In just 4 hours, get an entire vacations worth of photos to send home, and learn about the beautiful city that is Doha.
Qatar is full of interesting and mostly free things to see and do. I have been in Qatar for nine years and considered myself very capable of showing people around here. How wrong I was.
Last weekend I was invited by Sand Dunes to take one of their 4 hour city tours. I jumped at the opportunity because up until then I had never had a professional guide show me around Doha. Sure when I first got here a number of friends drove me around and gave me their thoughts and beliefs on what was what. But they could never have been as well informed as my guide was on this tour.
I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour.
I had booked a night in the Saraya Corniche hotel last Thursday evening, and arranged to be picked up for my guided city tour from there. Sure enough at the allotted time (4:30pm) I got a call from someone who introduced himself as ‘Firas’ from Sand Dunes, informing me that he was downstairs in reception waiting for me.
Firas was super easy to like immediately. He was warm, friendly and extremely attentive. He helped me into his large 4×4 and asked a few questions about what I may be interested in seeing. The tour is not a fixed route with a fixed schedule. Your guide will design your tour around you and what you are most interested in experiencing.
We left the Saraya Corniche and drove the short distance to our first stop The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). On the way Firas started to explain the history, architecture and purpose of this stunning building. Some of which I knew, and some of which I did not. Firas certainly knew his stuff.
On arrival at MIA it became obvious my guide came here regularly. The security staff knew him and welcomed both him and me warmly. I had already agreed with Firas that as I only wanted to grab some snap shots of MIA because I had been there before. He would wait for me with the car while I popped up for a lightning fast photographic visit. I was gone about 10 minuets and when I returned Firas was chatting and drinking tea with security, who were keen that I should join them. Can you imagine that happening in the UK at any museum you can think of? I politely declined the offer and we were back in the car heading to our next stop; The Pearl.
On the way to The Pearl, Firas gave a running commentary on points of interest along the route. Instead of just driving me around the Pearl which is what I usually do when entertaining guests, he did the smart thing and took me to the visitor center. I first walked into the Pearl Visitor Center back in 2007 when I came to Qatar on a business trip. Inside the Visitor Centre there is a large model of the Pearl development. The model of the Pearl is still there, but vastly updated.
I found this very interesting and spent quite a while exploring the center. With more time I would have grabbed a coffee and a croissant there as well. In future I will take all of my visiting guests there instead of just driving around the Pearl. It’s far more impressive.
From the Pearl we drove to Katara. The word Katara is what appeared on maps up until 1738 as the designation for what is now Qatar. And now Katara is one of the must see, cannot miss, places to visit in Qatar. And you need to set aside quite a bit of time to do it. As part of the City Tour, it’s important to pop into Katara. But to explore it properly you will need an entire evening. You would also need to check their website for interesting events that are continuously taking place there, to get the maximum out of your visit. Firas drove me around the perimeter a couple of times so I could grab some shots. But we didn’t park and go in.
Next we drove through Doha city center to checkout the amazing architecture and lighting. When I say City Centre, I actually mean West Bay. I believe that the city center could now be described as the Msheireb area. But West Bay is where the concentration of towers is, and this is what forms the iconic skyline images you always see of Qatar. For me being driven around West Bay was a superb experience, because I am normally the driver, and I don’t get to properly look around. From a distance the truly amazing vista that is West Bay, is absolutely stunning. But up close and personal these buildings are truly breathtaking.
We exited West Bay through Al Bidda Park. We did not stop in Al Bidda Park, because once again this is somewhere to dwell and enjoy. But when you drive through it, you simply can’t imagine that Doha is in a desert country. So much green! And beautifully lit. With free to use fitness equipment and BBQ pits.
Then we did a drive past the Emiri Diwan. This is like Buckingham Palace back in the UK. Except that the Emir does not actually live here. It’s just where he goes to work. His office if you like. This is where visiting dignitaries are hosted. It’s more impressive at night when illuminated. And another photo you simply have to take.
Last but by no means least, we headed to Souq Waqif. Which for me is the number one destination for anyone visiting Qatar. Souq means market and Waqif means standing. So yup, you figured it out. Souq Waqif means Standing Market. Located in the shallow Msheireb Valley there used to be a river, and the souq grew up on either side of that river. Because it was so muddy business was done direct from boats initially. And yes, everyone was standing. Who wants to sit in mud.
The river has long since dried up. But the souq grew up and out. Getting larger and larger and becoming the major hub of commerce in Qatar for many years. Unfortunately, in 2004 there was a fire, and a lot of Souq Waqif was badly damaged. The Emir ordered that it should be re developed but in an authentic manner. And what you see today is the result. Mostly new build, but built to look traditional and established.
I have been taking visitors to Souq Waqif for nine years now. But was only walking them around the obvious attractions. With not a lot of information to offer them. I knew where the best sights and sounds were. I knew that the spice market area would blow their sense of smell away. I knew where to buy souvenirs and I knew some nice restaurants. But Firas was able to do so much more. He took me to places that I did not know existed, and if I did know they existed I didn’t know why they were significant.
Throughout the whole tour Firas had been a wealth of knowledge. But in the souq he really came into his own. He knew everyone. Everywhere we went he was greeting and being greeted by souq employees, staff and businessmen. It was an amazing experience.
I strongly recommend that anyone visiting Qatar, who has an interested in learning about this wonderful country. Should give Sand Dunes a call and book their great value City Tour. Even if you have lived here for a while you would take a lot from it.
The price of the tour is per car (1 to 4 capacity) not per person, and costs QR 600 (GBP 122 USD 165 EUR 139). Divided among 4 that works out at just QR 150 each. An absolute bargain.
Sand Dunes: +974 4441 3313 http://sdqholidays.com/
Souq Waqif: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souq_Waqif