The State of Qatar is a sovereign and independent state in the Middle East, occupying a peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf. Since its complete independence from Britain in the 20th century, Qatar has emerged as one of the world's most important producers of oil and gas. It is an Islamic State whose laws and customs following the Islamic tradition. Since 1995, the country has been governed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the eighth Emir from the Al-Thani family.
There are approximately 1.6 million people living in Qatar. More than half of the population lives in the capital city of Doha. Three-quarters of the Qatari population are Muslim, while the remaining population practices a variety of other religions. The official language is Arabic, though English is commonly spoken. The thriving economy has attracted a large number of expatriates, particularly from neighboring Arabic states.
Since the mid-1800s, Qatar has grown from a poor British protectorate known for pearling into one of the world's most important oil and gas producing countries. While there is increasing investment in non-energy sectors, oil and gas still account for more than half of the Gross Domestic Product. Due to oil and gas, the country now has one of the highest incomes per capita in the world.
Qatar occupies a peninsula that is approximately 100 kilometers wide and extends 200 kilometers into the Persian Gulf. It also includes several gulf islands. Qatar shares its southern border with Saudi Arabia and a maritime border Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Most of the country is flat plain, covered in sand and gravel. As a result, most development is along the coast.
Major Cities and Towns:
- Doha: The Capital of Qatar is Doha. Doha is Qatar's largest city and is the economic hub as well as the commercial, cultural and educational centre of the country. It is well placed in the middle of the East Coast Peninsula with 15 major districts. Qatar has a modern seaport, airport and is home to the largest Middle East news network satellite station, Al Jazeera.
- Al Wakra: Al Wakra is a pleasant little town nestled between Doha and Umm Said. Once a tiny fishing village but now Al Wakra has expanded and developed into a small town. Historic architecture is plentiful here, captured in mosques and old homes. The Museum, harbour and beaches are good examples of the small town's success.
- Umm Said: Umm Said is mainly an industrial area with various industrial establishments. Umm Siad is located 37 km South of Doha.
- Al Khor: North of Doha, on the east coast, lays the small seaside town of Al Khor. Traditionally Al Khor was known as a small fishing village. However, it boasts distinguished beaches, a museum, mosques and an historic tower. Many of the expatriates who work in RasLaffan live here.
- Madinat Al-Shamal: Madinat Al Shamal is unique because it is surrounded by the Persian Gulf on 3 sides. Although the town is considered to be relatively new, the historic rulers of this area were the Al Thani family. A number of the coastal villages are still administered from here. An hour and a half's drive from Doha will get you there.
- Al Ruwais: Famously known for its breathtaking views and traditional Bedouin lifestyle experience, AL Ruwais is located on the northern tip of the peninsula. The 110 km drive from Doha provides an insight into the history and cultural heritage of the region.
- Al Zubara: Al Zubra is positioned approximately 113 km North West of Doha. Near Zubrah, on the west coast, are the ruins of an early Islamic settlement called Murwah. There is an important fort which was used by the military until the 1980's and which also served as a coastguard station.
- Dukhan: West of Doha, after an 89 km drive, you'll find Dukhan. Several thousand QP (Qatar Petroleum) employees live here. The Importance of this city is based on the discovery of oil in its surrounding areas.
Things to do in Qatar:
- Museum of Islamic Arts: Commonly regarded as the most impressive and important cultural attraction in Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Arts welcomes thousands of visitors each week. The collections inside the museum originate from local artists, not to mention artwork from other Islamic artists from across the Muslim world. The top two floors are set aside for permanent exhibitions, while the ground floor is where much of the temporary displays are held. The museum is open Sunday to Thursday from 10:30 a.m., and midday on Friday and Saturday. Al Khor Museum: The Al Khor Museum is a fabulous tourist spot in the township of Al Khor, which is just to the north of Doha. The main purpose of this site is to educate visitors and locals about the traditional life of Qataris. There are plenty of archeological collections that have been excavated from the surrounding area. Most of the relics derive from the Neolithic and Mid-Bronze eras. Representing a historical maritime city, Al Khor Museum also shows important marine artifacts across its two floors.
- Weaponry Museum: History buffs and museum enthusiasts will fall in love with this site. The Weaponry Museum is a majestic cultural center that displays a stunning range of weapons used in Qatar since the 16th century. There are several collections of ceremonial swords from the 18th century onwards, including a priceless dagger owned by Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani, and a traditional curved sword, known as a khanjar, that was once used by the famous Lawrence of Arabia. This is certainly one of the rarest collections in the world. If visitors want to explore the museum, it must be done by appointment only.
- Doha Heritage Village: Situated within the capital of Qatar, Doha's Heritage Village is a fascinating place to take the whole family. Situated at Al Rumeilia Park, which is found upon the Corniche, the Doha Heritage Park is like a trip through time, with many historical Qatari settings that take visitors back to Qatar before European colonialism and technology took over. Tourists will be able to see how pearl agriculture and trading worked, not to mention other skills like weaving and boating. It is common for tourists to see carnivals, events, and festivals held in the area too.Al Zubara Fort: The Al Zubara Fort is found in the township of Zubara, which stands some 65 miles from the capital city of Qatar. The fortress was originally built in the 1930s by then leader Sheikh Abdullah bin Qassim Al Thani, and still stands strongly today. The edifice has been used as a soldiers' fort, police station, coastal guard, and more recently, a museum. It currently holds displays of archeological artifacts that have been found in the area. The fort is open to the public every day, except on Friday mornings.
- Doha Corniche: The Corniche is often regarded as Doha's most visually spectacular landmark. It is located along the waterfront, and one of the most beautiful features of the Middle East. Many of the city's festivals and events are centered along this seaside promenade. It is recommended that tourists visit the site at the morning, especially on Fridays, as this is when the entire promenade seems to be without crowds.
- Jungle Zone: This is one of the most popular places in Qatar for families with kids. Jungle Zone is located within the famous shopping center, Hyatt Plaza. This means mum and dad can drop children off at this amusement park and enjoy a few hours of shopping. Jungle Zone is fully equipped with eating areas, plenty of thrilling rides, and exciting arcades for both children and adults to enjoy. Tickets are more expensive on the weekends.
- Katara: Katara is a cultural village nestled between the Pearl and the West Bay area of Doha. What makes this site so popular is the range of international culture on display. Visitors can find a beautiful beach at Katara, along with plenty of wonderful restaurants, museums, galleries, and the village hosts a plethora of magnificent cultural festivals and events throughout the year. This is definitely one of the more important tourist sites in Qatar, as it has continued to expand its audience since opening in 2010.