Doha is the beautiful capital of Qatar, located on the Persian Gulf and home to the majority of the country's population. In 2006, the city hosted the world's largest Asian Games yet and has since continued to thrive and grow, now preparing for the prestigious FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Doha has a surprisingly laid-back atmosphere and is a good base from which to explore the rest of the country. The city is also renowned to be safe, clean and accommodating of foreigners, which is not surprising considering the huge amount of expats that call Doha home.
As a cultural and commercial centre, Doha offers plenty to see and do. Topping the list of popular activities is shopping, an obsession fuelled by both mammoth modern malls and exotic traditional markets (souqs). Many of the travellers who visit Doha are primarily visiting on business, but the glitzy hotels, quality museums and booming restaurant scene keep everyone entertained.
Doha's modern seaport, busy airport and great infrastructure make it exceedingly accessible to visitors, and Qatar is pouring wealth into an already sophisticated city in order to transform it into a cultural and economic powerhouse to rival the likes of Dubai.
The skyline becomes more impressive and attractive every year and more and more travellers are discovering the wonders the city has to offer. A stroll along the Doha Corniche, ocean on the one side and glamorous cityscape on the other, should leave nobody in any doubt as to why Doha is emerging as a hugely desirable travel destination.
Deep in the heart of Doha sits Al Koot, also known simply as the Doha Fort. This Moorish-style relic of military power now exhibits historical photographs and artwork depicting daily life in Qatar, as well as exhibitions detailing many Bedouin Sadu handicrafts and practices, including wooden ornaments, fishing equipment, boat-building, rope-making and gypsum-burning techniques. While some of the examples may be unrefined, they are a true indication of the local people's ability to adapt certain objects and situations to suit their needs.
The fort itself was built in 1880 during the Ottoman occupation. It was originally a military barracks and a police station before being used as a jail from 1906. It is now one of Qatar's most celebrated tourist attractions and visitors should budget at least two hours to take it all in. The fort is located alongside the famous Waqif Souq, a sprawling and fascinating market on Grand Hammad Street which will no doubt also occupy travellers for many hours.
Qatar is rapidly making a name for itself in museum development and the gem of the country's cultural offering is Doha's Museum of Islamic Art. The museum houses an exquisite collection of artworks from all over the Islamic world.
The pieces on display date from the 7th to the 19th centuries and include glass, ivory, wood, ceramics, textiles, metal, precious stones and manuscripts. The collection housed at the Museum of Islamic Art was sourced from three continents and the building itself was designed by the acclaimed architect I. M. Pei.
One of the great cultural assets of Doha, all visitors to Qatar should make a trip to the Museum of Islamic Art as part of their sightseeing itineraries. Budget at least three hours to soak up all that is on offer.
The Doha Corniche is a beautiful waterfront promenade and one of the most popular areas in Doha for tourists and locals alike. Now one of the most attractive areas of the city, the Corniche was formed after nearly 15 years of dredging and construction work during the 1970s and 80s. It now extends for several kilometres and connects the West Bay Business District to the south of the city.
The two ends of the Corniche are marked by two of Doha's best tourist attractions for foreign visitors, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Sheraton Hotel, where you can buy alcohol and where parties and live music are often staged.
Although the Doha Corniche used to be a largely empty expanse, the beauty of its seaside location and the groundswell of international commercial activity in Doha has seen extensive development take place. These days, the Corniche sports a glass-and-steel skyline to rival the likes of New York City.
A popular area for joggers, walkers, and bikers, the Corniche is also a wonderful place to gather in the coolness of the evening, to sip some coffee, or to have a meal and socialise with other tourists and Qatari locals while the sun sinks behind the gleaming buildings in the west.
A quintessential Arabian pastime and a fun alternative for western visitors to Qatar who are missing their regular nightlife options, shisha bars are where friends gather to sit, chat, and share a smoke of a water-pipe together.
The design of the shisha pipe ensures that even non-smokers should find the experience smooth and comparatively gentle on their lungs, and the tobacco used comes in a variety of delicious flavours such as grape, pineapple, and vanilla.
Visitors should keep in mind that since this is a very traditional recreational activity, women are not allowed into many of the shisha bars in Doha. However, there are some more foreigner-friendly venues which happily allow women in. It's best not to assume women will be welcome and to ask before entering.
A highly recommended tourist activity in Doha, a visit to a traditional shisha bar for some tea and a smoke makes for a great cultural experience, and presents a fantastic opportunity to engage with locals in a relaxed setting.
Doha is world-famous for its collection of souqs, which are largely open-air marketplaces selling a wide variety of goods. Shopaholics will feel as though they've died and gone to heaven when perusing Doha's incredible range of souqs, where anything and everything can be bought.
The most famous of Doha's traditional marketplaces is the Souq Waqif ('the Standing Market'), which sells gorgeous traditional garments (including Bedouin cloth), spices, perfumes, handicrafts, and the best range of authentic Qatari souvenirs (such as dullahs and khawas, traditional coffee pots, and small accompanying cups). Souq Waqif also has a fine selection of restaurants and food stalls turning out things like traditional fare, international cuisine, and a couple of popular shisha bars.
Tourists looking to buy jewellery or gold in Doha should check out the Gold Souq, while those seeking a unique cultural experience should check out the Camel Souq and Falcon Souq (both located in downtown Doha's E-Ring), where you will be amazed at the prices that these magnificent animals can fetch.
Whether you're a committed shopper or just an eager tourist looking to get to grips with the local culture, Doha's souqs are a fine place to spend many hours of your Qatar holiday. Be prepared to haggle: this is a normal and accepted part of the shopping experience.
The Pearl is a staggering feat of human engineering and one of Doha's hottest new tourist areas. An artificial island located in the West Bay and spanning more than 985 acres (400 hectares), The Pearl is a world-class luxury accommodation and beach resort destination in Qatar. Building the development necessitated the creation of over 20 miles (32km) of new coastline. Of this, 12 miles (19km) consists of pristine sandy beaches.
Expatriate businesspeople in Doha will be interested to know that The Pearl is the first land available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals, as its developers look to foster a lavish, secure Riviera-style community on the man-made island.
The Pearl boasts thousands of permanent residents and has become a massively popular shopping and dining area for well-heeled travellers and Qatari locals alike. Internationally-renowned restaurants are the order of the day at the pearl, while its enormous malls are home to cinemas, theatres and boutique stores stocking every big name brand under the sun.
Doha's desert climate has year-round hot, sunny weather with very little rainfall. Winters (December to March) are marginally cooler with average lows of 54°F (12°C), and there is more chance of rain. Summer temperatures (April to November) can rise as high as 104°F (40°C) and above. The best time to visit Doha is between November and March, when daytime temperatures are at their most merciful, and the threat of sand storms is low.
The Qatar Masters golf tournament is held annually at the Doha Golf Club as part of the European and Asian PGA tours, attracting golfers and fans from around the world. The competition takes place on the unique and challenging desert-style course designed by Peter Harradine, one of the most acclaimed golf course designers in the world today.
In December 2010, it was announced that Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Qatar competed against the likes of England and was eventually successful in winning the bid to host the 2022 Soccer World Cup. This will be the first world cup hosted by an Arab nation. Top teams from across the globe will compete for the coveted trophy.
The desert country has plans for air-conditioned stadiums as well as stadiums built on reclaimed 'islands' in the Arabian Gulf. Although it was a controversial decision to award the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar, the country is looking forward to the development of its infrastructure to meet the challenge.
Doha is home to Doha International Airport, Qatar's only international airport, served regularly by Qatar Airways and in close proximity to the city. Doha also has an excellent road network with new highways being developed to further improve access to the metropole.
There is an extensive bus system and good taxi services in place in and around the city. The city also has a metro system that recently opened. Doha Port is located just off the Doha Corniche and also provides access to the city.
Doha is a hugely dynamic city which takes its range of sightseeing attractions seriously. Shopping and eating out are extremely worthwhile activities in Doha, where ultramodern malls, glamorous restaurants, and bustling markets called souqs combine to offer a melange of traditional and modern food and retail opportunities. A stroll along the Corniche (promenade) at sunset is another must in Doha, allowing travellers to see the glittering coastal city at its best.
Doha has a range of museums and galleries offering respite from the desert heat, some of the most popular include the National Museum and Doha Fort. The Ethnographic Museum and the swords and knives on display at the Weaponry Museum are equally fascinating and offer visitors a glimpse into the history of this proud country. The undisputed gem of Doha's cultural scene, however, is the Museum of Islamic Art.
Some enticing excursions out of the city are made possible by numerous tour operators, with camel rides and racing events and dune boarding good options to explore the stark beauty of the seemingly endless stretch of desert beyond Doha. There are also some interesting smaller coastal cities and towns within easy reach, for those who want a taste of Qatar's more traditional face.
On the way to Umm Said lies the town of Al Wakrah, boasting all the charm of a seaside village. Located very close to Doha, Al Wakrah has slowly become a suburb of the big city, but it was historically independent and still retains its unique atmosphere. Local livelihood is still based on pearl diving and fishing in and around the lovely and active harbour area.
The Al Wakrah Museum is not to be missed while in town, exhibiting traditional diving equipment, local handicrafts, and treasured antiques. The local fish market is a good bet for fresh seafood: visitors can select their catch and watch it being cooked and prepared for them.
The coastal city of Al Khor lies about 35 miles (57km) north of Doha, within easy reach for travellers wanting a break from the big city. The Al Khor Museum is a double-story building facing the seafront that houses anthropological exhibitions, as well as an excavation section displaying the numerous archaeological discoveries made in the Al Khor vicinity.
Visitors will see artefacts dating back from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, as well as exhibitions dealing with more modern facets of Qatari culture, such as displays showcasing the area's pearling and dhow-building industries. One of the most interesting exhibitions depicts the myth of Ghilan and Mae, which refers to the region's first female pirate.
A highly recommended tourist activity in Qatar, an excursion to the Al Khor Museum makes for a wonderful introduction to the country's rich cultural history. The city is also home to a number of interesting mosques and some lovely beaches.
Khor al Adaid, also spelled Khawr al Udayd, is a breathtaking and unique geographical area in the southeast of Qatar. The Inland Sea is a tidal lake nestled among the crescent-shaped sand dunes. The shallow body of water has a narrow outlet into the sea and many shore lobes.
It is situated along the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with shores in both countries. The beaches on the Qatar side have become popular with travellers, as have adventure activities in the surrounding dunes.
As Khor Al Adaid is only accessible in 4x4 vehicles, this excursion is usually arranged through tour operators in Qatar. Tour operators offer a range of tours to the Inland Sea, including overnight camps and activities like camel riding and dune-boarding.
Only drivers who are experienced in driving 4x4 vehicles over dunes should attempt the trip without a tour guide. Even then, they are urged to exercise extreme caution and to let their hotel know where they are going and how long they expect to be gone.
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