Qatar OverviewQatar is a small Arab country-it's geography, a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf just east of Saudi Arabia. An independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, Qatar's cities are thriving with a number of museums, a bustling market scene, and many good restaurants to indulge in. There is also a manmade island with a few waterside resorts for vacationers.
At a GlanceDoha is the capital city of Qatar, modern and rapidly developing with much construction underway. It is home to Doha International Airport, the main point of entry for Qatar, as well as many of the country's best museums and examples of cultural heritage. Doha Heritage Village, for example, is based on a traditional Qatari village with opportunities to see weaving, pearl trading, and a traditional boat (dhow), plus the occasional festival and other activities. The city is also home to Souq Waqif, a renovated Arabic market quarter with a maze of corridors to explore. Its shops are divided into sections with shop categories for things like spices, textiles, souvenirs, and even live falcons. And then on the higher end of things, the Pearl-Qatar neighborhood of Doha is the country's manmade island, full of luxury resorts, homes, cruise boats, and designer shopping.
Al-Khor is another of Qatar's cities about 50 kilometers north of Doha. Previously the center of the pearl trading industry, Al-Khor is now a pleasant and quiet town with some beaches for relaxing and a handful of interesting watchtowers. Other populated areas include Rayyan (Qatar's second largest city) and Wakra (a southern municipality). Most city activities consist of shopping and exploring markets and malls, dining, sight-seeing, museum-going, and enjoying Qatar's nightlife.
Being surrounded by the sea, Qatar has become a popular destination for watersports and beach-going. Kite-surfing is increasingly popular for western visitors, while locals can often be seen driving jet-skis from beach to beach. Sailing, cruising, diving, scuba, and beach sports like volleyball and cricket are also very common.
Further inland at Khor Al Udeid, visitors and locals alike enjoy racing up and down the region of endless sand dunes. Up and down the rolling dunes, people frequently drive landcruisers and sign up for safari tours in Qatar's wilderness.
Top Tourist AttractionsThe sights of Qatar range from the busy attractions of the city-architecture, museums, markets, and culture-to the quieter landscape of its beaches and dunes. Some of the more popular attractions include:
Museum of Islamic Art: Located in Doha, the museum represents the full scope of Islamic art from three continents over 1,400 years. With architecture inspired by classic Islamic elements, the museum has become an iconic feature of the Doha skyline. It is host to regular special exhibitions, events, lectures, and activities.
Souq Waqif: Also located in Doha, Souq Waqif is a traditional old marketplace of Qatar, selling unique goods like spices, textiles, and even live falcons. A great place to pick up souvenirs, bargaining is recommended.
The Pearl Qatar: A manmade island connected to the city of Doha by a bridge, this area is where most of the upscale resorts are located. The harbor is full of cruise boats and surrounded by a luxury neighborhood of fine dining and designer stores.
Villaggio Mall: Located in Doha, this is one of Qatar's newest malls designed to look like Venice in architecture and even canal-ways. It is home to a variety of stores-casual, western, and luxury-plus a food court, restaurants, gondola rides, and an ice skating rink.
Katara Cultural Village: Located in West Bay Area, this large cultural city features a roman style public auditorium, museums, galleries, libraries, many international and Arab restaurants, a beautiful beach, and is host to many cultural events.
Popular FoodsFor being such a small country, the culture and cuisine is surprisingly diverse, especially in the capital city of Doha. Qatari cuisine is made up of traditional Arab and Levantine cooking, and is also largely influenced by Iranian and Indian food. While Middle Eastern fare is also common, other options available include Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, and Korean.
There are some good dining options just outside Souq Waqif and inside Villaggio Mall, and if you want to try authentic Middle Eastern fare, there are some good cheap options in Turkey Central on Al-Mirghab Street. Traditional dishes include:
Machbus: the national dish of Qatar, it is a meal consisting of rice, meat, and vegetables (onions and tomatoes).
Kabsa: similar to Machbus, the dish consists of rice, meat, and vegetables mixed with spices. It is also similar to biryani or pilaf.
Balaleet: Noodles cooked with sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and cardamom, often with an omelet on top.
Ghuzi: Whole roast lamb served over nutty rice. Also called Shuwaa.
Om ali: Bread and rice pudding
Sago: Sweet gelatin pudding spiced with saffron and cardamom
Mehalabiya: Rose water and pistachio pudding
For western fare, American chains include places like McDonald's, KFC, Hardee's, Arby's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday's Applebee's, Chili's, Fuddruckers, Bennigan's, Ponderosa Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and Starbucks.