When I discovered I was going on a press trip to Qatar with Qatar National Tourism Council, a lot of my friends said they were very curious as they hadn’t heard much about it. I myself was intrigued too. Would it be like Dubai? What is there to do there? And what does it look like in preparation for the 2022 World Cup?
But first…the mystery I’d like to clear up. How do you pronounce “Qatar”? Well, for years I had been pronouncing it along the lines of “kuhtaarrrr” but actually the locals seem to say “kat-ah” (imagine just saying “cat” but with an “ah” and an almost silent rolled “r” after it) Still, either pronunciation is absolutely fine and totally acceptable.
My trip to Qatar was certainly one of the most luxurious trips I’ve ever been on – we got their in style in the award winning Qatar Airways Business Class and stayed at the very trendy Mondrian Doha, which felt like a Las Vegas hotel without the casino. Our trip involved lots of pampering, culture and eating, since Qataris love to serve about 7+ appetizers, several choices of main course, plus fruit, coffee and sweets. Two days in Qatar wasn’t nearly enough time but if you’re traveling there on a quick stopover on your way to another destination, or you’re just after a quick winter getaway, here are some of the top things to do in Qatar:
Al Thakira Mangroves
When visiting a country like Qatar I pictured perhaps riding a camel through the desert or shopping for spices in a bustling souk. Kayaking was certainly not something I imagined I would be doing. And yet, on the first day of our trip we found ourselves paddling through mangroves and stopping at a private beach to swim in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. The Al Thakira Mangroves, which are located north of the seaside city of Al Khor, attract a variety of bird life, including flamingos and herons. They should definitely be high on your list and while it was thirsty work paddling a kayak in the heat, it was a unique way to spend a morning (or afternoon).
Lunch at Baladna Dairy Farm
Due to trade boycotts initiated by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, Qatar’s Baladna Dairy Farm was set up with the intention of supplying all of the dairy for Qatar’s 2.6 million people. Located around 55km from Doha, Baladna is one of the largest in the Middle East and the the on-site rotary milking parlor takes up to 100 cows per rotation. The farm is open to the public and boasts a petting zoo, a children’s play area and even a restaurant serving delicious Qatari cuisine.
Spa treatments at The Mondrian
For the duration of our stay we stayed at The Mondrian, which is without a doubt one of the most hip and trendy hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The ESPA spa is a work of art, boasting shimmering floral mosaic walls and 12 treatment rooms. After a 7 hour flight from London to Doha and kayaking all morning, I decided it was time to enjoy a foot massage called the “Sole Soother”, designed to relax my tired feet and heavy legs. Just what I needed to reduce the swelling in my feet!
Katara Cultural Village
In the evening we rode a golf buggy around Katara Cultural Village, a purpose-built cultural centre featuring galleries, theatres, restaurants and performance venues. Katara showcases a year-round program of concerts, film screenings and exhibitions, making it a must-visit if you’re interested in culture. The architecture here is modern but designed to look like an ancient souk, and the promenade is a great place for families to enjoy an evening stroll.
Parisa @ Sharq Village
Our day ended at Parisa Restaurant, a Persian restaurant inside Sharq Village & Spa. This was perhaps my favorite meal of the trip and as with most meals in Qatar, there were so many dishes I could barely get past the first course. The highlight was definitely the mixed grill of skewered prawns and meat cooked on charcoal…yum!
Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I’ve ever laid eyes on and I love geometric patterns. After browsing the collection covering 14 centuries of art and an artifacts from the Islamic world, we spent hours posing for photos around the exterior of the building. The archways are the perfect spot for Instagram shots, with Qatar’s skyline framed in the background. The building draws influence from Islamic architecture, particularly the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo.
I couldn’t quite believe it when I stepped out of the car and found myself in what looked to be Venice! In fact, my Instagram followers were even fooled, commenting “I love Italy!” The Pearl is an artificial island that spans four square kilometres, featuring villas, residential towers, hotels, marinas, luxury shops and al fresco dining.
Lunch at Opal by Gordon Ramsay at The St. Regis Doha
For lunch we stopped at The St.Regis Doha to dine at Opal by Gordon Ramsay, which offers a bistro-style menu in a relaxed setting. We arrived at brunch time and sampled a selection of foods from the brunch menu, including egg benedict, sushi, mini wagyu burgers, roasted beef and roasted baby chicken.
Souq Waqif is Qatar’s oldest souk and is a great place to pick up souvenirs such as spices, oud, shishas and Arabic coffee pots. But first we had to get our priorities straight and say hello to the animals. The souk boasts a Falcon Souk, where Qataris buy falcons or even take their injured falcon to the falcon hospital. The falcons have special hats that cover their eyes, so they don’t get spooked! It was interesting to see them being fed and even hold one using a seriously thick glove!
Dhow Boat Cruise
There’s no better way to view a city skyline than from the water, so the Qatari dhow boat cruise was the perfect way to cap off an incredible trip. I’d advise taking the boat ride after sunset, when Doha’s futuristic skyscrapers are all lit up! Evening sightseeing excursions can be arranged through your hotel or any of the leading tour operators.
I left Qatar feeling really impressed with the kindness of the Qatari people – Arabs really are known for their hospitality. Many tourists know about Dubai in the UAE but I have to say, I preferred my stay in Qatar and I would definitely return.
If you’re heading to Qatar for a quick getaway or you’re planning your trip for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, this 2 day itinerary covers most of the main attractions, although you might want to book in a desert safari too!
Check out my video for all there highlights:
Clip from Qatar done by this video post production agency.
Visit Qatar from £896 per person
Southall Travel is offering a three night holiday to Qatar from £869 per person. The price includes accommodation at Mondrian Hotel, Doha in a standard room including breakfast and flights with Qatar Airways from London Heathrow. For selected departures in 12 December – 31 May 2019. To book call 0208 843 6794 or visit www.southalltravel.co.uk
· Qatar National Tourism Council: For more information on Qatar, please visit: www.visitqatar.qa
· Mondrian, Doha: For more information on Mondrian, Doha, please visit: www.morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-doha
· Sharq Village and Spa: For more information on Sharq Village and Spa, please visit: www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village
· The St. Regis Doha: For more information on The St. Regis Doha, please visit: www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/dohxr-the-st-regis-doha/
· The InterContinental Doha: For more information on The Intercontinental Doha, please visit: www.intercontinental.com/doha
· Q-Explorer: Transfers, tours and activities can be provided through Q-Explorer: https://q-explorer.com/
· Qatar Airways: For more information on Qatar Airways, please visit: www.qatarairways.com