Top events in Qatar

July
18

A flurry of cultural events and shop sales accompanies this religious festival, which is timed to celebrate the end of Ramadan fasting.

September
22

Also known as the festival of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha follows the annual Islamic pilgrimage and commemorates the trials of the Prophet Abraham....

October
14

An important religious holiday, which falls on a different date each year. Many families slaughter a lamb, in remembrance of God’s intervention...

Doha at night
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Doha at night

© Creative Commons / TheRainbowRaider

Qatar Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

11,437 sq km (4,416 sq miles).

Population

2 million (2013).

Population density

178.6 per sq km.

Capital

Doha.

Government

Emirate since 1971. Gained independence from the UK in 1971.

Head of state

Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani since 2013.

Electricity

240 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are used.

The eyes of the world are on Qatar right now.  In just forty years, this small Gulf state has been catapulted from one of the poorest countries in the region, to the richest (per capita) in the world.  Vast natural gas and oil resources have brought vast wealth to the Qatari population, and the country is developing at breakneck speed, with everything from universities to shopping malls, five-star hotels and football stadia – in preparation for the 2022 World Cup – are springing up among the desert scenery.

Qatar is pretty much a city-state at present; 50% of the country’s population live in and around the capital and most other towns are Qatari Oil compounds; strange, quasi-communities built for foreign workers.  There are stretches of beautiful beach on the western coast, in places like Dukhan, and in the south of the country the spectacular dunes of Khor al-Adaid add a little natural beauty to the manmade charms of the city.

In spite of the astonishing wealth, Qatar remains a deeply traditional country – and it is this dichotomy that makes it such a fascinating place.  On the surface, Doha looks like a little sister to Dubai; gleaming international hotels, vast malls and man-made sandy beaches.  But Qatari culture has far more in common with its neighbour across the border, Saudi Arabia.  International hotel bars may serve alcohol, but no Qatari women are allowed to enter them.  Falconry and camel-racing are still the pastimes of choice for many Qataris – although shopping sprees in Chanel and Dior probably run a close third.

Traditional it may be, but the Qatari Emir is also a moderniser; the country is set to get its first elections in the autumn of 2013, and along with the iconic Museum of Islamic Art, the Katara Cultural Village and MATHAF – the city’s Museum of Modern Art – are ensuring that Qatar has more in the way of culture than some of its Emirate neighbours.

Qatar is the ultimate land of have and have-nots.  Wealthy Qataris drive around in the latest 4x4s, spending entire days in shopping malls buying Western designer labels, while vast armies of immigrant workers live six to a room to build the glittering skyscrapers and work in poorly-paid roles as staff to expat workers and Qataris.  Like Dubai, it’s a melting pot of races and communities – all drawn by the lure of seemingly infinite money, and the chance for a better standard of living.  How many of those who come to Qatar actually get to live their dreams is another question altogether.  Vexed, contradictory, hypocritical and challenging, Qatar is never less than fascinating.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 26 April 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Around 17,500 British nationals live in Qatar, and approximately 40,000 visit annually. Most visits are trouble-free.

Although crime levels are low, female visitors should take extra care when travelling alone at night.

Only use registered taxis and don’t enter a taxi late at night unaccompanied.

Road travel

You can drive using a UK driving licence for a maximum of 7 days from the date of your arrival in the country or on an International Driving Permit for up to 6 months. After this, you will need to apply for a temporary or permanent Qatari licence. Before applying for either a temporary or permanent driving license, you will need to get a residency permit.

Road discipline is very poor; speeds are high and minor accidents common. Qatar has very high fatality rate for road accidents. If you have an accident, stay with your vehicle. It is an offence to leave the scene of the accident, but if no one has been injured and it is safe to do so, you can move your vehicle to a safer place. You will need to get a police report for insurance purposes.

The driver and front seat passenger should wear a seat belt at all times. You must not use a mobile phone while driving. Even minor expressions of ‘road rage’ like rude gestures can attract significant penalties. Offenders may be fined, imprisoned and/or deported. You may be banned from leaving the country until your case has been resolved.  More serious cases may take up to 6 months to be heard.

Excursions to the desert can be hazardous unless in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle. Always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone, and leave travel plans with friends or relatives.

It is an offence in Qatar to drink and drive, and there is zero tolerance for it. Driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by a custodial sentence of between one month and three years, a fine of QR10,000 (approx £1,700) to QR50,000 (approx £8,500), or both. Offenders may also be deported.

Sea travel

Many areas of the Gulf are highly sensitive, including near maritime boundaries and the islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in the southern Gulf. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. You should make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports.

Regional tensions may also affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.

Take care when travelling by Dhow, as the safety of these vessels may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available.

Political situation

Regional developments continue to have an impact on local public opinion in the region. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. You should follow news reports and avoid public gatherings and demonstrations. There is the potential for increased tension on Fridays.

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