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More than football! Qatar, much more than just the 2022 World Cup

The Emirate of Qatar is a country still under construction. Apart from the World Cup it is hosting this winter, the Persian Gulf state has a lot to offer to potential tourists, from a cultural, architectural and gastronomic point of view, among many others.

On 20 November, Qatar will become the football capital of the world, hosting the first World Cup to be played at this time of year. Millions of visitors will visit the tiny emirate, which is 160 kilometres long and 90 kilometres wide, and Qatar awaits them with open arms and a rich offer beyond „the king of all sports”.

What could a tourist do in Qatar if they wanted to see more than just World Cup matches? Here are five ideas for those looking for something other than football:

1. Visits to museums in Qatar

This is a must for any tourist visiting Doha, the capital of Qatar. Visitors will be welcomed with a unique experience based on modern audiovisuals, interactive activities and exhibits from different periods of Qatari culture, as well as from the people who have traded along its coast for centuries.

The new museum opened in 2019 and was designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel. As well as being very ‘Instagrammable’, which is an important element for many tourists, it is a highly recommended place for travellers interested in contemporary history, geopolitics or the current economy, as it provides an easily digestible picture of Qatar, the country’s official name. From conflicts with other Arab rulers in the region in previous centuries to negotiations with the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire to maintain its autonomy, not forgetting the discovery of oil and, more recently, natural gas, which have made the country the country with the highest per capita income in the world. The entrance fee is 50 rials (about 70 Romanian lei).

This wealth has so transformed the country from a population of 25 000 in 1945 to almost three million and turned Doha into a global metropolis.

A metamorphosis that is explained through photographs and testimonies in the fantastic Mohammed Bin Jassin museum in the Msheireb district. You can also visit the former headquarters of the Shell oil company, now transformed into the Oil House museum, which takes you on a journey from Qatar’s first oil explorations to the present day.

Radwani House, a traditional Qatari house from the 1920s rebuilt to show the traditional way of life, and Bin Jelmood House, a museum tracing the history of slavery to the present day. Admission to all these attractions is free.

The Museum of Islamic Art, with a wider geographical concentration of its collection, is one of Doha’s most visited museums, both for its impressive collection of pieces from around the Islamic world and for the building itself, which has become one of Doha’s landmarks and is the work of Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei. The museum and its promenade offer one of the best views of the city.

The capital’s cultural offerings also include the Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum, a collection of museum art owned by one of the country’s most successful businessmen. Among the 15,000 objects are 600 classic and luxury cars, 700 hand-woven carpets and two traditional Arab houses, one from Qatar and the other brought specially from Damascus. The entrance fee is 50 rials (70 lei).

2. Katara Cultural Village – a Qatari village museum

In 75 years, Qatar has gone from medieval times and poverty to a present full of opulence and modernity.

Hence the small state’s obsession with cultural heritage through museums and other initiatives such as the Katara Cultural Village.

Located on Doha’s northern coast, this newly built cultural district, which recreates typical Persian Gulf architecture, is home to a museum and contemporary art galleries, restaurants from various Arab countries, the Qatar Opera, a large colosseum for performances, a LaFayette store and even an outdoor heated street.

Also here is Katara Beach, Doha’s best publicly accessible beach, offering white sand, sports activities and, of course, good weather and temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius between November and April. The area is linked to the city centre, the National Museum and the souk.

3. Shopping centres and souks

Souq Waqif is the city’s traditional market, which has retained its location since it was established 100 years ago. Renovated while retaining its original appearance, it is the meeting point for many tourists from dusk onwards, thanks to its lively nightlife. Restaurants, terraces, and bars where you can smoke Sisha make it a charming place to enjoy shopping and dining after a day of sightseeing or sunbathing.

Among its most important attractions are the bird souk, or the streets specialising in perfumes, spices, incense or dresses and clothing typical of the region, such as the kufiya, the typical Arab men’s scarf, or the abaya, a loose women’s garment, which in this tourist area is offered not only in black colours.

Gourmet travellers will find some delicacies to take home as souvenirs, such as honey from Oman, dates from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula or famous Arab sweets.

If, instead of buying them, you want to taste them on the spot, a good option is the Shams Al-Qassabi restaurant, the first opened by a woman in the souk. In the same area are the Gold Souk, for those on a budget, and other non-touristy shopping centres and souks, frequented by migrants from all over the world, with cheaper products, especially fabrics, perfumes, clothes and restaurants.

If the product offerings in Souq Waqif are impressive, those in modern shopping centres are even greater. In practice, they function as modern oases on hot days, offering shelter to locals and visitors during the hottest hours of the day. The largest is the Mall of Qatar, on the outskirts of the city but connected by the metro and colossal in size. Other attractions include the luxurious Lagoona or Vilaggio, with its Venetian canal. Qataris’ high per capita income of $80,000 accounts for this wide choice, plus many have children’s play areas.

4. Beyond Doha

Visiting a desert of white sand dunes is another opportunity offered by Qatar. It is also one of only three countries in the world where the dunes flow directly into the sea. Once a place of passage for Bedouins, Qatar’s desert now offers many sporting activities, such as 4×4 and four-wheel biking, camel riding and sand surfing. The desert coast is also home to some of the best beaches in the country.

Sports resorts are less than an hour’s drive from Doha. The most convenient option is to book organised tours that include transport and activities, as some activities, such as dune driving, are not suitable for drivers who don’t know the terrain. Civitatis.com offers a variety of tours, including some with English-speaking guides (www.civitatis.com/es/qatar/). Other types of activities are offered in English by Discover Qatar (www.discoverqatar.qa).

Travellers with more time on the peninsula can rent a car, with prices starting at the equivalent of 40 euros a day, taking advantage of the country’s excellent roads and gas at around 0.6 euros or dollars per litre. This makes it possible to travel to beaches such as Khor Al Adaid, in the inland sea near the border with Saudi Arabia, which is completely unspoilt, or Al Thakhira, in a mangrove area, where kayaking trips are available.

5. Al Khor, former centre of the pearl trade

Al Khor, also known as Al Khawr, is the second largest and most important city in Qatar. This city is much older than Doha, Qatar’s capital, but is also much smaller, with a population of just over 31,000. This place was once the centre of the pearl trade, which no longer exists, so it is now undergoing a new renaissance.

The town is located about fifty kilometres north of Doha and can be reached either on the northern highway to Al Ruweis or the coastal route, which is also a tourist attraction as it passes the race track that hosts the Doha Moto GP race.

The name of this town means creek in Arabic, as it is located near one of them, and this town is home to many oil industry employees due to its proximity to the oil and gas fields in northern Qatar, as well as being very close to the industrial town of Ras Laffan.

The city’s most important monument is the Archaeological Tower, from where you can admire breathtaking views of the sea, although the mosques and antiquities museums are also very interesting.

Al-Khor still has wind towers on the roofs of houses. These are meant to bring a cooling breeze into the houses. It’s a tradition that has been preserved since before the advent of electricity and air conditioning. The regional museum displays the archaeological remains of Qatar. Al-Khor is a town famous for its dhows and its fishing port. This place is ideal for water activities such as sailing, skiing and jet skiing. There are also many other ways to relax and sunbathe: you can play tennis, squash or bowling in the city’s many facilities.

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