The country may be in the spotlight for its modern developments, but beyond the sleek skyscrapers of Doha, there are endless unspoiled sand dunes where adventure seekers can camp out under the stars and take part in a number of thrilling activities.
Destination Management Companies (DMCs) offer a variety of desert experiences from dune driving to camel rides, as well as excursions to unique natural attractions such as the inland sea and ‘singing’ sands.
Meanwhile the warm and crystal-clear turquoise waters surrounding Qatar beckon divers and snorkellers to discover the marine life beneath. Groups can also hire boats, yachts and dhows and for meetings or incentives with a difference.
Head out to the Qatari desert to discover a rich array of attractions fashioned by Mother Nature herself.
Among the most popular include the 40-metre-deep cave formation Dhal Al Misfir, furnished with enough natural crystals to rival a Swarovski boutique.
‘Desert roses’ can be found at the low salt flats near Al Shahaniya near the Saudi Arabia border. These striking structures are so-called due to the rose-like shape that has formed from gypsum crystal deposits.
The ‘Singing Sand Dunes’ is a phenomenon worth experiencing first-hand. Located 40 kilometres southwest of Doha, the movement of the sand grains in the wind creates a low, tuneful murmur or ‘singing’ that is a treat for the ears.
A number of nature reserves are dotted around Qatar’s vast desert, each offering a unique experience.
At Ras Abrouq Natural Reserves, a popular overnight camping spot that can only be reached in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, there’s a sweeping half-moon bay and interesting coves located on a remote peninsula.
Khor Al Adaid, also known as the ‘inland sea’, is a shallow tidal lake surrounded by dunes, with shores bordering both Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Al Dakhira Natural Reserves feature mangroves, salt flats and, when wet, sticky mud that behaves like quicksand while Al Reem Natural Reserves are home to Oryx and Arabian gazelles.
A great way to soak up the essence of old Arabia is from a Bedouin tent in the desert under a canopy of stars.
Most DMCs can arrange group camping trips in the desert or by the beach. Qatar Ventures, for instance, takes groups on a four-wheel-drive through the golden dunes to a beachside camp for welcome drinks, followed by a traditional barbecue, complete with entertainment by the campfire. Extra-curricular activities on offer that promote team building include camel rides, swimming, beach volleyball, American football and sand boarding.
Contact: +974 4 0164750 / qatar-ventures.com
Inbound operator Gulf Adventures offers groups two dhow cruise options. Choose from a one-hour Panoramic Dhow Cruise (for a minimum of four people) taking in Doha’s harbour and its breathtaking city skyline while enjoying drinks and Arabic snacks. Alternatively, the Night Dhow Cruise (for a minimum of 20 people) invites groups to tuck into a casual buffet dinner against a backdrop of twinkling stars, providing a memorable way to end a trip.
Contact: +974 4 4221821 / gulf-adventures.com
Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq
Located in front of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Park, this venue hosts exhibitions that often prove to be a talking point in the city. Indeed, with a diverse schedule of exhibitions hosted in its vast space, Al Riwaq is always worth a visit. It also hosts temporary exhibitions by upcoming museums in the Qatar Museums Authority network.
QM Gallery Katara
An intimate venue for public art projects in Katara Cultural Village, QM Gallery Katara features theatres, concert halls and restaurants. It typically hosts local and international artists whose work centres around human themes. For instance, past highlights include Yan Pei Ming’s portraits of well-known Arabs as a medium for recording history, Francesco Vezzoli’s unveiling of the anguish behind overtly content female icons and Brigitte Lacombe’s photographic exploration of female athletes in the Arab world. Nestled among other buildings in the village, the casual space is inviting thanks to its laid-back ambience. It is also a platform for Qatar’s emerging museums to present their collections and projects.
Fire Station Artist in Residence
A new hub in the city for creative exchange, Fire Station Artist in Residence is housed in the Civil Defence building. Its public gallery, the Garage, is dedicated to new talent and is the perfect springboard for creativity, providing emerging artists with an opportunity to take their passion to the next level. The venue offers nine-month programmes for aspiring artists living in Qatar who, during this time, will move into one of the studios, collaborate with fellow creatives and get to work on developing their own technique.
Al Markhiya Gallery
Located in Souq Waqif, this contemporary art gallery provides insight into the works of both emerging and established painters, sculptors and photographers, with a focus on regional artists.
Contact: +974 4 4428007 / almarkhiyagallery.com
Desert safari and dune bashing
No meeting or incentive to Qatar is complete without a desert safari and dune driving experience.
Qatar Inbound Tours offers a wide range of options, from a thrilling four-hour dune ride in a four-wheel-drive vehicle near Mesaeed where visitors can catch a glimpse of Saudi Arabia on the horizon, to a desert safari with one-hour dune drive, camel rides, an Arabic barbecue and traditional shisha. Other options include overnight camping in Bedouin-style tents with sand boarding and sunset photo opportunities.
Contact: +974 7 7451196 / inboundtoursqatar.com
Doha’s Regatta Sailing Academy can organise business group and team building activities that range from relaxing cruises around West Bay to hands-on sailing races.
The club’s wide range of services also include powerboating, yacht charters, private boat hire and fun beach and dinghy activities.
Contact: +974 5 5503484 / regattasailingacademy.com
Watersports at Safliya Island
Most of Doha’s resorts offer watersports as part of their beach activities. For a getaway day, however, take a Qatar International Adventures (QIA) dhow cruise to Safliya Island where jet skiing, banana boat and donut rides and waterskiing await. QIA can create bespoke itineraries for clients.
Contact: +974 4 4553954 / qia-qatar.com
QatarMarine offers a range of diving experiences, from short excursions to PADI-certified courses, with the chance to discover the six recommended diving spots around Qatar.
These include unique inland sites such as Messaied City and Khor Al Adaid (the inland sea), as well as offshore locations such as The Old Club Reef, New Club Reef, Qafco Reef and The Barge. Lucky visitors will spot a sea turtle, dugong, or maybe even a shark.
Contact: +974 5 5319507 / qatarmarine.net
Katara Beach, part of the Katara Cultural Village complex, offers fishing trips for groups looking to hook their catch of the day, while a fantastic range of watersports can also be enjoyed on this 1.5-kilometre-long sandy stretch. Popular pursuits include waterskiing, wakeboarding, parasailing, windsurfing, sailing, boat rides, canoeing and kayaking.
Contact: +974 4 4080000 / katara.net
For a heart-racing ride around Doha’s harbour and offshore The Pearl – Qatar development, hop aboard Qatar Ventures’ 36-foot Magellan speed boat.
Once the city highlights are covered, the journey continues to Al Safliya Island where the boat anchors and groups can take a refreshing dip in the in the pristine waters.
Contact: +974 4 0164750 / qatar-ventures.com
Window to luxury
City Center Doha
One of the largest malls in the Middle East, City Center Doha in the city’s West Bay area has a variety of shops and boutiques spanning an impressive five levels. Entertainment options include indoor bowling, an ice-skating rink, 14-screen cinema and gaming area Fun City, which is a top family attraction. There’s also a large food court.
Contact: +974 4 4839990 / citycenterdoha.com
Landmark Shopping Mall
So popular is this mall that is has undergone two expansion projects since opening in 2000.
The shopping centre resembles a Qatari castle from the outside, while inside shoppers will find large modern boulevards lined with international retail brands including Marks & Spencer, Karen Millen, H&M, Zara and Swarovski. There are numerous dining options available including Patchi, Godiva and Opera Café.
Contact: +974 4 4875222 / landmarkdoha.com
Located in the iconic Zig Zag Towers in Doha’s West Bay, Lagoona Mall has 160 stores representing many global brands
as well as a European-style piazza that features a variety of restaurants with outdoor seating.
Some of the latest fashion stores to open their doors there include Tory Burch, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Ted Baker and regional perfumery Amouage.
Contact: +974 4 4257766 / lagoonamall.com
This Venetian-themed mall in Aspire Zone not only offers a good mixture of shops, restaurants and recreation areas but also features a canal that visitors can navigate by stepping on board a genuine Venetian gondola.Entertainment options include an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink and a theme park.
Contact: +974 4 413 5222 / villaggioqatar.com
Big spenders will be drawn to this three-storey, high-end retail experience, which is home to the likes of Cartier and Montblanc. There’s a personal shopper service available too, for those who need some help discovering designer brands.
Contact: +974 4 4466111 / royalplazadoha.com
One of Qatar’s longest established malls, which first opened its doors in 1981, Blue Salon is a favourite for international fashion brands, watches, jewellery, perfumes, cosmetics, furniture and homeware. Brands available include Corneliani, Aigner, Pal Zileri, Trussardi and Cole Haan. There’s a traditional Arabian sweet shop inside, too, while tailoring services are also offered.
Contact: +974 4 4466180 / bluesalon.com
Originally a trading place for local Bedouins to buy and sell wool, meat and milk, Souq Waqif has endured as Qatar’s most high-profile bazaar.
Having undergone a multi-million-dollar restoration in recent years, the souk has retained many of its original features including mud-rendered and timber-beamed buildings. It is the place to purchase spices, textiles, traditional clothing and souvenirs. In addition, groups can arrange tours of the Falconry Souq and dine at one of the authentic-style restaurants.
Souq Al Asiery
This is the top spot for fabric, from delicate lace to tough denim, although visitors will need to rifle through the racks to find what they need. Located on Doha’s Al Ahmed Street, the souk also sells jewellery and accessories.
Souq Al Dira
Lanterns, stained-glass windows and arches characterise this souk, which sells a wide range of high-end designer fabrics, as well as accessories, shoes, trinkets and Arabian perfumes.
Souq Al Jabor
A hub for affordable fashion, costume jewellery, footwear, perfume, electronics and more.
Tucked behind Doha’s Salwa Central Market, the Omani Souq is a treasure trove of weird and wonderful merchandise including incense, plants and pottery.