Should I visit Doha or Dubai
Doha (Qatar): The most beautiful sights and best travel tips
My travel tips for the lesser known Arab emirate
The Qatar Peninsula is located northeast of the Arabian Peninsula between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The country is best known for its rich oil and gas deposits. In short: Qatar is the richest country in the world. The largest city and capital is Doha, where the international airport is also located.
Before the oil and gas wells were discovered, Qatar lived from the pearl industry: A coral reef surrounds the emirate and extends from north to south for 160 km and from west to east for 80 km. Those days are long gone, because artificial pearls have long been cheaper to buy.
Almost the entire land area consists of sand and salt deserts. Large sand dunes rise towards Saudi Arabia. At the sea you will find several miles of deserted dream beaches. The main attractions are in Doha, but some can be found outside of Doha.
The dark side of Qatar?
Qatar is not without controversy. At the latest since the 2022 World Cup was awarded, we have been bombarded with new reports of unworthy working conditions for Indians, Pakistani and Bangladeshis every day. There are said to have been many deaths and only because they toil to ensure that the stadiums are ready on time and that enough hotels are available by 2022.
Laws were changed in 2017 and working conditions were made humane. Work now mainly takes place at night in cooler temperatures. The workers are paid more fairly. A small step in the right direction.
The country goes to great lengths to improve its image
Many of my friends would never go to Qatar for these reasons, among others. However, I am too curious and like to make up my own mind. Hand on heart: which country is completely correct? The USA, the Philippines or China? Traveling forms and often shows me completely different sides than those that the media want to show us. So I said yes when I got the request for your trip to Qatar.
I do not regret it. Because what I saw there were not just open residents who were always friendly - including us women. Even if we only had contact with men ourselves.
I was able to see and experience a lot of their tradition and ask our guide Hameed, who does not have a Qatari passport but was born here, about everything I wanted to know. Not only on religious topics but also on marriage, family and what it's like to run your own company here. The Qatari are very proud because only they actually have a passport.
Hameed is a Palestinian. His parents were born in Doha. But even they are not allowed to have a Qatari passport, which would bring other "bonuses" such as a house, free water and electricity and other things.
Not everyone may want to understand the traditions, but they should at least be respected. My conclusion on the trip can be found at the end of this article.
Sightseeing in Doha
The highlight no. 1 is the skyline in the evening!
If you ask tourists what they would like to see first in Qatar and Doha, almost all of them answer: "The skyline", says Hameed, our guide from Q Explorer, who shows us his country for four days and wants to bring it closer.
Of course we would also like to look at the skyline. From all the vantage points that Hameed toohis "favorite spots" explained with the best prospects.
So we set out not only during the day, but also in the evening after dinner to see the most beautiful spots. The great thing about it? You are mostly in the midst of locals who do the same and sit on harbor walls or benches along promenades and look at the night skyline of Doha.
We will be served by Hameed with the typical sweet dish "Mahalbya"provided. What a service!
The Doha skyline is a highlight in itself. I don't know how many pictures I took of it, there were many. Still, Hameed never tires of asking: "Did you get some good shots?" – "I hope so", my answer. The result is impressive:
Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
This museum is a real eye-catcher - both outside and inside. When I travel, I often ignore museums. This is not only architecturally ingenious but also worth seeing from the inside. The MIA is one of the most important museums on the Arabian Peninsula and was designed by the star architect I. M. Pei.
In addition to artifacts with calligraphy, textiles, vessels and expensive carpets and jewelry, it also includes an education center, a large library and a restaurant on the top floor. Unfortunately, this was still closed when we visited in the morning.
I have seldom seen exhibitions that present their content so beautifully and stylishly. Without distraction and reduction to the essentials. You have to see this!
The MIA from the outside
When star architects are allowed to let off steam and money is not an issue, great results come out of it. The Museum of Islamic Art is one of them.
Do you recognize the face of a woman on the upper part who is looking through a burqa?
The MIA inside
Again, I can't get enough of it. Those who love architecture will spend hours here.
Souqs are always a highlight in Arab countries. This is where life happens. Evening after evening you can watch the hustle and bustle of the dealers here.
You can find everything from food, clothing, animals to food.
Visits Mohammed in his Cafe "Majis al Dama" and plays a game of Dama. He serves "Karak", the typical black tea with milk and sugar.
Be sure to visit the souq of the falcon shops. Here you can buy your own "pet" from 1000 euros. Opposite is the Falken Hospital, which is squeaky clean and probably better equipped than many German hospitals.
After visiting the market, everyone is hungry. You cannot eat cheaper or better in the whole of Doha than with Qatari women, who sell self-cooked food as long as supplies last (for more information see below under “Eating”).
Fanar cultural center with spiral mosque
The modern spiral mosque and the Fanar cultural center are located between the Corniche (beach promenade) and Souq Waqif. Fanar means “lighthouse” and it is precisely as such that the mosque can be seen from afar.
The construction is unique, I have never seen such a mosque with a beautiful minaret anywhere else. It is considered a symbol of Doha and is currently the largest mosque in the country.
Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to see the mosque from the inside.
You can find detailed information on opening times on the official website.
The artificial island "The Pearl" is the counterpart to the Palm in Dubai. Where the pearl divers once dived and dived for pearls, an artificial island was built on an area the size of 400 football fields.
The Qanat Quartier neighborhood on The Pearl is said to be a replica of the city of Venice in Italy. The many canals and gondolas as well as pastel-colored buildings with numerous cafés and restaurants really remind me of Venice, only without the bad smells and much too clean for the Italian original.
Many foreign expats live on the artificial island. Otherwise it is not very interesting for tourists. Better to visit the original in Italy.
Katara Cultural Village
The name Katara is not only intended to remind of the old name of Qatar, but also to create a connection to the ancient heritage and the history of the desert state towards the modern.
The architecture is the complete opposite of the modern buildings in the city. Pay attention to the paths, which are equipped with numerous works of art.
There is a planetarium, amphitheater, shopping, great art exhibitions, restaurants and much more. You have to stop by here, one of the most important sights in Doha.
The most beautiful views in Doha
You have beautiful views - especially of the skyline of Westbay in Doha in several places. Something different and not the same from every angle. Sometimes cloudy and unclear, sometimes razor sharp.
Especially at night, the chances of "sharp" pictures are better. Just in time after sunset everything starts to shine and glitter. Wow! We can't get enough of that.
As I said in the previous section: The Doha skyline is a highlight in itself.
My tips for the most beautiful views of Doha:
Helicopter landing pad at the Shangri-la Hotel
If you say to yourself now: "I'm not going there anyway" - oh yes. Hotel guests and visitors can e.g. Take yoga lessons on the heli pad. You can enjoy the view.
The cheapest yoga class is with Hameed and Q-Explorer, because he has negotiated special conditions (125 riyals with him, if you book at the hotel with breakfast the session costs 800 riyals).
View of West Bay from the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
At the Museum of Islamic Art, you can go outside on either side (left and right) and take in the view of the West Bay skyline. However, during the day it is almost always unclear due to the heat and the sand in the air. Towards evening it got better and better for us.
View the sunset on a dhow cruise
The advantage of a dhow cruise at sunset has the advantage that you sail past the entire coast of Doha.
So you don't see the sunset itself (the sun sets behind the mosque, you drive away from it, so to speak), but you can watch it get dark and the city starts to glow.
You can see the Museum of Islamic Art and the Fanar Mosque both during the day and on the way back in total darkness. You won't get a more beautiful view of Doha than a relaxing trip on a traditional old sailing ship (“dhow”).
View from the Al Mourjan restaurant
On the second evening we go to the Lebanese restaurant Al Mourjan, which is very popular in Doha. From here you have great views of the Corniche (beach promenade) and West Bay at night.
View from the park at the harbor in Doha
On the last evening we would like to take another photo of the mosque in the dark. Hameed says that the most beautiful view of it is here in the harbor.
We also have a clear view of Westbay and the sparkling Doha here.
Views along the Corniche on West Bay
If you go in the evening on the Corniche towards the Sheraton Hotel (this is the pyramid-like hotel), you will come to a green space at the Msheireb Enrichment Center, which also has a small grassy hill. Here you can go up to the end and have another view of Westbay.
Excursion destinations and activities
Sunset dhow cruise along the Doha skyline
A dhow cruise (an old traditional sailing boat) is one of my recommendations for your Qatar vacation at sunset. Here you can relax and watch the passing skyline of Doha. The change between day and night is impressive.
The journey takes about 1.5 - 2 hours.
In the past, these boats were used to dive for pearls. Today, Qatar's former main source of income is no longer pursued. Artificial pearls have become too cheap.
Thanks to Qatar's rapid rise to prosperity through the discovery of oil and gas wells, it is no longer necessary to pursue this often risky profession.
Desert safari through sand dunes, to the inland sea and desert camp
Driving on sand through dunes? Exactly my thing. Those who get seasick quickly may have less fun here. I love action-packed rides. As soon as air is let out of the tires to have more grip in the hot sand, I have a grin on my face.
We're going to the desert camp Regency Sealine Camp and race through the deep sand over larger and smaller dunes. According to Hameed, we pass the most photographed motif of Qatar: That Chaur al-Udaid inland sea. Here, at high tide, the waters of the Persian Gulf penetrate deep into the desert and flood the valleys of the dunes.
We are here on the verge of low and low tide. Only thanks to tire tracks in the shallow water do we recognize that everything is dry at absolute low tide. Passing through is not possible if there is still water available. We can see the sea on the horizon.
We continue to have lunch in the desert camp.
The bath in the sea is canceled. A sandstorm is approaching very quickly. I've never seen this spectacle before, so I'm amazed at how quickly it gets dark, windy and sandy. This force of nature is an experience in itself.
Before the sandstorm, you can clearly see the sand dunes on the horizon. The sky is already turning dark ...
Less than 10 minutes later:
So let's quickly make our way back to Doha. Slowly and surely we are being brought out of the sandstorm.
You can also book this tour with Hameed and Q-Explorer. Alternatively, you can go to the desert campRegency Sealine Camp Live in tents that are even equipped with air conditioning, TV and bathroom.
Kayak tour in the mangrove forests of Al Thakira
You can tell how varied Qatar is when you arrive in Al Thakira at the latest. Here we switch from the car to kayaks. Either alone or as a group of two. We paddle through mangroves, on the sea and at the end we get to a small peninsula. If you are lucky you will meet flamingos here.
We could see some from a distance. With GoPro, however, too far away to have a picture of it for you.
Al Shahaniya camel racing track
Camel races are a real highlight in Arab countries, I am told again and again. Unfortunately, I'm always there on the wrong days and so far I've always missed the races.
That's why we see the many camels training on the camel racetrack (or rather tracks) in Qatar. I'd love to see those little knapsack robots whip-wielding in live. So far I've only been able to watch videos of it.
Maybe it works next time?
The Al Shahaniya camel racing track is located around 40 km outside of Doha. Take traffic jams into account. Attending the training is free of charge. To be honest, I don't know whether it will cost an entry fee on race days.
Insider tip: Sheik Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
This museum contains an incredibly large private collection of Sheik Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani. If we are still at a loss as to what to do here when we take the first steps (in the first rooms you will find furniture, clothing and carpets from all over the world), our eyes get bigger and bigger as we see the impressive collection of cars, motorbikes, boats and even airplanes see.
Geological fossils (example: dinosaur eggs) and some hidden VIP rooms that only special guests get to seecan be found here. I'm still not sure if I get to talk about it, but you can imagine that when we found out about these rooms (and in the end saw them) our ambition was packed.
In any case, you can find at Tripadvisor noticesthat you should simply ask in a friendly manner at the entrance about the additional rooms, and usually get access. The only condition: the museum director must be present. Because apart from the sheikh himself, only he has a key for this.
The rest is too incredible and untrue. Try your luck, I'll keep my fingers crossed!
For the museum, I definitely recommend that you take a guided tour. The items get a completely different value when a guide tells you the stories about them. In the end, the museum director brought us closer to many of these objects and their history.
You should also ask for his own story right away. Because it is just as incredible as the rest in the VIP rooms.
More photos of the museum can be found on the official Instagram channel.
Hotel tips for Doha
In Doha, the hub of Qatar, there are enough modern hotels of different price ranges and standards.
I definitely recommend booking a hotel in advance, as large events often take place and hotels are quickly booked out.
For me, a stay in one of the more luxurious hotels is a “must” here. Almost all of the best hotels have a restaurant run by a world-famous star chef.
It couldn't be better. We tested two of these hotels:
Hotel Mondrian Doha
The Mondrian is located directly in front of the driveway to "The Pearl" and is a very modern and stylish hotel. The rooms are nice and bright, the breakfast is great and if you want to relax there is an indoor pool on the roof, as well as a spa with hammam that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland.
In the Qatari specialty restaurant "Walima" we enjoy a relaxed dinner in a great atmosphere. One of my best recommendations if you want to eat out in Doha.
Really the only drawback for German tourists: The hotel's own beach, which everyone will look for here, is missing.
St. Regis Hotel Doha
The St. Regis Doha is a large hotel that couldn't be more typically American. I don't really like these huge buildings (there are actually 2 here). It's gloomy, and unfortunately so are the rooms. No comparison to the Mondrian.
But there is a sushi restaurant here, next to it the Opal by Gordon Ramsey (unfortunately now permanently closed) - star cuisine at its finest. On our last evening we feast here and enjoy it to the full. Lovers of Japanese Wagyu beef will get their money's worth here. Vegetarians will also be happy here. Promised!
The big plus of this hotel is the pool area and its own private beach, where nobody has to worry about appropriate clothing.
Recommended restaurants in Doha
In Qatar, not only the star cuisine with the best restaurants is at home, but also cheap and inexpensive food with Arabic influences.
We dined well here:
Al Mourjan - Lebanese restaurant with a skyline view
The Al Mourjan is also very popular with the locals. You can sit inside as well as outside. Of course we prefer the outside. Because here you have a great view of the skyline of Westbay!
You can also smoke shisha. You have to come here!
Here you can see the restaurant (left in the picture) during the day. Behind the skyline of the West Bay in Doha:
Eat with locals in Souq Waqif
The women sell their freshly cooked food from around 4 p.m. until everything is sold. There are three sizes for 10, 15 and 20 riyals each (€ 2.40 - € 4.80). You can't eat cheaper or better anywhere!
Afghan Brothers - Afghan food in Qatar
The Afghan restaurant Afghan Brothers is located just outside the “tourist center”. Traditionally, people eat on the floor, with freshly squeezed orange juice to drink.
It tastes great to us and when one plate after the other is brought in we ask ourselves (as is so often the case in Qatar) who should eat all of this ...
Specialty restaurant Walima in the Mondrian Hotel
Opal by Gordon Ramsey
The top chef's restaurant is located in the St. Regis Doha. Local and worldwide dishes prepared anew. Very good food, only the service was a bit slow.
Tea Time - Fast Food in Qatar
If you get hungry on the way, my tip: Go to a Tea Time branch and order Karak (sweetened black tea) and Mahalbya. For only 9 riyals an ideal snack in Qatar.
Tip: You can do it like the locals: stay seated in the car, honk the horn and wait for an employee to come to take your order. It couldn't be more convenient.
More travel tips for Doha & Qatar
Travel guide for Doha and Qatar
Unfortunately, there is no travel guide for Qatar. That will certainly change, as the soccer world championship 2022 takes place in Qatar and further sights, museums and hotels open.
I was happy with the DuMont Travel Guide, Travel Guide to the Arabian Peninsula. This contains a long chapter for Qatar. If you are planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, Oman or Dubai, you will find more current tips and information in this guide.
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Arrival to Qatar
Qatar Airways (currently the best airline in my opinion) brings you relaxed with direct flights from Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich to Doha.
Entry requirements for Qatar
To enter Qatar you only need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months.
In order to always get the latest information on this, I advise you to look at the Foreign Office.
Note: If you are a German citizen with a migration background from an Arab country, the Foreign Office advises you to ask the embassy in Qatar whether you need to apply for a visa before traveling to ensure that you will not be refused entry.
Take the Metrolink tram
Local Qatari people would never ride the metro, neither would expats. Still, it's a great way for you to get around and avoid the heat. It drives within the city (only not on The Pearl). A trip costs only 50 cents, for 1.50 euros you can even get a day ticket.
The metro runs daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursdays until 11:59 p.m., only on Friday from 2 p.m. - 11:59 p.m.
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