The best things in life are free, so they say. And since it’s February and you’re probably feeling a bit skint or trying to stick to your New Year’s resolution of saving up some cash, we’ve got the ultimate list of awesome things to do that won’t cost you a single riyal. So step away from the QR100 burgers and read on…
Admire an impressive royal art collection
The collection of antiques and art at the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum must be one of the most enviable in the world. H.E. Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim has been building a staggering collection of art since the ’60s, and there’s somewhere near 3,000 objects on display across five huge halls. You’ll come across mannequins dressed in traditional bridal outfits, 18th century Yemeni douqas (a type of amulet worn around the neck with a handwritten religious citation), 17th century Iranian swords, rusty bicycles, vintage cars and much more. Perhaps most impressive are the fossils, including the head and neck of a Plesiosaurus found in the Sahara, dating back somewhere around 120 million years.
Al Samriya, www.fbqmuseum.com.
Catch some live music
Over the past few years, Doha has seen so many live musicians and bands perform, even at independent restaurants. Catch the Cuban band at Trader Vic’s, Frank, the amazing pianist at The Den, Under Construction and Dynamix, two live bands who play every weekend at venues such as Irish Harp and Paloma. Follow our Music & Nightlife pages and stay tuned to us online and you’ll be club-hopping and listening to some of the best international stars without paying a single riyal.
Various locations including Trader Vic’s, Hilton Hotel West Bay (4423 3118).
Check out Al Riwaq Exhibition Centre
This gallery has been one of the most popular in recent times, hosting some of the quirkiest and most interesting exhibitions since its inception (Damien Hirst’s dead cow, anyone?). In fact, the city’s best art exhibitions are usually here. And, they’re free. You’re welcome.
Al Corniche (4452 5555).
Bored of all the cultural works in the city centre museums? Perhaps it’s time to hit the road and head out to see some of the most important works of art and history carved onto rocks. The petroglyphs of Jebel Jassassiyeh are located about an hour north of the city and contain around 900 works of art believed to be dated from the Neolithic era. Having only been discovered 60 years ago, these are some of the best preserved ancient artworks in the world, and depict boats, scorpions, livestock and various patterns.
GPS: 25.951563, 51.405996.
Enjoy live entertainment at Mall of Qatar
MOQ’s central Oasis is the best place to be when you’re done with walking around. There’s almost always live entertainment to enjoy for free and the food court surrounds it if you want to splash out on a cheeky nibble. Cheesecake with a view of clowns on stilts? Don’t mind if we do.
Jahhaniya Interchange, Al Rayyan (4034 6000).
Experience ancient history at Zubarah
Make no mistake, this historic fort and its surrounding area being recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site is a big deal. The fort was built back in 1938 and was used by the armed forces until around 30 years ago. Now, it’s a museum that showcases a vast collection of pottery and archaeology exhibits. It’s the building that’s the main attraction, though, as are the striking views from the battlements. Get in your car and drive around it to find ancient settlements.
GPS: 25.976929, 51.045496.
Get a dose of culture at Fanar
Fanar needs to be on your must-visit list. It’s a beautiful spiral mosque from the outside, with a unique minaret design, unmissable if you’re anywhere on the Corniche or near Souq Waqif. It’s a cultural and religious centre with a library. You can also sign up to take Arabic classes here.
Open Sun-Thu 5am-8pm. Al Souq (4444 7444).
Get close to Richard Serra’s art
We’ve always been big fans of the desert, with its limestone cliff formations and unusual surroundings, but since artist Richard Serra’s sculpture East-West/West-East was unveiled a few years ago, it has become a breathtaking marriage of stunning scenery and provocative art. You need to see it. The installation spans more than a kilometre and comprises four steel plates, each upwards of fourteen metres tall. Prepare to be stunned.
Brouq Nature Reserve (4452 5555).
Hang out at Katara
Besides the cafés and restaurants, you can kill an entire day just walking around this area and exploring. There are usually events taking place at the auditorium, as well as exhibitions, festivals and more to check out. You’ll see some massive, striking artworks all around as you take in your surroundings, and we assure you, they’re very impressive. Sit outside at Chac’Late where you can get a serious amount of your favourite cocoa (but only if you’re up for opening the wallet, that is).
Katara Cultural Village, West Bay Lagoon (7739 0029).
Make the most of modern art at Mathaf
Mathaf is one of the most interesting art spaces in Qatar, following a major update of its permanent galleries. If you’re looking for something artsy to do over the weekend, definitely head here to see the new extensive collection that brings together landmark artists and pivotal works that redefine modern and contemporary practises and historical narratives.
Open Sat-Thu 11am-6pm (closed Mon); Fri 3pm-8pm. Education City(4487 6662).
Visit Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre
It almost always has fairs and exhibitions on throughout the year. They’re mostly free to visit, or as little as QR5 for entry. Wednesday February 21 to Monday 26 will see the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition take place – an annual not-to-miss, glitzy event.
Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
The main atrium of this iconic building offers spectacular West Bay views through three-storey-high windows. The museum’s permanent exhibitions display beautiful objects from across the Islamic world – everything from metalwork, ceramics and textiles to manuscripts – which date as far back as the 9th century. It’s worth taking advantage of one of the free tours, too. Whatever you end up doing here, don’t forget to enjoy being in one of the most picture-perfect places in the Middle East. The reward? Bragging rights, of course.
Doha Corniche, www.mia.org.qa (4422 4444).
Watch a camel race
You’ve bought the tourist T-shirt, teddy and key ring. You may even have had a camel ride when you were feeling particularly touristy. To take your camel love from visitor to resident level, though, you really must drive out to the races. Exit the city limits to the Dukhan Highway towards, well, Dukhan, and you’ll spot the camel village after 40km to 50km from central Doha. You can’t call your Qatar experience complete without a visit to the races, which are exciting sporting events. It’s also your chance to admire hundreds of these graceful animals. What? We like camels, okay?
GPS: 25.402316, 51.202485.
Watch a play or musical for free
If you follow Katara on social media, you’ll love how many free plays and musicals it showcases on a regular basis. This month, audiences will be treated to a musical called The Story of a Homeland, for free. The play sheds light on the society of Qatar and the major events that shaped the glorious and majestic history of the Qatari people.
Feb 2 and 3, 7.30pm-9pm. Drama Theatre, Building 16. Katara Cultural Village, www.katara.net.
Watch a movie under the stars
This isn’t the most regular thing in Doha and is only subject to happen when the weather permits. But if you follow the Doha Film Institute pages on social media, you’ll be well informed enough to plan your weeknights with free cinema and microwaved popcorn. MIA Park usually hosts it and if you’re lucky, you can catch a free flick at Aspire Park, too.
Do something touristy
Go out for ladies’ night
Okay, this one isn’t just a tourist activity, but one every tourist has on their list, so it’s here. Ladies, you’re the luckiest because you really are spoiled with options when it comes to free nights out around town. Ladies & Bubbles at Shanghai Club is a popular night, offering free-flowing grape to ladies from 5.30pm to 1am every Wednesday. Check our Music & Nightlife pages for more.
Shanghai Club, Shangri-La Hotel, Doha, Conference Centre Street, West Bay (4429 5000).
Go to an ostrich farm
There’s an ostrich farm near Dukhan and it’s definitely worth seeing. The ostriches roam free and driving along watching them sprint across the farm is a wonderful (and slightly creepy) experience. You can get up close to them, too, but don’t try to touch them. They don’t like to be petted and they have really strong legs. That’s all you need to know.
GPS: 25.522778, 50.828056
Head out dune bashing
After about an hour of hair-raising off-roading, you’ll arrive at a gorgeous (and massive) inlet of water surrounded by giant dunes. You can sign up for tours with various companies, but we say pack lots of food, take a tent and head out with a group of friends in convoy (preferably with people who are somewhat familiar with the route). Don’t forget to take ample get-you-out-of-the-sand supplies, such as a strong tow rope, shovels and boards. Also, the sand “sings” – or, to describe it more accurately, produces a variety of noises from bumps and thumps to hums, whistles and a haunting, moaning sound. There are only around 30 places on the planet to hear this natural phenomenon and Qatar is one of them. The experience is unbeatable. Head out of the city on Salwa Road, and then head left, following the signs to Mesaieed. Go straight over two roundabouts, then turn left at the next junction. Keep straight until you can see the dunes.
See some oryx
No, we don’t mean Orry the oryx on the Corniche (which, by the way, is also free to see and touch). But if you’re keen to get a closer look at these somewhat mythical beasts, visit the Arabian Oryx Breeding Centre, also known as the Al Maha Sanctuary, in the Shahaniya region.
GPS: 25.383385, 51.216770E.
Develop a new hobby
Do a spot of bird-watching
There’s some exceptional wildlife in Doha and its surrounding areas and it would be a travesty to just ignore it. Get away from the capital city and head just north of Al Khor to the mangroves, a retreat for birds to bed down for the winter. If you want to go one step further, join the Qatar Bird Club and go the length and breadth of the country, including Al Wakrah, Al Ruwais and Al Shamal to spot the creatures with your fellow avid birders. A little birdie tells us you can also see flamingos in the north, too.
Relax and read a book
The massive new Qatar National Library (QNL) in Education City just opened its doors to the public, giving residents access to more than one million books, periodicals and special collections, as well as the QNL Heritage Library. Members can check out books and other media from the main collection and begin using QNL’s creative and collaborative facilities, such as the Writing Centre, Innovation Stations and study rooms. There are a number of rooms that you can explore here. The Heritage Library is our favourite part, with rare and valuable texts and manuscripts, historical maps, scientific instruments and early photography. You’ll find us on a bean bag, cosying up with a good book.
Membership free for QID holders. Qatar Foundation, Education City (4454 6039).
Cycle the outdoor trail
The Outdoor Leisure Trail is a 4.5km track which surrounds Doha Festival City Mall and includes a running and walking path, as well as an adjacent Cycling Lane with technical trail features specifically designed for mountain bikes. Visitors can bike, walk and run around the track.
Open daily 8am-12pm. Doha Festival City (4035 4444).
The weather is perfect and it really doesn’t matter what exercise you’re planning to do. Yoga at Sheraton Park or cardio on the Corniche – yes it has an outdoor gym – rest assured you’ll work up a sweat. Aspire Park has an outdoor gym, too, and all of these are open to the public and free to use. To make your session even more interesting, you could head over to the garden near Sheraton Hotel, which has table tennis. You’ll need to bring your own bats and balls, though.
Sheraton Park, West Bay; Aspire Park, Baaya.
Fish at Al Wakrah Port
The Wakrah port is a great fishing spot during the cooler months. There’s also a big park here, with a few rides and attractions nearby. It’s easily accessible by car and has plenty of parking spots. Get your gear out and set up over the stones. Make sure you bring a barbecue, too. Drive up to the Pearl roundabout, take a U-turn and then second right. You’ll see the signs for Al Wakrah Port.
GPS: 25.165634, 51.614023.
You can snorkel anywhere you can swim (your building’s pool doesn’t count, though). And some places are much better than others. If you’re not yet PADI qualified or just want a leisurely float among some interesting sights, try Fuwairit Beach. Access may be limited for a few months while the resident hawksbill turtles are nesting, but travel around 100km north of Doha and for most of the year you’ll find clear waters and a variety of sea life to get up close and personal with.
Off Al Shamal Road, 100km north of Doha. GPS: 26.019814, 51.379373.
Play basketball at Aspire Park
If you’re not ready to go head-to-head with the giants who play at lightning speed (you’ll see what we mean if you come here of a weekend), then weekdays are the best. There’s just one large court with two nets at either side, which is good enough considering it is free. Just bring your own ball. And don’t forget water.
Aspire Park, Al Waab.
Walk a dog
Best way to spend a weekend? Head over to the PAWS Rescue Centre and take a bunch of cute dogs for a walk. Not only are you doing the society good, you’re keeping the animals and the volunteers happy, you’re having a great afternoon, you’re keeping fit and you’re doing all of this for free. If you’re a cat person, there are several rescue centres that actually need volunteers to come in at least once a week and play or spend time with the cats. All that fluff doesn’t sound bad at all, right?
Hit the road
Check out an abandoned fishing village
Do something totally different and discover the desolate communities of Al Ruwais. At the northernmost tip of Qatar, this is little more than a sleepy town. Nearby are three abandoned fishing villages, Al Jemail, Al Khuwair and Al Areesh. The ruins can still be seen and at all of them, and you’ll get a real feel for the Qatar of yesteryear.
GPS: 26.068919, 51.083972.
Climb the rocks at Zekreet
Zekreet is an absolute must-visit location. We’ve heard stories of the beautiful sunrises here and we know it’s all true. This whole area is fascinating – limestone formations are scattered all around to create Qatar’s very own version of the Grand Canyon. While this might be a slight exaggeration, words can’t do justice to what you can expect here – it’s a treasure trove of cliffs and ridges. These unique limestone cliffs offer unusual surroundings and make this the most perfect area to camp out at. This place is popular among all rock climbers in Qatar. Try the sinkhole, if you’re a beginner. Or just join the Doha Climbers group on Facebook.
GPS: 25.597897, 50.827828.
Drive to a deserted town
Al Khuwair, an old fishing village, is located northwest of Qatar and has the remains of several houses, a mosque and fishing equipment. It shows how life used to be, before oil was discovered, if you’re into that kind of thing. The place overlooks a beach and you can spot some washed up marine animals on the shore. Don’t get too close. Who knows what (or who) else you might run into…
GPS: 26.068919, 51.083972
Go for a long drive
Okay, so fuel isn’t free. But taking your car out and discovering the undiscovered is (provided, of course, the tank is already full). We’ve been doing that a lot (and sharing our favourite finds with you) and we’ve recently discovered the Orbital Road is the biggest solution to reaching the faraway lands of Al Wakrah in the shortest time. Also, there’s Lusail, which is far more developed now, so it’s not a bad idea to head out there and discover this brand-new city.
Al Wakrah: GPS: 25.173376, 51.608899; Lusail: GPS: 25.404495, 51.520461.
Photograph the Milky Way
There’s a spot in Qatar up north where you can see the Milky Way. True story. Galactic Core Bay didn’t exist until a few years ago, when a brunch of talented photographers (Hammad Iqbal and friends) discovered the spot, and even named it themselves. Qatar is pretty exciting that way (no, you can’t name a random spot after yourself). Make sure you have your camera with you, and you’re in a four-wheel-drive, because this is something you just can’t miss.
GPS: 26.125920, 51.180480.
Sleep under the stars
We admit, we like to enjoy the finer things in Doha, but we’re just as happy stargazing and toasting marshmallows by a campfire. Enjoy a peaceful evening with your best mates on a camping expedition. Load up a convoy with supplies (by that we mean chocolate and crisps) and head out to the Inland Sea (an experienced driver in a four-wheel-drive required), the Al Khor mangroves or the sand sculptures of Zekreet.
Al Khor mangroves: GPS: 25.686798, 51.554510; Zekreet: GPS: 25.597897, 50.827828.
Head to the beach (or a park)
Chill at MIA Park
There are so many reasons we love this spot. The lush green landscape and beautiful skyline views aside, Mia Park is home to the park Bazaar that takes place every weekend and also to one of Doha’s most beautiful coffee shops. You can just walk around here or picnic on the grass and let the children run wild and explore the play area. Or you can just sit on the edge and admire the beauty of the architectural marvel that is the Museum of Islamic Art.
Picnic in Aspire Park
Hark back to the good old days of sitting on the grass, sharing exciting goodies from picnic baskets and chatting away for hours. Aspire Park is one of Doha’s most beautifully landscaped public green spaces with an artificial lake running through it, complete with large fountain, real ducks and small boats. You can also use the outdoor cardio equipment, climb the small hills and jog around the track. With the weather as good at it is, you can easily make a day of it and not spend a single riyal.
Al Waab (4413 8188).
Swim at the beach
You’ll be happy to know Qatar has more than 600km of coastline and a lot of it is accessible for free. Getting to it can involve a long drive (and in some cases, in 4X4s), but road trips are a big deal here and if you don’t own your own car, there are several groups on social media that can arrange free trips up to the beaches. Some of the best to check out are Simaisma, on the eastern coast of Qatar about 30km north of Doha, Fuwairit in Ash Shamal, about 80km north of Doha and Zekreet, about 90km northwest of Doha.
Shop the malls (and markets)
Discover Al Wakrah Souq
For a super-traditional shopping experience take a trip to Al Wakrah Souq. You’ll love how authentic and connected to nature this souk is. Think of it as a mini Souq Waqif and take a stroll along its little corniche to discover cafés and retail spots. The 3km stretch is great for a dusk (or morning) meander, and with restaurants such as Brazilian eatery Copacabana, Arabian restaurant Al Koufa and dozens more, there’s lots to take note of for when you’re feeling flush.
Open daily 8.45am-11pm.
Explore Al Hazm Mall
This gloriously beautiful mall is reminiscent of Italy’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centres in the country, housed in a 19th century double arcade in Milan. You might have to sell a kidney to enjoy a good meal here, but if only walking around and enjoying the beauty of the architecture is on your mind, you’ll be fine.
Al Markhiya (4411 1444).
Go window shopping
Window shopping never gets boring in Qatar. With new malls popping up almost every month, there’s so much to see and so little time. Ezdan Mall just opened up at Wakrah and Al Mirqab Mall in Al Nasr is fast becoming a retail hotspot. Tawar Mall doesn’t have too many outlets open, currently. It does, however, have Bounce Qatar trampoline park and a coffee shop that’s themed like a chemistry lab, both worth having a look at.
Ezdan Mall Al Wakrah (4433 4141), Mirqab Mall, www.mirqabmall.com.
Shop at a farmers’ market
If you love organic and local produce, this is the last month to check out Torba Farmers’ Market, a community where local growers and home businesses can trade organically grown food and naturally produced artisanal creations. The market features several stalls that sell organic, home-made and vegan products, handicrafts, baked goods, there are also kids’ activities and entertainment for the whole family. You can even find live gardening workshops and other healthy cooking demos here.
Open Thu 9am-4pm; Fri 8.30am-10.30am, 2pm-5pm. Ceremonial Court, Education City (3110 8110).
Stroll the streets of Souq Waqif
There’s perhaps no more fun to be had in Doha than haggling at Souq Waqif. But just walking through it is also a great experience in itself. Busy, bustling and vibrant, this is one of the most authentic experiences to be had in the city. Although Souq Waqif was rebuilt a decade or so ago, it sits on the original site of a Bedouin market, so the stone and wooden shops are still original and atmospheric. Thursday nights are liveliest. Most of the squares will have food carts set up selling traditional snacks from across the Arab world. It’s easily one of our favourite spots in Doha.
Al Souq (4433 6444).
Take in the city and its views
Chill at Bandar
Sit on the ledge with a cup of Qatar’s most famous Indian beverage karak (which will only set you back QR1, making it as good as free) and look out towards the skyline with traditional dhows anchored behind you. Take a guitar and some snacks and make an evening of it. If you want to take the experience up a notch, head over with a fishing rod. (You won’t be the only one.)
Behind Al Shyoukh Terminal for Banana Island, off the Corniche.
Get a taste of Venice
Qanat Quartier, the Venetian-style section of The Pearl is truly a visual wonder. It features intricate canals and stylish bridges with colourful houses on either side. Walk around and soak up some afternoon sun at the pedestrian friendly squares and plazas. There are so many quirky and cute cafés, good food and even a comic book store. Just make sure to take a camera with you.
Qanat Quartier, The Pearl-Qatar.
Soak up some
Stroll the pedestrian-friendly streets of Medina Centrale on The Pearl-Qatar after dark and soak up the European vibes. It feels like a cosmopolitan Spanish city with its dozens of coffee shops, casual restaurants and boutique stores to drop into. There’s also a pretty patch of parkland, a play area for kids and a water feature to enjoy in the hours after dusk. Check out our feature on page 18 for some top restaurants to earmark in the area in preparation for another visit.
Medina Centrale, The Pearl-Qatar, www.thepearlqatar.com (4409 5155).
Spend an evening at Porto Arabia
One of the first pedestrian-friendly locations in The Pearl, Porto Arabia is now a thriving shopping, dining and entertainment destination for residents and outsiders. Walk along the marina for a Qatari Riviera sort of feel and when you decide to take a break, there are benches to sit on, beautiful architecture to gaze at.
Porto Arabia, The Pearl-Qatar.
Take a tour of Education City
The upside to Education City? It’s full of stunning buildings and modern, space-age architecture. The Ceremonial Court (next to Northwestern University Qatar) is particularly Instagram-worthy. The downside? It’s huge, so seeing it on foot isn’t much of an option. There are buses and shuttles that operate around it, but these aren’t regular or well connected. If you’re there, though, you’ll be interested to know that the Headquarters (the only tall building in Education City) holds art tours around the premises every month.
Qatar Foundation, Al Luqta Street (4454 0000).
Take a walk along the Corniche
Doha’s most scenic walk not only offers real exercise and a breath of fresh air, but also some breathtaking views of the city’s glorious skyline. Do the walk at night to see it all lit up, and generally enjoy the sound of the waves hitting the stone wall that separates the Gulf from the shore. You’ll reach a Costa Coffee at the end, with a nice outdoor seating area and green lawns if you want to just relax. If you walk towards the Sharq, and if the time is right (usually late nights on weekends), you’ll find fresh seafood on sale by local fishermen for reasonable prices, too, with no obligation to buy, of course…
Walk around Lusail Marina
One district pencilled in for plenty of change is Lusail City and we’re already witnessing it blossom into an entirely new district. So it’s all the more important for Qatar residents to make the most of it now, while it’s a romantic, quiet and genuinely soothing place for a stroll if you make your way to the Marina at night. Pretty blue lights and the gentle bobbing of luxury yachts give you something to admire. Of course it’s best if you have a craft of your own to anchor at one of the berths, but even without that, it’s worth a drive north from Doha to enjoy an evening wander.
Lusail Marina, Lusail City, www.mourjan-lusailmarina.com (5584 3282).