Tourism in Qatar (cheat-sheet included) – interview with a local
I am not sure if I always had this habit or it kind of developed along with the blog, but every time I meet somebody new I automatically question them about the place they call home. So when I got the opportunity to find out more about tourism and things to do in Qatar, a place virtually unknown to me, I could not help it and set up what will be a series of articles on this amazing country.
Note: This article is not sponsored and does not constitute an advertisement. It does contain a few friendly affiliate links for accommodation booking, which if you follow and make a reservation, brings us a small commission at no extra cost for you.
But before the local’s insights, a quick cheat-sheet on the country itself.
I hope you know me well enough by now not to be surprised by my thoroughness and curiosity when it comes to a new destination. Here’s what I think is important to know about Qatar.
It is a peninsular Arab country, situated at the Persian Gulf between the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and insular Bahrain. Its dramatic relief of arid desert and dunes that roll down to the shoreline of the Persian Gulf is mostly flat (highest altitude is 103 meters).
The official religion is Islam, the country being ruled by a mixture of civil and Sharia (religious) law.
It has the highest per capita income in the world, and it is regarded as the most advanced Arab state for human development. Its booming economy is due to the world’s third largest natural gas reserves and its oil fields. In 2022 Qatar will be the first Arab state to host the FIFA world cup championship.
Archaeological evidence suggests a rich and continuous habitation of the peninsula up to the 7th century AD, when the conversion to Islam took place in the area. When Portugal took over the region in the 16th century the local prince Al-Hasa chose the Ottoman leadership instead of the Portuguese one. World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire brought a British protectorate until 1971 when the country finally became independent. Nowadays Qatar is a unitary constitutional monarchy.
So let’s find out more about things to do in Qatar and how tourism looks like in this country from Serban Spirea. He is the type of person who enjoys his job, and you can feel this in the open, dynamic, and friendly way in which he answers questions, be them related to real estate or not. He is a young entrepreneur from Romania who opened in 2015 FGREALTY one of the fastest growing luxury real estate companies in Qatar.
Tradition and Modernism
What do you think is the main incentive to visit Qatar?
This small country blends together the mystery and the culture of Muslims, the original Bedouins, and modernism brought by wealth and a large number of expatriates that inhabit it nowadays. Out of 2.7 million inhabitants, over 2.3 million are foreigners, and thus the face of the country changes at a fast pace, while it is at the same time deeply rooted in its centuries-old traditions. Expats quickly learn to follow a certain code of behavior out of respect for the Muslim population here. I find this a very fascinating cultural experience.
Which aspect do you personally find the most intriguing?
Imagine that only 50 years ago the country was inhabited by tribes of nomadic Bedouins who lived off their farms and relied on diving for natural pearls for their livelihood. Their culture was mostly orally transmitted. Performances of poetry/stories accompanied by traditional music with tambourines and small drums as well as original dances can still be appreciated every Friday (the free day in Qatar). Nowadays, Qatar is one of the fastest developing countries in the world, and this can also be seen outside the real estate field. For example, alongside pearls, jewelry, and traditional Muslim handicrafts (carpets, textiles, calligraphy), contemporary art pieces are being traded very successfully here.
Is this why you decided to invest in Qatar?
New cities develop at a record time here, and the driving force for it is twofold. On the one hand, oil and natural gas are the main sources of income, and this has drawn many expats here in search of work. Real estate in Qatar flourished as a consequence. Even if foreigners are not allowed to buy land in Qatar, there are large and amazing developments built for expatriates, as there are special real estate development projects.
On the other hand, I decided to invest in Luxury Real Estate as more and more tourists are interested in what Qatar has to offer. The most famous example is the Pearl in the capital Doha, one of the most fabulous contemporary architectural projects, expected to welcome over 45,000 people up to the end of this year. It is a man-made island with buildings that blend the Arabian architectural zest for opulence with state-of-the-art modernity, and the first land to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals.
If you visit the Pearl, do not miss the Qanat quarter, a waterfront village inspired by Venetian architecture.
Tourism in Qatar – practical information
What should one consider when planning a trip to Qatar?
The best time to visit is in spring or autumn. Qatar has a dry, hot weather, but during these seasons the temperatures are more pleasant. You should keep in mind that the work week here is from Sunday to Thursday, and special opening times operate during the Ramadan fasting period. In solidarity with those fasting, you should only eat in public before sunrise or after sunset.
Qatar welcomes tourists and the citizens within 37 countries can travel to Doha and stay in Qatar for 30 days only passport based. The list of the countries that can travel to Qatar without travel visa is here.
What should one expect upon arriving in Qatar?
Qatari are welcoming foreigners into their country, being one of the most inclusive countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Actually, the large number of expats is proof in this sense. However, a dress codemust be obeyed in order to show respect to the locals. The general rule for both men and women is that your shoulders and knees should be covered in public spaces. As long as these rules of decency are followed, Qatar is a safe country even for solo female travelers.
Modesty and decency in mind, you can enjoy yourself as you would in any European country. The majority of locations accept credit card payments, with prices being in the range of those in Western Europe. Alcohol can be purchased only in places that hold a license, but generally, hotels do serve it. There is a wide range of high-quality restaurants and cafés. My personal recommendations are Leila restaurant, Ethiopia restaurant, and Kuminous Café.
And wherever you go, take a taxi. As gas is so abundantly available here, this is the safest and most affordable means of transportation if you do not have your own car.
Tourism in Qatar – things to do/see
The capital, Doha, is the main touristic destination in the country. What are the top things to do/see here?
Any visit should start with a walk on the Corniche, the city’s most famous waterside promenade. You can admire the traditional dhows boats alongside very modern yachts in the blue waters of the bay, and take very cool photos of the West Bay business district from here.
f you walk on, you will reach the famous Museum of Islamic Arts, that features the most exclusive collections of art from the entire Islamic world. Entrance to the museum is free, and on your way out you should pay a visit to the beautiful park that surrounds it. A Saturday afternoon market takes place here where many local products are sold.
Another must-see place is the Katara Cultural Village, which recreates the traditional architecture of the country. Besides exclusive restaurants and shops, you can find here exhibition halls, art galleries, an opera house, a drama theater, and a large amphitheater.
Shopping is one of the most important things to do in Qatar. You can head to the Villagio Mall, a luxurious shopping center inspired by the architecture of an Italian hill town that even features an indoor canal with gondolas. For those looking for an authentic experience, the Souq Waqif traditional-style market is the place to find spices, handmade handicrafts, textiles, and local souvenirs. Here you can enjoy the traditional labyrinth bazaar with small shops whose wares tumble out on the pavement. If in need of a break, you can stop at one of the many excellent shisha lounges.
Where should one be headed for day trips outside Doha?
There are two places that immediately come to mind. The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al-Thani Museum – with objects collected by the Sheikh over the years, from vintage cars and a traditional Bedouin tent to old credit cards. A guided visit is recommended to make sense of it all.
About an hour’s drive from Doha, the only UNESCO World Heritage site in the country is Al Zubarah. This is an archaeological site where, in an interactive museum, you can get a glimpse into the old way of life of the local nomadic tribes who lived off pearl diving before the discovery of oil in the area.
The most popular activity is, however, to take a desert safari to Khor Al Adaid and there are plenty of tour operators who offer them. Camel riding and Bedouin-style meals are often included for a more authentic experience.
Like in many other of our posts, we ask our readers to interact by offering their recommendations and sharing their experiences if they already visited Qatar. This will not only give you a chance of a win in our Christmas tombola, but it might also lead to you being featured on our social media channels as part of the Favorite Follower trend we will set up at the beginning of 2019.