Once one of the poorest states in the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar has progressed rapidly to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful players in the global market. Set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar, but more specifically, its capital Doha, is quickly becoming a leisure travelers’ destination of choice in the Gulf region.
Top Things to Do in Doha, Qatar
Al Zubarah Fort
The 18th-century fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is just one of more than 6,000 archaeological sites in Qatar. Located 62 miles from Doha, Al Zubarah Fort is the only unaltered Arabian pearl merchant town remaining today.
Once the Bedouin trading grounds for sheep, goats, and wool, the souq suffered much decrepit until it underwent significant restoration in 2004. One of the last traditional souqs left in the Gulf, Souq Waqif is a shopping paradise for souvenirs, embroidered garments like the bukhnoq, aromatic spices, and perfumes like the oud.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
The museum displays the private collection of a Qatari billionaire sheikh, accumulated during his years of extensive travel over four continents. There are more than 15,000 artifacts including fossilized dinosaur eggs, intricate hand-woven carpets, ceramic pottery, cars, and weaponry. The museum also accommodates horses, gazelles, oryx and peacocks.
Museum of Islamic Art
Designed by famous architect IM Pei, this architectural beauty resembles a geometric fortress rising from a virtual moat. It houses an exquisite collection of Islamic art from three continents. From Turkish mosaics and Persian rugs to ceramic artworks and gold jewelry, the collection is the largest in the world.
The Singing Dunes
Embark on an adventure to a landscape where wind, moisture and sand combine to create low murmurs. Get ready for 4 X 4 drives through the sand dunes, better known as “dune bashing.” No Desert Safari is complete without traditional Bedouin hospitality, including a lavish spread, refreshments, and belly dancing. What better way to spend the evening than under the desert night sky.
Doha’s waterfront promenade “Corniche” comes to life during the late afternoons and evenings. The entrance to the dhow harbor is marked by the pearl monument, a popular spot for selfies. From here, you can travel across the crescent-shaped Doha Bay in Qatar’s traditional wooden sailing boat known as the “dhow.” It offers beautiful views of the Doha skyline and the Corniche, especially at sunset.
Al Maha Sanctuary
Qatar was the first Arab nation to breed the Arabian Oryx in captivity. The milky-white antelopes with curved horns are an endangered desert deer species. They are also considered the symbol of Qatar. Today, there are more than 1,000 Arabian Oryx in the nature reserves at Shahaniya, Ras Ushaijrij and Al Maszhabiya.
Travel Advice for Qatar
The crime in Qatar is extremely low. If you want to go sightseeing around Doha, it is entirely safe to use Doha’s extensive bus system, registered taxis, hotel shuttles, and concierge. Avoid using unregistered cabs. If you intend to rent a car, you can use your driving license (regardless of issuing country) to legally drive for a week. If you plan to stay longer in Qatar, an International Driving License or Permit will have you covered for six months.
Like other GCC nations, Qatar identifies as a Sunni Muslim country and follows Sharia Law. Some local traditions and laws to be familiar with are:
Ramadan: If you are traveling during the fasting month of Ramadan, eating and drinking in public during daytime hours is forbidden. Most restaurants and eateries will only open after fasting hours. Since Muslims follow the Hijri or lunar calendar, the month and timings of Ramadan vary every year. Take a note of this when planning a trip to Qatar.
Smoking: Hookah or shisha lounges are a common sight in Qatar. Smoking (cigarettes, cigars, etc.) is socially acceptable but is restricted to designated spaces.
Alcohol: It is a criminal offense to drink alcohol in public, carry alcohol on your person, or be drunk in public. Alcohol is only available in airport duty free, licensed hotel restaurants and bars.
Pork: Pork is not served in any public establishments in Qatar.
Romance: Public display of affection is not allowed in Qatar and homosexual behavior is illegal in Qatar.
Dress Code: While female visitors are not required to wear a burqa (loose-fitting, flowing garment) or a hijab (head cover) in Qatar, they are expected to dress modestly in public. That means avoiding short skirts or dresses and exposing your shoulders. However, religious institutions (like mosques) in Qatar follow a stricter dress code both for men and women.
Qatar’s Visa Procedures
There are many variations to Qatar’s visa requirements, depending on which country’s passport you hold.
1. Nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries do not require a visa to enter Qatar. The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
2. Nationals of 80 countries are eligible for visa-free entry into Qatar. Visitors from these countries do not need to make prior visa arrangements and can obtain a visa waiver upon arrival in Qatar.
For nationals from 34 countries including France, Germany, Iceland, Malaysia and Malta, the waiver is valid for 180 days and allows its holder to spend up to 90 days in Qatar (single or multiple trips).
For nationals from 46 countries including India, Indonesia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and South Africa, the waiver is valid for 30 days and allows its holder to spend up to 30 days in Qatar (single or multiple trips). The waiver can be extended for 30 days.
3. Travelers who are not eligible for visa-free entry, but who have a valid residence permit or visit visa to GCC countries, Schengen nations, Australia, UK, Canada, USA or New Zealand can obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) free of charge by filling out an online application.
4. Travelers who are not eligible for visa-free entry or ETA can apply for a Tourist Visa online. This visa allows the holder to stay in Qatar for up to 30 days. Extensions are not permitted. If you are traveling through Qatar Airways, you can log into ‘My Trips’ on the airline’s website and select ‘Apply for a visa.’
Come visit the beautiful Doha, Qatar and immerse yourself in the Arab culture, the gorgeous sights, the delicious food.