While Doha’s main draws (like the stunning Museum of Islamic Art and waterfront promenade, the Corniche) are a must for any visitor, there are some offbeat, unique and equally fascinating attractions and experiences worth seeking out.
Ditch the guidebook and discover these hidden Doha gems.
Believe it or not, a country that is mostly desert also has a thriving and fascinating mangrove forest. With its own ecosystem, the area attracts migrating birds like flamingos and herons, as well as marine life, including crabs and small fish.
Just 75 minutes north of Doha, the flooded forest is best explored by kayak. Those with little to no kayak experience, fear not. The water is calm and the channels are wide, making for an easygoing excursion.
If you prefer a guide, book a tour with one of several companies that offer half- and full-day trips here. You also can visit picturesque Purple Island (which is actually quite lush and green) via a short hike and wading through shallow water.
Depart Doha early to enjoy the mangroves in the cool morning, but for a daylong trip, head to the nearby city of Al Khor. This old fishing town, once a center for pearling, has a charm of its own.
Located inside Katara Cultural Village, this newly debuted attraction is named after Thuraya (Seven Sisters), a cluster of seven bright stars seen in the constellation of Taurus.
Opened in December 2018, Qatar’s only planetarium takes you on an immersive tour of the universe. Start in the main hall, where a 72-foot screen shows regular short films (in both 2D and 3D) about the solar system and night sky conducted in both English and Arabic.
Next, wander through the eye-opening museum that traces the history of astronomy in the Muslim world. Other exhibits include models of spacesuits and shuttles from the lunar landings. Like many attractions in Qatar, entry is free.
Falconry has a long and noble history in Qatar and the birds themselves can fetch upwards of QR1 million (about US$275,000). Experience this living tradition for yourself at this unique marketplace on the edge of the popular Souq Waqif.
You may stop dead in your tracks at first by the sight of dozens of the regal creatures silently perched on their stands, each donning a tiny leather hood.
Under the supervision of a handler, you can have your photo taken with a bird perched on your arm (warning: they are heavier than expected). The optimal time to visit is in the evening, especially Thursdays, when customers come to buy, sell or talk all things falcon.
Be sure to check out the collection of handmade falcon hoods — used to keep the animals quiet and not distracted — for sale. To see another side of the sport, cross the street to the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital to see the work that goes into keeping these birds healthy.
Like the falcon, horses (especially the majestic Arabian breed) also have a special place in the history and folklore of Qatar.
In Education City just outside of Doha, Al Shaqab equestrian center occupies the site of a Bedouin battle that led to the creation of the modern state of Qatar — an appropriate spot for former Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to establish this prestigious Arabian horse-breeding facility.
Today, Al Shaqab produces and trains some of the world’s leading horses and equestrians. With capacity for more than 400 prize animals, the 242-acre horseshoe-shaped campus boasts a riding academy, the Emiri (royal family) stables, indoor and outdoor arenas and state-of-the-art training facilities (think a horse Jacuzzi, pool and air-conditioned stables).
See the regal equines in action during a facility tour or by taking in one of the regular equestrian events, ranging from show-jumping to dressage and endurance races. Be sure to stop by the on-site restaurant — Chef’s Garden grows most of its own produce and sources almost everything else locally.
East West/West East
Like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey come to life, these four columns set incongruously in a barren corridor of the Qatari desert are striking, both for their isolated location and otherworldly feel.
The work of renowned American sculptor Richard Serra, the installation is set within the Brouq Nature Reserve at Zekreet, a hard-to-reach destination that is well worth the trek.
Since the installation was unveiled in 2014, visitors from around the world have etched their names and thoughts into the massive plates (each pillar is nearly 56 feet tall and set at intervals of 820 feet apart). The one-of-a-kind piece continues to evolve as the steel structures are battered by the unforgiving desert heat and wind.
The sculpture is around 90 minutes from Doha and does require some off-roading, but you will be rewarded with the desert’s lunar landscape and the occasional appearance by an animal resident.