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More Than Just Desert! 9 Fun Things to Do in Qatar

Written by Going Places

This blog post was updated on November 14, 2022.

As the 2022 soccer championships approach, the entire world is looking to the tiny country of Qatar, some perhaps for the first time. The soccer championships run from November 20th to December 18th, 2022, but anyone who’s heading there might want to add a few extra days to their trip to enjoy all of the other fun things that Qatar offers to visitors.

Qatar is known as the most tourist-friendly of all the United Arab Emirates, there’s no shortage of things to do and sights to see. From sand skiing to camel racing, there’s a whole lot more to Qatar than just soccer.

Explore the Desert

The Qatari desert offers countless opportunities for fun and adventure, particularly for those interested in extreme sports. One of the most popular ways tourists have taken to exploring the desert is dune bashing, which involves driving on sand dunes in souped-up SUVs. Along with a fantastic trip to the desert, most dune bashing packages also offer tourists the chance to experience authentic Qatari meals that are usually served in traditional Bedouin tents.

Sand skiing and sandboarding are also popular desert activities among tourists of Qatar. The dunes of Khor Al Adaid, which is also known as the Inland Sea, are the perfect location for skiing and boarding, with winter sports enthusiasts trading in their snow gear for a bottle of sunscreen. In addition to the thrill of blasting down dunes, sand skiers and sandboarders will also get to experience breathtaking views of the waters that feed into the Persian Gulf.

Take a Dhow Cruise

A dhow cruise is to Qatar what a gondola ride to Venice – your trip wouldn’t be complete without one. During the 19th Century, Qatar’s economy was dependent on the pearl trade, and dhow boats were used for pearl hunting. Now, past and present come together as the thin-bottomed boats ferry tourists along Doha’s ultra-modern skyline.

Hop on one of these cozy wooden sail boats and coast along Corniche Bay, where the lush gardens in Al Bida Park and Al-Rumaila Park provide a welcome visual oasis from the developed city skyline. Or, pop over to Palm Tree Island for an afternoon of camel riding, jet skiing, or swimming.

Stroll The Souk Waqif 

Doha has no shortage of shopping opportunities, many of them very high-end, since Qatar is per capita the richest country in the world. But for those looking for a slightly more adventurous shopping experience, there are also bustling outdoor markets in Doha, called souks. The most prominent of these is Souq Waqif, where you’ll find colorful garments and home textiles, a wide-range of exotic foods, spices, and sweets, and in a separate building, forty-plus shops with the finest in gold jewelry.

Admire the Architecture

New wealth + new city = amazing, modern buildings juxtaposed against historic ruins. With the extensive construction that’s being completed for the 2022 soccer championships, Doha’s skyline now rivals that of some of the world’s largest cities. Many of the most prominent architects in the world have been involved in shaping the city’s burgeoning skyline. Just pick any of the visually stunning skyscrapers along the harbor and you’ll find an architectural marvel worth exploring.

Of course, there’s the Al Wakrah Stadium, built especially for the 2022 tournament. The stadium’s sweeping, flowing design was inspired by the iconic dhow boats that pepper the harbor off the cities shoreline. And the wonders of the Qatar National Library only really reveal themselves when you step inside and see the crystalline warren of ramps and shelves that house over a million volumes. Meanwhile, older structures like the Al Zubara and Doha Forts remain standing as testament to the country’s rich cultural history.

Experience Islamic Culture

The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

Islam forbids idolatry. So, unlike Rome and Athens, Qatar’s cities don’t boast large statues or intricate paintings of various historic personalities. Instead ornate geometric ceramics, woven oriental rugs, and calligraphy works can be found in Qatar’s museums.

At the Museum of Islamic Art, the first thing you’ll notice is the stunning modern building that houses the collection. The building was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, who famously designed the pyramidal entrance to the Louvre in Paris. The collection comprises a stunning array of ceramics, jewelry, woodworking, textiles, and glass.

The National Museum of Qatar is another awe-inspiring building, a masterwork of seemingly weightless discs that coalesce into a true architectural wonder. Inside, visitors will experience a wide range of exhibits dedicated to preserving and promoting Qatar’s cultural heritage. The museum also curates and preserves Doha’s wondrous array of public art, which of course leads us to…

Marvel at the Public Art

East-West/West-East, Richard Serra (2014)

As one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar has dedicated a great deal of resources to fostering symbols of artistic and cultural expression, dedicating an estimated $1 billion to the arts each year. While much of the art in Qatar sits in museums, some of the most beautiful pieces rest in public view for the all the world to enjoy. For example, Thumb, a sculpture by the famed Italian artist Cesar Baldaccini, is located in the Souq Waqif, one of the most recognizable marketplaces in Doha.

While all the public art in Qatar is beautiful to look at, most intend to relay a greater message to the public. Damien Hirst’s The Miraculous Journey, for example, strives to tell the story of life’s journey in the womb through a series of 14 bronze sculptures depicting the various stages of life for a fetus. Art lovers who want to see how a master artist combines his craft with the wonders of nature should head to the Brouq Nature Reserve for Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East, a piece that looks to remind the public of all the diversity that exists in the natural world.

Discover the Pearl

The Pearl Qatar, an artificial island in Doha, has rightfully earned its reputation as the Arabian Riviera. With architecture reminiscent of the finest Mediterranean hotspot, the Pearl is known throughout the region for its luxury accommodations and style. Visitors to the Pearl Qatar get the chance to attest to Qatar’s best shopping and dining offerings, which include dozens of boutiques and world-renowned restaurants.

While picking out the best designer handbag or sipping on Mai Tais might be enough to satisfy travelers with high-end tastes, the Pearl nevertheless has countless entertainment options for visitors with all kinds of interests. Whether it be kayaking, visiting the area’s spectacular marina and boardwalk at Porto Arabia, or getting better acquainted with friends over hot chocolate at the famous Subzero Ice Lounge, the Pearl has a plethora of engaging activities to entice tourists for a visit.

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Experience Camel Racing

Widely known as the sport of the sheiks, camel racing is one of the oldest and proudest cultural traditions of Qatar. While the modern form of camel racing has its roots in the 1970s, camel racing dates back to the earliest years of Muslim rule in the Middle East, well over a millennium ago. Today’s camel racing is conducted using robots, who serve as jockeys to the iconic animals.

Prior to robots, children served as jockeys, a practice that ceased following concerns over child labor and safety. Tourists interested in camel racing should head to the Al-Shahaniya Racetrack, which is about a 30-kilomter car ride from Doha. While camel racing season goes from October to February, tourists can nevertheless enjoy watching the animals train during the off-season.

Enjoy Gondolania Theme Park

Villagio Mall (which houses Gondolania) by ccarlstead licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Doha’s Gondolania Theme Park allows even the most world-weary adult the chance to remember what it felt like to be a kid again. Sitting within the Villagio Mall, Gondolania occupies 22,000 square meters, making it the largest entertainment center in Doha. Home to all kinds of attractions, Gondolania welcomes visitors to partake in ice skating in its Olympic-size rink, take a trip to Italy on its Venetian-inspired gondola ride, and enjoy a hearty game of bowling at one of its 12 lanes.

Along with a carnival environment, Gondolania also includes several world-class dining options for those hoping to enjoy everything from a gourmet meal to a quick bite of pizza and ice cream. Ever expanding, Gondolania’s latest attractions include laser tag and minigolf.

Do you have a favorite sight to see in Qatar? Let us know in the comments below!

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