If you have any misconceptions or pre-perceived ideas about the Middle East, have never thought it to be a place that you’d travel to, then let me dispel all of those judgements. Qatar is a vibrant country only a 6-7 hour flight from the UK where Western civilisation meets with traditional Arabic cultures, in a progressively liberal way.
Think bright neon lights of an ever-changing skyline, think exquisite shopping, think big, bold and luxurious hotels and restaurants. Then thing about this mixed with Desert sunsets, traditional markets, perfect island getaways just a short ferry away. Sounds like an ideal place where everything you could possibly want or need for a vacation is at your finger tips? Am I right? Of course, I am, that’s why you need to visit Qatar.
Qatar was once made famous by its Pearl diving industry. This was until oil was discovered in the west in 1937 and Qatar Petroleum was born. Since then Qatar has grown in riches and now, home to the third biggest oil company in the world, the country is growing exponentially in wealth. With the World Cup 2022 heading to Qatar, the country is experiencing high levels of investment ahead of the games and are welcoming tourism to their opulent and ever-changing country.
I recently spent 4 days visiting Qatar, on an intense sightseeing schedule. With great tour guides from Q Explorer provided by Visit Qatar, the tourism council of the country I was able to discover so much about the culture, history and more. Here’s how I spent my long weekend in the Middle East.
Museum of Islamic Art
One of the most iconic buildings in Doha is the Museum of Islamic Art. This is Qatar’s national museum and a real ‘poster’ image for attracting people to visit.
The building was designed by famous Chinese American architect I.M. Pei. The museum itself houses 14 centuries of the finest art and artefacts from across the Islamic world. There are some absolutely magnificent displays which have earned recognition amongst the world’s top cultural institutions.
Inside the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) there are several permanent galleries which include complimentary tours. Entrance to these galleries is also free. However, the exhibitions which are only there on a temporary basis may incur a small fee.
Amongst the permanent exhibitions include a history through the ages looks at different parts of Islamic culture. From the protective suits made for the horses to the King’s jewellery collection including the iconic ruby falcon. The Falcon is the sacred bird of Qatar and signifies wealth and status depending upon how many falcons owned and how well trained they are.
There is also the only version of the Qu’ran in the world that is written on only 15 pages.
On the fifth floor, you will find an exclusive restaurant An Alain Ducasse Restaurant which serves a selection of dishes of haute contemporary French Mediterranean cuisine designed with an Arabic twist. In order to visit the restaurant, you must have a reservation. You can make a booking here as well as seeing which exhibitions are on at the Museum of Islamic Art.
The Aspire Park is centred on a large lake, home to aquatic animals and is an idyllic retreat after a long day shopping at neighbouring malls which include the Villaggio (the most luxurious mall in Qatar) and Hyatt Plaza Mall. It is also only a short drive from the Night Market. Opened in 2006 for the Asian Games.
Since the opening, the park now provides a perfect location for outdoor activities. Including a sports ground, multiple children’s play areas. As well as green areas, a jogging track with rubber flooring and tranquil fountains and eateries.
The Souq Waqif is an authentic taste of traditional Qatari architecture and culture. Head along the bustling alleys where you will find a labyrinth of small shops offering Middle Eastern merchandise.
From spices and seasonal delicacies to perfumes, jewellery, clothing, textiles, handicrafts and a treasure trove of bargains. Within the Souq Waqif, you’ll find stores to purchase Falcons, the Falcon Hospital and even the Amir’s Arabian horses.
Bursting with rich culture and an eclectic mix of great restaurants and cafes, the Soup Waqif is a melting pot of Qatari tradition. With music, art and cultural shows too. It is the perfect place to visit on an evening, where you can watch the Souq come alive.
No wonder it is one of Doha’s most favourite and special places. There is a wealth of heritage and you can fully immerse yourself into the way of the Souq Waqif. Take a stop to visit the most well-known pearl diver in the whole of Doha. The first pearl diver, who is still alive and working in the Souq. An icon to the locals. Visit the Falcon store and have your photo taken holding a falcon (always offer your left arm for holding the falcon – see why later on). Finally, discover black lemons at the spice shop before choosing a spot to eat.
The Corniche is Doha’s waterfront promenade which hugs the bay. This 7km strip gives spectacular views of Doha’s progressive city skyline. Where you can see the dramatic high rise towers of the central business district and West Bay to the artistic bold shapes of Qatar’s national museum.
This green, vehicle free, pedestrian space in the heart of the capital which is strewn with restaurants and street vendors. It’s an ideal place during the day to relax or to take a stroll on an evening before grabbing some food. At night the wooden dhows bring the Corniche to life with their dazzling display of lights and colour.
Before Qatar discovered it was an oil-rich county their main source of revenue from exports came from pearls. Pearl diving is embedded deep in Doha’s heritage and in order to pearl dive, the divers used to go out on wooden dhow boats. When oil was discovered in the 1930s and pearl diving dwindled these traditional vessels became unused. They now take tourists around the West Bay to see the city skyline in all its glory.
Soon the dhows will go from the Corniche across to The Pearl, which is another part of the city. Opening it up to tourism more and allowing people to experience the luminous blue waters.
I highly recommend that if you’re going to take a dhow cruise you do so on an evening so that you can see the skyline lit up in all its glory. It is made up of towers from petroleum and gas companies, all with lots of neon lights. Personally, I feel that the Doha Skyline gives the New York skyline a run for its money.
No trip to the Middle East is complete without a trip to the desert. For our four days in Doha, we were guided by Fanny, Barra and Abdula from Q Explorer. On our final day Abdula ‘the King of the Desert’ as we referred to him as drove us 45 minutes outside of Doha, off-road into the heart of the desert.
We were fortunate to be there whilst the Marmi Festival was on. This is a month-long festival where falcon owners compete with their birds for prizes including Land Cruisers and money. The top prize is a Lexus 1 and 100,000 QR. This was a spectacle to see, with a full festival including seating in stands and huge TVs with the hunt on all in the middle of the desert.
Head further off-road and across the golden sand dunes until you reach the camels. Take a short ride up the dune on the hump of one of the very friendly camels. Of course, make sure you have your camera at the ready to get that all-important Instagram shot!
After experiencing a camel ride hop back into the Land Cruiser and let your guide bash some dunes in a stomach flipping, adrenaline-fuelled race across the sand. This is not for the faint-hearted as you hang over the top of tall dunes before racing down them and then into turns and twists across the sand.
Then find a spot to watch the most sensational sunset. We headed to one of the highest points of the desert which allowed us to see the ocean and Saudi Arabia in the very near distance. The sky burnt all kinds of pinks and purples before setting and filling the sky with a burst of orange. If you do plan a trip to the desert make sure you do contact Q Explorer as Abdula knows the desert better than anybody. A Qatari local he has over 20 years knowledge of the best dunes and locations so you’ll get the most out of your desert safari.
Finish up your day after the sun goes down at the Sealine Camp for a spot of dinner. This luxury camp in the middle of the desert has ocean edge cabanas and plush rooms if you wish to camp in style in the desert. After an adventurous day sit in front of huge fire pits with an Arabic coffee or tea. Before dining on traditional Qatari dishes in their restaurant. The camp has free WiFi for all guests and includes the use of their cinema room and lounge.
The desert safari is not to be missed and really was a monumental highlight of my trip to Doha. For all bookings, I do highly recommend Q Explorer.
If you’re looking for an escape from the city then a trip to Banana Island is a must. Named such because the island is shaped like a banana the Qatari locals call in the Maldives of Qatar.
With ferries departing hourly from the Corniche you can be on the island within 30 minutes. When you arrive be prepared for a warm welcome of live drum music and rose water. This haven is magical and not only has apartments to stay in it boasts a collection of oversea villas.
What’s an oversea villa I hear you ask? Similar to the villas in the Maldives, Banana Island proudly boasts a collection of villas that are built on stilts over the Arabian Gulf. With a wooden walkway connecting all of the villas back to the main island. Each villa provides guests with a villa host, ensuites in all of the bathrooms with
The transportation of choice on the island is a complimentary chauffeur-driven golf buggy which will take you to wherever you want to go to.
With the Doha skyline on the horizon enjoy the 900-year private beach with Instagrammable sea swing. The lagoon pool and cinema theatre are available for guests’ entertainments. With a selection of dining options including a contemporary Italian restaurant and an Arabic-Mediterranean restaurant as well as a golf course and tennis courts and spa facilities.
The perfect place to completely relax in paradise, ideal for a special occasion or even for creating the dream marriage proposal.
Check out prices and book your stay on Banana Island here.
Opened in early 2018 the Entertainment World Village is Doha’s newest Amusement Park. With over 30 rides and attractions, it really comes to life at night. Located over 1 square kilometre of land it is the largest open-air park of its kind in the country.
Will you be brave enough to have a turn on the Reverse Bungee, Roller Coaster, G-Force Bomber? Or perhaps the Ferris Wheel is more your thing?
The park is open daily, however, looks great at night and I’d recommend a ride on the Ferris Wheel in the evening to grab a look at the skyline of Doha.
Katara is a small cultural village located between the West Bay and The Pearl. It was soft-opened in October 2010 during the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF), an annual event it has hosted ever since.
Many Qatari businesses have offices in Katara, as well as a collection of art galleries, a mosque, pigeon houses, an opera house, a multi-purpose cinema, a multi-purpose conference hall, a beach, and a souq. As well as the piece de resistance, the amphitheatre. In November 2015 a museum showcasing the country’s maritime heritage was opened. It is also the site of AlBahie Auction House.
The buildings and facilities have been deliberately arranged to reflect the cultural and architectural heritage of the country.
The most luxurious high rise buildings in the whole of Qatar are located on this artificial island which spans nearly four kilometres and is continuously growing. Interestingly, it is the first land in Qatar which is available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals.
This $15billion project is expected, upon completion, to create over 30km of new coastline. Named The Pearl, due to the island being built on a former diving site and a nod to Qatar’s rich past in the pearl industry. Upon completion, The Pearl will resemble a string of pearls.
The Pearl also features a luxury shopping district with Lamborghini and Bentley garages simply located in the middle of a row of shops as if they were a supermarket. Absolutely crazy.
Just down from The Pearl is Qanat Quartier, which is a Venice-like community with an extensive canal system and also worth visiting for a spot of lunch.
Where to stay
There are a plethora of astounding hotels to choose from when planning your visit to Doha. From opulent receptions to stunning views. World class amenities to make you feel more at home, hotels with restaurants serving up traditional cuisine as well as foods from afar. Qatar really has got luxury sleeping perfected. You’ll find no substandard hotels in the country and everything has a luxurious touch so you know wherever you’re going to stay will be top class.
For our stay in Doha, we were hosted by the Mondrian. Located next to Laguna Mall it was a perfect location to take a trip to the mall. This pretty central hotel boasts a nightclub, gorgeous pool, gym and spa facility, as well as world-renowned restaurant, run by Wolfgang Puck’s team.
The decor is absolutely sensational with white minimalist being the theme, with a massive focus on opulent gold. Check out the huge spiral staircase which is a feature in the lobby or grab a coffee at the New York Magnolia Bakery.
Leaving the lobby and facilities behind and heading up to the hotel rooms they are every bit as luxurious as expected, even just the standard room. With only rooms in Las Vegas competing for space and comfort in a hotel.
With a huge bath big enough for 2, a large shower and bathroom area and separate toilet and bidet facility all in white marble. It was an interior design dream. The bedroom was complete with soft plush carpet, the biggest bed and amazing views of the city. With a minibar and turndown service, all of the electronics controlled by one touch remote it really was sensational comfort.
The staff were all exceptionally welcoming and friendly throughout my stay. Upon departing the hotel provide you with a small gift to say thank you, another Qatari tradition. I felt so rested and relaxed at my time in the Mondrian I highly recommend making it the hotel of choice for your vacation.
Shopping in Doha
Annually #ShopQatar lands in the malls, now in its 3rd year, the shopping festival is growing in stature year on year. With the DECC hosting the Design District, which is a week-long festival highlighting up and coming designers with exhibitors showcasing their newest collections. Workshops and fashion shows as well as opportunities to shop the designer’s collections. With partners including Qatar Airways, Katara Hospitality, Jaguar Land Rover, Vodafone and Fashion Trust Arabia the event is gaining greater popularity amongst Qatari locals and those internationally alike.
I had been invited along by Qatar National Tourism Council to the opening ceremony which saw Akbar Albaker the CEO of Qatar Airways and Hassan Alibrahim of Qatar National Tourism Council open the event. This was followed by a fashion show from Lebanese designer Abed Mahfouz which showcased his Bridal and evening wear collections.
Malls in Qatar
The residents of Qatar love their shopping and have expansive malls all over the city. We visited Mall of Qatar, Festival City and Laguna Mall. All of the malls are air-conditioned and showcase high street and luxury brands from around the world as well as traditional Qatari names. You’ll find brands such as Jo Malone, Victoria’s Secret, Debenhams, Vans, Marks & Spencer alongside Arabic Perfume stores and boutique date stalls.
With valet parking, they are exceptionally easy to get to by car. As Qatar is a tax-free country the prices in all the stores are exceptionally attractive to those coming from outside the country to shop.
If you’re wanting to go real luxury shopping head to the Villaggio, this is the most exclusive shopping mall in the whole of Qatar and not only is home to the largest brands, it’s also the mall of choice for most Qatari locals.
Getting to Qatar
If you’re looking to catch a flight from the UK to Qatar then you’ll fly by Qatar Airways. The national airways of the country and a partner of Oneworld (so you can collect your Airmiles). Flying to over 150 destinations, across Africa, Central Asia, Europe, Far East, South Asia, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania from its base at Hamad International Airport, using a fleet of more than 200 aircraft. The Heathrow to Qatar route also seems to be a popular stopover for connecting the Australia routes.
With state of the art aircraft and a team of exceptionally pleasant crew, you’re sure to have a relaxing and enjoyable journey.
Touching back on the crew, they are the most welcoming team onboard any airline I’ve ever flown with. The ambience is that of a relaxed and friendly one which really contributes to ensuring your vacation begins well. Especially if you’re a nervous or stressful flyer.
In particular whilst our departing flight was slightly delayed (not through Qatar Airways fault) a small child had become disruptive and wouldn’t sit in his seat. One of the cabin crew helped to settle him, spending 5 minutes talking to him. Resulting in a belted up child laughing and giving the member of the crew a high five.
Travel in comfort
The aircraft themselves are really comfortable and spacious with USB and plug chargers for all devices and complimentary wifi which for me personally is great for working on the go.
Food served on board is Arabic with a Western twist with dishes such as grilled chicken breast with paprika sauce, spatula and mixed sweet pepper or lamb machboos with fragrant basmati rice with fried onions or penne pasta in a primavera sauce with grilled Mediterranean vegetables.
If you’re looking for tips on how to book the cheapest flights then I highly recommend this article here. Skyscanner is one of my favourite websites for checking for the cheapest flights and which days are the best to fly on. You can check out Skyscanner prices.
Doha is quite possibly one of my favourite cities that I’ve ever visited. Qatar, as a country was somewhere that I knew very little about before visiting. After discovering all that Doha has to offer I have completely fallen in love with the city. Perhaps it is a very strong contender to challenge Las Vegas as my favourite place in the world.
Qatar is so incredibly safe. A country with a growing wealth ensures there is absolutely no poverty and no crime. Their police force is predominately used for traffic control and for displays at events. This is in stark contrast to my visit to Poland in December whereas a female traveller I felt incredibly unsafe. In Doha, I felt the safest I have ever felt before so think it’s a great destination for solo travellers.
The Qatari people are incredibly friendly and exceptionally proud of their country. The atmosphere everywhere is so relaxed and happy as the people are well looked after by the Amir. Perhaps other countries need to look at the model of the country which is progressively growing exponentially.
Whilst Qatar is one of the most progressive Middle Eastern countries it still, like all countries has its own traditions. One of the most important being the offering of Arabic Coffee accompanied by dates.
The offering of Arabic Coffee and dates is a welcoming one. If you arrive anywhere and you are offered Arabic Coffee then the host is showing you a huge welcome, it is exceptionally offensive to decline. Politely accept and take with your right hand only.
In Islam the left hand is seen as the dirty hand, the hand for doing all of the dirty jobs and your right is the eating hand. Always accept the first cup and take the coffee with your right.
The less in your cup, the more welcome you are. This is so that you have another and another and another and you stay a while. It is perfectly acceptable after the first cup to decline further cups. However always ensure you accept the first cup and often accompanying date.
Arabic Coffee is pungent and made with saffron, the most expensive of all the spices. The dates offer a break from the strong coffee taste and are a delicacy in Qatar with stuffed date stalls being found frequently.
Remember Qatar is an Islamic country and still very conservative, although a little more liberal than other Middle Eastern countries. Most Qatari locals, influenced by the Bedouin culture wear the traditional thwabs for men and
When you are visiting Qatar keep this in mind, especially in malls and museums. Ensure that your shoulders and knees are covered at all times.
For women, if you’re visiting Doha, wearing floaty shoulder covering below the knee dresses are perfect. Alternatively loose blouses and trousers or pants are acceptable to wear. Be respectful with your choice of clothing and note that some of the local beaches are primarily for locals so it is not acceptable to wear bikinis. Check each beach individually or keep swimwear to your hotel’s facilities which are, of course, more liberal.
It is also worth noting that Friday and Saturdays in Qatar are the weekend and the working week begins on a Sunday. This is to coincide with prayer at the mosque on a Friday. In the afternoon families tend to go into the desert to camp. See Doha really come alive around 9pm with families heading out to enjoy the end of the week.
World Cup 2022
Qatar is hosting the World Cup in 2022. The country, especially Doha is currently preparing for the most prestigious football competition in the world to arrive. There is mass investment being made all around to infrastructure and improvements to the city. As well as transport links to the 9 new stadiums being built for the games. This includes the creation of a new metro system to connect the stations together.
Whole cities are being created specifically for the World Cup and after seeing the plans and how meticulous the Qatari people are for creating nothing short of perfection. I know that the World Cup is going to be absolutely sensational and if possible you should add a visit during the games to your agenda for 2022.
Visit Qatar from £685 per person
Away Holidays is offering a three night holiday to Qatar from £685 per person. The price includes accommodation at Mondrian Hotel, Doha in a standard room including breakfast and flights with Qatar Airways from London Heathrow. For selected departures in 1 February – 31 March 2019. Book by 31 March 2019. To book call 0800 422 0782 or visit www.awayholidays.co.uk
Qatar National Tourism Council: For more information on Qatar, please visit: www.visitqatar.qa
Mondrian, Doha: For more information on Mondrian, Doha, please visit:www.morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-doha
Q-Explorer: Transfers, tours and activities can be provided through Q-Explorer: www.q-explorer.com/
Qatar Airways: For more information on Qatar Airways, please visit: www.qatarairways.com
Have you visited Qatar? Or are you looking to take a trip? I’d love to know your thoughts below
Disclaimer: This trip was provided complimentary by Qatar National Tourism Council, all views are our own. Read more about disclosure here.