Qatar, a jewel in the Persian Gulf, is an amalgamation of the old and new, boasting gleaming skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and world-class shopping malls, while still preserving its rich Bedouin heritage. This guide provides an in-depth look into the cultural wonders, attractions, and experiences you can find while visiting this Arabian peninsula.
Quick Facts and Figures about Qatar
- Location: Qatar is located in the Middle East, on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It shares a border with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the Persian Gulf surrounding the rest of the country.
- Population: As of 2023, the population is approximately 2.9 million.
- Capital: The capital of Qatar is Doha, which is also its largest city.
- Language: Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood.
- Currency: The official currency is the Qatari Riyal (QAR).
- Climate: Qatar has a desert climate with year-round sunshine, hot summers, and mild winters.
- Time Zone: Qatar operates on Qatar Standard Time, which is 3 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC+3).
Travel Tips for Visiting Qatar
- Visa: Most nationalities can enter Qatar visa-free for a stay up to 30 or 90 days. It is advisable to check the latest visa regulations from the official Qatar government website or your local Qatar embassy.
- Dress Code: Qatar is a conservative country, and visitors are expected to dress modestly. Women do not have to wear a headscarf, but shoulders and knees should be covered in public places. Men should also dress modestly, avoiding shorts.
- Safety: Qatar is considered one of the safest countries in the world. However, like anywhere else, it’s important to take standard precautions.
- Religion: Islam is the state religion of Qatar. Non-Muslims are free to practice their religion, but public displays of other religions are not encouraged.
- Alcohol: The consumption of alcohol is limited to certain licensed hotels and restaurants. Drinking in public or driving under the influence is strictly prohibited.
Places to Visit
- Museum of Islamic Art: A remarkable architectural masterpiece housing one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Islamic art.
- Souq Waqif: An ancient market offering traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs. It is also home to many excellent restaurants serving Qatari and Middle Eastern cuisine.
- The Pearl-Qatar: A man-made island covering nearly four million square meters, featuring luxury residences, high-end shopping, and gourmet restaurants.
- Katara Cultural Village: An open-air amphitheater, opera house, and galleries, showcasing the country’s rich cultural heritage.
- Doha Corniche: A beautiful waterfront promenade offering stunning views of the city skyline.
- Al Zubarah: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Al Zubarah is an ancient deserted town that offers a glimpse into Qatar’s past.
- Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea): One of the few places in the world where the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert, creating a stunning landscape.
- Al Shaqab: A world-class equestrian center, showcasing the Arabian horse, and offering riding lessons.
- Zekreet: Known for its bizarre limestone formations, Zekreet also features the unique ‘East-West / West-East’ art installation by Richard Serra.
Food and Drink (continued)
Qatari cuisine is a blend of Middle Eastern, Indian, and North African influences, with an emphasis on aromatic spices. Here are some dishes you must try:
- Machboos: Considered the national dish of Qatar, it is a hearty, spiced rice dish typically served with meat (chicken, goat, or seafood).
- Harees: A comforting dish made of ground wheat and chicken, often eaten during Ramadan.
- Ghuzi: A whole roast lamb served on top of rice and garnished with nuts – a dish often enjoyed on special occasions.
- Balaleet: A sweet-savory dish made of vermicelli pasta, sugar, and spices, topped with a layer of scrambled eggs, traditionally served for breakfast.
- Karak Tea: A strong, creamy tea prepared with cardamom and evaporated milk, it’s a popular everyday beverage.
Fun and Entertainment
Qatar offers a variety of entertainment options. For sports enthusiasts, the country is home to state-of-the-art sports stadiums and regularly hosts international sporting events, including the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022. You can also watch traditional camel racing at the Al-Shahaniya racetrack.
Water sports like dhow cruising, kayaking, and scuba diving are popular activities for both locals and tourists alike. For thrill-seekers, you can take a desert safari tour that includes dune bashing, sandboarding, and a Bedouin-style dinner under the stars.
For a more laid-back experience, visit one of Qatar’s many luxurious spas or play a round of golf at the Doha Golf Club, featuring an 18-hole championship course.
Qatar is a shopper’s paradise, offering a mix of traditional markets and luxury malls. The most famous traditional market is Souq Waqif in Doha, where you can buy local handicrafts, spices, perfumes, and textiles.
For those seeking luxury, visit the Pearl-Qatar or the Villaggio Mall, which houses a range of high-end international brands. The Mall of Qatar, Qatar’s largest shopping center, offers a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
While Qatar is a modern country, it is important to respect the local customs and traditions. Here are some etiquette tips:
- Dress modestly when in public. Women should cover their shoulders and knees, and men should avoid wearing shorts.
- Public displays of affection should be avoided.
- During the holy month of Ramadan, eating, drinking, and smoking in public during daylight hours is prohibited.
- Always ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
Qatar is a country that beautifully balances tradition and modernity. Whether you’re drawn by its rich heritage, its stunning architecture, or its world-class dining, Qatar offers something for every traveler. Enjoy your visit to this Middle Eastern gem!