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Off the Beaten Path in Qatar

by Emma Morrell

At first glance, it is easy to think there is little more to Qatar than the glittering glass skyline that rises out of the capital, Doha. Indeed, few visitors (and even some residents!) have made it past Doha’s city limits, preferring instead to stick to the traditional attractions. Activities such as visiting impressive museums like The Museum of Islamic Art and National Museum of Qatar, touring Souq Waqif, and dining in five-star restaurants—all while enjoying panoramic views of the bay—are popular for a reason. But, there aren’t enough of them to fill the time that we once spent travelling.

We have been stranded, either unable to get home or back into Qatar again or both, and have found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands. In the months between lockdowns, many of us discovered that there is more to this finger of land than meets the eye. And that’s not just in Doha but also the rest of the country.

Whether you are new to Qatar or you’re just looking for some ideas of different things to do, here are some of our favourite places and activities that you may not have heard of before. Now, some of these activities are out of reach when Covid restrictions are at their tightest, but you can still keep them handy for when things open up again.

For the Explorers

For those of us desperate to travel again, exploring every nook and cranny of the peninsula has been a must-do, and there is a surprising amount to find! Of course, there are the usual favourites of visiting Sealine, dune bashing to the Inland Sea, and finding the mysterious Singing Sand Dunes. Whether you end up watching the sun rise or set during those adventures or sleeping under the stars, you are bound to have an experience you will never forget.

But, there is so much more to Qatar than just this.

Purple Island, also known as Al Khor Island or Jazirat Bin Ghanim, has become a firm favourite with many people. It is surprisingly green for Qatar, with a mangrove forest and some limestone cliffs to explore. There are often birds, fish, and crabs to spot as well.

In search of a more seaside vibe, lots of people have been venturing further than the most popular beaches. Qatar has 560 kilometres of coastline, so there are a few to choose from! Umm Bab and Fuwairit beaches are popular choices, as well as Al Ruwais. Al Ruwais also offers the lovely Arsan Café, the renovated Old Police Station, and the oldest mosque in Qatar.

Others have gone to find waves to jump over at the windswept Dukhan Beach. This is a great trip to combine with a visit to Zekreet beach or a visit to the deserted Film City. In the same area, you can find Richard Serra’s East-West art installation: four oxidised steel plates towering 14 metres into the sky and spanning more than a kilometre between the first and last plate. All in all, it’s an amazing part of the country. You won’t find sand dunes there but, instead, it offers salt flats and incredible rock formations. To find more undeveloped open desert to explore, head south towards the Saudi Arabian border and check out Sawda Natheel.

Further north than Zekreet (but not as far north as Al Ruwais) is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Zubara Fort. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Zubara was a pearling and trading hub but is now abandoned. In fact, there are several disused buildings and settlements to explore in the area. Zubara also has a beach that is worth a visit.

Another new favourite destination is the Musfer Sinkhole near Salwa. It’s an ancient (perhaps around 500,000 years old), unexplored cave system near Umm Ash Shubrum. The opening to the sinkhole is around 13 metres in diameter and is over a hundred metres deep!

For the Doha–lovers

A great way to get a new perspective on a city is to experience it from angles that you have never seen before. Doha is no exception to this.

One of our favourite things to do is to get a dhow boat just before sunset. Just head to the Corniche to find a boat, negotiate your price, and sail off into the West Bay’s aqua waters. From there, you can watch the changing colours in the sky as they reflect off the glass buildings that dominate the skyline. Dhows are also available for day trips, and it is well worth heading over to Al Safliya Island with your own picnic to spend a morning or afternoon (or the whole day) there.

Checking out Doha’s many souqs is another great way to experience the city. While Souq Waqif is by far the most popular, there is much exploring to be done among the other lesser-known ones. These include Souq Al Wakra (also near Al Wakra beach), the Omani Souq (Vegetable Souq), the Falcon Souq (next door to the Falcon Hospital in Souq Waqif), and Souq Al Dira (Fabric Souq). For a bit of everything, try Souq Al Asery (also spelt Souq Al Asiri), Souq Al Faleh, and Souq Haraj. Wandering around these trading places is a great way to immerse yourself in local life—the people-watching never disappoints, and you might end up taking home a bargain!

For the Foodies

In search of a food adventure rather than a desert one? We’ve got you covered here! Doha’s foodie scene is impressive, to say the least. From Michelin Star chef restaurants to super chilled local food outlets, everyone has their favourite places to go. Staying off the beaten track means staying away from the conventionally popular restaurants in the big hotels, but it certainly doesn’t mean avoiding great food or sacrificing a great atmosphere!

Qatar’s diverse population means that its residents are looking for a wide range of options to cater to every palate. There are wonderful options across the city, and our favourites have all originated from recommendations.

For Qatari food, we love Shay Al Shamoos and Al Jasra, both of which can be found in Souq Waqif. If you want an authentic experience, take yourself to Assaha in Doha Old Town or Bandar Aden in Souq Waqif for some really traditional meals. They’re both Yemeni restaurants and well worth trying.

If you are looking for an assortment of options to cater to some diverse family tastes, then the new collection of food trucks at Lusail is the place to go! Liberally strung with fairy lights, there is something for everyone there, from pizzas to burgers, and there’s even a supermarket. They are housed in everything, from outdoor restaurants to double-decker busses! All the trucks open at different hours, so check out their Instagram pages for details on menus and opening times.

For more specialist restaurants, try Soul Bowl, Evergreen Organics, and Green and Go to get vegan meals, and head to Mylk for some allergy-free options.

We also really love going to Souq Waqif or the Old Town area and just getting lost there, picking the restaurant that takes our fancy on the day or searching for the best kunafa based on a recommendation from a random shop owner. You never know what hidden gem you will stumble upon! Our top tip for more specific recommendations is to always ask locals and long-term residents for their favourite places. Of course, when Covid restrictions are tighter, it’s not possible to soak up the dine-in experiences offered by these eateries, but that doesn’t mean that you have to skimp on enjoying them completely! Many restaurants provide takeaway or delivery services, so it’s well worth getting in touch and finding out if the ones you want to try also do this.

For the Inquisitive and the Playful

It is hard to find things that haven’t been done before in Doha, but new things are opening every month (at least, when Covid isn’t standing in their way). Our latest recommendations from readers have included:

 

  • Heenat Salma Farm: an initiative dedicated to holistic methods in agriculture, architecture, and community development.

 

  • Box Park: a wonderful collection of brightly coloured, recycled containers with scenic, panoramic views. You can find Box Park close to Old Doha Port, and the idea is to fill the space with dining, commercial, and retail spaces. It’s perfectly placed to offer stunning views of Doha’s impressive skyline, the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the National Museum of Qatar.

 

  • Museum alternatives: no one can argue with the sheer magnificence of the Museum of Islamic Art or National Museum of Qatar, but there is so much more depth to the museum scene in Qatar. Qatar Museums (QM) alone has several other museums, including Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and Fire Station. The Children’s Museum and 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum will also be launching soon under QM. Other museums around Qatar also include the increasingly popular Sheikh Faisal Museum and the collection of Mshireb Museums.

 

It is clear that Covid has forced us all to think outside of the box. It has kept us inside our houses and outside of our countries of origin, but it cannot permanently dampen our travelling spirit. Discovering a newfound passion for discovering our own backyards might just become the new answer to the travel bug, and we are loving it! But don’t forget to stay clued up on the latest Covid restrictions before planning your next adventure and follow the rules. Stay safe and have fun!

Doha Family would like to thank Amr Ghoniem for supplying images for this article.

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