Before last month, my passport had a few stamps from visits to Central and South America, but I'd only made it as far east as Paris, which is, of course, still very much considered "the west," in my travels overseas. So when an invitation to visit Qatar landed in my inbox, I readily accepted. How could I turn down the opportunity to visit the Middle East?
Located on the Arabian Peninsula next to Saudi Arabia, Qatar is quickly becoming a popular stopover destination for western travelers en route to Asia and Africa (and, in this traveler's case, the Seychelles). Though this Middle Eastern country may look small on the map, I discovered that it has a lot to offer jet-setters in search of eye-opening cultural experiences, adrenaline-pumping adventures, and Instagram-worthy eats.
Keep scrolling for the perfect 48-hour guide to this Middle Eastern destination, complete with 11 local-approved things to do in Qatar.
Thursday 3 PM
Check into the Ritz Carlton Sharq Village & Spa. With its nod to traditional village architecture and its luxury-oriented amenities, it's unlike any other hotel in the city. If you check in early and have a bit of free time, treat yourself to a massage or a facial at the Six Senses Spa, the hotel's in-house spa, to keep jet lag from setting in.
After some post-flight pampering, head to the Souq Waqif, the city's traditional open-air market. Although the market is known for selling spices, handicrafts, traditional garments, and other souvenirs, there are also several falconry-specific shops (like the one pictured above) that you shouldn't skip. The tradition of hunting with falcons on the Arabian Penninsula began thousands of years ago and is still an extremely popular practice today. There's even a falcon hospital in the souq!
Once the sun sets and the temperature drops, the souq really comes alive. Make like the locals, and enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants in the market. Try the stuffed grape leaves at Damasca, the grilled fish at Al Bandar, or the saffron ice cream at Parisa. There are plenty of places in the market to try shisha (aka hookah) if you're so inclined, but keep in mind you're going to want to call it an early night to get an early start tomorrow.
Friday 8 AM
You can't visit Doha without experiencing dune bashing, which is essentially off-roading on pristine sand dunes just an hour drive outside the city. Arrange for an experienced driver to take you on a desert safari, and grab a light breakfast at the hotel before you embark on your day trip because you're in for a wild ride.
While you're driving through the desert, don't miss the opportunity to visit a UNESCO-recognized natural reserve, Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea), one of the few places in the world where the desert meets the sea. Take off your shoes, put your toes in the salty sea, and stroll down the shoreline.
After spending the day in the desert, head back to Doha, and have lunch at Al Mourjan, a Lebanese restaurant perched on the waterfront of the west bay. Order everything from the fattoush salad to the mashawi moshalal (mixed grill barbecue with exceptionally seasoned chicken, steak, and lamb)—after all, you're going to be hungry after a morning of dune bashing.
Visit the Museum of Islamic Art and the nearby MIA Park. Before entering the museum, stroll through the park to take in some of the best views of Doha's skyline. Keep an eye on the time because you won't want to miss watching the sunset through the museums' floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Museum of Islamic Art's impressive collection of carefully painted ceramics, gilded glass vessels, and intricately woven silk textiles is reason enough to add this destination to your itinerary, but the opportunity to watch the sunset from a prime vantage point, as I mentioned above, really seals the deal.
After perusing the museum, board a dhow, a former pearl-diving ship, for a dinner cruise and a scenic view of Doha's skyline at night. Lounge on the upper deck for a 360-degree view as you enjoy creamy hummus and kebabs hot off the grill.
After a leisurely brunch at Al Liwan, the indulgent buffet-style restaurant at Sharq Village & Spa, spend the morning exploring Katara, Doha's cultural village. Wander through galleries featuring local artists' works, and then eat lunch at Ard Canaan, a local favorite featuring delicious Palestinian dishes like chicken musakhan with taboon bread (which you should 100% order).
Make your last stop Fire Station, an aptly named fire station turned art gallery, featuring politically charged street art by local artists. Grab a coffee and a snack at either #999 Café's brick-and-mortar location or the café's one-of-a-kind #999 Truck, a fire engine that's been transformed into a food truck serving up burgers, sandwiches, and chapatis (Indian flatbread), before heading to the airport.
This press trip was paid for by Visit Qatar and Sharq Village & Spa, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Editors opinions are their own.