Located in the Persian Gulf and only bordering land with Saudi Arabia, Qatar is one of the seven Arab States. Qatar is a small country, but it is also a very diverse, fast-growing tourist destination. There is strong development in tourism facilities, especially in Doha, the capital city of the peninsula. Qatar will be hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup soccer which will further increase the development towards tourism.
Also thanks to their national carrier Qatar Airways, which is one of the better ones in the world, in my opinion, it is possible to visit Qatar on a one or multi-day stopover before you fly on to your final destination. There are plenty of places to visit in Doha to entertain anyone for at least a few days. We have had the chance to visit Qatar a few times now when flying between South Africa and Europe. One such trip was due to a missed connection by no fault of our own, so Qatar Airways organised everything really well which allowed us to enjoy 24 hours in Doha for no extra charge. This particular trip gave us the chance to enjoy the city and to get an idea of what there is to see in Doha. Most of the interesting places to see in Doha are located in the city centre, yet if you have some extra days, do take a tour or rent a car and enjoy some of the things to do in Qatar, further away from the capital city.
Best things to do in Doha Qatar
Shopping in Souq Waqif in Doha
Located in the bustling heart of Doha, Souq Waqif is one of the oldest souqs in Qatar. Souq Waqif offers visitors a unique and authentic experience of a traditional Arab market, but with a more modern feel to it. A visit to Souq Waqif is a must when in Doha and will be one of the highlights of your trip to Qatar. It is possible to walk for hours in the small alleys between the various market areas, most of which are undercover to shield you and the shop owners from the glaring sun. I particularly love browsing the food market, with colourful spices filling the area with their wonderful aromas. Also, one can find dried fruits, nuts, honey, tea leaves and other types of food all packed openly in large bags or crates. It will be difficult to leave the food section without buying some of the products. Other markets include traditional clothing and garments, textiles, cooking utensils and the gold souq with beautiful jewellery and traditional pearls. When looking for a souvenir from Qatar, Souq Waqif is the perfect place to go.
Here are some examples of which traditional souvenirs to buy in Doha.
What I particularly love about Souq Waqif is that it is neat, clean and somewhat more peaceful compared to other souqs I have visited before and making it one of the great things to see in Doha. It is mostly quiet in the mornings and afternoons but really comes alive in the evenings. Lots of local people visit the souq during the cooler times of the evening to take a stroll with the whole family, to go shopping, to watch people while sitting on a bean bag smoking a hookah, or to have a meal in one of the plenty restaurants or cafés of the Souk.
The Corniche in Doha
The Doha Corniche is a seven kilometre long pedestrian walkway extending the entire length of the Doha Bay. The Corniche provides excellent views of the city as well as the seafront with traditional wooden dhows floating around. It’s a great place to spend some time, watch people or take a relaxing walk or a jog. The palm trees lining one side of the boulevard provide nice shade. At night, especially on the weekends, the Corniche is filled with people who get together with friends and family. During the evenings is when you can best see and enjoy the city lights of the Doha skyline. A visit to the Corniche is a must for any visitor to Doha.
Take a Dhow tour
One of the top things to do in Doha along the Corniche is to take a boat cruise with a traditional wooden dhow. We took a cruise in the evening and went along the city skyline and enjoyed the different lights of the buildings. It’s a great activity to do and gives you an opportunity to ride in a traditional boat. There is a large selection of boats and companies offering various types of trips. They differ in length of time and with or without a meal. We decided on a half an hour cruise which took us towards the Doha skyline and offered us some nice traditional music as well, albeit a bit loud, but we really did enjoy this boat trip.
Visit the Falcon Souq
The Falcon Souq in Doha is located right next to Souq Waqif. Falconry is still very much alive in Qatar and the Falcon Souq is dedicated to the traditional practice of hunting with falcons. A visit to the Falcon Souq provides an insight into the local falconry culture. You can enter a shop where you can get a glimpse of the falcons, take pictures and can sometimes even put them on your arm. Falcons are so important locally that they even have a Souq Waqif Falcon hospital. This souq definitely shows the importance of falcons in Qatari culture.
Museum of Islamic art
The museum of Islamic art is an iconic and very recognisable building located on one end of the Corniche walkway. The construction of the museum is based on ancient Islamic architecture and is really special. Inside you will find a beautiful collection of Islamic art covering 14 centuries and collected from across 3 continents. A visit to the museum is perfect before or after visiting the Corniche. Admission to the museum is free of charge. More information can be found on the website of the museum itself.
Relax in MIA Park
Adjacent to the Museum of Islamic Art you can find the MIA Park. It’s a very popular place for many people. The lush green lawns are very inviting for a family picnic or games for children, there are nice walkways for a pleasant stroll and there is a kiosk cafe for a relaxing (non-alcoholic) drink overlooking the Doha skyline. There is also a playground for children and various events and activities are regularly organised in the park. The park is now open 24/7 for visitors.
Villaggio Mall – A taste of Venice in Doha
Who would think it is possible to go ice skating or to take a boat ride with a gondola on a canal in a warm desert country like Qatar? Well, it is possible. Villagio mall is a Venetian inspired shopping centre in Doha, which with the decoration, brings you all the way to this beautiful city in Italy. And that is not all, there is also an indoor theme park, bowling alley and movie theatre, all included in the Gondolania theme park. With over 200 stores, Villagio mall is a great place to go for an air-conditioned shopping spree, or to relax in one of the many restaurants and cafés.
Enjoy the panoramic city views from The Torch Doha
Standing 300 metres high, the Torch Doha is a five star luxury hotel located in the Aspire Zone. The tower was used as a landmark during the 2006 Asian games. The Torch Doha features, among other things, 163 rooms, various restaurants and an infinity pool with amazing city views. The most notable restaurant for us was The Revolving Restaurant located on the 47th floor with the most incredible panoramic views over Doha. The entire tower is lit up at night in twelve different colours making it an iconic sight during the night. The Torch is connected via a walkway with the Villaggio mall.
Discover the Pearl
The Pearl in Doha is built on reclaimed land and forms various islands with a mix of residential estates in various pastel colours and commercial outlets spanning over four million m2. The artificial island was named ‘The Pearl’ because it was built on one of the previous pearl diving sites in Qatar. The Doha Pearl does not only consist of high rises and luxury shopping malls, it is also a nice and relaxing place to visit for families. You can walk along the promenade or admire the yachts in the marina. When we visited we had breakfast in one of the many cafés.
Top things to do in Qatar just outside Doha
Ras Abrouq Rock Formations
The Ras Abrouq rock formations are located in the Zikrit region on the western side of Qatar. They are only an hours drive from Doha, yet you feel like being in a different part of the world. The limestone rock formations have been created by wind erosion coming from the sea and stand as natural pillars in the desert. It is a nice place to escape the busy city of Doha and to take a drive through the countryside. On a nice day you can explore the nearby unspoilt beaches or relax on them.
Beaches in and around Doha
With a coastline of 560 kilometres, a warm climate and lots of sand, Qatar seems the perfect beach destination for a summer holiday. There are indeed quite some beaches, but most of the public beaches have no facilities. Most people will enjoy a beach day at one of the private beaches mostly located in a luxury hotel or resort. Also keep in mind that at most of the public beaches a very modest dress code is required, whereas at a private beach, wearing a bikini is allowed. Most of the private beaches will charge an entrance fee to spend the day, but that will include the use of various facilities, depending on the exact location.
We spent some time on various public beaches when visiting Qatar, some nicer than others. While most beach resorts offer various types of activities like renting a jetski, on one occasion we joined a group of friends on a public beach who had their own boat, jetskis and water ski equipment. We spent the day at the beach, having brought our own barbeque items and enjoyed the very warm water of the Persian Gulf. We also noticed that the water is very salty and is somewhat easier to float in than normal sea water, giving you an almost Dead Sea experience.
We also spent one day at the Sealine Beach Resort, a mere 40 minute drive south of Doha. It’s a beautiful resort, with all facilities needed to spend a nice day out enjoying the sun, beach and sea. Keep in mind that you do have to pay an entrance fee to spend the day there, but it is well worth it.
Best places to stay in Doha
Doha is a city that offers plenty of places to stay for any type of budget. Depending on exactly where you think you might want to stay in the city while considering your particular interests, take a look at these recommended hotel deals:
Have you visited Doha in Qatar? What was your favourite thing to do?
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