Qatar is a relatively small country, and nothing is too far away for an easy half-day to day-trip. The road system is good, and you can some of these trips by renting a car and finding your own way, while others might involve going off-road, which should always be done with a guide and in a decent vehicle. You can book tours either online through Discover Qatar, or directly in your hotel.
Al Zubarah Fort
AddressAl Zubara Fort, Qatar
Qatar’s one and only site listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Al Zubarah Fort dates back to 1938 is mostly intact, which in the desert it is quite an achievement. The former Coast Guard station turned museum is a picture-perfect fort compete with four sturdy towers, and is surrounded by older archaeological sites of the old Zubarah settlement, once a thriving pearl trading centre, dating to the 17th century.
Getting there: It is best to either take a tour or self-drive up to the fort. Out of Doha take the Al Shamal Road, number 1, until you reach Zubarah town, and a cross roads. Turn left and follow the signs to Zubarah Fort. The fort is 65 miles (105 kilometers) from Doha, which will take you just over an hour.
Alternatively, there is a local bus, Bus 100, which goes up to Ruwais past Zubarah Fort, but it 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: Bring sturdy shoes and walk toward the coast, but beware of the corals and sharp shells on the ground.
AddressInland Sea, Qatar
Visiting the Inland Sea is a must when in Qatar. This inlet from the Arabian Gulf lies on the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and is a desert wonderland. No vegetation apart from a few low-rise shrubs disrupts the endless sand dunes, and the sea inlet itself has very few marine animals and is very salty due to the lack of rain and high temperatures. The desert is still home to some animals: look out for numerous birds such as flamingos, and lizards, desert foxes and snails and bivalves. You can also spot some rocky islands, which lie on the Saudi Arabia side of the Inland Sea
Getting there: This is best done with a local guide, as the nearest settlement is Messaid, and there are no signs or markers in the desert.
Travel Tip: Bring plenty of water, food, and some shade, and spend the day swimming and lazing in the sand.
For outlandish landscapes, this peninsular coastline is the place to come. Mushroom-like limestone formations shaped by the wind dot the countryside; some even still have a watchtower on them while the ground below it is being slowly eroded. The rare shrubs in the area attract goat and camel herders, and the bays by the sea are perfect for camping, with a stunning star-lit sky at night. There is also an old film set nearby which you can visit.
Getting there: Without public transportation and often treacherous terrain, it is best to visit as part of a tour, or with a local guide and driver. Zekreet lies around 37 miles (60 kilometers) west from Doha.
Travel Tip: The island you see off the coast is Harwar Island and belongs to Bahrain. Also, don’t forget to stop off at the East-West/West-East art installation by Richard Serra along the way.
"East-West/ West-East" by Richard Serra
It might sound strange to drive for an hour through the desert to see an art installation, but this one is worth it. Four 50-foot steel plates stand in the middle of a bleak, sandy landscape, along an east-west axis. Walking between them is a surreal experience, as they oddly fit into the landscape, enhance and yet contrast it. The weathered steel is slowly changing color, adding rusty red and gray splashes of color to the desert.
Getting there: Take a driver from Doha or come as part of a tour. Most tours to Zekreet stop off here.
Travel Tip: The artist says the installation is meant to be walked, so try and walk past all four plates, which are spread along a 0.62-mile- (1-kilometer-) long axis. And do not touch the plates in summer, they get, reportedly, hot enough to fry an egg.
Kayaking in the Al Thakira Mangroves
AddressAl Dhakira, Qatar
Just when you start appreciating that you are truly in the desert, there are the mangrove reserves of Thakira. Havens for birds and smaller animals such as crabs and young fish, this unique ecosystem is best explored by kayak and makes for some stunning photographs.
Getting there: You can arrange a guided kayak tour through 365adventures, and easily drive yourself to the town of Al Thakira, about a 45-minutes drive north of Doha. When you arrive you'll meet up with the tour group, who provide kayaks, safety gear and can add, upon request, a guided walking tour through the mangrove ecosystem.
Travel Tip: Wear sensible water shoes on this trip, as the ground around the mangroves gets very muddy and sucks on your feet, all but well-fitting shoes will probably get lost in the soft ground.
When in the desert, do as the locals do. Enjoying the best the sand dunes have to offer includes driving up and down them at speed, at scary angles, and to drive near vertically off a sandy edge. Not for the faint-of-heart, dune bashing is an exhilarating adventure that should not be missed.
Getting there: Unless you have experience and the right car, please do not try this on your own. Hire a local driver, and ask him to show off his skills. There are plenty of tours that can be booked online or through your hotel.
Travel Tip: Ask the driver not to go too slow to get the whole experience. It seems scary, but these guys know what they are doing. Sit back, hold on, and enjoy.
Dhow Cruise into the Arabian Gulf
A dhow is a traditional sailing boat typical of the region, and with Qatar’s position in the Arabian Gulf, how better to see Doha’s skyline and the desert country than from the sea? There are numerous options available including: short boat trips, sunset cruises with dinner or day-long cruises with various water sport options and entertainment.
Getting there: The majority of cruises set off from the Dhow Harbour and drop you back there.
Travel Tip: Do check beforehand if your cruise offers food and water, or whether you are expected to bring your own supply.