Qatar is a fascinating country to travel.
The Gulf countries are a bit unknown, as most travelers have a little notion about what there’s to visit and end up visiting major urban areas. However, outside the capitals there are always places of historical and cultural interest.
Qatar surprised me because outside the capital, Doha, there are many amazing places to visit.
Of course I’m a but suspicious, since I love desert landscapes and obnoxious hot destinations.
Qatar, apart from several different types of desert vistas and abandoned fishermen villages, hosts some of the best petroglyphs I’ve seen in my life.
Qatar’s history is first documented by the Greek historian Herodotus V, which states that the first inhabitants of this country were the Canaanites.
There are not many ancient direct references to Qatar, so from here, all that is said are basically historic assumptions. However, it is clear that it was a geographical point that contributed greatly to the growth of Islam, through the Arab vessel called “dhow”.
Around the year 1515, the Portuguese took over these lands until expelled by local tribes supporting the Ottoman invaders, who were eventually also fought out.
After the Second World War, Qatar experienced extreme poverty, until it started producing oil, which gave the country the possibility of having one of the world’s largest economy.
Qatar is completely washed by the Persian Gulf waters. A small isthmus and small islands separate it from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In the coastal areas, you can find huge coral reefs – perfect diving spots. Although it is mostly an arid territory, there are areas with tamarind, reeds, many types of trees and vegetation.
Nowadays Qatari culture is completely influenced by the fact that it is the richest country in the world. Qatar is a place of contrasts where wilderness and endless beach fronts mismatch the incredible skyscrapers at Doha. The best time to visit Qatar is between the months of November and February.
Discover Qatar by Qatar Tourism Authority
On this page I make a list of Amazing Places to Visit in Qatar which are undoubtedly the country’s major tourist attractions.
What to visit in Qatar
Qatar is a land built by nomadic people, who somehow resisted to inhabit this difficult place, due to the immense heat and propensity to strong sand storms. Temperatures rise up to 50 ° C / 122 º F during the summer, but this hot nation still attracts millions of visitors that wish to have a glimpse on how eccentric and contrasting this place can actually be.
Bir Zekreet also known as Ras Abrouq is located in Durkan Peninsula about 80 km / 49 mi from the capital Doha – which is on the opposite coast.
Bir Zekreet is famous for its beaches and peculiar geographic formations. The Bir Zekreet Desert is also known by the “mushrooms desert”, as it has several rock shapes that resemble them. These formations are the result of erosion caused by winds.
Up on a higher point we get an incredible desert panoramic view of Brouq Nature Reserve with the sea in the background.
In addition to the desert, there are several archaeological sites in the vicinity. The 9th century Murwab Fort and the 18th century Zekreet fort ruins are the most important.
Bir Zekreet is therefore a region rich in archaeological findings but also where you can enjoy a relaxing time by the sea. Do not expect great tourist infrastructures, as this is a wild beach away from the crowds.
Al Reem Biosphere Reserve
Al Reem Biosphere Reserve is an important rare regional ecosystem recognized by UNESCO.
Located north of Bir Zekreet, this semi-arid desert region is the habitat of wild species such as gazelles and onyxes.
The preservation and reproduction of endemic animal species and plants in the region go hand in hand with industrial activities using modern eco-oriented technologies of oil and gas extraction.
Sculpture East-West / West-East
Located inside the Brouq Nature Reserve, this sculpture perfectly blends with the western Qatari desert.
East-West / West-East is an unusual sculpture made of high rectangular plates that certainly intrigue anyone visiting the area.
The sculpture was ordered to the American sculptor Richard Serra by the Qatar Museums Authority, founded by Hamad bin khalifa al thani.
Richard Serra’s sculpture consists of four large 14.7 and 16.7 m / 48.22 and 52.4 ft high steel plates, perpendicularly placed in the middle of the desert plateau.
The sculptures give a new dimension of space to the surroundings, as it marks the absence of emptiness and puts the visitor in a different perspective within the desert immensity.
NOTE: Read more about East-west / west-east by Richard Serra , Richard Serra in the qatari desert and Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East Rises in the Qatari Desert.
Barzan Towers and Barzan Fort are located in the town of Umm Salal Mohammed, about 20 kilometers north of Doha.
Built in the 19th century by Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani’s order, these buildings were used as a lookout strategic place, protecting the city from the Ottomans invaders.
Furthermore, the towers also served to keep water and to observe the Moon and determine important occasions in the lunar calendar.
All cities in the region have watchtowers, but mostly are circular while Barzan Towers have the particularity of being rectangular.
The towers are made of stone covered with clay which gives them a certain yellowish tonality. You can climb up and have a panoramic view of the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Al Zubarah Archaeological Site
Located on the northwest coast, Al Zubarah is the main archaeological site in Qatar and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Founded by Kuwaiti merchants in the 18th century, it was an important seaport and trading post in the activity of cultivation and harvesting of pearls.
The ruins of the abandoned city of Al Zubarah are one of the best examples that shows how a typical 18th century Persian Gulf settlement used to be.
The archaeological site includes the city ruins, the port, the maritime channel, the two walls and the impressive Zubarah Fort, built in 1938 to serve as a Coast Guard station.
Al Areesh Abandoned Village
Al Areesh is an abandoned village located on the Northwest coast of the country.
This village is right on the beach and fishing was the village’s main economic activity. The complete abandonment of the site took place in the 1970’s. The mosque minaret still stands and is the most iconic structure in the whole village.
Located near the town of Madinat ash Shamal, about 15 km / 9.3 mi north of Al-Areesh, Al-Rekayat fort was built to defend rainwater that accumulated in the nearby land depression. Water is the most precious commodity in desert regions.
The Fort was built in the 17th century and has a structure similar to that of Al-Zubarah Fort. At each of the four corners of the fort there is a tower: three of them rectangular and one circular.
The walls of the fort are made of coral and limestone, then coated and plastered with clay giving it a peculiar smooth appearance. The thick walls and the clay coating helped to keep low temperature inside the facilities.
Al Jumail Abandoned Village
Al Jumail is similar to other abandoned villages along the coast. The fine white sand beach, the ruins and the still standing mosque minaret make of this place a unique beautiful spot.
Al Jassasiya Rock Carvings
Located on the Northeast coast about 75 km north of Doha, this is my favorite place in the country.
Al Jassasiya is by far the most impressive rock art site in Qatar, taking in consideration its present state of preservation, that allows to recognize what is depicted in the approximately 900 petroglyphs… 900!!
These carvings made in low relief were discovered in 1974. Historic theories are not yet conclusive and archaeologists are unaware of the actual date of creation. Interestingly enough, similar carved rows dating back to 1500 BC can be found in Luxor’s Karnak Temple, Egypt.
The engravings represent dhows boats, fishes, turtles, donkeys and several holes which were used to play a traditional Middle East and African called huwaila.
NOTE: Read more about Exploring Qatar’s Mysterious Rock Carvings of Al Jassasiya by @vagabondish.
Fascinating Doha is the capital of Qatar and is located on the eastern coast of the country.
80 years ago it would be impossible to imagine that Doha, a fishing town that subsisted meagerly of fishing and pearl harvesting, could become one of the richest capitals in the world.
Doha is now a modern city with bold architecture. The Corniche bay filled with stunning skyscrapers is the best known city’s photogenic spot. Doha will host FIFA World Cup, the most prestigious international football / soccer competition in the world.
Doha Tourist Attractions – 13 Top Places to Visit
- The Museum of Islamic Art
- Souq Waqif
- Katara Cultural Village
- Al Wajbah Fort
- Doha Corniche
- The Pearl artificial island
- The Arab Museum of Modern Art
- Villaggio Shopping Mall
- Barzan Towers
- Al Bidda neighborhood
- The Kingdom of Aladdin Theme Park
- National Museum of Qatar
- Aspire Tower 300 m / 980 ft skyscraper
Emerging in recent years are the efforts to revive aspects of traditional architecture, which is visible in buildings that are now built with stone and clay plaster. This is the case of the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque, the Souk Waqif, the Museum of Islamic Art, among others.
To understand a bit more about the Qatari cultural heritage and traditional architecture, the Katara cultural village is definitely worth visiting. Katara is located on the eastern coast between West Bay and the Pearl, along beautiful turquoise blue water sea and white sandy beaches.
Doha Photo Gallery
Tours in Qatar
Quick travel info and tips
- I flew in from Kuwait city, Kuwait, and flew out to Manama, Bahrain.
- Best airline to get to Doha is Qatar Airways.
- No visa required for most western countries.
- Take an evening dhow trip from the Corniche.
- I got a rental car straight out from the airport. I used Rentalcars.com
- I stayed 2 nights at the fabulous Warwick Doha Hotel.