Long being a humble sultanate dependant on fishing and pearling, the abundant gas and oil reserves that it sat upon has transformed this corner of the Arabian Peninsula into a fabulously wealthy kingdom, just as its neighbours have over the past century.
Unlike some of its fellow nations in the region, Qatar has become a force for peace and freedom in the Arab World (and arguably, internationally), serving as diplomats in disputes throughout the Middle East, and being home to the highly popular news channel, Al-Jazeera.
The groundswell of petro-cash that Qatar’s oil and gas reserves has generated has transformed the skyline of its capital city, Doha, into a wall of blue glass, steel and concrete, while propelling the incomes of the average citizen to a level above what is enjoyed by residents of Western Europe.
As such, Qatar is not a cheap place to visit … either bring a healthy bank/credit account, or structure your itinerary to see the landmarks that interest you within a shorter time frame than usual. Those who want to get a glimpse of what the high life that a petro-economy beings, while seeing how a traditional Arabic lifestyle is integrated into that, will have an intriguing visit in this tiny peninsular nation.
Currency: Qatari Rial
Languages: Arabic, English
What To Do
In the past decade, there has been a drive to improve Qatar’s cultural offerings in order to draw tourists and become more of an interesting place so that the country can attract more expats to work in its booming energy industry.
This has dramatically boosted the attractiveness of its museums, not the least of which is The Museum of Islamic Art. This building houses countless ceramic, glass, metal and other artifacts and works of art gathered from present and former Muslim kingdoms from across Asia, Europe and Northern Africa. With soaring ceilings, fountains, and an excellent café, it is well worth the visit.
Featuring works done in the present era, the Mathaf Museum focuses on modern art made in Islamic nations across the region. Gathered together by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, this excellent resource for the local art community presents the latest works of artistic expression from across the Islamic World. Free shuttles run regularly from the Museum of Islamic Art, making access to this place easy despite its far-flung location.
While most attractions in Qatar are located within or in the vicinity of the capital city Doha, take time to head 100 kilometres out of town to Al Zubara Fort. This fortification was built in 1938 to serve as a coast guard station, but its imposing nature and its present status as a museum is its primary draw in this day and age.
Those looking for a combination of cultural experience and a fantastic day/night out should check out Katara, a cultural village located between West Bay and the Pearl in Doha. Home to the Doha International Film Festival, many lively shops and restaurants, an urban beach, and many musical and theatrical events, this 1,000,000 square foot entertainment complex has plenty to offer the traveler in search of excitement.
Want to find a Middle Eastern souvenir for your loved ones back home? Then cruise the narrow aisles of Souq Waqif, a traditional Qatari market where your bargaining skills will be put to the test. After snagging the trinket of your choosing for a bargain (in your mind, at least!), relax at a shisha lounge, where locals smoke flavoured tobacco through a water pipe alongside expats and tourists.
What To Eat
Cuisine throughout the Middle East is fairly uniform and similar. Hummus, a dip made from ground-up chickpeas, Taboulleh, a vegetarian dish composed of parsley, mint and cracked wheat, and Biryani Rice, a spiced rice dish with chicken/lamb are all popular here, as they are throughout the rest of the region.
The national dish of Qatar is Machbous, which is another dish that can be found elsewhere in the region. It is a stew made with chicken or lamb, rice, various spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon and raisins. It is often prepared as a communal dish, so if you get invited to a meal with a group of Qataris, you may be consuming this concoction at the party!
As far as unique dishes go, there are a couple that warrant a mention here. Waraq Enab is a well-loved finger food that can be vegetarian-friendly, as they are vine leaves stuffed with flavoured rice and zucchini, or with ground meat with you count yourself as a member of the carnivore crowd.
If you are seeking a delectable dessert to cap off an excellent meal in Qatar, be sure to seek out some Umm Ali. This is a bread pudding that traces its origins to Egypt, consisting of various kinds of nuts and white raisins. Its flavours will send you to another plane of existence, which is what any proper dessert should do, especially when you on vacation in a place halfway around the world!