By Briana Seftel
Modern yet steeped in tradition, Qatar is a land of contrasts. Despite its small size, the country boasts a number of marvelous sights, from Souq Waqif to Al Zubarah Fort. If you're planning a vacation to Qatar, here are ten things you need to know.
1. English is widely spoken
While Arabic is the official language in Qatar, English is widely spoken, so you'll have no trouble getting around or asking locals for directions. However, it's always polite to learn a few phrases in the native language.
- Hello: Salam سلام
- Good morning: Sabah el kheer صباح الخير
- Good evening: Masaa el kheer مساء الخير
- Thank you (very much): Shokran (jazeelan) (شكرا (جزيلا
- See you later: Araka/ Araki (female) fi ma ba'd أراك في مابعد
- Goodbye: Ma’a salama مع السلامة
- Excuse me: Men fathlek/fathleki (female) من فضلك
2. Qatar is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup
In December 2010, Qatar won their bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first country in the Middle East selected to host the tournament. Since then, the country has built eight stadiums and infrastructure for the 1.5 million visitors expected at the tournament in November 2022. Even if you're not visiting Qatar during the World Cup, you'll sense the excitement in the air as this tiny country enters the world stage.
3. Qatar Airways is one of the best airlines in the world
Named the best airline in the world by Skytrax several years in a row, Qatar Airways is as good as you'll get in the sky. Qataris are prized for their warm hospitality, so you can expect that same kind of attention to detail on your flight.
4. You don't need a visa
Qatar is the only country in the Middle East that doesn't require a visa for entry. Because of this, the capital of Doha is a popular stopover destination for Americans going to Africa and Asia. To get a good sense of the country, plan on staying in Doha for four days. You'll have ample time to explore the city and take day trips to the desert!
5. All museums are free
With five museums currently in Doha (the Qatar National Museum is slated to open in 2019), Qatar has no shortage of cultural offerings. And with free admission to all, you have no excuse not to visit. Marvel at the magnificent collections of Islamic art and artifacts at the Museum of Islamic Art or see the fantastic car collection at the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum.
Pro tip: In addition to museums, Doha has several outdoor art installations including Richard Serra's EAST-WEST / WEST-EAST installation in the Qatari desert.
6. Qatar is 75% desert
Tiny in size (Qatar is roughly the size of Connecticut), Qatar is mostly desert. Given its naturally arid climate, travelers to Qatar can enjoy a variety of desert-based adventures like safaris, sand boarding, dune bashing, camel riding and overnight camping in traditional Bedouin tents.
7. Falcons are a big deal
Almost every Qatari owns a falcon. Yes, you read that right. Selling for thousands of dollars, these birds of prey are a common sight all over the country, while the sport of falconry is a national pastime. Even if you're not in the market for a pet falcon, you can visit Falcon Souq, a section of Souq Waqif dedicated to falcons. They even have a falcon hospital!
8. ...And so are horses
Centuries before oil was discovered below the surface, Arabian horses were Qatar's prized export. The horses originated in the Arabian Peninsula and are believed to be 4,500 years old, making them one of the oldest breeds in the world. To get a sense of these mighty beasts, take a tour of Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre, complete with stables, two arenas a veterinary center and more.
9. Camel racing is a popular sport
Camel racing, also known as the sport of the sheiks, is a popular sport in Qatar. Robot operated jockeys sit atop the camels as they race to the finish line - camels can run up to 40mph! You can watch this spectacle at Al Shahaniya racing track, about an hour from Doha.
10. It's surprisingly affordable
While Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, visiting Qatar as a tourist is surprisingly affordable. Many of Doha's 5-star hotels go for around $200 a night, while upscale restaurants and attractions are equally economical. Because Doha is growing at such a rapid pace, there is tons of competition from hotels, meaning favorable rates for visitors!