Qatar is a tiny nation, and everything is easily accessible for a quick day trip. The road system is excellent, and you may complete several of these excursions by renting a vehicle and mapping your own route. Other trips may require going off-road, which should always be done with the assistance of a guide and in an appropriate vehicle. Tours can be booked directly through Discover Qatar or online at Discover Qatar’s website.
Al Zubarah Fort
Al Zubarah Fort, Qatar’s only site on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, is a beautifully preserved fort from 1938 that sits in the middle of the desert. The former Coast Guard station turned museum has four strong towers and is surrounded by other old archaeological sites from Zubarah’s past as a thriving pearl trading center in the 17th century.
Getting there: To visit the fort, you’ll need to go on a tour or drive up yourself. Take the Al Shamal Road, number 1, out of Doha until you reach Zubarah town, and make a right. Follow the signs to Zubarah Fort and the fort is 65 miles (105 kilometers) from Doha, which takes around an hour.
Alternatively, there is a local bus, Bus 100, which goes up to Ruwais past Zubarah Fort. The bus only does the journey three times per day, meaning you would have to wait some six hours for your return journey. There is no town or restaurant nearby.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and walk towards the ocean, but be careful of touching any corals or shells—they can be quite sharp.
When in Qatar, a visit to the Inland Sea is unavoidable. The border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia runs through this desert wonderland where no vegetation except for a few short shrubs disrupts the endless sand dunes. The sea inlet itself has very few marine animals due to the lack of rain and high temperatures, so the desert is still home to some creatures: look for birds such as flamingos, lizards, desert foxes, snails, and bivalves. You might see some rocky islands on the Saudi Arabia side of the Inland Sea.
Getting there: The best way to find the springs is with a local guide, as Messaid–the nearest town–is several miles away and there are no signs or markers in the desert.
Travel Tip:Make sure to bring hydration, snacks, and sunblock so you can have an enjoyable day at the beach without having to worry about water or food.
The Peninsular Coast is where you’ll want to go if you want to see unusual scenery. The countryside is dotted with mushroom-like limestone formations formed by the wind; some even have a watchtower on them and the ground below is being eroded. The uncommon shrubs in the region attract goat and camel herding families, as well as beautiful starry nights by the sea. There’s also an abandoned film set nearby that you can explore.
Getting there: Zekreet is located approximately 37 miles (60 kilometers) west of Doha. Given the lack of public transportation and often treacherous terrain, it is best to visit as part of a tour or with a local guide and driver.
Travel Tip: Bahrain’s Harwar Island is the island you see ahead of you. Also, if you have time, don’t forget to visit Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East art installation along the route.
An hour drive through the desert to see an art installation may sound excessive, but in this case, it is well worth your while. In the middle of a vast and empty sandy landscape stand four steel plates that each reach 50 feet high. You can walk between them to get a surreal experience as they bizarrely fit into their environment yet also contrast with it. The weathered steel changes colors over time, slowly adding rusty red and gray tones among the barrenness of the desert scene.
Getting there: You have the option of taking a driver from Doha or coming as part of a tour. If you’re part of a tour, most likely it will make a stop here.
Travel Tip: The artist claims that the installation should be walked, so try to go past all four plates, which are located along a 0.62-mile-long (1-kilometer) axis. In addition, according to reports, the plates get so hot in summer that they can fry an egg if touched.
Kayaking in the Al Thakira Mangroves
There are the Thakira mangrove reserves just when you start to appreciate that you’re truly in the desert. A haven for birds and smaller creatures such as crabs and young fish, this unusual ecosystem is best viewed from a kayak and provides some stunning photographs.
Getting there:Through 365adventures, you can set up a kayak tour of Al Thakira. This lovely town is only a 45-minute drive north of Doha. If requested, the group will also provide safety gear and give you a guided walking tour through the mangrove ecosystem upon your arrival.
Travel Tip: On this excursion, wear sensible water shoes since the ground around the mangroves is extremely mucky and draws on your feet, thus effectively fitting shoes will most likely get lost in the soft mud.
If you’re ever in the desert, take part in one of the most popular local activities: dune bashing. This adrenaline-pumping adventure includes driving quickly up and down sand dunes at steep angles, sometimes even driving off a sandy edge vertically. Though it’s not for everyone, those who are brave enough to try it always enjoy the experience.
Getting there: If you don’t have prior experience or the appropriate vehicle, don’t attempt this on your own. Hire a local driver to show him off. There are several trips that can be booked online or by contacting your hotel.
Travel Tip:Ask the driver not to go too slowly to get the full experience. It may appear frightening, but these professionals are experts. Relax and enjoy the ride.