Let’s go or linadhhab, as they say in Arabic, and make the most of our limited time and finances to see and do what we can during our stay in Doha, Qatar.
For us, as ex-pat residents, it’s a year or three, but as a visitor, it will be far shorter. And, possibly, if you are here for the World Cup football, then all the seeing-and-doing needs to happen between games.
The big positive is that despite its size (Qatar is smaller than Greater London), you are spoilt for choice and yet, all the sites and adventures are within reach.
In fact, it takes only 80 minutes by car to get to the top of the country from the capital, Doha.
On the downside, Qatar is a very expensive country.
Ultimately, how you spend your time as a tourist in Qatar boils down to costs and preferences.
Fortunately, there’s enough to see and do that will not cost you an extra penny, cent or Qatar rial. (By the way, the exchange rate, as of early November 2022, is 24 pence or R5 to every rial).
Just so you know
So, for what it’s worth, as an ex-pat from South Africa who grew up in England and has been living in Qatar since February 2022, here are some “musts” for you to consider.
They are in no particular order and are my own personal choice. You will find additional information on some of the recommendations via links to previous blog posts.
I hope it helps.
There are tour companies aplenty offering everything from cultural tours to kayaking.
10 Qatar musts
The Doha bus
Orientate yourself with a trip aboard the yellow Doha bus. It’s just like the official tourist buses of the world’s big cities, except that the Doha one is yellow and has an air-conditioned downstairs section.
There are 16 stops at which you can hop on and off. It will take you past all the important sites (some of which you may want to visit) and explain it all in your own language via the pre-recorded audio guide.
It’s not cheap at QAR180, but will offer the overview you need to orientate yourself.
With the Corniche (scenic coastal route closed to regular vehicles from 1 November to late December), the bus may take a few diversions.
We paid for our tickets on the bus after contacting and booking with the private company online.
Contact: +97444422444 or www.dohabus.com
Don’t miss the opportunity to soak up the sun, the stunning views and the atmosphere of the beautiful Al Corniche Street – an area that stretches for 7km around the water’s edge.
It is presently just for pedestrians and will be a focal point for fans throughout the four-week FIFA 2022 World Cup.
Apart from all the football fun, you will be within walking distance of:
- Al BIdda Park (another fan zone)
- The Summer Parliament where the camels parade daily on the lawn
- The Museum of Islamic Art
- The Qatar National Museum
- Souq Waqif
- The view of Doha’s city centre with its mini-Manhattan skyline
- The traditional dhow sailing vessels
A dhow trip
Disclaimer alert: I have not yet personally bobbed about on the ocean blue marvelling at the view aboard one of the many ancient dhows that dot the bay.
But it is on my Qatar bucket list, especially since this mode of transport – a traditional fishing or pearl diving vessel – is in complete contrast with the skyscraper surrounds of modern Doha.
You can enjoy a 15-minute jaunt at sunset for about QAR60 for two (bargaining is acceptable) or sign up for a longer organised trip, inclusive of onboard picnics/meals, entertainment and the like.
Or you can hire a dhow, complete with captain and crew, for half or a full day of sightseeing. Friends share wonderful stories of dropping anchor at one of the mini islands in the bay to enjoy a carefree time of swimming, eating and relaxing.
The weather is ideal for this from November through to February, but an evening jaunt in summer is also pleasant.
This traditional market is among my favourite places in Qatar. Souq Waqif just feels more authentic, even though this hustling, bustling hub of Middle Eastern cultures, is a replica of the original Bedouin meeting place.
The market, another focal point for the FIFA 2022 World Cup with its big screens, entertainment and outside broadcast units, is as popular with residents and visitors as it is with Qataris. And, it is as popular for shopping, as it is for eating, with patrons dining outside as life passes by. The choice of cuisine is mainly from across the Arabic world, but you can find yourself a burger or a pizza (if you must).
But I would recommend that you indulge in some mezze, Arabic bread, koftas or any of the lamb or other local dishes. It’s cheaper to eat at the souq than at the international hotels.
The cost of goodies with everything from pearls to perfumes and spices to souvenirs is also more reasonable in the souq, especially if you bargain.
Adjoining the souq are sections with Arabic horses and also falcons. These are interesting too.
But beware the “pet” part of the souq. Everything from peacocks to turtles is on sale here.
Forget fuddy-duddy forgotten museum buildings, hosting equally ancient items collecting dust. In Doha, museums are a must.
They’re engaging, educational and fun. They’re an experience, rather than a passive endurance exercise as they engage all your senses.
I can particularly recommend the National Museum of Qatar which will provide an overview of the history and heritage of Qatar and her people.
The building is iconic and easily accessible via the gold line on the Metro.
Then there’s the 3-2-1 Qatar and Olympic Sport Museum, especially for sports fans. The activation zone at the end of your top-down museum meander is a huge value-add for the entire family. This museum is attached to the Khalifa Stadium, a host stadium, so pop into the museum before or after your game.
Reach this venue via the green line on the Metro.
Entry to both the latter museums costs QAR100. So too does a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, another destination on our Doha bucket.
We also really enjoyed the Sheik Faisal Qassim Al Thani Museum, about 30km outside of Doha, for the sheer eccentric, eclectic exuberance of this one-man collection. You will be transported to another world.
There’s also a new leaning minaret – a perfect photo opportunity.
It will cost you QAR50 to enter.
Katara Cultural Village
This is another of our escape spaces, thanks mainly to the ambiance of this re-created traditional Arabic village overlooking the sea.
It’s an ambience that constantly changes as Katara is a go-to place for all cultural and heritage events – be it dhows, falcons, Arabic horse shows, book fairs, markets with handcrafted goodies, art exhibitions, Arabic culture classes …
A host of activities have been lined up during the World Cup period. But even without these, Katara offers you a welcome alternative to the surrounding skyscrapers with its lovely view of the opulent Pearl islands.
Within the labyrinth of buildings, you will find places directly associated with the arts, including schools of film and photography, as well as cinemas, a philatelist museum, fabulous artwork, an amphitheatre, restaurants and a lovely walk past the paid-for beach.
There’s an adjacent fast food area called Tasty Street, and you can walk it all off by ambling across the man-made Katara Hills.
You can reach Katara Village on the Metro’s red line. Be sure to walk through the high-end French-Italian colonnaded shopping precinct with its outdoor air-conditioning or pop into Galeries Lafayette.
As horse racing is to the United Kingdom and America, so camel racing is to the Arabic world – and some!
The “and some” are the huge stakes at play and the format of the weekly 3km, 6km or 8km races held about 45 minutes outside Doha at the Al Shahaniya camel racing track.
For starters, the winner of every race receives a new car and a QAR100 000! There were 15 races during our visit …
While the robot-driven camels are the star athletes, running at an average of 40km/h, there’s entertainment aplenty alongside these sleek ships of the desert as a cavalcade of SUVs hoot their charges on.
Yep, you’ve got it. Instead of cheering on their charges from the grandstand, the owners and trainers drive alongside their camels on tarred tracks. It’s all graded sand for the four-legged QAR1 million-and-up athletes.
The camel racing industry is fascinating. (It’s on my to-be-blogged list!)
To fully appreciate Hejen (the name of the committee) racing , you need to be part of an organised tour, as it also takes you behind the scenes for the start and finish of each of 10-minute races.
We paid QAR165 – a worthwhile investment for a true Arabic experience.
A desert adventure
Another Qatari favourite is a dune-bashing and overnight camping experience in the desert – preferably at the inland sea, south of Doha.
This one is on my bucket list now that the temperatures are dropping.
Many tour companies offer variations on the theme (camel rides, sandboarding, Arabic cuisine etc), as you need a 4X4 vehicle to navigate the sand dunes for such a desert adventure.
History, mystery coastal self-drive
You won’t need four-wheel drive to indulge in some Qatari history on its beautiful coastline however, since a large highway easily connects motorists to the north of the country.
Here you can enjoy:
- An abandoned village
- A new artwork, and
- Zubara Fort, a historical military fortress and a UNESCO world heritage site
Start with purple island, outside of Al Khor, where you can view the mangroves. It is an ecosystem that is far removed from the desert sands, and can also be experienced while kayaking.
This natural wonder occurs further up the coast too, such as at Jumail village. This former pearling and fishing village was abandoned following the economic boom that came with the discovery of petroleum (70 years ago) and gas (50 years ago).
It’s a quaint archaeological site or ghost town. It is also an ideal place to enjoy a picnic or braai (barbecue) at the water’s edge. You’re likely to have the place, or any such similar spot up or down this stretch of coastline, all to yourself.
You may also be fortunate enough to enjoy the new Shadow Travelling sculptures all by yourselves too.
These massive steel, mirror and fibreglass half circles just off the coastal road in the desert are entertaining because you get to play with the shapes. They’re a photographic magnet.
Chances are you’ll become reflective too – with all your mirrored selves looking back at you. Sometimes the camel herders pop by too.
Just a few kilometres away, you can re-acquaint yourselves with Qatar’s past as a peninsula on a busy trading route, whose own economy started with the pearl industry.
This is Al Zubara Fort, rebuilt in 1938, and the surrounding archaeological sites, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. There’s a small museum alongside the fort where the realities of the pearl industry come to life.
Again, there are tourism companies that offer such tours. They usually run for about four hours. But if you have your own car, or are being hosted by a relative or friend, consider such a self-drive trip.
The shopping malls
I know, I know … you get shopping malls the world-over, so why would you want to waste precious time (and money) trawling the malls of Qatar?
Well, even I, a confessed non-shopper, have to acknowledge the magnetism of Doha’s shopping malls. They’re simply bigger-better-faster than anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world or seen on the goggle box.
I refer especially to the high-end malls, centres and precincts. But to be fair, even checking out the veggies in the local supermarket is a feast for the eyes and a lesson in geography.
Some are so opulent, it’s almost obscene.
Meticulously curated, always sparkling clean and at home with six-figure price tags …
Valet services, free internal transport and entertainment areas that challenge Disney World theme parks …
Even the public toilets have marble floors and finishings.
So please just have a look (window shopping is for free) at any of the shopping centres listed below:
- Place Vendome
- Mall of Qatar
- The Pearl (the entire area is also worth visiting too)
- The Gate Mall
- City Centre Mall
- Galeries Lafayette
So let’s go …
Best wishes to Qatar for their World Cup 2022 may evertything run smoothly!
May they also enjoy what we did and lets hope that the competition is fair & the the best team wins!
Debbie you are a great tourist ambassador! Gqeberha needs to employ you!
Looking forward to your next blog!
Yep I agree an ambassador, for all countries,I still would like a table copy signed by you,Port Elizabeth or South Africa would be all the better for employing you,as so informative,thank you
I wish I could join you for the World Cup!
Debbie, you would make the most amazing tour guide! I am amazed at all you have learned in the short time you have been there.
Enjoy all the excitement with the World Cup. Looking forward to your next update!