From bustling souks to a world-class art museum, discover some of the best things to do in Qatar.
While it may get overlooked by tourists, Qatar is an extravagant country that more than holds its own on the world stage. Steeped in culture and ancient traditions, it’s a place where history meets modern architecture, museums and extravagant shopping. Its capital Doha is developing fast and is the place to see the country at its most modern. Plus, whenever you need a nature break, its mesmerizing desert dunes are never too far away.
Read on to discover 10 of the best things to do in Qatar.
1. Hunt for bargains at Souq Waqif
A must when visiting Doha, Souq Waqif gives you a glimpse of local life in an authentic Qatari setting. Built in the 20th century in full Qatari style and renovated in 2006, it’s a traditional Arab souk where you can haggle for spices, hold a falcon, admire Arabian camels, buy a local art and best of all, try some delicious street food. Finish off your visit at a shisha bar relaxing among locals.
And in case you need another reason to visit, the souk also often hosts events and festivals with live performances, parades and exhibitions.
2. Visit the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
Qatar is a wealthy country in more ways than one; it also happens to be enormously rich in art and culture. Many of these institutions are concentrated in the capital Doha, and while there are too many to list, the Museum of Islamic Art has to be mentioned. Sitting on an artificial peninsula, it houses a stand-out collection of Islamic art from three different continents. Spanning a period of more than 1,400 years, from the 7th to the 20th century, the collection includes jewelry, ceramics, textiles and many other artifacts of extraordinary beauty and historical significance.
The building itself is also an attraction. Designed in a modern style with clear references to traditional Islamic architecture, the MIA is a spectacular five-story building with a huge panoramic facade overlooking the Persian Gulf.
Katara Cultural Village is a neighborhood that brings together the best of art, food and culture from around the country. First stop is the beautiful mosque by architect Zeynep Fadilloğlu, with a facade of blue and gold, Turkish and Persian tiles. Then it’s time to visit the classical-style amphitheater, with a gorgeous view of the sea. There are also many art galleries to choose from, including the Katara Art Center, dedicated to independent art. Finally, after all that culture you might want to relax on the beach or pop into the city’s most popular bars and restaurants to sample flavors from all over the Middle East.
4. Go on a desert safari
A ride through the shifting sand dunes is one of those quintessential Qatar experiences. No matter whether you opt to visit in a 4×4 vehicle, on a majestic camel, monster bus or sandboard you won’t be disappointed by your desert adventure. Southwest of Doha is the largest sandy desert in the country, where you can enjoy all kinds of activities and make a few stops at charming traditional shops along the way. And if you think only tourists venture into the desert, well think again. Every winter Qataris stay in elaborate encampments in the desert, as a way to get back to basics and stay in touch with nature.
Another spectacular desert landscape is the Inland Sea, also known as Khor Al-Adaid, a UNESCO heritage site where the pristine seabed meets the dunes. It’s only accessible on 4×4 tours.
The National Museum of Qatar traces the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present day through 11 interconnected galleries of archaeological artifacts, manuscripts, costumes and photographs. As is often the case in Qatar, that sense of wonder starts before you even step inside. Built in 2019, the museum’s stunning architecture was inspired by ‘desert roses’, which are naturally occurring crystal formations characteristic of the area.
Inside you’ll discover an experience for all the senses, where sounds, music, movies and smells take you on an incredible journey into the country’s past. Additionally, in the winter a traditional market is held in the courtyard, which harks back to a time when merchants used to unload their goods here.
6. Do something refreshing
With temperatures that rarely drop below 95°F in the summer and hover around 77°F in the spring and autumn months, you’re going to need something refreshing on your trip to Qatar. Desert Falls Water & Adventure Park may just be what you’re looking for. This park, in the southwest of Qatar, is over 610000sq ft and offers visitors more than 50 water attractions, slides and swimming pools that provide the perfect cure to the heat. Not cool enough for you? Then head to the Snow Dunes indoor snow park in Doha. Temperatures here drop below freezing making it the perfect place to take the kids for a snow day. Not only does it have an ice–skating rink, there are also 164ft–long snow tracks, climbing walls, bumper cars and much more. And all of this in a wintery setting, which may make returning to the 86°F heat a bit of a shock.
7. Take a cruise in a traditional dhow
Dhows play an essential role in the country’s history. A type of Arabian sailing ship, they were traditionally used to transport drinking water, fruit and other trade goods. Now you can hop aboard these traditional boats and experience this unique element of Arab culture, while also enjoying some impressive skyline views of the capital. Sunset is the best time to go, when the colors of the sky are gorgeously reflected in the water and surrounding buildings.
8. Shop till you drop in Villaggio Mall in Doha
Shopping in one of the chicest shopping centers in the country naturally completes any experience of this Arab emirate. Villaggio Mall in the west of Doha is a luxury shopping mall with an area of no less than 1,350,000sq ft and more than 200 shops. The range of shops varies nicely, running the gamut from Adidas to Gucci, Lush to Louis Vuitton. In addition to the shops, the complex is an attraction in itself (which by now should come as no surprise!). The interior has a distinctly Italian style and there’s even a 492ft–long canal where you can go for a gondola ride. Hungry and thirsty from all that shopping? Then settle down at one of the dozens of cafes and restaurants.
9. Explore the mangrove forest of Al Thakira
While most people have probably heard of the desert and skyscrapers of Doha, the mangrove forest of Al Thakira may come as a delightful surprise. Just an hour’s drive north of Doha on the Persian Gulf, it’s an unusual place that seems to change every time you visit. At high tide you can admire the fish swimming among the mangroves, while at low tide you can see the tangle of exposed roots. If you’re lucky you’ll also spot some herons and flamingos. We recommend visiting the forest at high tide, when you can rent a kayak and glide through the area.
10. Visit the iconic Al Zubara Fort
About 65 miles from Doha, in the northwest of Qatar, stands the impressive Al Zubara Fort. Built in the 20th-century, it’s a traditional Arab fortress with four towers and walls 12-inch thick. It’s part of the largest heritage site in the country, which includes the ruins of the 17th-century walled city: Al Zubara. Al Zubara used to be an important trading city and has a fascinating history as the site of fierce struggles for regional domination. A must for history buffs, you can learn all about the fortress and the history of Al Zubara from the exhibition in the fort.
Extra tip: fly to Dubai
Want to continue your adventure in the Middle East? Then board a plane to bustling Dubai. The capital of the UAE is on the other side of the Persian Gulf and the flight there takes less than an hour and a half. This city, where everything is chic, big and luxurious, also has a huge range of things to do, which you can discover here.