Qatar is a thriving country in the heart of the Middle East, jutting out into the Persian Gulf. Long been known as a playground for the wealthy, Qatar attracts lovers of history, adventure, and unparalleled luxury. The capital city of Doha has blossomed into a cosmopolitan hub of tourism and business, thanks to the recent additions of sports arenas, museums, shopping malls, restaurants, luxury condos, and world-class hotels.
Here we’ll explore my list for the top things to see and do in Doha. I had the pleasure of visiting on a recent trip to this fascinating city!
Go Sand Dune Bashing
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly in Doha, but it’s a MUST! And there is no better place to have a thrilling sand dune bashing adventure than in the Arabian Desert outside of Doha.
Qatar and Namibia are the only two countries in the world where sand dunes meet the ocean. Qatar Inbound Tours took us on an unforgettable desert safari in 4X4 vehicles. With the help of expert drivers, the massive sand dunes provided the ideal landscape for speeding down hill and turning on a dime. The tour will also take you to the inland sea known as Khor Al Adaid for epic views of the Saudi Arabian coast.
Each 4X4 dune bashing tour is 4 hours long. I suggest the 9 am tour so you can be back in Doha just in time for lunch. Also, don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing (nothing too nice since you’ll leave with sand everywhere), sunscreen, and to take your camera!
Stay at a Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel
When in Doha you’ll quickly notice that extravagance is the norm. Same goes for the hotels. Souq Waqif Hotels is an upscale boutique property brand with 9 five-star properties nestled around Souq Waqif. Each offers marvelous architecture and top-notch service – it’s up to you to choose which one you prefer.
We stayed at the ultra-modern Al Jasra that is steps away from the city’s main attractions. With only 22 rooms and 4 suites, Al Jasra offers supreme opulence. From the premium state-of-the-art fitness center, to the amazing Elements Spa, it is a modern Moroccan-inspired retreat. Guestrooms are large and comfortable, and come standard with luxury toiletries and a pillow menu.
The hotel also offers two dining venues – the Drawing Room lounge and Argan Restaurant serving up the best Moroccan food in town. The lamb tagine is out of this world!
Go Shopping in Souq Waqif
Like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Doha’s Souq Waqif (Old Souq) is a maze of vendors selling everything from jewelry and spices, to clothing and handmade rugs. Souq Waqif is a Doha landmark and one of the most popular traditional markets in the Middle East. It was completely modernized in 2004 and continues to be one of the Doha’s main attractions. Souq hours are 10 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 10 pm. The market is most lively after 4 pm.
Souq Waqif is comprised of several smaller souqs, each specializing in specific products (e.g. clothing, food, animals, etc.) It is possible to find many of the items you see at the souq at supermarkets and tourist shops around town, but here you can actually bargain with the vendors for a lower price.
While browsing the shops of the souq, be sure to pay a visit to the nearby Gold Souq (just off Ali Bin Abdullah Street) – a mesmerizing row of shops selling gorgeous pieces made of gold (18 to 22-carat). Qatari, Indian, and European styles are available. The Diamond Souq is found here as well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping at Souq Waqif:
- Dress conservatively
- When bargaining, keep in mind prices can be haggled down about 50% of what is being asked
- Bring cash for purchases
- Wear comfortable walking shoes
Explore the Falcon Souq
I know that Souq Waqif was already mentioned, but the Falcon Souq is a worthy of a mention all on its own! The Falcon Souq in Doha is one of the most fascinating places I have every visited. In Qatar, falconry is engrained in the culture. This age-old method of hunting has evolved into a lucrative hobby amongst Qatari men.
Falcons can cost thousands of dollars, so it is no surprise there is entire block dedicated to these amazing birds of prey and all the equipment needed to take care of them (hoods, harnesses, training materials, perches, etc.)
Take a walk around the falcon showroom to admire them, but please no touching! These birds are highly valued and very expensive ($15,000 to $100,000). When you’re done head down the road to see the gorgeous Arabian horses kept by the souq police.
Have a drink at Sky View Bar
Perched on the 15th floor of the Cigale Hotel, Sky View is one of the most epic sky bars in the Middle East. This ultra-modern venue offers gorgeous views of Doha and the bay. Your experience at Sky View in Doha will rival that of a rooftop bar in London or New York. That’s what makes it one of the top things to see and do in Doha!
Besides that it’s one of only a handful of glamorous places serving alcoholic beverages in the city, Sky View offers great service set against a picture-perfect backdrop. Even the interior bar is a work of art.
With prices ranging from $10 to $20 per drink, be prepared to pay up for the glamorous setting and relaxed vibe – but it’s well worth it if you’ve never been to Doha before. If the weather isn’t too hot or cold, call ahead to reserve a table on the terrace with the best view of the Al Dafna skyline. Sit back and enjoy your drink with a few light snacks as you take in surrounding skyscraper views.
Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
Built on its very own peninsula on the Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art is the perfect way to soak up Arab culture. Its collections span over 1,400 years of history and include a vast number of exhibits such as ceramics, glass, metalwork, manuscripts, and textiles from three continents.
The precious works on display come from around the world, from distant places like Spain, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, and India. Give yourself enough time to explore all four levels of the museum.
The building itself is a veritable work of art. It was designed by Chinese American architect I. M. Pei., perhaps best-known for designing the glass pyramid in the Louvre courtyard in Paris. If you happen to get hungry during your visit, stop into the Philippe Starck-designed MIA Café or IDAM for gourmet cuisine and beautiful views. Once you’re done exploring the museum, step outside to admire the breathtaking views of the Doha skyline.
The Museum of Islamic Art is open Sunday, Monday and Wednesday 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, Thursday 12 pm to 8 pm, Friday 2 pm to 8 pm, and Saturday 12 pm to 8 pm (Closed Tuesdays). Dress code requires that guests dress modestly.
Stroll the Doha Corniche
The Doha Corniche is a horseshoe-shaped boulevard spanning 7 kilometers along Doha Bay. Strolling the Corniche is a popular pastime with locals and tourists alike, and will give you the opportunity for epic vistas of the skyline.
The Corniche extends south from the Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village & Spa north to the Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. What makes it great is its walkability factor – you can walk the whole Corniche while stopping at your leisure for a short rest or to admire the view. Along with the Museum of Islamic Art (see above), the Corniche is also where you’ll find the Qatar National Theatre, Rumeilah Park, as well as restaurants, hotels, and the Doha Port. The best photos from the Corniche can be taken in front of the Ministry of Interior.
Cruise on a Dhow
When strolling the Corniche you will notice several dhows (traditional Arab sailboats) anchored in the bay. These distinguished vessels are popular with tourists looking to tour the bay and get magnificent views of Doha.
There are different sized dhows available for charter – it all depends if you’ll be doing a lunch cruise, dinner cruise, one-hour sunset cruise, or hosting a private party. We made our way to Dhow Harbour on the Corniche (in front of The Pearl monument) and spoke to some of the captains to arrange a private one-hour sunset cruise for two, which came out to be QR 150 per person after a short negotiation on price. We had the whole dhow to ourselves as we headed north towards Al Dafna to see the sun set behind the Doha skyline. There was plenty of comfy seating to sit back and enjoy the ride.
If one hour seems a bit short for you, book a half-day water sports activity tour where you’ll enjoy swimming, jet skiing, and tubing while chefs prepare a BBQ lunch buffet for you and your guests.
Dine at the Three Sixty Restaurant
Twenty minutes outside the city center is The Torch, an iconic hotel known for its distinguished architecture and for having 360° panoramic views across Doha. With a height of 984 feet, The Torch holds the record for being the tallest hotel in the city!
The Torch has 3 restaurants to choose from, but Three Sixty on the 47th floor is the only one that revolves (yes, you read that correctly). The restaurant literally revolves while you dine to give you 360° views without having to move a muscle. Tables are lined up along the perimeter, which spins around to give everyone the opportunity to have the best seat in the house.
Three Sixty features an a la carte menu of western dishes as well as a pre-set menu for those who can’t make up their minds. Thankfully, my father and I didn’t have that problem so we settled on some crostini appetizers followed up by sea bass and steak entrees. To finish off the meal we shared a decadent chocolate brownie with ice cream and fruit. Three Sixty is open daily for lunch 12 pm to 3 pm and dinner 7 pm to 11 pm. There is live piano music entertainment. Smart casual dress and prior reservation is required.
See the Barzan Towers
Twenty kilometers north of Doha stand the Barzan Towers, structures built in 1910 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al-Thani as part of a defensive fortification. Barzan means “high place.” Each tower has walls measuring no less than 3 feet in thickness.
These 52-foot-tall towers served as a landmark for pearl divers returning from diving trips in the Persian Gulf. But their main purpose was to serve as watchtowers over rainwater supply.
Another purpose they served were a way for astronomers to gaze at the sky to determine the dates of the Islamic calendar based on the phases of the moon. The Barzan Towers are open daily to visitors. *If you’re craving more history, you can also combine a visit to the Barzan Towers with a stop in Al Zubara to see the fort. Qatar Inbound Tours have a 6-hour tour that stops in both places as well as the harbors of Al Ruwais harbour and Al Khor.
Photograph the Skyscrapers of Al Dafna
If you’re anything like me, you will marvel at the modern skyscrapers of the Al Dafna area. This is essentially Doha’s central business district, home to impressive super tall buildings like the Doha Tower, Aspire Tower, World Trade Center Doha, Tornado Tower, Al Bidda Tower, and many more. Take a selfie in front of the stunning buildings. Below is a selfie I got using my XShot Pro in front of Al Dafna district.
Each skyscraper possesses its very own architectural appeal, but together they form one of the most impressive futuristic skylines in the world, comparable to that of Shanghai, Chicago, and Dubai. Whether you choose to photograph them from the Corniche, a Dhow boat on the bay, or up close, they are truly a sight to behold.
Other things to do in Al Dafna include shopping at the enormous City Center Mall and the Katara Cultural Village to see a performing arts show, art exhibition, concert, or to dine at one of their 11 signature restaurants.
Visit Al Wakrah
Al Wakrah is a town approximately 10 kilometers south of Doha. Here you won’t find too much hustle and bustle because it is mostly a family-friendly zone. Al Wakrah used to be a fishing and pearling village. Nowadays, residents of Al Wakrah and Doha gather to enjoy its parks and the nearby family beach (15 km from the center of town).
Take a stroll around the Al Wakrah Corniche to see the marina and the dhow boats. The nearby Heritage Village is a relatively new attraction to check out. Constructed to look like a traditional Qatari fishing village, it features a souq, cafés, and restaurants, as well as seating areas with bay views.
Though Al Wakrah remains relatively unknown to foreigners, the town is poised for growth thanks to several new developments like the Al Wakrah Stadium – a Zaha Hadid concept designed to look like a dhow boat. The stadium will host matches in the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Take a Heli Tour of Doha
Taking in Doha from the air is a completely different experience than anything else mentioned in this article, which is why I highly recommend a Samana Helicopter Tour. Organized by the Qatar Tourism Authority, Samana specializes in 35-minute helicopter flights to reveal Doha’s splendor from above.
“Each aerial tour lasts approximately 30 minutes, taking off from Doha heliport and flying along the route of Al Shamal Road approaching the Sidra Medical and Research Center, then towards the West Bay Lagoon, leading on to Doha Corniche. From here the tour provides a view of Porto Arabia at The Pearl-Qatar, as well as the Zig-Zag twin towers . The tour then moves on to Katara Cultural Village before passing over the Corniche on its way back to Doha heliport.”
If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, taking a helicopter tour over Doha is an experience not to miss. A half-hour tour will set you back about $900.
Qatar Travel Information
Currency: The official currency is the Qatari Riyal (QAR), which is divided into 100 Dirhams. The exchange rate is approximately $1 USD = QR 3.64.
Getting there: Qatar Airways operates nonstop flights to/from several cities across six continents. I booked a round trip flight from Miami to Doha on business class, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the overall experience – from the beautiful business class lounge at Hamad International Airport (DOH), to the onboard amenities and dining menu. Qatar Airways is part of the Oneworld Airline Alliance.
Once you’ve arrived: Citizens of 33 countries (I will list below) can get a tourist visa upon arrival in Qatar, which is valid for one month. Citizens from countriess not listed must arrange a visa prior to travel, sponsored by a Qatari embassy or Qatar-based hotel. Other visas include business visits, an official visit and a work visa. Eligible Qatari companies may apply for these visas in advance on your behalf. Visit the Ministry of Interior website for more details.
Residents and cities of the other GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – can get a one month visa on arrival, subject to condition and provided the applicant’s profession is one of those approved by the Ministry of Interior. The visa will only be issued if your residence permit is valid for at least six months and if your profession appears on the approved list.
All expatriates living and working in Qatar must have a residence permit or a visit-to-work visa. Health insurance has now become compulsory for all visitors to the country. Requirements can change, so it is always prudent to check with the Qatari Embassy or the airline well in advance of your visit.
Visas on Arrival – 33 Countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Vatican City.
*Important: The passport control counters can only accept credit cards and debit cards. Use the designated bank counter for cash payments. Don’t commence your journey before confirming visa requirements. This will help minimize any inconvenience or delays during travel. If for any reason you’re denied entry in to Qatar, then the Ministry of Interior and your airline will provide guidance and assistance.
Best time to go: Qatar has a desert climate, which means it is generally hot during the day and cold at night. To avoid the hottest weather, it is best to plan your visit between November and early April (winter and spring). Check the weather to see the type of clothing you should pack.
Customs in Qatar
Working hours: The working week in Qatar is from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday (the holy day for Muslims) and usually Saturday being days off. Some private businesses follow a one shift workday, but many have two: roughly 8 am – 1 pm and 4 pm – 8 pm.
Shop times vary but are generally 8:30 am – 12:30 pm and 4 pm – 10 pm; although shopping malls tend to be open all day between the hours of 10 am and 11 pm. Some shops do not open on Fridays, while others open for a couple of hours early in the morning and reopen in the late afternoon Most malls now open on Fridays at 1:30 pm, with shopping centers opening at 4 pm.
Social customs: The Qatari culture is conservative, so keep in mind to dress modestly and not to show too much skin. Avoid clothing that hits above the knee or shows the shoulders, stomach, or chest. If you are married and traveling to Qatar with your spouse, bring along a copy of your marriage certificate as proof in case you are asked (e.g. a hotel spa may ask to confirm you are married if you book a couples massage).
Have you ever visited Qatar? Share your top things to see and do in Doha in a comment below!