The National Museum of Qatar, a masterpiece by Jean Nouvel
The National Museum of Qatar, a masterpiece by Jean Nouvel

Visit the National Museum of Qatar: A Handy Guide

The National Museum of Qatar, one of the most frequented destinations in Doha, stands as a testament to Qatar’s dedication to preserving and highlighting its rich cultural heritage. Boasting a truly unique silhouette, the structure is among the most distinctive landmarks in Qatar.

Table of Contents

    Within its walls, the museum tells the captivating story of Qatar’s past, present, and future, intertwined with the lives of its people. Let’s dive in! 

    An Architectural Gem

    The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) museum is much more than just a building; it is an architectural wonder mirroring the beauty of its surroundings. The museum, a 430,000 square foot (40,000 square meter) marvel, is just that. Opened in 2019, this museum is a testament to Qatar’s commitment to preserving and presenting its cultural heritage.

    Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum’s shape takes its inspiration from the “desert rose,” a natural formation found in the salt basins of Qatar. Composed of 539 interlocking white disks, the structure is a harmonious blend of unconventional shapes and spaces and also serves to block the sun. 

    The desert rose-shaped National Museum of Qatar
    The desert rose-shaped National Museum of Qatar

    At the heart of this structure sits a beautifully restored palace, dating back to 1906. The palace was once the residence of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, and serves as a symbolic bridge between Qatar’s rich past and its progressive present. It is the grand finale of the galleries.

    The Old Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani at the National Museum of Qatar in Doha
    The Old Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, inside the National Museum of Qatar

    The Permanent Galleries

    The museum’s 11 permanent galleries, curated by Sheikha Al Mayassa, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, will take you through Qatar’s journey from its earliest history to the present day. These galleries, which are organized into four chapters, offer a comprehensive insight into the nation’s heritage, politics, the discovery of oil, traditional costumes, and jewelry. 

    Let’s explore some of them. 

    The Formation of Qatar Gallery

    The “Formation of Qatar Gallery” walks you through the geological forces that shaped Qatar 700 million years ago, leading to the unique and diverse land formations it possesses today. Witness the gradual transformation of the landscape over millions of years, and learn about the amazing processes that shaped the nation we see today.

    The formation of Qatar, National Museum of Qatar, Doha
    An immersive gallery within the National Museum of Qatar

    Interactive displays, fossils of animals and captivating visuals transport you back in time, offering a rich, tangible sense of Qatar’s formation.

    The Qatar’s Natural Environments Gallery

    In the “Qatar’s Natural Environments Gallery”, you’ll get to explore Qatar’s diverse ecosystems – from the pristine coastal mangroves to the arid desert landscapes. The exhibits are alive with flora, fauna, and geography, bringing to life the delicate balance of nature that exists within Qatar’s borders. 

    Arabian Oryx in a gallery at the National Museum of Qatar
    Arabian Oryx at Qatar’s Natural Environments Gallery

    The People of Qatar Gallery

    The “People of Qatar Gallery” serves as a beautiful tribute to the heart of the nation – its people. As you explore this gallery, you’ll learn about the diversity, traditions, and resilience of Qataris. Photographs, personal stories, and artifacts spanning generations offer a deep insight into the Qatari way of life, from their customs and festivals to their day-to-day routines. 

    Visit the National Museum of Qatar - A Handy Guide

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    Life in the Desert Gallery 

    Next, let’s traverse the harsh yet beautiful landscapes of Qatar in the “Life in the Desert Gallery.” This gallery takes you on an extraordinary journey, celebrating the Bedouin way of life that was deeply connected to the natural elements of the desert (“Al Barr”).

    The traditional clothing of Life in Al Barr, National Museum of Qatar
    A traditional carpet inside the Life in Al Barr gallery

    Exhibits here range from tools used for navigation and survival to stunning depictions of desert flora and fauna. Interactive displays capture the challenges and adaptations of life in the arid landscape, revealing the ingenuity and strength of those who called the desert home. 

    Pearls and Celebrations Gallery

    In the Pearls and Celebrations Gallery, you’ll find displays of pearls harvested in Qatar’s waters, as well as sorting and measuring equipment, and jaw-dropping pearl jewelry pieces. You’ll also come across the film “Nafas (Breath),” directed by Mira Nair in 2014, which tells the story of pearl divers as well as the physical and emotional challenges of pearling. 

    The cherry on top? The Baroda carpet. Made in India and embellished with Gulf seed pearls, it’s truly magnificent. We’ll tell you more about this unique carpet later on in this article.

    Building the Nation Gallery

    Next, step into the political history of Qatar between 1500 and 1913 in the “Building the Nation Gallery.” This was a time of great turbulence until Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed bin Thani united Qatari’s tribes. The gallery tells the story of Qatar’s earliest history through the sounds and smells of warfare. You’ll see models of Portuguese, Ottoman, British and Qatari ships, weapons, maps, and personal items of Qatari leaders. Make sure to check out the film “Shadows of History,” which illustrates the unification of Qatar’s tribes.

    Shadows of History film on the Building the Nation Gallery, National Museum of Qatar
    A projection of the “Shadows of History” film in the “Building the Nation” Gallery

    Industry and Innovation Gallery

    Fast forward to Qatar’s transformative periods in the “Industry and Innovation Gallery” which covers the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. You will witness the collapse of the pearling industry and the groundbreaking discovery of oil, which completely altered Qatar’s fortunes. The gallery features two insightful films: “The Coming of Oil,” and “Alchemy,” which celebrate Qatar’s development of oil. A key part of this exhibit is a model of Doha, showing its expansion and transformation across a 40-year period following the investment in urban planning and infrastructure.

    Qatar Today Gallery

    Finally, step into the present in the “Qatar Today Gallery.” Here, you’ll get an insight into Qatar under the reign of the current Emir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as well as the blockade imposed on Qatar in 2017 and its effects. A major theme of the exhibit is the Sheikh’s commitment to diversifying the country’s economy and investing in Qatar’s younger generation.

    What You Shouldn’t Miss

    The Baroda Carpet

    One of the most extraordinary pieces you’ll encounter at the National Museum of Qatar is the Baroda Carpet. This luxurious carpet, commissioned by the 18th-century Maharaja Gekwar Khand Rao, was intended as a cover for the Prophet’s tomb in Medina. It’s a breathtaking sight, measuring 2.64 meters (8.66 feet) long and 1.74 meters (5.71 feet) wide, woven from silk threads with a background of natural deer skin. The carpet is adorned with over 1.5 million pieces of natural marine pearls known as “Basra,” from the coasts of Qatar and Bahrain, along with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and colored glass beads. In the center of the carpet are three circular floral shapes each made up of diamonds placed on gold and silver.

    Baroda carpet at National Museum of Qatar, Doha, Qatar
    The luxurious Baroda Carpet, with its 1.5 million pieces of natural marine pearls

    The Baroda carpet took nearly five years to complete by hand and has undergone significant conservation treatments since its acquisition by Qatar Museums in 2009. The museum’s dedicated team of conservators ensures that it’s perfectly preserved, monitoring environmental conditions and carrying out regular cleaning. 

    An 18th-Century Quran

    The museum also houses an 18th-century Quran, discovered in Al Zubarah, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the northwest coast of Qatar. Completed in 1806 by Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Mureikhi from Al Zubarah City, this two-volume Quran is written in the naskh style, a rounded and flowing form of calligraphy that indicates both Ottoman and Indian influences. This Quran is designed with overlapping floral and geometric shapes, including wavy branches, circular, and oval shapes. It’s a beautiful representation of the Islamic art of calligraphy and a testament to Qatar’s rich religious history.

    The Pearl Chest

    Lastly, be sure not to miss the 18th-century Pearl Chest (Bishtakhtah), found during an archaeological site visit to the port city of Al Zubarah in 2009. This chest belonged to a pearl merchant during the 18th-century pearl trade boom, and offers a fascinating insight into Qatar’s pearl trading past. The chest is secured with iron nails and tacks which mostly likely held decorative items such as copper alloy plates. Its interior compartments contain remnants of a textile and dye, indicating it was probably lined. Despite missing its lid and some pieces from the bottom, the original lock is still intact, a testament to the craftsmanship of the time.

    Featured Exhibitions

    During your exploration of the museum, you can also check out temporary exhibitions. Currently, one of the highlights is “A Glimpse into the Qatar Auto Museum,” a remarkable journey through the evolution of the automotive industry and its impact on global life and culture. This showcase is designed to pique your curiosity and build excitement for the much-anticipated Qatar Auto Museum, set to open its doors in 2024. If you’re into cars, don’t miss the 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, the 1939 Pontiac – the first transparent car built in America -, and the extravagant art-deco 1949 Delahaye 175 S Roadster. 

    Qatar Auto Museum at National Museum of Qatar
    A glimpse into the Qatar Auto Museum at the National Museum of Qatar

    Alternatively, you can step into a world of self-discovery with the multi-sensory extravaganza, “Your Brain to Me, My Brain to You“. This large-scale installation, created by world-renowned Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, encapsulates the shared human unconsciousness. 

    Your Brain to Me, My Brain to You - Pipilotti Rist’s dazzling artwork at National Museum of Qatar
    “Your Brain to Me, My Brain to You”, a temporary exhibition at the National Museum of Qatar

    To keep up-to-date with the most recent exhibitions, we encourage you to visit the museum’s official website regularly.

    Taking Home a Piece of the Museum: The Gift Shop

    Just as a trip to Qatar wouldn’t be complete without touring the National Museum of Qatar, your visit to the museum itself wouldn’t be complete without exploring its unique gift shop. This space, masterfully crafted by designer Koichi Takada, is a wonder in itself. It has a curved design crafted from 40,000 individual wooden pieces and is inspired by the Dahl Al Misfir cave, the largest and deepest cave in Qatar.

    The gift shop at the National Museum of Qatar
    The gift shop at the National Museum of Qatar, is inspired by the Dahl Al Misfir cave

    How about taking home a piece of the museum’s iconic architecture with a desert rose item? Or maybe a jigsaw puzzle in the shape of the museum’s building for some fun at home? For the little ones, there are adorable dugong fridge mascots, educational toys, books, puzzles, and games – plenty to keep curious minds busy.

    If you’re shopping for kids, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a separate gift shop dedicated just for them.

    Engaging Spaces for Kids 

    The National Museum of Qatar is more than a place for viewing exhibits; it offers bespoke interactive spaces designed with children in mind. These Family Exhibits blend education with engagement, offering hands-on experiences that bring Qatar’s history and culture to life in an enjoyable and accessible way.

    In the Pearls and Celebrations Gallery, children can immerse themselves in traditional pearl hunting practices, such as rowing a dhow or preparing meals for the boat crew. They can also experience the life of Bedouin children, understanding desert survival, navigation, and the unique desert ecosystem. 

    But the learning journey isn’t confined to the museum’s interior – let’s step outside and see what awaits.

    Learning in the Open at the Museum’s Park

    Now let’s step outside and explore the Museum Park, which is home to playgrounds, several public artworks, and a lagoon. The Heritage Garden here houses a variety of native Qatari plants. Each plant has its own story, and you’ll be amazed at how they’ve adapted to the harsh desert environment.

    For the little ones who love adventure and exploration, the Cave of Wonders is a must. This impressive recreation of a typical Qatari sinkhole or dahl offers a realistic underground rocky cave experience. Kids can crawl and climb, discover glowing rocks and carvings, find artifacts hidden in the sand, and even spot bats hanging from the ceiling and a giant gecko climbing up the wall. 

    Cave of Wonders at National Museum of Qatar
    The Cave of Wonders, a kids’ playground outside the National Museum of Qatar

    Another kid-friendly gem in the park is the Nakilat Adventure Ship. Designed like the wreck of a traditional Qatari boat, this playground offers interactive learning opportunities. Kids can learn about sailing, pearling, fishing, and trading through engaging stories, songs, and play. They can even explore the ship’s cargo and treasure. It’s a fun and immersive way for children to learn about Qatar’s history and culture, and it explains why this museum is one of the fun places to visit with kids in Qatar

    The Adventure Ship at the National Museum of Qatar
    The Adventure Ship, another fun kids’ playground, at the National Museum of Qatar

    Practical Information: Opening Hours and Entrance Fee 

    Opening hours   

    The National Museum of Qatar opens its door to visitors six days a week. Here’s the schedule:

    Monday: 9 AM – 7 PM
    Tuesday: 9 AM – 7 PM
    Wednesday: 9 AM – 7 PM
    Thursday: 9 AM – 7 PM
    Friday: 1:30 PM – 7 PM
    Saturday: 9 AM – 7 PM
    Sunday: 9 AM – 7 PM

    The hours may change during the holy month of Ramadan, so it’s always a good idea to check their official website or contact them directly for the most accurate information.

    Entrance Fee

    As of May 2023, entrance is free for kids under 16 and for residents of Qatar and other GCC countries, and costs $14 (QAR 50) for anyone else over 16. But here’s a pro tip – if you’re planning to visit other museums, the One Pass is your best bet. Right now, this pass costs only $27 (QAR 99) instead of $54. The One Pass gives you access to five museums or sites including the Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf, the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, the Fire Station, the Barzan Towers, and the Al Zubarah archaeological site. Plus, you can enjoy five different exhibitions within a span of five days. If you’re keen on getting the most out of your visit to Qatar, this deal is a no-brainer!

    Fire Station, a contemporary museum in Doha
    Fire Station, a contemporary museum in Doha

    As always, it’s a good idea to check out the official website of the National Museum of Qatar for the most recent information. 

    Frequently Asked Questions 

    How Much Time Should I Spend at the National Museum of Qatar?

    We recommend planning for around two hours to explore the museum and three hours if you’re visiting it with kids. So, you’ll probably need more than an 8-hour stopover in Qatar to fully enjoy it. This would allow you to leisurely walk through the exhibits, soak in the history, and maybe even take a few breaks. However, if you’re a museum aficionado or a history buff, you might want to spend an entire day there!

    What is the Best Time to Visit the National Museum of Qatar? 

    The best time to visit the museum is usually in the early morning or late afternoon when it’s less crowded. This way, you’ll get to enjoy the exhibits more peacefully. However, remember that Friday mornings are off-limits as the museum opens at 1:30 PM.

    The beauty of visiting a place like the National Museum of Qatar is that it can be enjoyed year-round, no matter the weather in Qatar.

    Is the National Museum of Qatar Free? 

    The National Museum of Qatar is free for kids under 16 and for nationals of Qatar and other Gulf countries. Otherwise, it will cost you around $14. Check the above section “Entrance fee” for some tips. 

    What is the Dress Code for the National Museum of Qatar?

    While the museum doesn’t impose a strict dress code, it is located in a country with strong traditions and customs. It is advisable for visitors to dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered. This applies to both men and women visiting Qatar

    Are Photographs Allowed in the National Museum of Qatar?

    Yes, you’re absolutely allowed to take photographs in the museum but remember to be respectful of the museum’s guidelines – no tripods, selfie sticks or flash photography in the galleries. If you’re ever uncertain, there are signs around the museum or helpful staff members ready to assist.

    Where to Eat Around the National Museum of Qatar?

    The National Museum of Qatar boasts three unique eateries each offering a different flavor of Qatari cuisine.

    Café 875

    Showcasing the traditional majlis (sitting room) and hospitality, Café 875 offers a menu filled with local and international flavors. The unique design inspired by traditional Qatari gold jewelry adds to its charm. Operated by W Doha, this café offers coffee, snacks and meticulously crafted meals.

    The Café 875 at National Museum of Qatar, Doha
    Inside the Café 875 at the National Museum of Qatar

    Jiwan Restaurant

    Located on the fourth floor, Jiwan by Alain Ducasse offers stunning views over Doha Bay and a spectacular design by Koichi Takada. The interior is calm and curved, with four million Swarovski glass beads suspended from the ceiling. The restaurant immerses you in Qatar’s rich culture through its contemporary Qatari cuisine. Breakfast,  brunch, and dinner are offered, and menu items include labneh, shakshuka, and confit of lamb shank.

    Desert Rose Café

    The Desert Rose Café, which is located on the ground floor of the museum, offers a space that mirrors Jean Nouvel’s desert rose architecture. Spearheaded by Chef Nouf Al Marri, a specialist in Qatari cuisine, this café provides a unique culinary experience.

    What are Some Nearby Attractions Around the National Museum of Qatar?

    After your visit to the National Museum, there are plenty of other attractions in the vicinity. For instance, you might want to check out the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Corniche, the Souq Waqif where there are plenty of places to eat, or drop by some concept stores and fashion shops at the new district Msheireb Downtown Doha

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