After years of being overshadowed by famous Middle Eastern destinations such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Doha started getting a lot of international attention when it was chosen to host the World Cup of 2022.
So, if you also want to know more about Doha, the capital of Qatar, you are in the right place! Here is a quick guide with the country’s history, top things to do in the city, and practical information for your visit.
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The Qataris were dominated by the Persians, the Saudis, and the Ottoman Empire, but in 1916, with the fall of it the Ottoman Empire, Qatar became a British protectorate.
Until the 1940s, the country depended on the pearl trade and fishing, but everything changed when oil reserves were discovered and, after declaring their independence in 1970, they did not stop there. What used to be a resource-poor village in the middle of the arid desert, today leads the list of the world’s richest countries. (In addition to oil reserves, it has one of the largest natural gas reserves on the planet and has the highest per capita income and purchasing power of the world.)
Now, the country grows every day, and Doha is about to become a sensation – Qatar will have the eyes of the whole world on it, with the biggest football spectacle it’s set to host in 2022.
Getting to Doha
But how to get there? Doha can be reached with a Qatar Airways stopover. The airline offers a free stopover and transit visa, while hotels can be entirely free or at a discounted rate.
If you have a scheduled trip to a destination in Asia, a stopover in Doha is an excellent option to escape the most obvious option, which would be Dubai.
Top things to do in Doha
And what will you find in Doha? The imposing building of the Museum of Islamic Art can be seen from afar. Often what comes to our ears in the West is only the negative side of Islam, but it is important to know the artistic contributions of other cultures to the world we live in today, and this is what the museum does: it represents a beautiful side of Islam, through the celebration of art and culture.
The Museum of Islamic Art is an icon of Doha, reflects the essence of the Arab world, and is a great choice for anyone who wants to let go of possible prejudices. The museum is relatively new, opened to the public only in 2008, and brings together pieces from various countries, such as Spain, Turkey, Iran, etc. But if you are not interested in the works that it houses, you might be attracted by the architectural project: the architect responsible for the project is the same as the Pyramid of the Louvre in Paris (and entrance is free).
Now, if you enjoy local markets, Souq Waqif is the best option for you! It is the oldest souq in Doha and was formerly the site of trading for the Bedouins. It was renovated in 2004 to preserve the cultural heritage of the place and has a very central location, near the Museum of Islamic Art.
At the Souq, you can find various items, from spices to shoes, to perfumes and dried fruits. And if you are interested in the famous kajal that Arab women wear in their eyes, there will be plenty of opportunities to buy it.
When visiting the Souq in Doha, be mindful of the heat – it’s best to go early or late in the day when the heat is milder (some stores close their doors during the middle of the day).
Culture in Doha, Qatar
And the culture? Qatar as a whole is considered more open when compared to neighboring Saudi Arabia and much more closed when compared to the United Arab Emirates. Doha is home to Al Jazeera, the largest television network in the Arab world, which stands out for freedom of expression in the Gulf.
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited by law in the country and are rarely found for sale, especially in public places. Some hotels – usually large chain hotels – have a license to sell to non-Muslim customers.
The hotel we stayed in even had a large menu of alcoholic drinks, but there were only beers available and it had to be drunk in a specific area. There was also a club with more options for drinks, and it was interesting to see that women without the company of the opposite sex could not enter.
In Doha, and in the whole of Qatar, Islamic polygamy is allowed for males, so do not be worried or stare at seeing more than one woman accompanying a husband in shopping malls and restaurants, but accept and try to understand the local culture. Also, do not photograph people on the street, they do not like it and feel offended.
In terms of dress, men wear white robes, slippers, and turbans and women wear black from head to toe (abayas, niqabs, hijabs, and burqas). There is a booklet with guidelines on more conservative clothing for tourists – for the female, the ideal is to avoid wearing clothes that are tied, transparent and short; for males, it is best to avoid shorts and sleeveless shirts.
Demonstrations of affection in public are not allowed, even among married people, so try to be discreet. Also, if you are dealing with the local population, avoid shaking hands with the opposite sex (always wait for the other person to take the initiative to know if it is allowed).
These guidelines can be considered a torment, especially the dress code, to face the heat and humidity, but if you are willing to visit a country, the least you can do is respect the local culture.
Practical information for visiting Doha, Qatar
- Visa: Though Qatar offers visa-free entry for nationals of around 80 countries, some nationalities require a visa to enter. Click here to see if you must have one (I got mine through Qatar Airways as I was on a stopover).
- Currency: Qatari Ryal (QAR)
- Language: Arabic, but English is spoken by all, as until recently the country was dominated by the British.
- Transportation: The best option is to rent a car, but Uber is also widely used.
- Accommodation: Our reservation was made with the purchase of the airplane ticket, through the airline, and we stayed at the Ritz Carlton, a lovely hotel. The St. Regis and the Intercontinental are also excellent options.
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