Qatar - March 2024

Going from Saudi Arabia to Qatar is not like boarding a plane and getting off some time later – it is more like getting off decades later. Based on my impressions Qatar is decades ahead of Saudi Arabia in touristic and infrastructural development. Conditions of road infrastructure, 70 km of perfectly clean metro and tram, modern skyline along the Corniche, well ordered car traffic, touristic infrastructure/resorts and the various completely different designed stadiums of the soccer world championship of 2022 give the country a modern face. In the hotel restaurants and resorts it is also possible to consume alcohol which in Saudi Arabia still is a “no go”. At some mosques local guides are even offering explanations about the architectural design and the Islam and of course, it is possible to enter the mosque. This is also one of the differences that we experienced, because in Saudi Arabia the mosques are by far more restricted to Muslim.

The main highlight of Qatar for sure is the city of Doha and specifically the modern architecture of various buildings like the skyline of the Corniche, the Islamic Art Museum, the National Museum, the National Library. Besides this, only a renovated small part of the former old town gives you an impression of the past, like the Souk, the Al Koot Fort or the Wind Tower House.
But all of this "shiny surface" is based on a sher "endless worforce" recruited in Asia. Only 10-15% of the inhabitants have a Qatar nationality with rights that are not granted to the general foreign workforce that lives here based on work visa
. Another aspect of this supposedly advanced develpment is that international tourists are all around and there is definitely no "explorer" impression left.
Of course, all of this was supported and boosted by the word championship and the size of both countries is completely different. Qatar is mainly the capital of Doha - Saudi Arabia is a huge country with various cities, hence there is a by far bigger challenge in developing the country. Nevertheless there is a lot to catch up for Saudi Arabia with regard to the develpment for the times "beyond oil and gas".


The skyline of the high-rise buildings along the Corniche is definitely one of the eye-catchers of Doha. When we arrived late evening and drove from the airport to the city the colorful illuminated facades of the high-rise buildings were our first glimpse and looked like a warm welcome to the city live.


National Library:
A fascinating construction especially from the inside. The building shell covers “only” one huge space of 45.000 sqm with lots of book shelfs and desks that are arranged like various tribunes facing the centre. In contrast to most of the libraries this one is dominated primarily by space and not by shelfs and books.


Islamic Art Museum:
Accessible via a palm avenue and located on a small peninsula - with one of the best views to the Corniche - this museum is also an architectural master piece. It was designed by the same architect like the Louvre pyramid in Paris. Outside and inside courtyards provide an excellent view towards the Corniche skyline.


Qatar National Museum:
According to the architect the building design was inspired by a desert rose and in fact the impression is exactly like standing in front of one. The dozens of “corners and niches” which you can see from the outside lead to a nearly unbelievable maze inside the museum without a single straight wall. The architect also integrated the former home of the Emir into the museum ensemble.


The Pearl:
The whole peninsula is an artificial quarter in the north of Doha with various marinas and high rise condominiums. The most attracting part for visitors is an area that was constructed in a way that resembles Italian architecture and should be to a certain extent a replica of Venice.


There is a Qatar outside the cosmopolitan city of Doha. The south-eastern part of the peninsula is a sand desert with kilometers of untouched cost line along the Arabic Gulf but also without any touristic infrastructure.


Downtown districts Msheireb and Souk:
The Soup Waqif and the Msheireb quarter are close to each other in the downtown area and are completely different. The Souk which also has an areea dedicated to falcons provides one with a traditional vibrant Arabic impression whereas the Msheireb district – the historical centre of Doha - has been completely rebuilt in a modern style with lots of high-end shopping possibilities, hotels, art galleries and condominiums. Even charging stations for electrical cars are available - this is very remarkable, as usually you will find only traditional big cars (preferably V8 cylinder SUVs) on the streets.



Soccer stadiums:
Various soccer stadiums were built for the world championship 2022. They are distributed all over the city and have a completely different architectural design.


Villaggio Mall:
Shopping malls are by far more than only an indoor and climatized possibility to buy things. They are also an entertainment centre for adults and kids. The Villaggio Mall is like a big indoor Venice with Italian architecture, canals with gondoliers and even imitated blue sky above all this artificial world. A real ice rink for indoor skating offers even in summer a "winter sports opportunity" - forget about the fact that there is no ice in Venice.


Public transport:
There are more than 70 km of metro line and various tram connections in Doha. It is very easy to use the metro – you have to buy a chip card which you can top up with a specific amount of money (online or at the metro station). One ride costs 2 QAR (50 Cents) and you can go for 90 min as far as you want (including connection lines). You only have to present your chip card at the card reader at the entrance to the station and, again when you leave the metro. It is a very easy flat rate system. The metro stations and the trains are absolutely clean – no garbage, no graffiti, no destruction – and there is even a “first class segment” in every train. Tram lines are very often free of charge, you only have to present your chip card, but nothing will be deducted.


North of Doha:
The northern part of the peninsula is a stony/gravel like desert with some smaller cities along the coastline. Surprisingly there is also a mangrove area which out of a sudden rises out of the desert environment. It is also the northern part of Qatar that has some historical buildings like the Fort Al Zubarah including a historical settlement that was announced as UNESCO heritage site. A kind of "historic romantic view" offers the abandoned village of Al Jamil directly at the northern coast of Qatar.


West of Doha:
Near the city Ash-Shahaniyah a large camel racing track is has been constructed where a international community meets to join various camel races. The child jockeys are replaced by small robots which are remotely operated out of the cars that are following the camels on a parallel track.
The desert area close to the village Zekreet offers a spectacular sand/stone formation that was created by the sea millions of years ago. This natural background was also used for the artwork East/West-West/East – some iron pillars set up in the middle of “nowhere”. Nevertheless, this abstract construction offers a very nice view especially when there are some clouds at the sky that enhance the contrast of light and shadow.