Backpacking in Qatar on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Qatar

Swap those flip flops for some Louboutins and welcome yourself to one of the richest countries in the world. Qatar is a land of boasting, with phenomenal sky scrapers, the perfectly sculpted Doha Corniche promenade, and a lifestyle the frugal backpacker can only dream of. But, that’s not to say that you can’t have an incredible time exploring Qatar. You can experience the culture through museums showcasing old-aged Islamic art in the capital, Doha, walk round abandoned villages in North Qatar, and of course, see where the hot stretching desert becomes sea as it meets with the Persian Gulf.

Things to do

In the architecturally intriguing building of The Islamic Museum of Art, travellers can awe at the beautiful artifacts and creative pieces derived from the Islamic history. Based in Doha, the interior and exterior of this building is something to marvel at on its own, with unique carvings and wall art this is definitely a place to give you neck ache from looking up.  

Now, what would a trip to Qatar be without spending money on unique and potentially pointless trinket? The busiest market is the Souq Waqif, literately meaning ‘the standing market’, in Doha. This recently renovated 100 year old market is surrounded by tall Arabic buildings, friendly hagglers, and the overwhelming scent of spices. The market is definitely worth a day trip, even if you’re on a tight budget. After walking around, looking at traditional clothes and handicrafts, you can relax in a shisha lounge and try different flavours whilst talking with the locals.  

Spices in Souq Waqif

In the outback, at the Khor Al Udeid you can see where the desert meets the sea. The beautiful sights of huge sand dunes looming over the pale yellow plains with a blue ocean at its doorstep offer an amazing view. This can be experienced on foot with a guide, by a less-than charming but irresistible camel ride, or by dune-bashing. This relatively new way of exploring the vast desert involves racing up and down the dunes in a 4X4 whilst holding on for dear life. It sounds horrendous but it’s a more exhilarating way for an adrenaline seeking backpacker to experience the desert.

Dune Bashing in the Qatar Desert

Things to see

Stroll around and take it easy in the quiet Katara Cultural Village. Eat out at different cafes and restaurants, pick up some souvenirs in the quaint shops and stroll along beautiful beaches. Here you can marvel at more of Qatar’s amazing architecture, and take in the sights of Qatar’s own modern-day Roman amphitheatre which was built in 2008. Occasionally events are held here so it’s worth keeping an eye out to see if anything interesting is going on.

For some serious shopping head to the Villaggio Qatar shopping mall, where there is a mix of high end and high-street stores. This incredible building is set up like a quaint European city with beautiful tall ceilings, detailed carvings in the pale white stone and a Venitian-style river flowing through it – you can even get a ride on a gondola! If your trip is coming to an end and you have some spare Qatari Riyal (Qatar money) you could head to the Gondolanian Theme Park. Yes, it is inside the shopping centre. The theme park offers a carousel, bumper cars, a drop tower, two ice rinks, ten pin bowling and a roller coaster!

Villagio Shopping Mall in Doha, Qatar

Speaking of shopping centers, many travellers can find the material obsession in Qatar off-putting, but further in the north you can find the remnants of the traditional Islamic lifestyle. The now abandoned fishing villages of Al-Areesh, Al-Khuwair and Al-Jemail were all once home to families of fisherman before the discovery of oil gave Qatar its wealth. The ruins of these villages show the outline of sand-stone houses and traditional mosques, and as no one inhabits the area it is totally free of charge and free of time restrictions. Enjoy the time to wander around the eerie town at your own pace and imagine the life that once thrived here.  

Health and Safety

Qatar’s law is defined by Sharia Law, also known as Islamic Law. This means that it is illegal to drink alcohol and in public, women must cover the shoulders and avoid revealing clothing like short skirts or dresses.

Unfortunately, Qatar isn’t an ideal destination for romantic couples as any public intimacy between men and women is an offence. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.