Explore Qatar’s diverse attractions
From camel racing and desert safaris to top-class restaurants and spas, there’s much to enjoy in Qatar, says Karl Cushing
Attracting international visitors has become something of a preoccupation for Qatar, future host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and a burst of recent developments – such as the new Mall of Qatar – has widened the options for business travellers with some time to explore. Doha’s impressive five-star hotels, meanwhile, are an attraction in themselves, supporting a vibrant dining and nightlife scene (see page 80). Here are ten things to try both in the capital and the wider area.
1 HIT THE BEACH
Recharge after your business trip by catching some of that year-round sun, away from the restrictions of the local public beaches. Hotels offering day passes for non-guests include the Intercontinental Doha, where tickets cost from QR 200 (£42) for adults on weekdays. It’s a great spot to get a resort-style R&R experience either by the pool or on the large beach and, once revived, you can try your hand at some of the watersports available.
Also offering day access is the Grand Hyatt Doha, with its curved beach and five pools. Options outside the city include Sealine Beach Club, about an hour’s drive from Doha and a good spot for activities.
2 RELAX IN A SPA
Many of Doha’s high-end hotels are home to outstanding spa facilities, such as the Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara and Kempinski Marsa Malaz on the Pearl, with its Spa by Clarins and hammam by Amra skincare. A personal favourite is the Six Senses spa at Ritz-Carlton’s Sharq Village, the design of which creates a relaxed, local atmosphere, with Arabian treatments offered alongside the likes of Thai and Swedish.
3 CRUISE THE BAY
Leave the land behind you and take to the water on one of the many dhow boat cruises that leave from the Corniche. It’s worth it for the knockout views of the Doha skyline alone – particularly impressive at night as you sail the bay beneath a canopy of stars, enjoying a blowout barbecue buffet dinner. Another option is taking a gondola ride from Katara Village. Operators offering BBQ dhow cruises include Qatar International Adventures (four hours; QR 230/£48 per person; qia-qatar.com).
4 PLAY A ROUND
Doha Golf Club, the only 18-hole championship course in the country, plays host to January’s Qatar Masters. Other facilities include a driving range and a putting green, while novices can practise their game at the on-site Qatar Golf Academy. The Arabic-style clubhouse is well worth checking out too. It costs from QR 300 (£63) to play 18 holes or QR 200 (£42) for nine. You can book a tee time online and hire equipment (dohagolfclub.com).
5 HEAD INLAND
The Inland Sea, or Khor Al Adaid, is a UNESCO-recognised site and one of the most popular destinations outside of Doha for tourists and locals alike. Here, the sea encroaches deep into the heart of the desert and the 86km journey from Doha is a spectacle in itself, not least the moment you get your first view of the water from the crests of the dunes being navigated by the driver of your 4WD vehicle.
The sea can easily be experienced as part of an organised desert safari, along with activities such as sand boarding, quad biking and moonlit Bedouin-style barbecues. Operators include Falcon Tours, which offers half-day safaris from QR 390 (£83) per person, based on a trip for two (falcontoursqatar.com).
6 VISIT A MUSEUM
Located in Al Samriya, 42km west of Doha, the fascinating display of artefacts at Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum is based on the personal collection of Sheikh Faisal himself. It’s centred on the four key areas of Islamic art, local heritage, vehicles, and coins and currency, with highlights including the Sheikh’s car collection and the impressive Qatari fort it is housed in. Open Mon-Thurs 9am-4.30pm, Fri 2pm-7pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 9am4pm. Entry QR 15 (£3); fbqmuseum.org.
7 CHEER ON THE CAMELS
If you find yourself in Qatar in the winter months then don’t miss one of the high-energy camel races held at Al Shahaniya, 60km west of Doha. Operators such as Qatar International Adventures frequently combine a behind-the-scenes tour of the camel racing track with a visit to the Sheikh Faisal museum – often with a look at the Racing and Equestrian Club, where the Qatari royal stables are based.
8 TOUR THE LANDSCAPE
Further west of Al Shahaniya lies Zikrit and the Ras Abrouq peninsula, an area of raw, barren beauty and
wind-carved limestone rock formations. Other attractions in the region – which is known for its archaeological sites, including some from the Neolithic era – are its secluded, remote beaches and a wild deer reserve.
While you’re there, check out the impressive East-West/West-East sculpture by artist Richard Serra in the nature reserve. Operators offering tours of the area include Discover Qatar (discoverqatar.qatarairways.com).
9 KAYAK IN THE MANGROVES
For a less arid natural wilderness, head to Al Thakira Mangroves, 57km from Doha, to the north of the city of Al Khor. The watery green wilderness is a haven for bird life, including flamingos and herons, and you can explore it by kayak. Companies offering tours include Aqua Sport, which runs two options from the marina in Al Thakira – a mangrove exploration tour and a mangrove and flamingo beach tour – for QR 200/£42 (aquasportsqatar.com).
On the journey there from Doha, consider stopping off at the restored Al Zubarah Fort. This UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by a 60-hectare archaeological park and offers an interesting glimpse into the country’s past.
10 BE A SPORT
Doha’s state-of-the-art sport facilities offer visitors the option of either watching a major event or having a go themselves. Top picks include the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club, Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex and the sprawling Aspire Zone (aspirezone.qa), where standout facilities include the Hamad Aquatic Centre.
Petrolheads should consider heading north of Doha to the town of Losail. The Losail International Circuit hosts a series of local and international motorsport events, from touring cars to superbikes, with a separate track for motocross. You can also get behind the wheel yourself, either on its karting track or on the circuit itself during a training day.
From top: Al Thakira mangroves; Aspire Zone; camel racing; Sheikh Faisal Museum