Featured Hotels in Qatar
Until recently, Qatar has not been a place that immediately springs to mind as a tourist destination, but that is all likely to change as the country prepares to welcome the world for the FIFA World Cup 2022. Today, more and more people are waking up to the exciting possibilities of Qatar holidays. Now one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar is developing a tourist industry to match the scale of its sumptuous sporting facilities, and is keen for as many people as possible to experience its warm Arabian hospitality.
Qatar is ideally placed to welcome visitors from around the world, as its location on the western coast of the Arabian Gulf makes it a bridge between East and West, and puts it at the crossroads of international travel routes. Despite this, it has a unique atmosphere that makes you feel as if you are right off the beaten track. With all its rapid economic development and transformation, there has still been a strong commitment not to lose touch with its history and heritage, and consequently you will be enchanted by the harmonious blend of Arabian culture and tradition with modern innovation and luxury.
Qatar is a tiny country, about half the size of Wales, and with more than half its population living in and around the capital Doha, could be considered a city-state. As a small peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Gulf, it has 560 kilometres of coastline, with gorgeous unspoilt beaches lining the western coast, dotted with reefs, islets, mangroves and salt flats. To the south lies the spectacular desert sea of Khor al-Adaid, with its vast undulating dunes.
Most Qatar holidays will centre on the capital Doha, where almost all the country's hotels are located, and which is now competing with Dubai as the Gulf's most dynamic city. One feature that evokes Dubai is Pearl-Qatar, now the Middle East's most glamorous address -- it's a riviera-style man-made island, where in addition to shopping in its exclusive retail stores, you can wander along beautiful boardwalks overlooking the marina and the Venice-style canals, lined with upmarket cafes and restaurants. The city's greatest showpiece is the fabulous Museum of Islamic Art, designed to reflect the essence of Islam in its architecture, with bright white limestone cubes, illuminated at night and reflected in the surrounding sea, making a dramatic display.
However, Doha is also firmly grounded in Arabian culture. The older part of the town is full of traditional souqs, the most famous being Souq Waqif, built on the site of an old Bedouin marketplace, with a maze of small shops selling a dazzling array of Middle Eastern merchandise. As well as spices, herbs, perfumes, carpets and jewellery, there's a special section devoted to falcons, falconry along with camel racing being among the most universal Qatari pastimes.
Qatar certainly has some fine beaches along its lengthy coastline -- most of the beaches around Doha are located on hotel property, but are open to the public on some days of the week, on payment of an entrance fee. The most luxurious are the Four Seasons and the Intercontinental, where you also have access to pools and other facilities like whirlpools, cabanas and children's playgrounds. The only beach not on hotel property in the Doha area is Ketara Beach -- no sunbathing or alcohol allowed here, but it has Qatar's highest concentration of water sports, including kayaks, sailing dinghies, water skiing, wind-surfing and fishing trips.
Over on the west coast, the most exciting beach is Ras Abrouq or Zekreet, which you can visit on a day trip from Doha. On the drive there, which requires a 4x4 as the road is partly unmade, you pass through a wild deer reserve, and notice that all the trees have their lower branches cropped short, having been eaten by camels. The coast is studded with fascinating coves and inlets, and at the end is a beautiful half-moon bay with rocky outcrops at both ends, where flamingos can be seen -- there are no restrictions, so you can just park and swim. It's enclosed by an amazing escarpment of limestone cliffs, full of dramatic formations in mushroom and other shapes.
Qatar holidays would not be complete without a desert adventure, and there are several companies offering this exciting experience. You can be taken on a hair-raising dune-bashing trip in a 4x4, or ride on a camel on the desert safari. Trips can be half day or full day, or can include an overnight stay in a luxury Bedouin camp, complete with a barbecue meal under the stars.
The sun shines all year in this happy country, though the best time of year for Qatar holidays is November to March, avoiding the scorching temperatures. There is plenty of luxury to be enjoyed here, but what makes the country really special is the contrast of old and new -- the traditional dhows sailing in front of the contemporary Museum of Islamic Art, or the traditional camel racing with robot jockeys. This is what gives Qatar its enduring fascination.