Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a gorgeous city in the Middle East region of the Persian Gulf. Its magnificent architecture, delicious dishes and amazing attractions draw tourists from all over the world. And now, with the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar just around the corner on November 20, more people are interested in Doha than ever. While the match tickets may burn a hole in your pocket — especially since the tournament is set to be the most expensive one in FIFA history — our guide to the free things to do in Qatar is sure to bring some relief.
Surpassing many beautiful cities including London, Mexico City, Seoul, Havana and Mumbai, Doha has become one of the New 7 Wonders – Cities of the world. And, with the highest per capita income in the world, it is also home to over half of Qatar’s population.
Qatar is also one of the most welcoming countries in the Middle East as it offers visa-free entry to citizens of over 95 countries. Other than the free visa, there are many activities that can be enjoyed here without spending a Qatari Riyal (currency of Qatar).
Moreover, you can explore most tourist attractions by public transport which can save a lot. Considering the weather, October to March is the best time to visit Doha, Qatar.
Here are some of the best things to do in Qatar without spending a dime
Lose yourself in Souq Waqif
Souq Waqif is one of the best places to experience the authentic Qatari vibe. This traditional market is like a labyrinth where you can find everything from spices and handcrafted artefacts to diamonds and designer products from luxury brands too, all in the same place.
Shopping here is definitely fun but you can learn about falconry, see the horses and camels in stables and witness various forms of international and Islamic art at Souq Waqif Art Centre for free, with the aroma of spices around you. Street performances during Eid celebrations are also quite popular here.
Explore the Qatar National Library
Bookworm or not, you will definitely love the Qatar National Library for its breathtakingly beautiful architecture that resembles a shell-like design created when two pieces of paper are folded diagonally.
The bookshelves showcase various valuable books and the glass facade provides readers with enough natural light for reading and interacting with peers.
Heritage library, the heart of this monument of knowledge, displays a unique and rare collection of books, periodicals, magazines, documents and even old Arabic manuscripts, photographs, maps and tools. Many of these collectables are from the personal possessions of Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, grandson of Qatar’s former king.
There are many free events held by the library that you can enjoy including the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. But you have to register for the events prior, for a smooth entry.
Traverse through the Katara Cultural Village
Katara Cultural Village is a top tourist destination and the cultural hub of Qatar. It promotes cultural acceptance of people from all walks of life and their different views through theatre, literature, music, visual art, conventions and exhibitions. Not only is it one of the free things to do in Qatar but it is also a destination you can’t skip while visiting Qatar.
Katara Amphitheatre, an architectural marvel, beautifully blends the Greek theatre concept with Islamic features. The village has a drama theatre; halls and galleries for exhibitions, seminars, and conferences; and an opera house where you can witness the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra featuring noted musicians. Katara Masjid is one of the most beautiful mosques in the country. Its splendid architecture, inscriptions, mosaic tiles and artistic handicrafts are mesmerising.
Additionally, Katara has a charming surprise for nature lovers as well — a carefully crafted garden spanning 32,700 square metres with diverse trees from all over the globe.
Take a stroll through Doha Corniche
Doha Corniche is a seven-kilometre esplanade overlooking the Persian Gulf. It is one of the finest leisure destinations in Qatar offering a seafront walkway in a crescent shape with panoramic views of the city’s modern skyline. During evenings of National Day celebrations and National Sports Day, the Corniche lights up beautifully.
This is also a great place to have a picnic and play outdoor games with your family or friends. You can enjoy the lush greenery and the beautiful flora at Al Dafna Park.
For Instagram lovers, the Corniche has the Pearl Monument at the entrance of the Dhow Harbour. This iconic shape is one of the most photographed locations in the city.
At the southern end of Doha Corniche, you can spot the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). Beyond the southern edge, the desert rose-shaped National Museum of Qatar speaks of the rich history of the nation. You can’t possibly miss the opportunity of visiting this great spot which is absolutely free.
Visit the Pearl Qatar
A prime Qatari public shareholding company, United Development Company (UDC), has created its flagship project — an artificial island located 350 metres offshore of the West bay District, The Pearl Qatar. There are many ongoing projects on the Island and the architecture of each one is sure to leave you awestruck. Pearl Island, Porto Arabia and Costa Malaz are a few of them.
But the most popular destination on this man made Island is the Qanat Quartier. It is a small piece of Europe in the Middle East. The ‘Venetian Charm’ and ‘Arabian Chic’ blend quite well here. Pastel-coloured buildings, waterways in the middle, European delicacies and coffee shops capture the theme of Venice beautifully. The Italian-styled bridges make it a perfect place to spend quality time.
Spend a fun afternoon at MIA park
After spending an enriching morning at the Museum of Islamic Art, MIA Park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon full of recreational activities. It is one of the best free things to do in Qatar with your family, especially children.
Watching the sunset, playing in the ground with kids and enjoying occasional free events are some of the top things that one can indulge in at the Museum of Islamic Art park without spending any bucks. However, you can rent a bicycle, relish a picnic basket and enjoy coffee and freshly made sandwiches in the park cafe as well by spending a small amount.
Feed your artistic soul at Souq Waqif Art Centre and Al Riwaq Exhibition Centre
Doha appreciates art a lot. Other than MIA, you can also find various art galleries and exhibition spaces in the city. Situated beside the MIA, Al Riwaq Exhibition Centre is one of the most beloved galleries in Doha. This temporary exhibition space is known for hosting unique, quirky and ambitious projects.
Another cultural landmark of Qatar — Souq Waqif Art Centre — represents the perfect blend of traditional Islamic and Middle-Eastern art. This cultural hub for aspiring artists holds many art exhibitions. You can visit these exhibitions and take in the artistic vibes without spending a Riyal.
Catch a free show at Qatar shopping malls
Shopping is a great leisure activity but it burns a hole in your pocket for sure. Qatar shopping malls offer an awesome solution to relieve stress. During the festive season, the malls hold different events and shows that you can enjoy for free.
Shopping malls in Qatar are a source of recreation among the locals and now they are grabbing tourists’ attention by arranging these entertaining cultural events.
Learn about Islamic culture at Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Centre
If you are curious about the fascinating world of Islam, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Centre is a must-visit for you. They allow you to understand the depth of Qatari and Islamic culture through their sessions.
They host events including various events titled ‘Mosque tour’, ‘coffee morning’ for ladies and ‘Islam in Katara.’ They also offer free Arabic classes.
Brush up your astrophotography skills
Doha, Qatar is one of the most picturesque places on earth. But if you want to explore your photography skills beyond this planet, Qatar has those options too. There are many spots here where you can go stargazing while camping, and snap pictures of the night sky.
Galactic Core Bay, inarguably one of the best places to watch the Milky Way, is a deserted place with magnificent natural beauty. This small area is located south of Al Zubara Fort and west of the Gulf of Bahrain. The boundless ocean makes the view more magnificent and heavenly.
Khor Al Udaid beach, Al Numan street and Al Aamriya are also great places to capture the starry night sky and soak in the magic of the universe. Al Zubarah Fort near Al Numan is a tourist spot and a UNESCO World Heritage Site which takes you through the history of the country.
Spend a day at Aspire park
Parks in Doha are really beautiful. The sprawling campus of the Aspire zone is one of the award-winning sports and lifestyle destinations. Khalifa International Stadium or Khalifa Football Stadium is also a facility that is offered by Aspire zone.
And, there is a beautiful and vast green park contrasting the surrounding desert with a big children’s play area, running tracks, cafes overlooking a lake and many leisure activity options. You can simply enjoy the view of the fountains, exotic trees and the lake with a book here. The park is open to visitors for free but one needs to dress appropriately covering their shoulders, knees and midriffs.
Stroll through Villagio Mall
Villagio Mall is another facility offered by the Aspire Zone. It gives a globally recognised luxury shopping experience to customers. The Venetian-style decor and interiors with unique food courts, shopping and entertainment options are vivid.
Window shopping in Villagio is a fun experience too. From Tiffany & Co, Gucci, Fendi and Bulgari to LV, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana, every luxury fashion brand is here. Other than that you can spend a few bucks and watch a film at the IMAX movie theatre or enjoy go-karting.
Gondolania Indoor Theme Park in Villagio Mall is one of the largest entertainment zones in Doha. Although the entry is free, the rides are paid. You can go on a romantic indoor Gondola ride similar to the one in Venice for QR 10 (INR 225) per person.
Unwind at Qatar beaches
The ultimate best free thing to do in Qatar? Put on some sunscreen and relax at the beaches. A vacation is incomplete without a much-needed relaxation and Qatar has a bunch of beautiful beaches where you can sunbathe happily.
Sealine beach near Doha International Airport, Katara beach in Katara Cultural Village, Khor al Adaid beach or Inland sea and Fuwairit beach are some of the top choices for tourists. Explore the sands and choose your favourite.
Go for Inland Sea safari
Inland Sea or Khor Al Adaid is a UNESCO recognised site for being Qatar’s largest natural reserve. Located in the south of Doha, this breathtaking landscape is a popular safari destination. The striking view of sand dunes meeting sea beds is truly extraordinary.
The desert holds great significance with respect to the local culture. In Al Anna, during the winter camping season, the natives come and engage in different activities including dune-bashing and parasailing. Sand surfing is quite popular here as well. The natural reserve is home to many turtles, flamingos, dugongs, Arabian oryx, camels and other animals.
Visit the National Museum of Qatar
Visiting Doha isn’t complete without the Qatar National Museum tour. This extraordinary piece of architecture tells the story of Qatar’s rich history and heritage. The museum building resembling the shape of interlocking cantilevered disks looks like a metal crystal — ‘desert rose.’
The museum features archaeological and heritage objects, manuscripts, photographs, jewellery and costumes that can help one learn more about the Middle East. Don’t miss the pearl carpet of Baroda sanctioned by the Maharajah of Baroda, India. The piece is made of fine silk highlighting over 1.5 million pearls, rubies, sapphires, diamonds and emeralds set in gold. The National Museum of Qatar offers free entry to the citizens of Qatar and kids (including foreigners) under 16, adult foreigners have to pay a nominal entry fee to see the museum.
(Main and featured image: Lucca Belliboni/Pexels)
This story first appeared on Travel + Leisure India & South Asia
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Doha metro Uber is quite pocket-friendly in Qatar. Try using public transport as much as possible. Also, keep an eye out for offers by Qatar Airways to save money.
Answer: Qatar is a budget-friendly destination with many luxurious options as well.
Answer: Doha has many tourist attractions like Doha Corniche, Villagio Mall's entertainment zone, art galleries and so on. You can have fun at numerous places in Doha.
Answer: You can walk around Souq Waqif, go for a boat ride in Gondolania, go shopping at Villaggio and so on.
Answer: No. It is not. You have to purchase a smart card which costs around 10-30 QR (INR 225 to 678 approximately).
Answer: Yes, they have fixed routes within a few kilometres of metro stations.
Answer: You can buy Al-Sadu weavings, Dallah coffee pots, Pashmina shawls and scarves, Arabic sweets, Oud fragrances, incense sticks and traditional incense burners. Decorated shisha pipes are also in trend.
Answer: Yes, The small country has many attractions for the tourists that can be covered in three days.