Amongst both avid and occasional travelers, Qatar tends to be known mostly as a layover destination, particularly for those travelling long-distance to places like Europe and beyond.
What most people wouldn't know is that this shining pearl nestled within the Middle East offers its own distinct charms that would certainly sweep Muslim travellers off their feet. From its sumptuous Qatari cuisine to the desert-tinged hues and lively atmosphere of the local souqs, we'd say that Qatar is definitely worth a stand-alone trip in and of itself!
If you're not convinced, let these 8 reasons why every Muslim traveller should visit Qatar change your mind ?
1. Halal food everywhere!
Without a doubt, the BEST thing about visiting Qatar is the fact that there's halal food literally everywhere! Whatever your gastronomic preferences may be, you'll certainly be spoilt for choice here ?
Craving for some fusion Japanese cuisine? There's Nobu at the Four Seasons Hotel in Doha. Looking for something a little more local? Head to Al Mourjan Restaurant in the Corniche financial district overlooking Doha Bay! Want to savour some modern Indian cuisine? Check out Al Matbakh on the rooftop of Arumaila Boutique Hotel in Souq Waqif!
Cold mezze, Al Mourjan Restaurant, Corniche, Doha
Every meal you'll have here is likely to be a culinary feast that'll send your taste buds tingling with delight. Traditional Qatari full-course meals even have TWO rounds of appetizers (cold mezze and hot mezze) just to get you warmed up for the full course!
Hot mezze, Al Mourjan Restaurant, Corniche, Doha
For the full Qatari dining experience, be prepared to spend an hour or two at your restaurant of choice! Socializing over a meal is a huge part of Qatari culture, and it's not uncommon to see local Qataris staying together in restaurants for hours on end.
Main course, Al Mourjan Restaurant, Corniche, Doha
Of course, we can guarantee your hands (or tongues) won't stop moving the whole time. From cold mezze dishes like tajin and hummus, to hot mezze dishes like fried kibbeh and sambousik, to gigantic meat platters and steaming chicken tikkas for the main course, it's a wonder that there'll be any space for dessert at all once you're done!
(There always is, isn't there? ?)
Chicken Tikka, Al Matbakh Rooftop Grill, Souq Waqif, Doha
2. Do as the Bedouins did and conquer the desert for a day
The desert has always been a huge part of Middle Eastern cultures and lifestyles, and Qatar is no exception. In fact, Qatar's desert is one of the most stunning hidden gems of the Middle East, where the sea and the desert remarkably meet to produce a natural wonder that's so breathtaking it's been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site ?
Credit: Visit Qatar on Facebook
It's the perfect time to do as the ancient Arab Bedouin desert-wanderers did, and conquer the desert for a day! Jump into a 4x4 for a spot of dune bashing (trust us, you won't need roller-coasters when you've got this), try sand-boarding your way through the thick Qatari desert sand, or go full-on extreme and hop onto a quad bike for some good old desert adventure.
Credit: Grant Matthews on Flickr
You can't miss out on those quintessential desert camel rides: climb onto camels draped in vibrant tapestries led by Qatari folk in their traditional garbs and be led across the vast expanse of golden sand as you watch the sunset cast a sunkissed glow over the dusty landscape.
Credit: Conrad Breytenbach on Facebook
No desert experience is complete without witnessing the beauty of the velvet night sky and its carpet of twinkling stars in the night-time. The desert is one of the best places to go stargazing at, so why not sit down to a sumptuous dinner in the desert at the nearby Regency Sealine Camp?
Locals here love to have picnics in the pitch-black darkness of the desert night, so don't be startled if you come across them ?
Regency Sealine Camp, Qatar.
As you'll probably guess from the name itself, the Regency Sealine Camp is situated right next to the sea, so you'll be accompanied by the gentle seaside breeze as you dine. Those super-comfy beach cabanas also provided the perfect setting to fall right asleep after our meal!
On top of seaside dining, there are 15 lavish rooms available here decked out in full traditional Qatari decorations for you to stay the night if you're interested!
3. Escape to your dream island resort in the middle of the desert
Still craving those irreplaceable island resort vibes while you're here? Qatar's Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara is only a 25-minute ferry ride away from the Banana Island port in Doha's Corniche district, and it's one of the few places in the world where you'll get to experience island life without ever being far away from the desert.
Quiet beaches in Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara.
Qatar's very own 13-hectare island will seat you right into the lap of luxury with its handsome overwater villas jutting out into the open sea, high-end halal dining options and dedicated private spa treatments.
The spas here are fully gender-segregated, so you won't have to worry about privacy whilst you pamper yourself with the treatments on offer.
Sea view from the master bedroom in the Overwater Villa at Banana Island Resort Doha.
Once you've had a dip in the water, freshened up, and had your evening meal, don't forget to check out the bowling alley and the cinema located right above it for a movie marathon: the perfect way to end the day!
4. Admire the gorgeous Qatari architecture of the local mosques
We couldn't possibly leave out mosques on this list! Whether you're interested in traditional Qatari architecture or minimalist, ultra-modern styles, the mosques in Qatar will astound you with each time you visit.
Katara Masjid, Doha.
One of our favourites was the Katara Masjid, located just outside the Katara Cultural Village in Doha.
Designed by world-renowned Turkish architect Zainab Fadil Oglu, it boasts a beautiful facade painted in rich hues of turquoise and purple, and represents the culturally unifying element of Islam. Its minaret, dome, and mihrab
(prayer niche) were all inspired by other timeless mosques in countries all across the Muslim world ?
Katara Masjid, Doha.
Just like the rest of Qatar, the local mosques certainly haven't been left behind by the tides of development, and the best example of this is probably Doha's Education City Mosque, which also houses the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.
Credit: Md Alauddin on Facebook
Clean, white minimalist lines and curves married with striking carvings of Islamic calligraphy make this particular mosque one of the most unique in the world, in our opinion. It's certainly reminiscent of Zaha Hadid's architectural style, which we absolutely love!
Credit: @nashplateful on Instagram
5. Dive headfirst into the legacies of Islamic art at the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
You don't have to be an art connoisseur to fall utterly in love with Islamic art! Just like Islam's rich centuries-old history, each Islamic civilization of the past has left its own legacy of Islamic art, and the Doha Museum of Islamic Art is the best place to absorb all of those exquisite aesthetics at one go ?
It was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect responsible for Paris' iconic Louvre Pyramid!
From hanging lamps decorated with intricate Islamic calligraphy to Qur'an manuscripts dating back to the 10th century and life-size replicas of Ottoman army horsemen, step inside and be embraced by the wonders of diversity, creativity, innovation and tradition showcased by all the different relics of Islamic art on display here.
It isn't just the museum's interior that will fascinate you. Its exterior offers some spectacular views of the Doha skyline as well, including the nearby harbor with all of its traditional dhow cruise boats.
6. Experience the best of Qatari hospitality & culture
There's nothing quite like visiting another country and being given the opportunity to truly embrace the local culture. In Qatar, we were met with gestures of welcome from the locals at every turn, which truly touched our hearts ❤️
Qatari Kahwa (coffee), perhaps the most symbolic expression of welcome, was an absolute delight! Made from freshly ground coffee beans and flavoured with cardamom and saffron, it's often served with juicy walnut-stuffed dates, and it seriously kept us coming back from more every time ?
Falconry is another huge aspect of Qatari culture. Originating from Bedouin culture as a hunting strategy for survival, falconry is now a national pastime amongst Qataris--so much so that you'll find a dedicated falcon souq within Souq Waqif itself.
But one of the most unique encounters we came across in the Souq Waqif was with the Saad Ismail Al Jassim, who owned a pearl shop in the souq and refers to himself as "The Old Pearl Diver".
A mere few decades ago, pearl diving was the primary driver of the economy, and though it has mostly faded away from the local culture today, it remains a fascinating part of Qatari culture that we were glad to have learnt about from Mr Saad himself ?
7. Bargain-hunt to your heart's content at Souq Waqif
No trip to Qatar would be complete without a visit to the ancient Souq Waqif in the heart of Doha. A wonderfully preserved bastion of Qatari culture and a microcosm of Qatari society, the winding streets of Souq Waqif burst with carpets, scarves, textiles, spices, perfumes, paintings and more!
Whether you find yourself wandering through the art souq, the jewellery souq, the perfume souq or the animal souq (yes, they sell everything from cats to parrots to rabbits here), you're bound to find just what you're looking for!
This is probably the best place to buy traditional oudh or bukhoor, which is a popular incense used all across the Muslim world, but is especially loved by Qataris. The sheer variety, colours, and scents you'll find here alone is amazing!
Bring lots of cash with you if you're planning to do a lot of shopping here; most of the vendors here only accept cash.
8. Shop till you drop at Doha's countless shopping malls
If you prefer the more familiar shopping mall experience, you definitely won't be disappointed - Qatar is chock full of sprawling malls carrying retail outlets of brands like Banana Republic, Fred Perry, TAG Heuer and more!
Doha Festival City.
Doha's Festival City, for instance, is linked to the nearby IKEA Mall, so you'll end up spending hours of your time here! That's not all, though: construction is underway for 4 brand new theme parks which will each be linked to the mall in the future.
Doha Festival City.
For a more novel experience, though, head to the Villaggio Mall in Doha's Aspire Zone! Reminiscent of Venice's age-old canals, even if you're not much of a shopper, a walk along the mall's canals or on the gondolas is sure to be a pleasant experience.
Credit: About Iran & The World on Facebook
There you have it! Qatar isn't just a layover destination along your long-haul flight route. With its unique blend of Middle Eastern culture, luxury lifestyles, and mouth-watering halal food, we can't wait to visit Qatar once more in the near future ?