In between hospital appointments, the first half of 2018 has mainly been about exploring more of Qatar alongside my family. Getting out of Doha and hitting some lesser-travelled roads has been necessary in order to keep up with content and photography production for Qatar’s section of the Lonely Planet website, a role which has given me a great excuse to take a closer look at the history and culture of the country that I call home. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually a multitude of tourist spots and cultural sites to explore in the surrounding towns and expanse of desert outside of the capital, and I was super excited to throw off the confines of the city and start ticking off my long list of top places to visit in Qatar that are off the beaten track.
I was extremely lucky to be experiencing this adventure with my trusty Chevrolet Equinox as transport. Together, we’ve driven the length and breadth of the peninsula on our #SunshineXChevy adventures, through scrublands and desert, past scattered settlements and bedouin-style camps while snatching glimpses of camels and wild ostrich and oryx. We’ve attempted a little off-roading and managed it all with only one or two mishaps along the way (note to others: don’t use Google Maps in Qatar – Waze is much more up to date, fill up with petrol BEFORE you enter the desert and always take a travel buddy with you for navigation!).
You can find all of the information you need to know about this reliable family-friendly car at the end of the post, but for now, after extensive hands-on research, allow me to present you with my top places to visit in Qatar, organised by area.
Illustration courtesy of the hugely talented Inkstruck Studio
Top Places to Visit in Qatar: South of Doha
The region of Qatar to the south of Doha is one of my favourite parts of the whole of the country. New roads have opened up which take you past Hamad International Airport and Hamad Port, through to the old town of Al-Wakrah and beyond, making it incredibly easy to get around. The former fishing and pearling village of Al-Wakrah is a quaint and interesting settlement to explore if you would like to understand more about traditional Qatari culture, and further south, the town gives way to the iconic rolling dunes of the southern Qatari desert which extends from Sealine down to the Saudi Arabian border.
1. Souq Al-Wakrah
I was surprised to find this pretty Souq missing from many of the existing lists of top places to visit in Qatar. For us, one visit to Souq Al-Wakrah just wasn’t enough. Once we’d explored the dusty maze of quaint traditional shops, discovered the stretch of white sandy beach with Dhow boats moored up at the far end, and sat at a table on the terrace of a little bustling cafe to watch the sun set over the sea, we were hooked. We wanted to return again and again. Souq Al-Wakrah takes you back to a time when life in Qatar was simpler; time went slower; the streets were quieter. It’s a real immersive cultural experience, and one that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
There are few people in Qatar that haven’t heard of Sealine, and it’s one of the most frequented spots outside of Doha for a reason: it’s a really great beach! Visitors can opt to head to Sealine’s Al Murwab Resort, where, for QAR 100 on weekdays or QAR 200 at weekends, they can enjoy all of the facilities that the hotel offers, including restaurants, pools, beach, camel rides and children’s entertainment. Alternatively, a little further along the road is the free public beach, may lack bathroom facilities, eateries and entertainment, but makes up for it in unspoiled beauty.
From here, you can head into the dunes in a 4×4 for some dune bashing, or take a car to one of the traditional bedouin camps near to the Inland Sea.
Best of the rest
Al-Wakrah museum, which is located inside a traditional fort; the Singing Sand Dunes, which make a magical humming sound when the sand is disturbed by the wind and the UNESCO recognised natural reserve of the Inland Sea, ‘Khor Al Adaid’ are unmissable sites showcasing some of Qatar’s most breathtaking beauty.
Top tip: Ditch your car and catch a Monster Bus to Sealine instead, for a unique off-roading and dune bashing experience!
Top Places to Visit in Qatar: West of Doha
Whoever said Qatar doesn’t have a rich culture obviously hasn’t travelled west of Doha, where tourists can find everything from ancient settlements to modern art, untouched natural beaches to deserted film sets in the middle of the desert! If you really want to get a feel for the eclectic history and immense diversity of the country, then head west.
1. Barzan Towers
To the North-West of Doha, a little further along from Doha Festival City in Umm Salal Mohammed, sit the Barzan Towers. Built in 1910 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani, it is thought they were built as watchtowers, to observe the pearl divers out to sea and keep an eye out for pirates. Some think they could have also been used as a moon observatory. The towers have now been completely restored and whitewashed, as an indelible reminder of Qatar’s rich history.
2. East-West / West-East by Richard Serra
An iconic piece of artwork, rising up from the middle of the western Qatari desert, Richard Serra’s sculpture is comprised of four rolled steel plates standing at over 14 m tall, spread out over a km of desert. It’s situated just off the west coast, so it takes quite a while to get there (1.5 hours to be exact), including a bit of off-roading, but the trip is worth it if you’re interested in unique art set in unusual landscapes. I was surprised by just how easy going off the beaten track and driving into the desert was in a sedan. My Chevrolet Equinox was more than equipped for the bumpy ride and I was relieved when we made it safely and comfortably to the sculpture in one piece!
The best thing about this place is the absolute peace and serenity which hits you as soon as you step out of your car. Spending time alone in this silence with this breathtaking artwork marked it firmly on my map of the top places to visit in Qatar.
Best of the rest
The beautiful Zekreet Beach; the secluded ‘Film City’ – an uninhabited settlement built for a film set; the creviced clay quarry at Umm Bab; the Musfur Sinkhole caves and the unusual limestone formations of Ras Abrouk are all worth a visit, and will open your eyes to the true natural and cultural diversity of the country.
Top tip: Many of these sites are quite badly signposted, especially the ones that require a little off-roading to get to. Download the Waze app for an accurate indication of how to get there.
Top Places to Visit in Qatar: North of Doha
The northern tip of the peninsula of Qatar is the most interesting in terms of history. There are 857 rock carvings to discover, forts and settlements dating back centuries, and the landscape tells an interesting story too, with mangroves and islands, vast expanses of flat desert, and rocky outcrops that call out to be explored.
1. Baladna Farm
Baladna Farm is Qatar’s best-known and biggest dairy and meat producer, and the best place in the country to experience what life is like on a real working farm. Watch the cows being milked in the state-of-the-art milking parlour (personally, I didn’t really enjoy this bit) before heading to Baladna Park to visit the petting zoo. Activities ranging from zip wires to bumper boats and children’s playground could keep you occupied for the best part of a day.
2. Al Zubarah Fort
This immaculately-restored fort which dates back to the 18th-19th Century sits on the northwest coast and boasts unparalleled views over the desolate, untouched desert. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Zubarah includes the remains of a walled coastal town which was once a thriving fishing and pearling village, and remains one of the best-preserved examples of an early coastal settlement in the whole of the Middle East. Please note that this was closed off to the public when we visited. Instead, we spent some time looking around the informative visitor’s centre housed inside the fort, and driving around the scenic landscape along this unusual coastline.
Best of the rest
The pristine sands of Fuwairit Beach, the centuries-old Al Jassasiya Rock Carvings, and the unique landscapes of the Mangroves and Purple Island near to Al Khor make this area a must-visit for nature and history lovers.
Top tip: Fancy engaging in some outdoor adventures north of Qatar? Check out this article that I wrote for Lonely Planet.
About the Chevrolet Equinox
If you too are interested in getting out and about to #findnewroads, then the Chevrolet Equinox could be just the car for you. Here are ten reasons why I think it’s the perfect family car for adventurers:
- It’s packed with not one, not two, but over TEN advanced safety features to keep you protected when out discovering the top places to visit in Qatar with your family. The best of these features are the ones that can sense danger before you do, and alert you through vibrations in your seat or icons on your wing mirror before a collision takes place.
- Its interactive technology, such as Apple CarPlay with Chevrolet MyLink touch-screen display, and the wireless phone charging feature that you can opt for makes it a great choice of car for keeping the whole family entertained on long journeys.
- The two litre turbo engine with 252 HP makes it rather nippy on those long, straight roads! Plus the Equinox crossover SUV offers two powerful turbo engines to choose from, depending on whether you’re popping across the city or day-tripping across the country.
- Active noise cancellation, switchable all-wheel drive and incredible suspension make for a smooth and comfortable ride…even when off-roading.
- Its semi-automatic park assistance with a rear-vision camera is just about the best feature I’ve ever had in any car I’ve driven! I don’t know how I’ll ever park in a car without this again!
- The panoramic power sun roof is a great feature when you want to stick your heads out of the roof to enjoy the view without leaving the comfort of your perfectly air-conditioned environment!
- The interior is spacious enough to transport yourself, your family and just about anything else you need to take along. With 60/40 split-folding rear seats, this also includes kayaks for the mangroves and stand up paddle boards for the beach if you’re that way inclined!
- The dual cockpit dashboard with integrated centre stack means that as a driver, everything is at your fingertips, from climate control to entertainment systems.
- Great fuel efficiency and fuel-saving stop/start technology comes as standard on the Premier model, which is a great thing when you’ve forgotten to fill up with petrol and are several miles away from the nearest gas station (trust me, I really put this one to the test!).
- It looks pretty good too!
With every Chevrolet purchase in Qatar, you receive 24/7 regional roadside assistance for four years and guaranteed maintenance appointments within two days. The availability of parts throughout the region also ensures that you will never be without your car for too long, and will be ready to #findnewroads again within days!
If you are interested in booking a test drive, you can contact Jaidah Automotive, the exclusive dealer for Chevrolet Qatar on: +974 8000 100
Or visit them at their showroom at Jaidah Square: Jaidah Square, Al Mater Street, Umm Ghuwailina, Doha, Qatar.
However you get around, I hope you enjoy exploring some of the sites on my list of top places to visit in Qatar. Please let me know how you get on!
Please read my disclaimer here.