Andy Mossack offers his tourist guide around the country after finding out what lies in store with tourism in Qatar post World Cup
It was late morning as I strolled past a line of fishermen sitting on the Corniche waterfront of Doha chatting to each other as they patiently awaited some passing sea life to take a shine to their lines. After all the World Cup hullaballoo, it seemed to me at that moment, that daily life in Doha had been reset to normal.
It was here on this very spot a few months ago, the three-kilometre-long Corniche had been transformed into a secure “fan zone” for the million or so visitors jetting in to watch a feast of international football for four weeks. A vast tented village offering alcoholic beverages and plenty of food to an endless supply of willing customers eager to be fed and watered between matches.
As I gazed down the Corniche, it was as if it had never happened. No tents and giant screens, no flags and media frenzy and the stadiums are silent.
This is the new challenge facing Qatar. Having staged what was considered to be one of the best, if not the best World Cup, how can it maximise such global exposure and convince us it’s also a worthy place to come for a holiday. Or, at the very least perhaps, convince everyone passing through Doha airport, one of the World’s busiest hubs for transiting passengers, to stop over for a few days.
So I was on a mission. Surely, with so much freshly laid infrastructure, Qatar has a very real opportunity to welcome tourists with open arms. Let’s find out what tourists and families, in particular, visiting Qatar post World Cup can really look forward to.
Qatar’s capital is astonishing considering not so long ago it was a small pearl fishing town. Today Doha stands as a lasting monument to architecture designed with deep pockets and the skills of world-famous architects given free rein to seemingly out-design each other!
I wrote all about the city in a previous article and it still impresses me on return visits. The sheer scale and shape of these structures are mind-boggling. Top of the pile for me is the National Museum of Qatar, a magnificent design of interlocking petals by Jean Nouvel inspired by the desert rose, Qatar’s iconic desert flower. But the state-of-the-art contents within are just as impressive trust me.
Doha has much to offer; plenty of parks and green spaces, lots of museums, golf, water and theme parks, and even zoos. But Qatar is a small country, and visiting outside the capital is easily done in a day. So, let’s explore what lies further afield.
Land Cruiser Fun in the Deserts and the Inland Sea
There are two types of deserts in Qatar – deep sand dunes lie to the east, while to the west a rocky limestone landscape awaits. Less than an hour’s drive west of Doha lies the Zekreet formations, immense limestone columns shaped by the wind into natural art forms. It’s an eerie landscape not unlike something out of Star Wars, and you can have great fun clambering up and down these natural wonders.
Another set of towering columns is close by too, the iconic East-West/West-East sculptures by Richard Serra. A kilometre-long line of four perfectly aligned steel plates each towering over fourteen metres high stand like silent sentinels within a barren landscape in the middle of the Brouq nature reserve.
On the way back to Doha make sure you stop off at the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum and marvel at his astonishing personal collections garnered over 50 years from all over the world. From hundreds of classic cars to artworks, fashion and historical artefacts.
Drive east from Doha and you can not only spend a few hours bashing giant natural sand dunes in a 4×4 Land Cruiser and channelling your inner Lawrence of Arabia, you can also witness something quite extraordinary. Qatar’s Inland Sea, or as they call it Khawr al Udayd recognised as a nature reserve since 2007. It is a giant tributary of the Arabian Sea, shared with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and literally laps the desert sand.
One minute you’re driving up a sand dune seemingly in the middle of the desert, and then as you reach the summit, you’re gazing down on azure water. The most exceptional time to see it is at sunset when you’re surrounded by golden and red hues, birdsong and perhaps a few grazing camels. It is best to have a driver take you if you are there at sunset because you’ll be driving back through the desert at night.
Right at the northeastern tip of Qatar, you’ll find the Al Thakira Mangrove Forest. A protected area of nothing but beach, mangroves, and the waters of the Persian Gulf. A fifteen-minute drive offroad along a makeshift pebble track brings you to the Al Thakira base camp where you can take a guided two-hour kayaking tour.
You’ll paddle around the mangrove channels and out to Purple Island, so-called for the earliest known production of purple dye made from shellfish found there. You might even have time to forage for a few purple shells yourself during your tour. No kayaking experience is necessary, and the guides speak good English. Back at base you can help yourself to refreshments and a few snacks and chill out on carpets under the Bedouin tent.
Heenat Salma Farm
Just a short drive from Doha, Heenat Salma Farm is a great example of Qatar’s commitment to nature and organic agriculture. It is a luxury retreat where self-sufficiency is front and centre. Built on land owned by the Al Attiya family, this is an impressive regenerative agricultural project that also includes a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, luxury tented accommodation, and various activities such as yoga and date palm weaving.
You can enjoy spending a day here with a fantastic organic lunch using produce grown on the farm, indulge in some arts and crafts, and learn about how they are managing to grow bountiful crops from harsh desert soil. Alternatively, stay a few nights in the seriously impressive luxury lodges and get your hands dirty working the farm.
Tthere is certainly more than enough to warrant a stopover at Doha airport and spending a few days enjoying Qatar’s hospitality. The state-of-the-art computerised transport system will whisk you around the city easily and taking a few of the excursions I’ve suggested will show you a surprising side to this small desert kingdom.
With such a successful World Cup in the bag, this tourism in Qatar post World Cup guide shows there’s a serious player emerging in the Gulf tourist market that just might shake things up a bit. I reckon those Corniche fishermen will agree.
Images (C) Andy Mossack and Visit Qatar
Tell me more about Tourism in Qatar post World Cup
For detailed itineraries on where to go and what to do for tourism in Qatar post World Cup visit Discover Qatar
Heenat Salma Farm Day visit including tour, lunch/dinner and weaving lessons from QAR 570 (around £125pp) Lodging prices on request.
Kayaking in Mangroves visit Aqua Sports Tours from QAR 240 (around £52pp)
Desert 4×4 Land Cruiser adventures. Discover Qatar’s two deserts and the Inland Sea. From QAR 227 pp (around £125pp)
Recommended hotel in Doha. The Ned
The Ned Doha. Housed in the former Interior Ministry building right on the Corniche, The Ned Doha is the latest addition to the group joining its sister hotels in London and New York. All The Ned identifying styling is here; the lavish art deco-esque interiors, the spread of outstanding dining options around the bandstand stage, including staples such as Millie’s Grill and Cecconi’s (including the Sunday Feasts), the private members club, and of course, the tip-top service. A cosy room starts at 1,400 QAR. (Around £300)
Recommended places to eat in Doha
Hadika, The Ned. Excellent outdoor setting for top drawer Levantine sharing plate dining. All-day staples such as fattoush, hummus, falafel and lamb kubideh and that wonderful flatbread straight out of the oven.
Jiwan Right at the top of the National Museum offering up a sensational view from tables out on the terrace. Jiwan is brought to us by the Alain Ducasse team showcasing traditional Qatari cuisine with unmistakable French twists. The wagyu brisket with broccoli is to die for.
Nammos Super trendy Nammos, the Greek fine dining beach club experience has an impressive beachside perch on the equally super trendy Al Maha Island in Doha’s Lusail district. The entertainment hub is packed nightly with fancy cars and beautiful people so great food mixed with great people-watching is a perfect combination.
Chef’s Garden Unusual place but a very rewarding eating experience. Hidden away in the Education City district, this is an excellent organic farm-to-table restaurant serving day fresh produce from local farms and from its own herb garden. There’s a small playground for kids, and picnic-style tables outside on the grass. Excellent menu with some wonderful flavour combinations.
Qatar Airlines operates daily flights to Doha from London Heathrow.
Parking at London Heathrow
Airport Parking and Hotels offers a wide range of parking and overnight hotel stays at all major UK airports. One week of Meet & Greet airport parking at London Heathrow Airport costs from £130. For the latest prices and to book, call 01342 859442 or visit APH