Qatar is a greatly underrated tourist destination.
The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the finest museums in the world, with a collection of unsurpassable quality, drawing on Islamic creations from as far away as Sumatra and the Philippines, as well as the more familiar Persian, Indian, Turkish, and Central Asian items. The I.M. Pei building offers fantastic views, and there is an Alain Ducasse restaurant on the top floor.
The National Museum of Qatar is more didactic, but still I found it spectacular, including the architecture and external sculptures on the front side of the building. Usually I dislike audiovisual displays in museums, but their films on the history of Qatar — shown on very large Imax-like screens — were spectacular. The costumes and jewelry displays are hard to top. “Culture” and “growth” seemed to be the organizing themes of the exhibits. The progressions were logical, and at the end of it all I came away thinking that Qatar has had cultural sophistication for a long time, and is not just a place where they throw a lot of money at art. I fell for their propaganda, but now I am going to read up and see just how true that is.
In value terms, the government of Qatar is the largest buyer of art in the world. The country has other notable museums as well, but I did not have the time to visit them, as sometimes their hours are irregular, or they are private collections which require special appointments.
In most public spaces you will see some attempt to make them look creative or aesthetic. By no means do all such displays succeed, but they are always trying. Many of the contemporary buildings, or sculptures along the road, are worthy of inspection.
In the water you still can see wooden dhows, and on the roads you might see a man in desert gear shepherding his camels across the road. The main souk has a whole section devoted to falcons and falconry. The souk at dusk is magnificent.
Overall the place feels cheerier and homier than does Dubai. Everyone I met was friendly. English is the lingua franca, and most of the people here do in fact speak reasonable English.
Doha sparkles when it comes to food. The Parisa Persian restaurant in Souq Waqif (don’t go to the other Parisa restaurant, supposedly it is worse) was the best fesanjan I ever have had, excellent decor too.
Saasna is one local high-quality place for Qatari food. Not cheap, but excellent ingredients. The dishes skew in the Saudi direction (“lamb shank on saffron rice,” or “beef stewed with wheat”) rather than Persian.
Good Indian and Chinese places seem to abound, I even saw an apparently high-quality Miami restaurant. The breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel was first-rate, most of all the pistachio labneh.
Based on n = 6, this seems to be one of those countries where they ask if you want lemon in your sparkling water, you say no, and they give it to you anyway.
On Fridays, the country does not open until 1:30 p.m., so if you are doing a short visit try to avoid that day.
The on-line visa form was easy to fill out, and I received a positive response within seconds.
Going in August, as I have done, is not crazy. Sometimes the temperatures reach 47 degrees or higher, but somehow it is manageable, or at least it was for me. Perhaps more people are around other times of the year? In any case you should go, as Qatar ought to join the list of must-visit destinations, and it is easy enough to combine it with other trips, given the use of Doha as an air hub.