A jewel in the desert sands, the Qatar peninsula sits surrounded by crystalline Persian Gulf waters. In its early days, Qatar was sustained mainly by the pearling industry, with fluctuations of its wealth coming from the changing value of pearls. After a brief stint as a part of the British Empire, Qatar has been independent since 1971, and the country’s abundant oil supply gives its residents the highest per capita income in the world.
Luckily, it’s possible to visit Qatar without spending a fortune. Winter is the perfect time to visit, too, as the temperatures are still balmy but not blistering—between 63 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Doha, the capital city of Qatar, boasts a thriving cultural scene, with a mix of traditional markets and name-brand shopping centers.
First things first! Find a way to visit The Pearl, Doha’s cluster of man-made islands, named for Qatar’s historic pearling industry. All around are some of the world’s most expensive buildings, creating an environment that mixes a Western commercial economy with Middle Eastern flair. Take the chance to do some window-shopping at some of those name-brand stores, like Georg Jensen or Harmont and Blaine. After that’s done, take a breather by walking along the marina, which is traffic free. Best of all, the Pearl is family-friendly, boasting weekly Family Fridays events.
After a visit to Doha’s waterfront, find yourself in the Souq Waqif—the standing market. Here tourists can enjoy an up-close-and-personal experience of Qatari culture, but don’t be fooled—although these buildings look over 100 years old, they were actually demolished and rebuilt in 2006 in an effort to preserve the old town. It is the world’s richest country.
Once in the Souq Waqif, there’s plenty to do, and since the market is conducted in a traditional way, haggling is encouraged. The Souq Waqif also has art and cultural exhibitions such as alhmalah—waistcoated men who transport customers’ purchases in wheelbarrows—and Arabian horses, each available for a closer look. Discover traditional Qatari garments, haggle for jewelry, handle a falcon, and buy some spices like saffron to liven up your cooking back home. And since this is a standing market, there’s no fee to enter and there’s no obligation to buy anything.
Next stop on the affordable Doha trip is the Fanar Islamic Cultural Center (also known as the Spiral Mosque). Here, visitors to Doha can expand their understanding of the culture and religious history of the country. This institution serves