I admit – I couldn’t even pinpoint Qatar on a map before I visited. I knew nothing about the place. But my flight to Indonesia included a layover in the capital – Doha – and this seemed a good enough reason as any to include a short visit to this mysterious country. Especially as with my new eco-focus, I want to make every flight count. What resulted was a surprisingly adventurous and fun-filled weekend in Qatar!
What is it like visiting Qatar?
Qatar is basically one gigantic, very hot sandpit with an excessively rich eclectic mix of skyscrapers dumped in the middle!
The Quatrains are known for their wealth, but I barely had any interactions with natives of this land as immigration for labor is high. The city of Doha is clean and modern, but unmistakably Arabic in its feel (I spent most of my time unconsciously humming songs from Aladdin). And the surrounding desert provides a great playing ground for adventure activities.
Qatar is expensive. Drinks, food and activities will set you back a fair bit. Surprisingly taxis were cheap and there are ways that you can keep your costs down when visiting the city like eating in the market and, if you are female, utilising the ‘ladies night’ offers that the hotels have.
I really did love my visit. It was the perfect city break to kick start a holiday. I wouldn’t recommend staying an extended amount of time – a long weekend is perfect (unless you like to just hang by the hotel pool or plan to shop and spend lots of money!).
Best things to do in Qatar
Qatar doesn’t have lots in the way of organised activities for tourists, but enough to keep a long weekend full. Here’s what I’d recommend:
#1 Sand basing in Qatar
Well, this was fun!
You strap into a 4×4 and get whisked up and over sand dunes, sometimes spinning donuts or reversing down dips….all while music is blared out at full volume. It had us screaming and laughing and was a nice way to get a sense of just how vast and derelict the desert is.
Make sure you have a seatbelt in for the ride. I’d also recommend skipping riding the camels which are often thrown in as a starter activity as their welfare is questionable.
I organised doing the sand bashing tour with 365 Adventures.
Partway through the tour, you get a chance to get out and see the clear waters of the sea. In the distance you can see Saudi Arabia.
#2 Kayaking in the mangroves
This is another must for anyone looking for something a bit more adventurous in Qatar. To my surprise, this was a much more relaxed excursion than I was anticipating. The still water and breeze kept us cool allowing us to meander in between the mangroves (despite the 40-degree heat) and take in a bit of green in stark contrast to all the yellow.
I organised doing the kayaking tour with 365 Adventures.
#3 Visiting the Doha Museum
I mean, I’ve visited a fair few museums in my time but this one blew my mind. The architecture and projected film throughout the museum had me permanently walking through with my head up and mouth gaped open. It really was the highlight from my weekend in Doha.
#4 Get lost in the Souk
Doha’s market was one of the best I’ve ever been to. The heat and cleanliness give it a more of a subdued vibe without losing any charm. You’ll find an incredible mix of crafts, clothes and good food hidden amongst the maze of streets.
#5 River cruise in a Dhow
This is an expensive excursion if booked via the hotels or tour companies. Instead, head to the port and haggle a fair price with one of the boat owners to see the city skyline from a different angle.
#6 Attend a show at the Katara Art Village
The Katara Art Village is a great space to wander, window shop and to sit for a coffee and cake. The highlight of this space though is the open-air amphitheater. If timed right you can catch a show in this impressive space.
Make sure you take advantage of the free golf buggy rides that will take you anywhere you want to go in the Katara Art Village.
Doha at night
Things really come alive in Doha at night. As well as visiting the market, you should make visiting one of the skyscrapers a priority once the sun has set. Most of the hotels have rooftop bars and 360 views. As you would expect, prices are, well, sky high!
Not if you are a lady though. Most of the hotels offer a ‘ladies night’ promotion once a week where women can get anything from unlimited drinks to free raffle tickets for big prizes at no charge. This Time Out article lists some available although definitely check directly with the hotel before going as some of the information is outdated.
The best place to stay in Doha
We opted to stay at the Warwick Hotel. It was a little out of town but, as the taxis were so cheap and it was way too hot to walk anywhere anyway, this really didn’t make much difference.
The main hub of hotels and restaurants are in either West Bay or around the Souq area. I don’t think the extra price tag is worth paying for the location, although it would be fun to stay in one of the huge hotels.
Where ever you choose to stay I’d say a pool is a must. Cooling down with a swim in the evenings was something I really began to relish after a sweaty day sightseeing!
3 day Itinerary for a weekend in Qatar
Day 1 in Doha
Afternoon – Arrive and settle into your hotel
Evening – To kick off your weekend in Qatar, head to the Souk (market) once the sun starts to set. Have a wander to get a feel for the place and grab dinner in one of the many restaurants here.
Day 2 in Doha
Morning – It will be an early start for the sand bashing (also called desert safari) to miss the midday heat of the desert. Ask your hotel to organise breakfast to takeaway.
Afternoon – You’ll probably want to relax back at your hotel after your safari. Once rested make your way to Katara Art Village to wander the complex.
Evening – Enjoy a boat ride in a traditional Dhow boat and watch the city lights turn on as the sunsets. Then head to one of the rooftop bars for a drink!
Day 3 in Doha
Morning – Before catching your flight, you can top off your weekend in Qatar enjoy a few hours exploring the Qatar Museum.
My top tips
- It’s worth paying the extra to have breakfast included in your hotel. The spread at most is impressive.
- Remember that Qatar is a strict Muslim country. Knees and shoulders should be covered and modest clothing worn. You are fine to wear your swimming costume in and around the hotel pool though.
- It’s also worth throwing in a smarter outfit when packing for when you visit the fancy hotels.
- Download Uber on your phone to get the cheapest taxi fares. If you do end up hailing a taxi make sure you insist on putting the meter on.
- It is best not to drink the water from the taps…I used the hotel kettle to boil water to save me needing to use single-use plastic.
- The country uses Type G plug sockets which means if you are coming from the UK you don’t need an adaptor!
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