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Ultimate Qatar Itinerary for first-time visitors

Visiting Doha, Qatar and looking for the best Qatar itinerary to see the Middle Eastern country?
Read our detailed Qatar itinerary for recommendations on what to see in and around Doha, desert safari suggestions, what to eat, and where to stay to make the most of your time in Qatar.
Find itinerary suggestions for 3 to 5 days in Qatar. Also read our post on Best Things to do in Doha, Qatar.

Qatar is located in the Persian Gulf and can be easily reached by Qatar Airways. Doha is well-connected by air to all major cities in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world – thanks to oil production – and the wealth is imminent in excellent infrastructure.

There are many things to see and do in Doha.

While most of them are concentrated in and around the Qatar capital of Doha, you can also find attractions in the desert and around the Zekreet peninsula.

In spite of that, Qatar is a small country and you can easily see it in 3 to 5 days. Here are our recommendations for planning your trip to Doha, Qatar with our detailed Qatar itinerary.

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“Qatar does not have much history, it’s a new emirate. So I couldn’t draw on the history of the country; its history is really just being a desert. But I thought the one thing I must learn about for this project is the Islamic faith. So I read about Islam and Islamic architecture, and the more I studied the more I realized where the best Islamic buildings were.”
– I M Pei, the architect of the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha

Qatar Travel FAQs

Is Qatar safe to visit?

Qatar is extremely safe to visit. It has a very low level of crime and violence and is, in fact, the 16th safest country in the world. It is quite safe for everybody including families, couples, solo men and women, as well as business travelers.

Qatar is also politically stable. Visitors should follow the usual travel precautions of respecting local customs, not bringing alcohol or pork products, not wandering alone at night, and being aware of their surroundings.

Located in the Middle East, Qatar is an Islamic country and follows Sharia laws. Qatar is also conservative.

Visitors must obey local laws and customs: alcohol is prohibited except in certain 5-star expat hotels and bars where it is served at very expensive rates.

Being drunk in public is a legal offense, for which you can be jailed. Men and women both should both dress conservatively but women are not required to cover their head.

Visitors should not criticize the ruling family or the emir and keep conversations limited to non-controversial subjects.

When is the best time to visit Qatar?

Qatar is located in the Middle East. Most of the country is a dry and arid desert. As a result, it gets very hot during the summer. From June to September, it is the low season.

The average temperature is above 40 C or 100 F. There is minimal rainfall during summer. If you do visit during the summer, we recommend drinking lots of water and not spending a lot of time outdoors at noon to avoid the extreme heat.

April to May in spring and October to November in fall is a great time to visit because of mild heat during the day and cool winds at night.

The best time to visit is however from December to March when day time temperature is pleasant.

It can, however, get pretty cold at night in the desert and we recommend dressing in layers and wearing a jacket or sweater for night time outdoor activities like the dhow cruise or camping in the desert.

Where to stay in Qatar?

We recommend basing yourself in Doha for the duration of your stay in Qatar.

You can easily see the attractions located outside of Doha via day trips by renting or hiring a car with a driver.

The best place to stay in Doha is easily inside the Souq waqif boutique hotels.

The Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels is a collection of 9 designer properties located inside the Souq. Each of these hotels has a variety of amenities and guests at one can avail of the amenities at other hotels as well.

But the best thing about Souq Waqif hotels is their location: you have the souqs shops, restaurants, and vibrant atmosphere at your doorstep.

Another option is to stay in close vicinity to Souq Waqif. There are a number of hotels in the area from where you can walk to the Souq and have a budget-friendly stay.

Alternatively, you can also stay along the Corniche where many of the international hotel brands are located.

Epic Qatar Itinerary for families, couples, and solo travelers

Day 1: Museum of Islamic Arts, Katara Cultural Village, Souq Waqif

Start your day by seeing the highlights of Doha. Visit the famous Museum of Islamic Arts and see the Katara Cultural Village. End the day by shopping and dining in Qatar’s famed Souq Waqif.

Museum of Islamic Arts

The Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) is one of Doha’s top tourist attractions. Designed by the renowned architect I M Pei of Louvre pyramid fame, the museum building is a beautiful work of art.

The museum is built on its own reclaimed piece of land on the Doha Bay and visitors have a beautiful view of the Doha skyline from the museum campus.

The museum is a modern take on the Islamic mosque style of architecture around the world and blends in the ancient Qatari style prominently seen in Souqs and elsewhere in the city.

The building’s upper air vents are designed to resemble a veiled Qatari woman.

The collection of Islamic Arts inside the museum is vast, diverse, and stunning. Museum has exhibits from all over the world including Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

You will find paintings, Islamic calligraphy, ancient Qurans, jewelry, ceramics, magnetic compasses, globes, jewelry, textiles, and a variety of everyday objects from ancient times.

These articles were created under Islamic rulers and show intricate Islamic patterns and motifs.

Also well represented are architectural elements including doors, windows, tiles, columns, wall panels, etc that are constructed and decorated in the Islamic style of architecture.

The museum interior is also spectacular with 5 storied grand windows that offer a memorable view of the Doha skyline across the water – my favorite view in all of Qatar!

We recommend dining in the museum café to take in this view. We ate delicious date cheesecake at the cafe and did not feel like leaving.

The museum garden and the outside courtyard of the building are also worth exploring. You should ideally keep aside at least 2 to 3 hours to explore the museum and its surroundings. Entrance to MIA is free and it is closed on Friday.

Katara Cultural Village

Katara Village is located between the West Bay skyline and the Pearl. Katara was the ancient name of Qatar and the complex is named after that.

The building design and architecture in Katara reflects Qatar’s heritage. The area is open 24/7 and holds many events including the Doha Film Festival.

We recommend walking in Katara and admiring the architecture, especially the Katara mosque, viewing art galleries, and spending time on the beach.

You can also see many local artists, check out the amphitheater, and the maritime museum. Katara also has many fine-dining restaurants including Middle Eastern, Indian, Italian, and many more.

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif is located across the MIA. The name Souq Waqif literally means a standing market. This is an ancient Qatari market that has been recently restored and has become Doha’s premier tourist attraction.

Inside you will find police patrolling on horses and porters carrying purchases on wheelbarrows – it’s like walking back in time. The market has narrow alleys and shops selling a variety of goods from souvenirs, antiques, perfumes, spices, and household goods.

The Souq is an excellent place to shop. We spent a lot of time in Souq Waqif during our time in Qatar and loved exploring the market. To know more about the market, read our post on 22 Epic things to do in Souq Waqif.

The main thoroughfare of Souq Waqif is full of restaurants – this is a great area to dine in Qatar. You will find restaurants for all budgets and cuisines – Qatari, Syrian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Iraqi, and even Italian.

You can buy fava beans, chestnuts, and pasta from food carts and eat Turkish style ice cream. This main street also has money changers and souvenir shops. You can people-watch here for hours and be happy.

However, we also recommend exploring beyond Main Street and in the alleys where the locals shop. There you will find household goods, apparel, and even a gold souq.

The Souq also has a camel pen and horse stables – our son loved seeing the animals. The Souq also has a separate area known as the Pet Souq where you can find all sorts of pet animals including birds, rabbits, tortoises, and aquatic animals.

The Falcon Souq located next to Souq Waqif is dedicated to selling falcons and falconry supplies. This is a great place to understand the Qatari tradition of falconry. If visiting the Falcon Souq, read our article on everything you need to know about the falcon souq.

Here’s a tip: many of the porters, salesmen, taxi drivers, and other workers in Souq Waqif are from the Indian subcontinent and especially India – if you know Hindi (one of the Indian languages) – you can have a much better conversation with them in Hindi than English.

We got better deals when bargaining in Souq Waqif simply because we spoke the language and were able to pet the Arabian horses in the stables near the Falcon Souq.

Day 2: Sheikh Faisal Al Thani Museum, Doha Corniche, Dhow cruise

Visit the unique Sheikh Faisal Al Thani museum and see the camel races at the nearby Al-Shahaniya racetrack. End the day by walking along the Corniche, exploring West Bay skyline and taking a dhow cruise.

Sheikh Faisal Al Thani museum

This privately owned museum was opened by Sheikh Faisal Al Thani and showcases his private collection.

The museum is built in an ancient Qatari fort and has exhibits ranging from Islamic artwork, textiles, manuscripts, coins from various time periods, vintage cars, bikes, pearling equipment, wooden dhows, and other artifacts.

You will also find an entire Syrian house inside the museum. The Sheikh collected the items over 50 years.

The museum also has plans for a separate car museum and carpet exhibit area in the future.

The car collection will have over 600 vintage and classic cars, motorbikes,  guns, artillery, and more while the carpet collection will feature hand-woven rugs with Islamic motifs.

You can visit the museum on your own or request a special guided tour with an English-speaking guide. We recommend spending about 2 hours viewing the collection.

The museum is located about an hour out of Doha, so we suggest either driving there or keeping your taxi waiting while you see the collection, as it’s hard to find a return taxi.

Al Shahaniya Racetrack

Watching the camel races at Al Shahaniya Racetrack is one of the most unique things to do while in Qatar. The Al Shahaniya Racetrack is located near the Al Thani museums and you can do both in one morning.

The best time to visit the racetrack for a chance to see the camel races is on Friday during the winter months (November – February), when there are national and international tournaments being held. Races are also often held every day during the season.

Camel racing is one of the most expensive sports in the world and also the most unique. Camels are usually handled by robot jockeys. It is fascinating to see the camels and their kid-sized jockeys at work.

The robotic jockeys are remote-controlled; their operators drive cars around the track and control operations as needed.

Watching the races is a free and fun activity. If you can’t visit during the race season, then try visiting in the morning around 9 am when the camels are exercised every day.

The Corniche

The Doha Corniche is the city’s waterfront promenade along the Doha Bay. It begins at the Museum of Islamic Arts and continues for over seven kilometers.

Along the promenade, you will find beautifully landscaped walking paths, sculptures and monuments, and public gardens. At the other end, you will find the iconic Sheraton hotel with its pyramid shape.

From the Corniche, you can see excellent views of the Doha West Bay business district skyline – this is one of the best places to photograph the Doha skyline.

Many of Doha’s premier landmarks are located along the Corniche. The Corniche is connected by an underground walkway to Souq Waqif.

Some of the popular sculptures along the Corniche include the Pearl Monument (devoted to Qatar’s pearling history), murals, Richard Serra’s 7 sculptures near the MIA, and Orry – the mascot of the Asian Games in 2006.

This is a great place to people watch; you will be able to see Qatari families having picnics and playing with their children along the Corniche. We recommend walking along the Corniche at sunset and enjoying the spectacular views.

If you walk towards the far end of the Corniche, near the West Bay skyline, you will be able to see the beautiful teapot sculpture. We loved this intricate marble sculpture and had a nice picnic beneath its shade.

Dhow Cruise

End your day with a dhow cruise on the Doha Bay. Many traditional wooden dhows line up along the promenade near the Museum of Islamic Arts end of the Corniche.

The boats can take you on a sail around the bay and you can see Doha city from the water. The views of the skyline from the water are beautiful and the wooden dhow cruise is a very romantic experience.

The sunset cruise is one of the best – Doha’s skyscrapers are ablaze with the glow of the setting sun and the wooden dhow boats have their twinkling lights on while some others also have music to compliment the atmosphere.

You can also opt for a dinner cruise aboard the dhow boat.

Day 3: Al Thakira Mangroves, Barzan Towers, Villagio Mall, Aspire Park

Kayak the mangroves of Al Thakira. View the Barzan Towers in Doha. End the day by shopping in Villagio Mall and spending time in Aspire Park while taking in views of the Aspire Tower.

Al Thakira mangroves

If you thought Qatar was all about the desert, you are in for a surprise. Al Thakira mangroves located north of Al Khor is a vast expanse of greenery.

At Al Thakira, you will find lots of migrating birds including flamingos, herons, fish, crabs, and more. Al Thakira has lush green mangrove forests and is an excellent respite from the starkness of the desert.

The best way to explore the mangroves and wildlife at Al Thakira is via a guided kayak tour.

The kayaking trips are usually about an hour to 90 mins long and experienced guides will guide you through the mangrove forests. Many tour operators can organize this half-day kayak excursion for you.

Barzan Towers

An off-the-beaten-path destination in Qatar, you won’t find many other tourists near the Barzan Towers. The Barzan Towers are historic watchtowers in Qatar’s northern desert.

Built in the late 19th century, these served the dual purposes of keeping watch over the enemy in the desert and observing the night sky. The towers are architecturally minimalist and striking and blend in the desert environment.

The buildings have been restored in 2003 and are in great condition. Inside the tower complex, you will find a small mosque and visitor center but apart from that, there is not much to see.

The towers make for striking photographs and are a great way to spend a few hours in the desert. The Umm Salal Fort is also located close to the watchtowers but is closed to visitors.

Villagio Mall

After your trip to the mangroves and the desert watchtowers, spend the rest of your day in the Aspire Zone.

Villagio Mall located in the Aspire Zone has over 200 branded stores and is a great place to shop, dine, and people-watch. Apart from shopping, the Villagio Mall is most famous for its Italian inspiration and indoor canals with gondolas, reminiscent of Venice.

With its lit up blue sky ceiling interior, it reminded us of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Inside the Villagio Mall, you will also find other attractions including the food court, ice hockey rink, indoor playground, cinema, and bowling alleys.

Aspire Park and Aspire Tower

After spending time at the Villagio Mall, visit the famous Aspire Tower and Aspire Park. The Aspire Tower is also known as the Torch, Doha and is one of the most photographed buildings in the city for its spiral architecture.

The Aspire Tower is currently the tallest building in Doha and looks exceptionally beautiful when lit up at night.

Aspire Park located next to the Aspire Tower in the Aspire Zone is Doha’s largest urban park. This is a great place to take an evening stroll, have picnics, play games with the children, and fly kites.

The park has fountains, playground area, cafe, and a lake as well as many unique trees and vegetation including the exotic baobab trees imported from Argentina.

Day 4: Desert safari at Al Khor Udeid

For an unparalleled desert experience, venture out into the desert at Al Khor Udeid and enjoy a day full of dune bashing, desert safari, camel rides, swimming in the inland sea, and relaxing by the beach.

Al Khor Udeid is the most popular day trip from Doha and you can find a variety of tours to satisfy you. There are half and full-day safaris: the half-day safaris do not include lunch while the full-day safaris include traditional Bedouin lunch in the desert.

You can also opt for a tour that includes night camping in a Bedouin tent and enjoy the stillness of the desert at night. There are also sunset desert safaris – these are especially popular with couples. Here are the highlights of these tours:

4 by 4 vehicle Safari and sandboarding

The 4 X $ desert safari and dune bashing ride is the highlight of the trip for most people. Tour operators will take you up and down the desert sand dunes at high speeds, resulting in an adventurous ride.

Visitors also can sandboard down the dunes for a thrilling activity. Sandboarding is quite popular with kids and teens. The tour companies will provide the sand boards for free.

Camel ride, falcon handling, and photographing the desert

You can also opt for an additional camel ride and experience the desert life in a traditional way. The camel ride is quite bumpy and enjoyed by children.

Sitting astride a camel as it gets up is an equally fun and scary experience – totally memorable!

During the day, you will also be able to handle a falcon under the supervision of the tour operator and take a photo with a falcon on your hand. Throughout the day, you will have innumerable opportunities to photograph the desert landscape.

Swimming in the inland sea

You can also spend time on the beach and relax in the inland sea. The Inland Sea is located at the border with Saudi Arabia and is a beautiful natural wonder in Qatar.

Here the desert meets the Arabian Gulf creating a panoramic and scenic landscape. At high tide, the sea is created among the dunes and is an amazing experience.

Camping in the desert

Day visits and night stays will be often accompanied by BBQ buffet lunch or dinners, shisha, and resting in the Bedouin tent. The desert is beautiful at night and tranquil.

You can rest by a bonfire and may even have the opportunity to enjoy Arabian music under the stars – depending on your tour operator.

Overall, we highly recommend the desert safari to have a memorable time in the desert.

Day 5: Zekreet Peninsula, East-West sculpture, Al-Zubarah Fort

Drive out into the desert near the Zekreet peninsula and see the East-West / West-East sculpture by artist Richard Serra. Stop at the Film City ghost town and admire the abandoned buildings. Visit Qatar’s only UNESCO Site of Al-Zubarah Fort. End your day by relaxing at the Pearl.

Zekreet Peninsula

Zekreet peninsula located in western Qatar is another exciting day trip from Doha. It is just an hour away from the city.

Zekreet peninsula has unique geographical landforms including the half moon shaped bay of Zekreet, unspoiled beaches, mushroom rocks, and limestone escarpments.

The Zekreet peninsula also has lots of wildlife including ostrich, wild deer, gazelles, flamingos, the Arabian oryx which is Qatar’s national animal.

Zekreet is also a popular destination for camping. Here are some of the most popular things to do in Zekreet peninsula.

East West / West East sculpture

Apart from the sculpture ‘Seven’ near the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, American sculptor Richard Sierra has another modern art installation in the Zekreet peninsula of Qatar.

The East-West / West-East sculpture consists of 4 steel plates rising out of the sand and dominating the sky. The steel plates are between 48 ft and 55 ft high and are level at the top.

Visitors can touch the plates and marvel at this unique artwork. The highway doesn’t reach the sculpture and you will need to off-road over the sand to visit. Hence, we recommend visiting with a tour guide.

Film City ghost town

The Film City ghost town is an abandoned city that was built for a movie set and now lies empty and unused.

The fortified city has towers and gates but is completely uninhabited; it is one of the most unusual sights in the middle of the desert.

You can enter the Film City, take photos, and talk with the guards before making your way around the peninsula.  

Natural Wildlife Reserve

The Al Reem Biosphere Reserve is located in the Zekreet peninsula.

This is a UNESCO protected area has plenty of unique desert flora and fauna including the endangered oryx, gazelle, osprey, flamingos, and more.

Wildlife sightings are unfortunately not that common but if you are lucky, you may spot an oryx.

Al-Zubarah Fort and Archeological Site

The Al-Zubarah fort and ruins of the nearby walled town of Al Zubarah are Qatar’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located by the shore in Northwest Qatar, the coastal town was a flourishing pearling village and important trade center on the Persian Gulf in the 18th century.

Al Zubarah traded goods with Asian subcontinent and the Middle East through routes in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf before it was destroyed and abandoned in the 19th century.

At the archeological site of Al Zubarah, you can see the preserved remains of houses, streets, mosque, fortified walls, and the harbor. The site is currently closed to the public since excavation is taking place.

The Al Zubarah fort overlooks the town but was built much later in 1938. It is fascinating to visit the fort and the village and understand Qatar’s importance in pearl trading.

Inside the fort, you will find a museum with archeological artifacts, maps, and other historical exhibits about the area’s history.

Al Zubarah is an hour away from Doha and you will need a car or tour to visit. We recommend renting a car or hiring car + driver for the entire day and visit Zekreet and Al Zubarah together.

The Pearl

If you don’t wish to spend the entire day in the desert, then consider a luxurious day trip to the Pearl. You can also visit Pearl in the evening after checking out Zekreet and Al Zubarah during the day.

The Pearl Qatar is an artificial island with office and commercial space, lavish seaside villas, luxurious hotels, residential communities, and apartment buildings, upscale shopping, fine restaurants serving international cuisines, cafes, and bakeries.

Pearl is the ultimate urban oasis and makes you forget that you are in the Middle East.  This area is extremely popular with ex-pats, tourists, and locals alike.

We recommend visiting the Pearl and walking along the seaside as well as inside the Pearl. Do some window shopping and dine in one of the cafes or restaurants. Visit areas such as Little Venice (designed like Italy) and just people watch.

Day 6: Souvenir shopping in Souq Waqif and relaxing spa massage in Doha

On your final day in Qatar, we recommend visiting Souq Waqif again to buy souvenirs, eat some more of Qatari cuisine, and catch up with the activities that you might have missed on an earlier visit.

Some of the best souvenirs to buy in Qatar include the Arabian tea and coffee pots, entire tea sets with cups and saucers, shishas, apparel including bejeweled dresses for women, shawls, and capes, oud perfumes, dry fruits including dates, baklavas, and other sweets.

You can also opt for traditional magnets, postcards, and other souvenirs.

In the afternoon, we recommend getting a luxurious spa massage in Doha.

Did you know, Doha has some of the best spa resorts in the world? Most of these resorts also accommodate day guests and you can even avail most of the resort amenities on a half-day or full-day trip.

Some of the best spas in Doha include the Anantara Spa at the Banana Island Resort and the Six Senses Spa at Sharq Village and Spa.

If you have less time?

What to do if you have less time? You can still follow our epic Qatar itinerary. If you are in Qatar on a layover and have just 1 day in Doha, we recommend checking out our article on the Best Things to do in Doha, Qatar.

It will also give suggestions and ideas for 2 Days in Doha itinerary.

If you have just 3 days in Qatar, we recommend seeing the Museum of Islamic Arts, Souq Waqif, the Corniche and dhow ride, Katara, Aspire Zone, and a day trip out to the desert.

If you have 4 days in Qatar, use the extra day to see the Zekreet peninsula and Al Zubarah or spend it relaxing at the Pearl, Doha.

Did you like our detailed Best of Qatar itinerary? Did it make you want to spend more time in Qatar? Are you planning to see the desert or spending most of your time in Doha itself? Let us know in the comments below.

Lauren

Wednesday 5th of July 2017

Such an amazing place with a rich history! I'd like to explore that museum more. I'm a bit nerd for history and historical sites, too!

Jose Harvey

Tuesday 4th of July 2017

I think Qatar looks and sounds like an incredible place to visit. Hopefully one day! Great article and awesome photos...thanks for sharing!

Jose Harvey

Tuesday 4th of July 2017

I'm all about visiting this section of the world and your article gives me even more reason to want to visit. I hope one day it will be possible to do so. With current geo-political tensions, it's still on my list but on hold slightly. Your article is great and your photos are wonderful!

Claire Sturzaker

Tuesday 4th of July 2017

I had no idea that Hindi was spoken so widely in Qatar! Sadly I don't speak hindi or Arabic, so no horse-petting for me :( I love markets though, I think I'd be happy just wandering around!

emilykydd1984

Tuesday 4th of July 2017

Qatar definitely looks like a fascinating place, a meeting of cultures and architecture to be sure! Some day I would love to explore the Middle East, and it's rapidly changing cities like Doha!