Ask Qataris what they are most proud of and they will undoubtedly say Doha. And indeed you can see why - the modern capital with its spectacular tapering towers, elegant corniche and extravagant malls, makes Dohaarguably the finest stopover in the Gulf.But there is more to Qatar than a shopping spree. The whole country, with its heritage souqs, world-class Museum of Islamic Art, and lyrical sand dunes, offers an excellent introduction to the Arab world.
The success of this booming nation is more than just skin deep. Rapid economic expansion, barely brooked by the global recession, international sports tournaments, and Education City are some of the many hallmarks of Qatar's sophistication. Chances are, if you spend a night in this vibrant city you will be lobbying your relatives to stay a whole lot longer than planned.
Places to visit:
Doha: It is rare to see a great city in the making these days. While it would be misleading to represent Doha as a latter-day New York, Doha is nonetheless well on its way to realizing the grand vision of its founding fathers. Whether you go giddy looking down from the 56th floor of the InterContinental, or glide past the exotic skyline from a dhow in the bay, you cannot help but be struck by the beauty of Doha's buildings.
Mesaieed: Also known as Umm Sa'id, is a major town and port on the Qatar peninsula. The town was founded in 1949 as a tanker terminal, to help grow Qatar's oil industry. It was the only deep-sea port for over 20 years, which helped it grow as a center of trade. Nearly the entire population of 15,000 works for Qatar Petroleum, the company that also has a monopoly over local services and schools.
Sites to see:
Al-Zubara Fort: Al-Zubara Fort was built in 1938 and used by the military until the 1980s. The archaeology and pottery exhibits have sadly been neglected, but the fort is still worth visiting for the bleak views from the battlements.
Museum of Islamic Art: Rising from its own purpose-built island and set in an extensive landscape of lawns and ornamental trees, this is a monument of a museum. It was designed by the renowned architect IM Pei, also the architect of the famous Louvre pyramid. This museum is shaped like a post-modern fortress with minimal anda ‘virtual’ moat. It houses the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, collected from three continents. Exquisite textiles, ceramics, enamel work and glass form a major part of this display.
Khor Al-Adaid: Understandably promoted as the major attraction in Qatar, this 'inland sea' is actually a huge salt-water inlet jutting into the desert and surrounded by kilometers of towering sand dunes. The best time to visit the dunes is in the late afternoon, but to appreciate the area fully it is best to camp overnight.
BirZekreet: The limestone escarpment of BirZekreet is like a geography lesson in desert formations, as the wind has whittled away softer sedimentary rock, exposing pillars and a large mushroom of limestone. The surrounding beaches are full of empty oyster shells with rich mother-of-pearl interiors and other assorted bivalves. The shallow waters are quiet and peaceful and see relatively few visitors, making the area a pleasant destination for a day trip. Camping is possible either along the beach or less conspicuously under the stand of acacia trees near the escarpment. There are no facilities or shops nearby, so campers should come prepared, bringing water especially in the summer months.
Al-Shahaniya: If you have come hoping to see camels, then there is one place guaranteed and that is Al-Shahaniya. Camels here roam freely around the desert and even take part in camel races.
Souq Waqif: Reincarnated in the last decade as the social heart of Doha, SouqWaqif is a wonderful place to explore, shop, have dinner or simply idle time away in one of the many attractive cafes. There has been a souq on this site for centuries, as this was the spot where the Bedu (nomads) would bring their sheep, goats and wool to trade for essentials. Over the years, the souq kept growing to accommodate new ‘old alleyways’ and now is one of Doha’s top attractions.
Kabsa: Kabsa is a family of mixed rice dishes, usually made with, meat, vegetables, and a mixture of spices.
Arabian coffee: Arabian coffee is extremely important in Qatari culture. It is of very high quality and made from a lightly roasted bean spiced with cardamom and either sweetened or served with dates. It is drunk in small, thimble-like cups in homes and offices.