It has almost been two long years since the world closed down to travel. Borders shut like falling dominoes and haven’t reopened fully to this day. At the time, the thought that travel would remain off-limits to so many people for so long was unthinkable. Yet here we are, scouring red lists and triple-checking quarantine requirements, vaccine regulations, and testing obligations to work out how to safely travel without getting infected or stuck.
While more and more options for international travel are becoming available again, many people recognise its risks. The prospects of getting stuck or having to test and quarantine when returning are still real.
With that in mind, it is as important as ever for us to recreate that feeling of travel without leaving Qatar’s borders, and there are many ways we can do that. So, here are some sure-fire ways to scratch that travel itch without boarding a plane.
One of the best things about travelling is the mouth-watering food that awaits us at the destination. Eating our way from Asia to South America (and everywhere in between) is a wonderful way to get to know cultures and traditions. The best part is that Doha has many country-themed restaurants to transport our taste buds to almost anywhere in the world!
There’s no shortage of North American restaurants in Doha. You can find everything from popular chains like Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, and Texas Roadhouse to higher-end cuisine in Hudson Tavern and New York Steakhouse. For a Latin American experience, you can get your Mexican fix at Maya or Isla, a Brazilian experience at Ipanema or Rozidzo, and a taste of Peruvian at Coya or La Mar.
If it’s European food you’re after, head to La Spiga or Il Teatro for Italian, grab tapas at Esquina or El Faro, and go Greek at Santorini or Mykonos. Head further out into Asia to get some Thai. There are almost too many great options, but Sabai Thai, Khaosan, and Issan are some core favourites. Indian food is massively popular here, so prepare to be wowed by places like Saffron, Aalishan, Bukhara, and Chingari. Restaurants like Mego, Neo, Nozomi, Morimoto, and Nobu will all take you further east to experience the best of Japanese cuisine.
But if you prefer to stay in the region, try any of the incredible Middle Eastern restaurants in Souq Waqif, including the ever-popular Damasca One, Bandar Aden, or Parisa. Away from the souq, give Assaha, Arabesque, Ard Canaan, Adhamiya, or Abajour a go.
There’s little better than being on holiday and getting a Thai massage on a beach, a mani-pedi in Bali, or soaking in a Japanese onsen after a tough day on the slopes. But you don’t need to go that far to experience bliss. Doha has more spas than you can count and offers everything from nail bars to full-blown spa day experiences.
All the big hotels have on-site spas providing all the usual services such as massages, facials, and body wraps that you can experience in between rinsing off in the pool, relaxing in a hot tub, or reclining in a beautiful zen lounge. Local go-to’s include Four Seasons Hotel, Doha; Marriott Marquis City Center Doha Hotel; The Westin Doha Hotel; Al Messila Resort & Spa; Angsana Spa Wyndham Grand Regency Doha; and Sharq Village & Spa. For a more low-key experience, try B/Attitude, Noon Beauty Centre, Diva Lounge Spa, and The Spa at Al Jasra Hotel.
Qatar might not be a big country, but it packs a mighty punch. There is plenty to discover here, from adrenaline-fuelled adventures to historical tours. You can spend days on soft sandy beaches by sparkling aqua water and nights sleeping under twinkling stars in the inky blackness of the desert.
All you need to do is put your tourist hat on and look at Qatar with fresh eyes. Then head to one of the museums, explore the back streets of souqs, or even go to a new park instead of your usual spots.
If you’re feeling like going further afield, there are plenty of places to visit and things to do if you take the time to look for them.
Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East art installation in the north of the country is a treat for art enthusiasts. Or perhaps you would prefer to travel back in time and look at the Al Jassasiya rock carvings or celebrate new life by seeing Damien Hirst’s The Miraculous Journey sculptures outside Sidra Hospital. If history’s your thing, you can explore Bir Zekreet Fort, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Zubarah Fort, and Barzan Towers.
Several abandoned towns and fishing villages are also cool to walk around, including Al Jumail and Al Arish.
Film Village is another fun place to explore. But if you really want to go into less charted territory, head to the Umm Bab Clay Quarry or to Al Wukair scrapyard, which is a graveyard to around 20,000 dust-covered cars.
For something more traditional, head to the sand dunes—some of them “sing” or “hum” as you slide down them. At night, you can build campfires and toast marshmallows over the flames. The desert is also great for camping or just relaxing after a fun day in the sand. If you only like sand when it’s with water, then head to the Inland Sea. There, you can stare over at the shores of Saudi Arabia as they shimmer in the heat or go to the beach and enjoy playing in the clear, shallow waters. Sticking with the water theme, rent kayaks and meander through the mangroves. Or instead, go down to the corniche, hire a dhow boat, and sail out to watch the sunset reflecting off the Doha skyline.
When you think about daycations, the first thing that springs to mind is spending a day at a swanky hotel. The one that probably feels the most like an “escape” here is Banana Island Resort, as it’s only accessible by boat. However, there are plenty more, including the InterContinental Doha, Marsa Malaz Kempinski, and the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. All have beaches as well as pools, making them a great place to spend the day. Other hotels with day rates include the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels; City Centre Rotana Doha; Fraser Suites Doha; Mandarin Oriental, Doha; Mondrian Doha; Staybridge Suites Doha Lusail; W Doha Hotel; and Zubarah Boutique Hotel Doha.
Don’t limit yourself to the hotels, though. There are many companies set up to show off some of the very best that Qatar has to offer. While many people don’t see the point of taking a local tour in their country of residence—and you can totally do some of these things on your own—it’s actually a great way to learn new things about a country that you thought you knew, have some fun, and discover new areas to go.
Some of the best ideas involve food tours, dune bashing and ATV excursions, kayaking trips, night tours, souq tours, city tours, art tours, and camping and glamping trips. You can also try camel racing, boat trips, and excursions to the north and west of Doha. Popular tour companies include 365 Adventures, Al Corniche Safari, Arabian Adventures Qatar, Blue Pearl Adventures, Darwish Holidays, Embrace Doha, Entalek EcoAdventures, Falcon Tours, and Qatar International Tours.
There’s nothing like staying overnight somewhere different to make you feel like you’re finally getting your escape. All the big hotels in Qatar have staycation packages and offers that give you access to all the facilities you’d normally use on a daycation. Plus, you can sleep in soft beds between crisp white sheets and enjoy food from some of the most talented chefs in the country. Some of the offers also include spa treatments, food and beverage discounts, and special offers to visit other attractions in Qatar.
Camping in the sand dunes or at the beach is another way to extend a daytime expedition, and you can go with friends to make it a more social adventure. If you don’t want to deal with all the setting up and taking down (not to mention all. the. sand.), consider one of the glamping options around. Located right by the sea, Regency Sealine is probably the most well-known glamping destination in Qatar. Still, there are plenty of other options. Check out Sarab Camp and Private Campest. Many of these tour companies also offer desert camping options, so it’s worth going through their websites.
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s how to be resourceful and make the most of the things we have on our doorsteps. Travelling might be on the rise and going away for tourism rather than just to visit friends and relatives now feels more within reach. However, with ever-changing rules and all the additional stress that pandemic travel entails, keeping ourselves busy and entertained within our borders is as important as ever. Plus, having the opportunity to spend on local businesses is a bonus! Thankfully, there are so many options.