Having been to the Middle East 4 times now, I’ve come to learn that as far as the big cities go in this part of the world, they are basically like any major city in that one day is enough to see the major sites and attractions a city has to offer. Qatar is no different in this regard.
If you are planning on visiting Qatar, the richest country in the world, two days would be sufficient and would allow some extra time to escape the city for a desert safari too. Arriving at the Hamad international airport we breezed through immigration where, as long as you are a citizen of a country eligible for the visa on arrival, you just give your credit card to the immigration office for the visa and you are on your way. The Hamad international airport was well staffed so lines through immigration were minimal. This was a beautiful airport, brand new, very clean and is currently the biggest airport in the middle east.
Before arriving, I had read online that it would cost about 70 Qatar Rials for a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Ramada Encore and similarly the hotel offered a pickup for the same price. Luckily Uber is starting to take off in the Middle East and is available in Qatar with a few drivers around. After getting through immigration we hopped on the wifi in search of an Uber. Even though it was ~11:00PM we were still able to find a driver and got a lift to the hotel for a mere 20 Rials instead!
For our short visit to Qatar we stayed in the Ramada Encore hotel which was outside the city center but a convenient 10 minute walk to the Souq Waqif and the beautiful Doha corniche which offers incredible views of the city skyline. Walking around the Souq gives you the feeling of stepping decades in to the past with the architecture of the buildings still representing that of days past and the street markets that keep very similar to their cultural and historical counterparts. Probably the biggest thing keeping you in the present in this old city are the plastic toys you see on display at some of the shops. “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong” comes to mind when seeing these toys.
There are lots of cafes and restaurants walking around the main strip within the Souq but I usually prefer to avoid these type of joints that are geared towards tourists and tend to look for the more local shops. There was a small restaurant just around the corner from the part of the Souq where they sell the animals (lots of birds, cats, rabbits and many others for sale here like a pet shop back home. it’s quite sad to be honest). At this restaurant you can get a variety of different local pie’s/pizzas for just a couple Rials.
After you’ve had your fill of the Souq, wander down to the harbor for an incredible view of the Doha skyline! The skyline rivals cities like New York and any other major city around the world but the most impressive thing about it is when you consider this all came to be within the past 12 years! Our driver for our desert safari (see below) was telling us that he moved here in 2007 and there was nothing here at that time. To build a city of this scale in that amount of time is unbelievable and unheard of by western standards.
We walked all the way along the corniche al the Souq all the way around the harbor to the city center mall downtown. It was a beautiful day on the Persian gulf offering incredible views the entire walk. After the corniche we grabbed a taxi and headed over to The Pearl. There isn’t a whole lot to do in this area as its just condo buildings but its a nice place to just wander around for a beat.
From the Pearl we headed to the Katara cultural center area. The Katara beach here is very nice, well maintained and clean but keep in mind it does have a fee to use if you do come here for an afternoon on the beach. The Katara cultural center area has a very European/Greek feeling about it including an amphitheater made of marble. There is also an art center, museums, restaurants and the Katara Pigeon Towers here too. It’s a very nice area to chill out in the evening and just unwind.
On our second day in Qatar we went on a desert safari out to the Qatari desert for some dune bashing. We booked with Qatar inbound tours and were guided by Amir who is an incredible driver and master of the dunes. This is a private tour with a minimum of two people needed and generally runs from 9AM – 1PM or 2PM – 6PM. The dunes are nearly an hour outside Doha so the tour itself in the dunes is about 2 hours. Here is the info for this tour from Inbound Tours:
|Tour type||Half A day desert safari 4 hours|
|Tour timing||9:00 am to 1:00 pm||2:00 pm to 6:30 pm|
|Pickup location||From your residence/ Hotel/ Airport/ Malls/ Car park/ Restaurants|
|Drop off location||Same do|
We depart from Doha in 4 x 4 wheel drives with highly skilled Local drivers. You drive on the tarmac road up to Sea line where you drive off-road to deflate the tyres. Once inside the desert the drivers make you experience the real thrill of Dune bashing. They drives down the giant dunes provide a thrill that you will never forget and will only want more. In between there will be three photo stops at the most scenic points in the desert. The final destination in the desert is the Inland sea (Known as “Khor Al Adeid”) which is an amazing sight with desert on one side leading to the sea and in the horizon you can see the coast of Saudi Arabia which has a completely different landscape. After a brief stop for Arabic coffee and dates, you drive back through the desert to Doha. En route you stop to inflate the tyres at a local workshop/ gas station. (A quick swimming at the Inland sea for 20 mins)
|Camel ride – Optionally||20 Qatari Riyals Extra per person|
|Minimum guests||2 people|
|Tour charge||300 QR each person (~80 USD)|
|Refreshments||Traditional Arabic Tea and coffee, Bottled mineral water and juices|
|Note||From pickup to drop off you will be covered by off-road personal insurance|
|Other facilities||Toilets, swim at the lagoon (swimming gear and towels must) bikinis allowed|
|What to dress||Dress light clothes/ short pants/ t shirt/ sleeveless/ sandals|
|Drivers||English speaking drivers, informative and pleasant|
The dune bashing was incredible! Amir would drive to the top of some towering dunes driving near the edge of some with near vertical drops and then before you know it he’d be driving down them sideways, sand flying everywhere out the sides of the vehicle. It felt like we would roll but he managed to maintain full control down the entire dune!
One of the coolest parts was heading deep in to the desert all the way to the water where you could see the Saudi Arabia coast in the distance. We stopped here for a bit for a quick swim before heading back to Doha.
After arriving back to Doha we headed to the Souq and then over to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) which is one of the jewels of Doha. The museum itself pays homage to the creative construction that is visible all over the city. With a real lack of symmetry, the building itself is a piece of art. This is also my favorite part of the city to see the skyline view of Doha and is a great place to unwind and watch the sunset.
Unfortunately at this time the National Museum was under construction as they work on a massive expansion that should be done for the world cup and will likely be one of the largest attractions for the visitors to the city at that time.
Overall, Qatar, and more specifically Doha is a nice, modern and safe city to visit for a couple days. It didn’t have the normal level of adventure and appeal for me that most of southeast Asia has but its still definitely an interesting and often overlooked part of the world to travel.