July 06, 2023

Looking for Inspiration: A Culture Vulture’s 48-Hour Guide to Qatar

For the culture enthusiast, a well-planned itinerary of the right spots to visit in Qatar can give you a glimpse of the best of the country, its culture and heritage, and its modern lifestyle.

With the discovery of oil and gas, Qatar has grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades. However, despite its modernisation, it has preserved elements of its traditional Bedouin culture, heritage features, trade and commerce activities, Middle Eastern and Islamic architecture, art and symbolism. You can stroll down the streets of the nation's souqs to find traditional architecture, shops, cafes and foods. Try exploring state-of-the-art museums that map out the country's past, present and future. Visit mosques to learn about culture through religion, or stroll along the coastal promenades to see old trade centres reimagined for the future. The perfect mix of modern living and traditional values makes Qatar a fantastic destination to visit. What's more, the country has a well-connected transportation system that makes getting around the sights quick, easy and convenient.

Whether arriving at the airport in the morning, waking from a good night's sleep in one of Doha's many beautiful hotels or just finding yourself with a free weekend, there are plenty of ways to spend two days in Qatar exploring its cultural highlights. We have put together a 48-hour itinerary that will take culture vultures around some of the best places to visit within Doha and further afield.

Day 1:

Morning Activities: Museum of Islamic Art

Image: EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

After breakfast, a great place to start your 48 hours would be Doha's Corniche - the city's popular coastal promenade that runs for 7 km along the Arabian Gulf. The Corniche stretches from the iconic Sheraton Hotel to the magnificent Museum of Islamic Art and is a cultural site in its own right. The walkway, built in the mid to late 20th century, has developed over the years into a hub for city dwellers, whose daily activities include walking, jogging, fishing, picnicking, and socialising. And it is full of iconic landmarks, cultural activities and sights from one end to the other, including the impressive skyscrapers of West Bay, the Amiri Diwan (seat of the Government), the national theatre, Dhow Harbour, the traditional market of Souq Waqif, the beautiful Fanar mosque, a multitude of parks and museums such as the Museum of Islamic Art.

Spending time at the Museum of Islamic Art is a must for culture vultures. The museum houses one of the world's most extensive Islamic art collections from the 7th century to more recent eras. The collections of over 18,000 artefacts include paintings, manuscripts, calligraphy, pottery, glassware, tiles, metalwork, textiles and jewellery from across three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and from over 40 countries as far and wide as Iran, Central Asia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and India. The museum, which opened in 2008, was designed by the late and renowned Chinese/American architect I.M. Pei., who also created the Louvre in Paris, France. So, as may be expected, the Museum of Islamic Art is an artwork in itself and well worth the visit.

  • Location: Al Corniche, Doha
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire or Metro

(The closest Metro station is Souq Waqif Metro Station on the Gold Line.)

Afternoon Pursuits: A Dhow Cruise

Image: qatarofw.com

Having finished lunch, a relaxing way to spend the afternoon and immerse yourself in Qatari culture and tradition would be to take a Dhow cruise. Dhows, traditional wooden sailboats, were used as trading vessels, fishing and pearling boats before oil was discovered. They continue to be popular today for tourists and residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, relax with family or friends, or get unsurpassed views of the city.

Dhows can usually be boarded from Dhow Harbour, near the Museum of Islamic Art. Once on board, cruise through the waves just like Qatar's ancestors would have and enjoy the cool sea breeze as you watch the beautiful scenery that has evolved since Doha's time as a busy trading port. We recommend taking a ride closer to sunset when the sun goes down behind West Bay's tall buildings and the city lights provide a sparkling vista. You can even board some boats that host lunch and dinner buffets and banquets of traditional fare to make your ride a little more special.

Note: There are a variety of organised dhow cruise options, which include those with onboard dining, opportunities to stop and swim or fish, or even join in a bit of karaoke, or you can haggle with the captains of privately owned boats to charter your own ride. Local companies that offer organised rides include 365 Adventures, Arabian Adventures, Falcon Tours and Qatar International Tours.

  • Location: Al Corniche, Doha
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire or Metro

(On the Metro, take the Red Line to Corniche Metro Station.)

Evening Entertainment: Souq Waqif

Image: Shadow of Light/Shutterstock.com

When the sun goes down, and the city comes alive, why not take a tour of a traditional Arabian market? Souq Waqif, located along Doha's Corniche, is a historic market whose roots can be traced back to the 17th century. This vibrant maze of narrow alleyways is home to various shops and stalls selling antiques, jewellery, food and spices, materials and clothing, souvenirs and much more. Our favourite areas of the market are the Gold Souq, the Falcon Souq and the small cafes where Qatari gentlemen play Dama, a traditional Qatari board game. Plus, we love the myriad of restaurants and cafes that cluster around the centre of the market, the boutique hotels and the traditional entertainment often performed there on a winter evening.

The market is a must-see for all visitors to Doha and is fun to explore on your own or with a guide who can tell you about the market's history and where to find the best bargains. Many shop owners have been in business in Qatar for generations and are always delighted to show you their wares or answer questions. Be prepared to haggle for bargains; it's all part of the experience!

  • Location: Abdullah Bin Jassim Street, Doha
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire or Metro

(On the Metro, take the Gold Line to Souq Waqif Metro Station.)

  • Opening Times: Saturday to Thursday, 8 am – 12:30 pm, 3 – 10 pm;

Friday, 3 – 10 pm

Day 2:

Morning Pastimes: Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum

Image: Sirio Carnevalino/Shutterstock.com

After a good night's sleep, continue your cultural tour with a trip to Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum, which houses an extensive private collection of cultural curiosities related to Qatar, the Middle East, Arab culture and trade, and Islam. The museum accommodates over 30,000 objects from the Jurassic age to the early Islamic period and up to the present day. The artefacts are displayed across numerous galleries, from a weaponry hall to a textiles and jewellery room, a fossils section to a carpet museum, an Islamic arts hall to a Quran room, which displays one of the largest and one of the smallest Qurans in the world. The collections, which have been painstakingly assembled over many decades by the museum's owner Sheikh Faisal, provide links to Qatar's past, its cultural development and its ties to other cultures across the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and Europe. Besides the artefacts, you can also step into an authentically replicated 200-year-old Syrian house that was transported from Damascus and rebuilt brick by brick inside the museum, and a model Qatari home, which houses belongings from Sheikh Faisal's early life and provides a glimpse into Qatari life in the 20th century.

While at the museum, you could also stop by the Al Samriya Oryx Reserve nearby, which is home to several endangered species of large mammals, such as the Arabian Oryx, Qatar's national animal, and Dukhan Gazelles. Take a sanctuary tour and get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures!

  • Location: Al Samriya Street, Al Shahaniya (off the Dukhan Highway)
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire
  • Opening Times: Monday to Thursday, 9 am – 5 pm; Friday, 2 – 7 pm;

Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm; Sunday, Closed

Website: http://www.fbqmuseum.org/

Afternoon Pursuits: Al Shaqab

Image: Al Shaqab

With the afternoon and evening ahead of you, there is time to visit Al Shaqab, Qatar's state-of-the-art equestrian complex. The stables are home to over 400 pure-bred Arabian horses and boast some of the finest facilities in the country.

Arabian horses are synonymous with Qatari culture, having been a crucial part of the Bedouin tribes' lifestyles for hundreds of years. These highly valued animals, mainly utilised for their speed and endurance during warfare, were selectively bred by the Bedouins to maintain Arabian purity. Indeed, Bedouins have generally been credited with the beginning of selective breeding of Arabian horses, and 93% of recorded modern thoroughbreds have Arabian blood. Today, pure-bred Arabian horses are prized worldwide for racing and stud opportunities.

Interestingly, some three centuries ago, the Al Thani ancestors led their people into Qatar and with them came their Arabian horses. Nearly two hundred years later, in 1893, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani fought a decisive battle against the Ottomans. The Arabian horse played a part in that battle, which eventually led to Qatar's independence. Al Shaqab is situated at the site of that battle.

So, whether you are interested in simply admiring the horses, going on a tour of the stable with one of the trainers or learning about the history of this unique breed, Al Shaqab is a perfect place to spend an afternoon! Guided tours are held at 4 pm each day (and 9 am in the mornings). You will need to register beforehand through the website mentioned below.

  • Location: Al Shaqab Street, Ar-Rayyan
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire or Metro

(On the Metro, take the Green Line to Al Shaqab Metro Station.)

  • Contact: +974 4544 1992 / [email protected]
  • Website: https://www.alshaqab.com/
  • Other useful information: Though visiting Al Shaqab is free, tours to Al Shaqab need to be organised in advance - register beforehand via their website.

Evening Activities: Katara Cultural Village

Image: Sophie James/Shutterstock.com

To end your 48 hours of weekend culture in Qatar, we recommend heading to Katara Cultural Village. Katara is located on West Bay Lagoon in Doha and has some of the most breathtaking waterfront views in the city. This place offers a unique combination of the traditional and cultural with the modern and cosmopolitan and is a great place to spend a relaxing evening. Aside from the traditional Arabian village-like architecture and the maze of cute passageways and alleyways throughout Katara, culture vultures should also check out the following: the beautiful Blue Mosque inspired by Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace, the Instagram-worthy Golden Mosque, the colossal Greek/Arabian-style amphitheatre, and the neoclassic European/Arabesque architecture of 21 High Street - Katara's air-cooled, outdoor shopping promenade. The amphitheatre here hosts regular cultural events, performances and concerts, so be sure to check out what's on while you're there! There are also performance halls for theatre productions and art exhibits and a plethora of great restaurants and cafes where you can grab a bite before heading back to your hotel for the night.

  • Location: Katara Cultural Village, Doha
  • Getting There: Taxi, Car Hire or Metro

(On the Metro, take the Red Line to Katara Metro Station.)

  • Opening Times: Katara is open 24 hours per day
  • Contact: +974 4408 0000
  • Website: https://www.katara.net/en
  • Other useful information: At Katara, buggies are available in which to explore the area and to get to the stops of your interest to save time. It would also be good to look at the Katara Events calendar for any performances, festivals, workshops or exhibitions scheduled during your visit.

To complement your 48-hour experience, we recommend staying at Al Jomrok Boutique Hotel, located in the middle of Souq Waqif and a 10-minute walk from the Souq Waqif Metro Station. Al Jomrok is a restored heritage building designed to evoke traditional Qatari style using Arabian textiles, textures, patterns, symbols and local art combined with modern luxury and conveniences.

Another place to consider is the Al Rayyan Hotel, which is connected to the Mall of Qatar - a modern mall with a great choice of stores, cafes, and restaurants, from where you can access the Al Riffa Metro Station on the Green Line. The hotel and the mall are great examples of modern Qatari culture.

You can get to most of our picks on the list easily from either location.

Published: November 03, 2022
Last updated: July 06, 2023
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