The Arab state of Qatar is a land of wonder and heritage. From its pearl diving and seafaring history to its modern cities and luxurious attractions, it's a destination suited to every type of personality. If you're thinking about a holiday, here are 10 things you didn't know about Qatar.
1. You may not need a visa
Qatar allows visitors from over 85 countries to enter without a visa. You don't need to make any arrangements to get a visa when you arrive; just present a valid passport that you've had at least 6 months. Depending on where you're from, you can enjoy up to 90 days without a visa, making Qatar a great destination for longer trips or even a stopover on your way to another destination.
2. It has a relaxed dress code
Qatar is an Islamic country, and many citizens dress in traditional clothing; but unlike some other Islamic nations, a strict dress code isn't required. Foreigners are permitted to wear what they wish, though it's still recommended to choose modest clothing to show respect for the local beliefs. For women, this means covering from shoulders to below the knees, so no short shorts, tank tops, crop tops or miniskirts. For men, this means no shorts or sleeveless tops.
On the beach or near the pool, you're permitted to wear bathing suits, including bikinis. If you're not swimming, it's preferable to wear a T-shirt or shorts to cover up. Topless sunbathing and sheer clothing are never acceptable.
3. Ramadan is a great time to visit
Ramadan is the holiest celebration on the Islamic calendar. For devout Muslims, it includes fasting from dawn until sunset, charity work and other good deeds. The beginning of Ramadan is marked by the sighting of the moon and ends at the new moon, which makes it 29 to 30 days long. When Ramadan begins, adults are forbidden from consuming food and drink in public, including gum, cigarettes and cigars. Most restaurants and shops are closed, with the exception of a few takeaways.
What makes Ramadan exciting for visitors is the nightlife. Many restaurants and hotels are open late for iftar and sahoor buffets, and you can find themed activities at places like the Katara Cultural Village. Many local malls have sales and host events as well, and the cannon firing to mark the end of the fast is a festive event.
4. One of the best art galleries is at the airport
The Hamad International Airport is more than just a hub for international flights. The airport has a large collection of art installations in the passenger terminal that were curated with help from Qatar Museums. While some of the artwork was acquired, many pieces were created specifically for the airport by prominent artists, such as large murals from Faraj Duham and a desert horse sculpture from Ali Hassan. Plenty of international artists display their work as well, including Bill Viola, Damien Hirst, Keith Haring and Ahmed al-Bahrani.
5. Arabic coffee is a gesture of hospitality
In Qatar, traditional Arabic coffee is an expression of hospitality. It comes from a specialized pot called a dallah and is served in small cups without handles. The coffee itself is strong and robust, often flavoured with spices like cardamom. Different countries have different ways of brewing their coffee, though it's usually served without sugar.
In the Persian Gulf, Arabic coffee is prepared with spices like cloves, saffron and cinnamon, giving it a darker appearance, and it's often accompanied by candied fruits and dates. When you're given Arabic coffee, be sure to use your right hand. The server will continue to give you coffee until you signal to stop by gently shaking the cup.
6. Incense burning is popular in Qatar
Incense is an aromatic material with essential oils that produces a fragrant smoke when burning and is used for aromatherapy, ceremony and meditation. In Qatar and other Arab nations, incense is burned using scented chips or blocks, which are known as bakhoor. Incense burning is traditionally used for special occasions, and the bakhoor is burned in a traditional mabkhara. As a gesture of hospitality, many residents will pass the bakhoor to guests in congregation.
7. The wildlife is diverse
Qatar's vast desert has one of the harshest climates on the planet, but it's still home to an abundance of unique and diverse wildlife. Some of the most fascinating animals that call the desert home include the Ethiopian hedgehog, the sand snake, the fork-tongued desert monitor and the Arabian oryx. Sand cats, hyenas, red foxes, mountain goats, falcons, swallows, sea turtles and dugongs also call the environment home.
To preserve these species, many of which are threatened or endangered, Qatar has several protected areas, like Khor Al Udeid Fish Sanctuary, Ras Ushairij Gazelle Conservation Park and the Ras Abrouq Nature Reserve. The Al Wabra Wildlife Preserve is not only a sanctuary, but a husbandry facility that successfully breeds a variety of species, including the Sudan cheetah and the Spix's macaw.
8. Qatar has a strong seafaring heritage
Modern-day Qatar may be known for its luxury and fuel production, but the Qatar of the past relied on the bounty of the sea. In the past, many Qataris lived along the coast of the gulf and relied on trade, fishing and pearl diving for their livelihood. Prior to the oil boom, pearl diving was the most dominant profession.
The seafaring heritage is always the focus of researchers in Qatar, with many documents and artefacts shedding light on this important aspect of the past with letters, maps, paintings, drawings, photographs and more. Pearl diving is such a strong part of the culture in Qatar that there are special exhibitions, festivals and a massive sculpture, The Pearl Monument, overlooking the sea to honour the culture.
9. Falconry is a revered sport
Falconry, the hunting of wild animals using a trained falcon or raptor, is a popular and honoured sport in Qatar. It was introduced to the country by the Bedouin tribes, who had used their falcons to catch migratory birds during the winter months.
In fact, falcons are so important to the culture that there's a dedicated Falcon Souq with a falcon hospital. The national airline, Qatar Airways, also allows passengers to bring falcons on economy-class flights.
10. Qatar has been named the richest country in the world
On a survey that measured gross domestic product, Qatar ranked as the richest country in the world for several years. This is determined by the gross domestic product and purchasing power parity, which considers the inflation and the cost of living. Though it's a small country, especially compared to others on the list, Qatar's production of natural gas and crude oil exports contribute to its booming economy.
Plan your trip
If you're looking for an exciting destination for your next adventure, Qatar is the perfect choice. Visit Expedia to explore deals on Qatar holiday packages and plan your trip!