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The Islamic state of Qatar - located on a small peninsula on the western edge of the much larger Arabian Peninsula - may seem like a speck compared to its huge neighbour Saudi Arabia, but don’t underestimate this little state: it contains more than 15% of the world’s natural gas reserves, making Qatar one of the planet’s biggest producers of oil and gas and the world’s richest country per capita (as of December 2014). Not bad for a sovereign state that was, until 1971, a British protectorate and one of the poorest countries in the Middle East.

Qatar has been an absolute monarchy for decades (since its independence from the British) and is governed by the Al-Thani family. Being an Islamic state, its legislation closely follows Sharia law and it remains - despite its wealth - one of the most conservative of the Gulf states, so tourists are recommended to dress modestly whilst visiting. The state has a population of about 2 million, more than half of which are based in capital city Doha (of this number, though, a huge percentage are expatriates drawn the state due to its booming economy). Qatar’s official language is Arabic, though English is also commonly spoken.

In Qatar, Friday and Saturday are designated as the weekend, with Sunday marking the first day of the week.

Getting around Qatar

Getting around Qatar isn’t difficult as buses, taxis and even limousines are plentiful. Tourists are recommended to take the Doha Bus, a hop-on hop-off bus whose route covers most of the main tourist attractions in Qatar.

What to see and do

One of Qatar’s most iconic attractions, the Doha Corniche is a must-see for tourists in the capital city. A 7-kilometre-long waterfront promenade facing the Persian Gulf, the Corniche is a great spot for an evening stroll and is also lined with some of Qatar’s most important buildings and landmarks. Visit the famous Museum of Islamic Art and/or Qatar’s National Museum and National Theatre, or have a look at the immense Emiri Diwan building, home base of the Qatar Government.

If you’re feeling up to some retail therapy, the Souq Waqif offers a shopping experience like no other. Known as the ‘standing market’, the Souq is famous for hawking traditional Middle Eastern wares such as spices, handicrafts, garments and more at affordable prices. Surrounded by traditional Middle Eastern architecture as well as boutique hotels, shisha lounges and traditional restaurants, few places in the state are as suited for an afternoon whiling away the Middle Eastern heat as the Souq Waqif.

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