Doha

10 Things That Will Surprise First Time Visitors to Qatar

When I am traveling I regularly get asked “What is Qatar REALLY like”. Whether it be from the media coverage of recent events or already preconceived ideas about what the country is like, people are fascinated by this tiny peninsula.

My answer to this question is always the same – Qatar will truly surprise you.

Now, with Qatar Airways offering free stopovers until the end of the year and with  visa free entry for 80 countries (not to mention some highly competitive fares from Asia, Australia, the United States and Europe), it’s never been more attractive to visit Qatar and see what the fuss is about.

Here are the top 10 things that first time visitors to Qatar will be surprised about (here’s a tip – food features!):

1.The Skyline – even after a decade as a resident, I still find Doha’s iconic skyline mesmerizing. When lit up at night or from the window of a 787 at night, there are few sights quite like it.

me

That skyline tho…

2. The Airport – Well, specifically THAT Bear. Also the size and user-friendly amenities like free iMacs, free and fast wifi, a spa and of course the lounges, this is a spectacular gateway to this country.

lamp

Yes even I have been enchanted by the Lamp Bear

3. The Desert – it’s literally on the doorstep of the city and constantly changes. The Inland Sea is a great natural wonder but there is more to explore like the areas to the north and west of the country.

zik

An ancient land

4. The Food – it’s multicultural, it’s plentiful and it’s great. It also caters for every budget – from cheap as chips street style shwarma to gold leaf embossed desserts served up in panethons of high style.

kababs thali

Some of the best Indian food you will taste outside of India

Qatari, French, steak, Vegan, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian, Filipino, Nepalese, Italian, Greek…you get the picture. See here for some tips on what and where to eat and here for eats at the airport. And yes, there IS alcohol.

nobu

Nobu brunch is a must do

5. The Size – I had some friends visit earlier this year and we almost circumnavigated the the country and were back in time for dinner. Everything is within striking distance of the capital Doha and for travelers this makes for a convenient yet fascinating experience.

camels

Surprising in every way

6. The Culture of Art – Starting with the Museum of Islamic Art and stretching to the smaller galleries dotted throughout the city, this is a country that not only loves, but encourages appreciation of art and culture. Newer openings like the excellent Fire Station Gallery and Al Riwaq offer a window into this, but you can also experience arts, culture and heritage at places like the extraordinary private museum owned by Sheikh Faisal.

art

Art in the Desert – Richard Serra’s installation

7. The Corniche – Be they local, expat or interested visitor, everyone ends up on the beautiful stretch of bay called the Corniche. Walk, run, picnic or just people watch, this is always a showstopper.

8. The Hotels – Yes, many hotels are beyond extravagant – from the glam to the exotic and everything in between.

anantara

Qatar or The Maldives

But, the good news is that we are seeing more entries in the three and four star hotel range as well as stylish boutique hotels and resorts. There’s something for all budgets and tastes.

RC-Club-Lounge-05

Plush life – The Ritz Carlton Doha (photo by Karen Nicolet)

9. The Free Stuff – yes, you can spend a fortune in the many, many malls and dining with celebrity chefs, but there is a lot of free stuff. Visas? Free (well mostly!). Stopovers in world class hotels? Free. Art exhibitions? Free.

10. The Qatari Hospitality – Qatar and the Qataris have been welcoming travelers for generations. It’s ingrained in the culture and exists even today. Those flying in on Qatar Airways get to experience it first with their warm welcome. But this extends to Qatar’s people who are generous and welcoming.

planes

Come fly with me

What are you waiting for? You can also check my my guide to Doha Stopover Essentials (including some handy tips about how to get around and where to stay. Check this link for more information about the free 96 hour transit visa and here about visiting Qatar.

*Please read my fine print…I’m asking nicely.

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