Drone view of Doha

Is Qatar Worth Visiting? It’s a Yes From Me

Often overshadowed by its neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar is one of those destinations that has often fallen under the radar. However, since the Qatar World Cup thrust this small gulf nation under the limelight, it’s certainly grown in popularity.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited Qatar, but I ended up preferring it over Dubai. I found Qatar to be a classier version of Dubai, with some truly stunning hotels and incredible futuristic-looking architecture.

If you’re wondering whether Qatar is worth a visit, read on to discover the pros and cons of visiting.

Reasons Why Qatar Is Worth Visiting

A Blend of Modernity and Tradition

Performers on stage at Cultural Diversity Festival Qatar

Qatar is a place where skyscrapers reach ambitiously towards the heavens, yet the desert and traditions remain ever-present, anchored in the soul of the land.

Doha, the capital city, is a hub of cultural sophistication with the iconic Museum of Islamic Art and the vibrant alleyways of Souq Waqif offering an authentic Qatari experience.

The city doesn’t just boast impressive architecture but also demonstrates an investment in the arts and education, evident in places like the Qatar National Library and Katara Cultural Village.

Amazing Architecture

Archways at Qatar Museum of Islamic Art

I was very impressed with Qatar’s arthitectural wonders, particularly the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, which was designed by the legendary architect I.M. Pei. This iconic structure, perched on the waterfront, houses a vast collection under its geometrically intricate dome, creating a visual dialogue between the sleek lines of the exterior and the rich history within.

Equally striking is The Pearl, a man-made island that transported me to the colorful canals of Venice, with its Riviera-style marinas and towering apartment complexes, reflecting Qatar’s ambitious vision and the nation’s commitment to architectural excellence and innovation.

The Falcons

Holding a falcon in Souk Waqif, Qatar

In Qatar, falcons are not just birds but revered symbols of cultural heritage and status. Qataris have a deep-rooted passion for falconry, historically used for hunting in the arid desert landscape. Today, this tradition persists with many locals actively participating in falcon racing and hunting.

The falcon market in Souq Waqif highlights their importance, showcasing the myriad of care and accessories available for these cherished birds. Each falcon represents a significant investment, underlining the bird’s esteemed position in Qatari society. 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! I

Amazing Skyline

Doha skyline at night

Qatar’s glittering skyline is stunning, especially when viewed at night. The best way to see it is from the water, and a Qatari dhow boat cruise is a must-do while you’re there. Evening sightseeing excursions can be arranged through your hotel or you can book online through companies like GetYourGuide. Try this sightseeing cruise or this private city tour with cruise included.

Easy Stopover Destination

Qatar Airways business class seat

Qatar serves as an ideal stopover destination, thanks to Qatar Airways’ extensive global network and the convenience of Hamad International Airport. The airline’s Qatar stopover program enables travelers to break up long journeys and explore Doha’s attractions with ease. It’s an opportunity to add a layer of rich cultural experience to your trip without significant detour, efficiently turning what could be a layover into an adventure.

Unrivaled Hospitality

Staircase at The Mondrian hotel in Qatar

Staying true to the Middle Eastern ethos of hospitality, Qatar welcomes visitors with open arms, providing luxury and comfort in world-class hotels and resorts. From the dizzying opulence of The Pearl to the tranquil seaside vibe at Katara beach, the options for leisure and relaxation are vast.

On my visit to Qatar I stayed at The Mondrian Qatar, which boasts some truly beautiful architectural features including a floating black spiral staircase and an indoor pool that sits beneath a stained glass domed ceiling. The spa is also stunning with pink mosaic walls and egg chairs for relaxation.

Adventure Activities

Kayaks on the sand in Qatar

For those who seek thrills, the desert landscapes beckon. Embark on a desert safari, challenge the dunes in a 4×4, or gaze at the stars from the Inland Sea, Khor Al Adaid. This country merges the serenity of endless golden sands with the adrenaline of adventure sports, such as dune bashing and camel trekking.

I hadn’t envisioned kayaking as part of my Qatar itinerary, but there I was on day one, navigating the serene Al Thakira Mangroves just north of Al Khor. Gliding along the emerald waters, I made stops at secluded beaches to bask in the warmth of the Persian Gulf.

The mangroves are a haven for diverse bird species, such as herons and flamingos, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. Despite the heat making for a rigorous workout, kayaking here offers a memorable and distinctive way to embrace the natural beauty of Qatar, be it in the cool of the morning or the golden hue of the afternoon.

Great Food

Qatar serves up a smorgasbord of culinary delights, reflecting its international population. Visitors can savor everything from traditional Qatari cuisine to the flavors brought by a myriad of expatriates. This gastronomic journey is symbolic of Qatar’s diverse fabric, where global influences harmoniously blend with local customs.

My favorite meal in Qatar was the one I ate at Parissa restaurant – a Persian restaurant inside Sharq Village & Spa. We ate so many different dishes but he highlight was definitely the mixed grill of skewered prawns and meat cooked on charcoal.

Surprisingly Affordable

Budget-friendly accommodations are available if one looks beyond the luxurious facades. Reasonable hotels and guesthouses offer comfortable lodging without the hefty price tag. Dining can also be affordable; by eating where the locals dine, such as at the small eateries in Souq Waqif, visitors will not only save money but also experience authentic Qatari cuisine.

Public transportation, including buses and the recently developed Doha Metro system, provides an inexpensive and efficient way of navigating the city. For shopping, while high-end brands dominate the malls, traditional souqs offer a variety of goods at lower prices, allowing for the experience of market bargaining.

It is also worth noting that many of Qatar’s attractions, such as the stunning public beaches, the Corniche promenade, the Museum of Islamic Art park, and Katara Cultural Village, are free to enter or carry a very nominal fee. This makes sightseeing and soaking in the local culture accessible to everyone, regardless of their budget.

FIFA World Cup 2022 Legacy

Hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, Qatar has bolstered its global profile and demonstrated its capacity to welcome the world to its shores. State-of-the-art stadiums and improved infrastructure are part of the legacy that will benefit travellers for years to come. Sports fans can immerse themselves in this chapter of football history and perhaps catch a glimpse of future sporting events in these arenas.

Cons of Visiting Qatar

Environmental Concerns: High Carbon Emissions

View of Doha, Qatar

Qatar has one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world, largely due to its extensive use of fossil fuels in energy production and desalination plants. The environmental footprint of traveling here is something eco-conscious individuals need to weigh. The nation’s reliance on air conditioning to battle the heat also contributes to its substantial emissions outputs.

Lack of Verdant Landscapes

Man walking a camel through the desert in Qatar

Those with an affinity for lush, green environments may find Qatar’s terrain challenging. It’s a country characterized by its arid deserts and scarcity of naturally occurring forests or green spaces. While there are efforts to increase urban greenery and parks, the stark beauty of the desert dominates the landscape, which can be jarring for lovers of more verdant scenery.

Cultural Constraints: Stricter Laws and Dress Code

Arab man wearing white tunic in Qatar

Visitors to Qatar should be ready to respect local laws that might be stricter than what they’re accustomed to at home. The legal system has firm policies on behaviors deemed disrespectful or inappropriate, which can catch uninformed travelers off guard. Furthermore, Qatar maintains a conservative dress code, particularly for women, and visitors are expected to dress modestly in public areas, covering shoulders and knees as a sign of respect towards the cultural norms.

Extreme Heat

The Qatari climate is characterized by its intense heat, especially during the summer months when temperatures can soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). This intense heat can limit outdoor activities, making it uncomfortable for those unaccustomed to such temperatures. The climate is something to seriously consider when planning your travel dates, possibly favoring the cooler months from November to early April.

Not for Partiers

One aspect of Qatari life that might catch visitors by surprise is the strict regulation of alcohol. In Qatar, alcohol consumption is tightly controlled. It is only available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and these establishments are predominantly found in the more luxurious hotels. This exclusivity comes at a premium, making alcohol significantly more expensive compared to many other countries. Moreover, the sale of alcohol is prohibited during the holy month of Ramadan, and drinking in public areas is illegal year-round.

For travelers who enjoy a drink as part of their dining or social experience, these restrictions necessitate planning and budgeting. It’s crucial to be aware of these laws to avoid inadvertently disrespectful behavior that could result in fines or more severe legal repercussions. As a visitor, your respect for these rules is a part of the cultural exchange that travel entails.

A Final Word

Despite these considerations, Qatar remains an intriguing destination with many unique experiences on offer. As travel destinations go, Qatar may just surprise you. While still carving out its identity on the international stage, this small but mighty nation is shaping itself into an enticing proposition for tourists seeking something beyond the beaten path.

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