Everything You Need to Know About Qatar: Tips from an Expat – Lonely Planet Travel News | Gmx Pharm

It’s the second time I’ve called Doha home in a year. That’s how I learned a lot about life in the desert state of Qatar.

When I first lived here 20 years ago, no one had heard of this remarkable little country. Today, cruise ships hug the coast and visitors from all over the world flock here. But some travelers arrive unprepared.

Knowing some background information before your visit will help you make the most of your trip to this country in the Arabian Peninsula. From beating the heat and riding the ultra-modern subway to viewing amazing art and getting to know the Qatari people, here are my top tips to help you get the most out of your visit to Qatar.

The timing of your visit to Qatar is crucial

Qatar’s “season” runs from October to May. These months are the best time to travel, when most events and exhibitions take place and temperatures are comfortable enough to walk outside.

Qatar is a desert country and it gets hot. Like, really hot. Summer temperatures easily reach 50ºC (122ºF) – in the shade. While you can expect everything from your rental car to the malls and even some bus stops to be air conditioned, you can still feel uncomfortable hopping between them.

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Decide to travel during Ramadan – or not

In the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. During Ramadan it is frowned upon to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public during the day. While Qataris are tolerant of non-Muslim visitors, almost all restaurants are closed during the day (hotels offer the few exceptions). Visiting Qatar during Ramadan means your travel plans need to be more flexible, but you’ll have the chance to catch festivities like the daily cannon fires at sunset, the pretty lantern decorations around the city, and the nightly iftar, the breaking of the fast after sunset a joyful event in private homes and restaurants.

It is respectful to dress modestly when touring Qatar © 3yephotography / Getty Images

Make sure you dress appropriately

Qatar is a Muslim country and while Qataris are tolerant – especially towards visitors – it is a sign of respect to dress modestly. It’s not a problem to wear a bikini at hotel beaches and pools, but it’s respectful for both men and women to cover their shoulders and wear clothing that reaches their knees when walking around elsewhere, especially in areas where You will meet many local people, such as at Souq Waqif.

Board the Doha Metro

While much of central Doha around Souq Waqif and Msheireb is walkable in the cooler months, the easiest and most convenient way to get around is via the Doha Metro. This modern, clean and spacious system takes you to all the busy hubs in and around Doha, including the airport and the cities of Al Wakrah and Lusail.

A man prepares Turkish coffee in burning sand in Souq Waqif, Doha, Qatar, Middle East
Learning Arabic etiquette – including the many traditions related to coffee – will add to the enjoyment of your Qatar trip © Juan Alberto Casado / Getty Images

Understand local etiquette

From avoiding eating with the left hand to coffee with cardamom and the different styles of traditional dress, Arabic culture can be a new experience for people outside the Muslim world. To learn more about etiquette and practices direct from Qataris, visit Embrace Doha for experiences that teach you about the cultural ins and outs here.

Don’t be put off by prejudice

Many travelers already have an opinion about Qatar before they visit – but it’s important to arrive with an open mind and experience it for yourself. While rules, customs and laws may differ from where you live, Qatar has changed a lot in recent years. When I returned to Qatar after an absence of 15 years, I hardly recognized the place. A surge in international visitors has spurred the country to keep pushing for more change.

A woman shopping in the Souq Waqif street market in Doha, Qatar, Middle East at night
As one of the safest countries in the world, Qatar offers a great experience for women traveling alone © urbazon / Getty Images

Solo female traveler visiting Qatar? Do not worry

Many consider Qatar to be the safest country in the world – and as a woman living here, I have never felt threatened. (Of course, it only takes one bad experience to change your mind about this, but that goes for any country in the world.) In Qatar, I usually forget to lock my front door, my car, and even leave my purse in my shopping cart. You should exercise your common sense as you would anywhere – and expect to feel safe and welcome.

Try the popular local breakfast

Since Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, restaurants with famous chefs are scattered all over the capital. Still, travelers visiting Qatar on a budget can still find delicious, inexpensive meals, such as the local favorite breakfast from carak and chapati. A tea made from condensed milk, cardamom, ginger, saffron and sugar, carak is both spicy and sweet, while chapati is a flatbread usually served with honey or cheese (or both!). You can try these two staples at most plain-looking cafeterias, food stalls in parks, or in Katara village. You’ll know where to find them when hungry locals line up to order.

A hawk rests on a man's arm on a stone balcony, Qatar
Magnificent falcons are valued in Qatar as an important part of the country’s culture © Abdelrahman M. Hassanein / Getty Images

Learn about the importance of the popular national bird

Qatar’s national bird, the falcon is so revered that it’s allowed on flights and even given its own seat. Doha has a falcon hospital as well as a falcon market; During your visit, stop at Souq Waqif for a closer look at these beautiful birds. During your stay, don’t miss the camels and Arabian thoroughbred horses housed right in the city center.

Qatar is an arts hub of the Middle East

More than luxury shopping and prestigious sporting events like the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar is also fast becoming a heavyweight in the Middle East’s arts scene. More than a dozen installations by internationally renowned artists such as KAWS, Urs Fischer and Jean-Michel Othoneil can be seen at Hamad International Airport alone. Head into the desert at Zekreet to see the stun East-West / West-East by Richard Serra, or visit the enormous Wonderful trip by Damian Hirst. Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art is world-class, while street art complements the capital’s highly cultural offerings.

Relax in a park

Most of Qatar’s landscapes are beige and sandy – so take a break from the desert colors in a green park in Doha. My favorite is MIA Park behind the Museum of Islamic Art, which winds around a bay and is full of little food trucks selling carak, chapati and other goodies. MIA Park not only has fabulous mature trees and grass perfect for picnics, but also offers great views over the skyline with quaint wooden dhows (traditional boats) moored nearby.

Two children in sunglasses pet three seated camels in the desert, Qatar, Middle East
Desert excursions offer the ultimate way to experience Qatar’s landscapes and culture © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock

Don’t miss out on the desert

It’s easy to keep busy in Doha, but you can’t leave Qatar without experiencing the desert. Driving in a 4WD vehicle over off-road sand dunes, spotting flamingos, camping under the clear skies of the ‘Inland Sea’ of Khor Al Adaid and sliding down the horseshoe-shaped Singing Dunes, you will discover how the desert lies in the literal heart of Qatar – and figuratively its inhabitants.

Search for Qatar’s history

Bedouins have long lived in the Arabian deserts, but the culture’s nomadic lifestyle means that most places in this region lack ancient structures. Still, Qatar has few historical surprises, such as the petroglyphs at Al Jassasiya and the Unesco-listed Al Zubarah Fort, both of which are well worth a visit.

Plan where you want to have a drink

It’s possible to stave off the heat with a cold beer in Qatar — but you’ll need to plan ahead. You are not allowed to bring alcohol into Qatar from duty-free shops or buy anything other than non-alcoholic beer at the grocery store, nor are you allowed to drink alcohol in public places. Alcohol is only available in Qatar in licensed premises such as larger hotels and hotel restaurants. Most hotels have excellent bars, cozy beer gardens or outdoor restaurants where you can kick back with a glass or two.

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