shame if they didn’t manage to take advantage of an unexpected layover in a brand new city that they knew nothing about. What a great opportunity to experience a different culture and country. Maybe I’ve been drinking the Qatar Kool Aid for too long but there’s a lot to love about this tiny country.
So what are some incredible things to do in Qatar?
We have visitors on a pretty regular basis. Friends and family on layovers or just here to see us, we like to show people a lovely time. I figured it was about time I wrote some posts about where I actually live instead of always thinking about the next holiday. So here you have it: 11 incredible things to do in Qatar.
You’re probably surprised that I’m even mentioning going outdoors, let alone starting with it! We live in the desert – surely it’s meltingly hot outside all the time and you can almost never leave the house, right?
There’s more to Qatar than Doha
Granted, at the time of writing, I’m reliably informed by both Instagram and my weather app that it’s 43C outside. It’s only 10.30am. You can’t deny that the summers are pretty intense. But there’s a decent chunk of the year when it’s perfectly lovely to go outside (and some times when it’s even too cool!!!). Obviously it’s nice to do a mix of things on your holiday (y’all know I love a bit of balance). But if you don’t have the luxury of time, given the choice I would recommend getting out of the city and seeing some of the rest of the country first hand.
It was a no-brainer to make this top of my list. Even within this, there is sooooo much to say! You can drive yourself (go with people who know please – getting stuck in the desert is No Fun) or you can hire a local to drive you there. If you’re feeling brave (or are being driven), try dune bashing – driving up and down the sand in as crazy a manner as you can manage without flipping your car. Not for the faint-hearted (me), this is a hugely popular activity for locals, expats and tourists alike.
Maybe you’ll head South to the Singing Sand Dunes to experience the awe-inspiring “hums” as you slide down the dunes (be prepared for a workout – climbing up is no joke). Also in the South of the country is the Inland Sea where the Arabian Gulf snakes inland (oddly enough). On a clear day you can see Saudi Arabia across the water. Splashing in the water against a backdrop of sand dunes isn’t a bad way to spend the day.
If you head due west from Doha towards Dukhan, you can find the East-West / West-East sculpture – an art installation by Richard Serra. Nearby is the village of Zekreet which is also interesting to visit and has a nice beach. To the North you can explore Al Zubara Fort – an historic Qatari military fortress.
I have to admit, even knowing when we came that Qatar was almost completely surrounded by water, I didn’t really give the beaches too much thought. Boy was that a mistake. The water in the Arabian Gulf is that beautiful crystal clear aquamarine turquoise. Photos we have taken from the beaches here are seriously as pretty as the ones from remote islands in Indonesia or the Maldives. And they’re here – some within 30 minutes of Doha! While there are some beaches that are more popular than others, you’ll have a lovely day splashing in shallow waters and enjoying the weather.
The Corniche is a promenade that runs along the water’s edge from the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) to the Sheraton Hotel. It’s about a 5km walk (or run) if you’re feeling energetic and offers beautiful views of the skyline and out over the bay. If you’re clever you can coincide a walk along it with a tour of MIA at one end and a play in the water fountains by the Sheraton at the other. (Or a cup of coffee there or in the Costa Coffee at the end).
Even better than walking along the Corniche is an evening cruise. You can pre-book these or you can just show up at the docks (next to MIA) and negotiate your way on. Set off in the late afternoon for a leisurely sail around West Bay, up towards the Pearl and back again. All while the sun is setting behind the collection of glass high rise buildings. It’s pretty spectacular and a really different way to experience the city.
4. Water Sports
If you’re into water sports then you may be surprised to know that there are a few options for you here. While not the best scuba diving in the world, there are a couple of dive outfits that will take you out and who will eve help you get certified if you aren’t already. Stand up paddle boarding is alive and well in Qatar, as are kayaking excursions to places like Purple Island (another popular beach with much more to see than some of the sand and sea ones).
Now, the chances are, if you’ve come to Qatar, you’re probably staying in Doha, the capital city. Whilst it’s not the be all and end all, it is home to the majority of the population and, therefore, offers a variety of things to do without even leaving the city.
I’m a huge fan of the souqs in Doha. I know lots of people would say if you can only do one thing while you are here that you should go to the Museum of Islamic Art (below). But I love the feel of the souqs – particularly the main one: Souq Waqif.
Although the souq was renovated in 2006, great care was taken to keep it on the original site and to honour traditional Qatari architecture. While you can tell it isn’t old, it has a great authentic feel to it. Wandering around the labyrinth of corridors, you can’t avoid the aromatic smells of the spices on sale or be fascinated by glittering fabrics available to buy. It’s a proper functioning market – locals and expats come to buy everything from cookware to material for thrones and abayas to beautiful jewellery. Meanwhile tourists can find a variety of souvenirs, grab a cup of coffee or sit down to taste some traditional local cuisine.
If you have more time I’d really recommend a trip to one of the other souqs. Souq Al Wakra is a bit more of a drive but you can’t argue with it’s location right on the coast. The Falcon Souq (right next to Souq Waqif) is a great one to visit too. If you’re a foodie you might enjoy the Fish Market or Wholesale Market. There’s a Plant Souq for green fingered readers and a couple of Fabric Souqs for people with a gift for sewing.
The most well known and popular of museums in Qatar has to be the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). Situated in the most stunning building designed by architect I.M. Pei, you can find MIA right on the water at the beginning of the Corniche. It often houses travelling exhibitions as well as it’s own collections which are all connected by Islam (although not all religious in nature). MIA also has a beautiful park with a cafe offering sweeping views of the Doha skyline as well as an Alain Ducasse restaurant (Idam).
The list doesn’t stop there. From the National Museum of Qatar to Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum to smaller boutique art galleries, there’s plenty to do.
For a full list of museums in Qatar, check out Qatar Museums’ website.
7. Eat out
I don’t even know where to begin with the eating options in Qatar. Who knew the foodie scene would be so vibrant?!
I guess the top is as good a place as any to start. In each of the amazing 5* hotels you’ll find multiple excellent restaurants catering to your every taste. We are lucky enough to have restaurants by world famous chefs such as Nobu, Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse. It doesn’t stop there, however. There are Greek and Turkish restaurants, South American and Spanish restaurants, Italian and French restaurants and, of course, Arabic restaurants to name but a few.
If you don’t fancy somethings so…well…fancy there are still loads of options available to you. The main restaurant and cafe hubs are in The Pearl, the malls and the souqs. But that’s not to say there aren’t hidden gems to be found all over the city. Be sure to ask around before you arrive and when you get here for people’s favourite places. It’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.
8. The Pearl
Similar to the Palm in Dubai, the Pearl is a man-made island jutting out into the sea from Northern Doha. It’s full of apartment buildings and has loads of super cool restaurants to choose from. It has a beautiful sweeping marina full of ridiculously amazing yachts with cafes and restaurants right by the water… It’s fascinating to walk around and take it all in…. A must visit sort of place.
I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that has as many malls as Qatar. What’s more, there are still some still to be finished! From the absolutely opulent Mall Al Hazm to the we have everything here mega malls of Mall of Qatar and Festival City Mall, if you’re a shopper, there’s something here for you. So many familiar brands from the UK, France, USA and Australia have made their way into the Qatari shopping scene. While some places have definitely marked up prices to take advantage of a captive market reflect import costs, not all have some this and there are still some decent deals to be had in the sales. If you’re here in the height of summer, a wander around a cool air-conditioned mall isn’t the worst idea in the world.
10. Kids activities
If ever there was a kid friendly city, I’d have to say this is it. When we arrived there was already a plethora of soft play centres open – you can find one in pretty much any mall you go to. We also loved going to the Aqua Park when we got here and it remains a firm favourite family day out.
In the 3 years since we have lived here, Kidzmondo has opened and Kidzania is coming soon. The trampoline park Bounce has opened it’s second largest facility globally. An Angry Birds has opened in the past couple of weeks and we are expecting some Snow Dunes soon too! Add that to the many cinemas dotted around the city (again, most new malls have one) and you could pass a week here quite happily doing only kid-focussed activities!
A little nod to Mr Wanderlust who doesn’t get to play anywhere near as much as he would like! Doha Golf Club has been here for years and is a popular place for sport and entertainment. Home to the Qatar Masters, it has both an 18 hole course and a 9 hole course to choose from. Book ahead: Weekends tend to get filled up with members taking the best times but they can usually accommodate you.
Not too shabby
Not bad for a tiny country that you’d barely heard of before I’m sure you’ll agree! Do you live in Qatar or have you been? What do (did) you do when you were here?