Evidence of human settlements in Qatar dates back over 8,000 years, but for the majority of its history, its arid desert climate was only able to sustain a small number of nomadic tribes.
The tiny peninsula has been ruled by the al-Thani family since the mid 1800s. During this period, a series of disputes with neighboring countries attracted the attention of the British, and their diplomatic response resulted in the eventual foundation of the State of Qatar on December 18, 1878. However, it was 1916 before Britain granted Qatar the official status of British Protectorate.
At this time, Doha's economy depended almost entirely on fishing and pearling; the settlement had 350 pearling boats. After Japan introduced cultured pearls in the 1920s, the capital city was plunged into poverty until oil was discovered in the late 1930s. The anticipated oil boom was delayed by the onset of World War II, and exploration and exportation did not reach significant levels until the 1950s.
In 1971, Britain announced its intention to withdraw from Qatar. On September 3, 1971, after an initial attempt to form a federation with Bahrain and the modern-day United Arab Emirates, Qatar declared itself an independent sovereign state. Today, Qatar produces more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day, and Doha’s arid desert landscape sustains a population of over one million.
A tiny peninsula less than 200 kilometers long by 100 kilometers wide, Qatar’s attractions can be enjoyed in just a few days, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the white beaches, warm waters, and endless sunshine of the country.
Doha’s heritage is relatively well preserved, and a trip to the Omani Souk evokes a bygone era in which shopkeepers traded perfumed oud, aromatic spices, and the less-fragrant dried fish. Close by are the wholesale market souks where traders sell locally caught fish alongside home-grown herbs and sandy vegetables. Next door, the bustling camel market lets you get up close with these remarkable "ships of the desert," but avoid the nearby livestock market: it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Qatari culture is addressed by the Museum of Islamic Art, which is home to the Emir’s personal art and antiquities collection. Located on Doha’s beautiful Corniche, the museum’s geometric architecture alone is worth a visit; it was designed by I.M. Pei, who also created the Louvre’s glass pyramid.
Doha is a truly multicultural city, resulting in a huge choice of cuisines from all over the globe to suit all budgets.
Visitors in need of a quick snack will love shawarma—lamb or chicken carved from a rotisserie then rolled in flatbread with salad and garlic sauce. Served long into the night from roadside stands, these are staple food for night owls.
For a more elegant yet authentic Middle Eastern dining experience, visit Souk Wakif. Built in a traditional design on the site of the old Bedouin trading market, the Souk is a maze of alleyways packed with everything from traditional clothing to incense, and is also a great Arabic—and international—dining destination.
Those looking for an upmarket place to eat should head to the Pearl, an artificial island built on an ancient pearl-diving site. Newly opened, it features several celebrity chef restaurants alongside other designer dining and nightlife establishments.
Doha is only a small footprint on Qatar’s vast desert, and the sand dunes start less than 15 kilometers from the city center. A trip to the desert is a great way to witness the harsh elements the nomadic Bedouin tribes endured; luckily, 4x4 vehicles make the trip a safer and more exhilarating experience.
Seventy-five kilometers southwest of Doha city center is the Qatari’s favorite desert destination: Khor al Adaid. Known by expatriates as the "inland sea," Khor al Adaid is an inlet of the Arabian Gulf that has carved a shallow channel deep into the heart of the desert. Entirely surrounded by dunes, the calm waters make a refreshing respite from the desert heat; take a picnic and camping gear to get the most out of this amazing oasis experience.