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Things to see and do in Qatar

From dune-bashing in desert wilderness and watching traditional camel races to luxuriating on manicured beaches and designer shopping in glitzy malls, Qatar has a wide spectrum of places to see and things to do for all types of traveller.

With a remarkable mix of futuristic architecture and ancient Arabian heritage, Doha has the greatest concentration of sights for visitors. Highlights of the city include the Gulf region's oldest souk, intricately inlaid Islamic buildings, state-of-the-art shopping centres, and a stunning waterfront corniche. Beyond Doha, the hinterland of vast dune-strewn deserts skirted by sandy shores is the perfect setting for both adventure-seekers and sun-worshippers alike.

Sightseeing and shopping

Qatar's squeaky clean and ultra modern capital, Doha, is perfect for shopaholics and luxury lovers. There are landscaped shopping complexes and large indoor malls, such as City Center Doha, Villaggio and Landmark, containing a wide range of international brands, upmarket stores and fine dining restaurants. A simple stroll along the city's waterfront corniche reveals Doha's wealth of architectural marvels including the strange shapes of Al Bidda and Tornado Towers.

But the city has also managed to retain something of its Arabian heritage, offering authentic cultural experiences for curious travellers. At the heart of the old city, the enormous Souk Waqif is not-to-be-missed. A labyrinth of squares and narrow lanes with traditional shops, stalls laden with spices, tea rooms and shisha bars, the market is brimful of fascinating sights and sounds. Seek out the section dedicated to the ancient art of falconry where young Qatari boys come to purchase their first peregrines, considered a rite of passage in this part of the world.

For travellers in search of art and culture, the excellent displays of rare Islamic artefacts and exquisite objects at the Museum of Islamic Art are highly recommended, while the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art offers a regional perspective on contemporary creativity. A new national museum that aims to take visitors on a journey through Qatari history is also slated to open in 2016 across from Doha's corniche. The Katara Cultural Village, north of the city centre, is another heritage hub that boasts a beautiful amphitheatre, a maritime museum, cinema, exhibitions and cultural displays beside sandy Katara beach. There are eateries right on the beach and regular events and pop-up shops in the souk keep things interesting.

West of Doha, the town of Al Shahaniyah, is well worth exploring on a day trip with a number of attractions including Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum crammed full of priceless pieces, ancient manuscripts and archaeological finds, the Arabian Oryx Breeding Centre, and a 10km camel racing track with a grandstand and stables. On Qatar's north-west coast, the fortified heritage town of Zubarah makes for an interesting excursion too.

The UNESCO World Heritage listed site was once a thriving centre of the pearl trade and it is considered one of the best preserved mid-18th century settlements in the Gulf representing life before the discovery of vast oil and gas reserves. Head straight for the imposing Al Zubarah Fort where you will find the visitor centre and a museum.

Desert playground

Qatar is essentially a peninsula of the much larger Arabian Peninsula, with three sides of the country washed with warm seas and indented with soft sandy beaches. Travellers and tour operators use Qatar's immense deserts and dune-backed coastline as a grown-up playground for all kinds of extreme sports and more sedate activities. Traditional desert nomads known as Bedouin host camel safaris amid the glittering dunes, adrenalin junkies tumble and twist across the sand on quad bikes and off-road vehicles criss-cross the desert. Along the coast, you can try everything from chopping across the waves on a jetski to parasailing in the breeze.

To experience the true ambience of an Arabian night, you can camp in large comfy Bedouin tents set up beneath the dunes and feast on traditional barbecued food around a camp fire before gazing up at clear skies awash with stars. Some of the best adventure playgrounds in the desert can be found close to the border with Saudi Arabia.

You can channel Lawrence of Arabia camping between the vast dunes of the ‘Inland Sea' or visit the fabled Singing Sand Dunes 40km south-west of Doha and listen for the low resonant humming produced by high crescent dunes. Visitors enjoy climbing the dunes and sliding down them, exploring on the quad bikes and sand buggies available to hire locally and watching the shifting colours of the dunes at sunset.

Camel and horse racing have a long history in the country, which breeds fine Arabian horses known for their exceptional stamina. Attending a camel race at the track outside Doha is a great way for tourists to access traditional cultural life, while you can see the beautiful Arabian horses in action at the race course just outside Mesaieed city.

Relaxation time

Miles of unspoilt beaches both deserted and developed are the ideal place for travellers to enjoy some relaxation time on holiday. Premier resorts offer sunloungers, cabanas and service on the beach, so you can simply lay back and drink in the sunshine. The new exclusive Banana Island Resort, accessed via a 20-minute ferry ride from Doha, is one of the best places in Qatar to spend some down-time. Its scenic grounds include the Balance Wellness Centre, a holistic retreat with nine therapy rooms, a peaceful Zen garden and everything from floatation pods and a reflexology river to ancient ayurvedic massage and hydrotherapy.

Travellers wanting to indulge in luxurious spas can find some super deluxe options in affluent Qatar. Part of the Pearl's ultra-chic new developments is the top-quality Clarins Spa at the Kempinski Hotel, while the nearby Ritz-Carlton has a classic Roman-inspired spa with baths and steam rooms. For a sense of place, head to the Six Senses Spa in Doha where you can experience blissful treatments in an atmospheric Arabesque setting.

Another great way to relax in Qatar is to take to the water on a traditional dhow boat. These graceful sailboats glide across Doha Bay to fully appreciate its modern man-made marvels before exploring close to the desolate beauty of the desert coast. The port in Doha Bay is one of the best places to board a cruise. Those who like to relax with a gentle round of golf can also discover some excellent courses in Qatar with the Doha Golf Club ranking as the most superior in terms of grounds and facilities.

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