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Culture for Kids: Museums in Qatar



When you wish to escape from the heat, the dust and the day-to-day routine or want to expand your children’s exposure to culture, playing “tourist” with the kids and exploring Qatar’s cultural landmarks is a great way to escape the daily grind. Such a tour wouldn’t be complete with visiting Doha’s growing collection of—mostly free—family-friendly museums.

Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)

The jewel in the crown of Qatar’s museums and Doha’s skyline, the Museum of Islamic Art is the first stop on any cultural tour of the city. Designed by renowned architect, I.M. Pei, the MIA building is a marvel on its own. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the atrium provide a remarkable view of Doha’s skyline. Meanwhile, children will love scaling the marble staircase that spirals all the way to the top floor and watching the fountains outside the entrance, in the atrium café and on the outdoor terrace.

The MIA website provides a special self-guided tour for families. You can follow the tour online via your mobile or tablet (MIA offers free Wi-Fi) and use the floorplan (also online or you can pick up a hard copy at the museum entrance) to find your way around. Alternatively, a guided highlights tour of the museum takes place at 2 pm on Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Although the online tour’s questions about each exhibit are challenging for little kids, my three-year-old and five-year-old were enthusiastic about finding and drawing pictures of each exhibit. The jewelled necklaces and the knight in the Turkey 16th–19th Century CE gallery were our favourite exhibits. When they tired of the tour, we stopped at the café for a sweet treat. 

MIA also offers numerous workshops for children throughout the year. Check out the What’s On page on their website for upcoming events and to reserve a spot for your child. 

The museum is spacious with plenty of room for prams and strollers, and there are highchairs available in the café and a baby changing table in the ladies bathroom. The exhibits are protected from little hands by glass cabinets, but you will need to watch children carefully on the polished floors and stairs and near the water fountains. The museum library welcomes children of all ages to browse their collection of books and find out more about Islamic art. Before you leave, you can pick up unusual gifts (from toy camels of all sizes to Arabic and English books and stylish stationary) at the gift shop on the first floor. 

During your visit to the museum, don’t forget a stop in MIA Park. The park is a fantastic place to take children of all ages, with three playgrounds for specific age ranges (two to five, five to twelve and twelve to sixteen), and the outdoor café provides my favourite view in Doha. Kids will love running up and down the hills and perhaps flying a kite in the breeze. 

Location: The Corniche, near Souq Waqif
Contact: +974 4422-4444, mia.org.qa
Museum hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday 10:30–17:30; Thursday and Saturday 12:00–20:00; Friday 14:00–20:00; closed on Tuesday
Library hours: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 12:00–17:00
Park hours: 24-hours

Mathaf

Located in Education City, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art is much smaller in scale than the MIA but worth a visit if you like contemporary and abstract art. The exhibitions showcase art created in Qatar and the Middle East and by Arab artists. There is a small café and gift shop on site. Every third Wednesday of the month, there is a storytime for children ages four to nine. This collaborative event between Mathaf and Maktaba Qatar focuses on literacy through storytelling while relating to works of art on view at the museum. If you are feeling adventurous enough to tackle two museums in a day, there is a free shuttle service between Mathaf and MIA. 

Location: Education City, Qatar Foundation
Contact: +974 4402-8855 or +974 4402-8830, mathaf.org.qa
Hours: Saturday to Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday 11:00–18:00; Friday 15:00–20:00; closed on Monday

Msheireb Museums

Msheireb Museums consists of four historic houses that have been restored and developed into museums which tell Qatar’s history. Located within Msheireb Downtown Doha, this hidden gem makes for the perfect family day out. Whether you want to admire traditional Qatari architecture or stop to read the narratives accompanying each exhibit and learn about Qatar’s history, there is something here for all ages. 
My five-year-old son was my tour guide for the first museum, as he had previously visited Radwani House on a school trip. He was eager to show me the majlis, princess’s bedroom and the kitchen where you could see traditional furniture and how a typical Qatari family lived in the 1920s. 

My favourite was Company House, the former headquarters of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. This museum is devoted to the history of the petroleum industry in Qatar. My son loved the exhibits including helmets, old telephones, typewriters, an oil engine and even a Shell Oil Magazine for employees from 1976. The short film with original footage of Qatari pioneers travelling to Dukhan to drill for oil under the supervision of British managers was fascinating.

Construction of the museums is complete but plans for the future development of this area are showcased in Mohammed Bin Jassim House. The museum also provides an interesting history of the Msheireb district which was the home of Qatar’s first hotel, first bank, first pharmacy and first cafes. 

The final museum, Bin Jelmood House, is devoted to the history of slavery in Qatar and to encouraging the discussion of historical slavery in Qatar and contemporary slavery around the world. My son loved the images of Qatari nationals wearing traditional dress, projected onto the walls in the entrance which are followed by quotations by Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela amongst others in the first room. 

There isn’t a café or shop on site at the time of writing, but Souq Waqif is just across the road. Facilities for families are otherwise excellent; there are lots of benches for little visitors to rest tired feet and bathrooms in each museum. There are even two baby-changing rooms, a rare find in Doha.

You can walk freely around the four museums, but the staff are friendly and keen to take you from building to building. The newly opened museums have simple, easy-to-miss, silver signs on the side of the buildings, so having someone to point you in the right direction is very useful, even if you have the visitor’s guide on hand. 

Location: On the corner of Jassim bin Mohammed Street and Al Rayyan Road (parking at Al Shioukh Car Parking near Amiri Diwan)
Contact: +974 4485-777, msheireb.com/museums 
Hours: Monday toThursday 09:00–17:00, Friday 15:00–21:00, Saturday 09:00–21:00; closed on Sunday

Fire Station

If you are looking for somewhere to visit for a quick hit of culture, why not take a trip to the Fire Station gallery? My little ones were fascinated and loved getting so close to the art in this bright gallery as the exhibits are not roped off or displayed in glass cabinets. They also loved looking at the fireman’s helmets, hoses and tools in the foyer. 

While you’re there, check out Café #999 where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the outdoor tables in the courtyard. If you want a takeaway snack, Truck #999 will delight little ones as food and drinks are served from an old fire engine in the car park.

Visit their website for information on workshops and events including the Early Years Literacy Adventures for children 0-3 years and the Inventive Design Lab workshops for families this winter. 

Location: Mohammed Bin Thani Street, Civil Defence Roundabout
Contact: firestation.org.qa
Hours: Saturday to Wednesday 10:00–22:00, Friday 14:00–22:00

Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum

Away from the hustle and bustle of central Doha, drive down Dukhan Highway towards the camel race track and you’ll find the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum. It is located in the grand Qatari fort at Al Samriya Farm. This privately owned museum is essentially an eclectic collection of items owned by Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani. You’ll find over 15,000 artifacts in four collections (Islamic art, Qatar heritage, vehicles and coins and currency). With genuine dhow boats, pearl diving equipment, guns, swords, vintage cars, crystals and dinosaur bones, there really is something for everyone. There is also an onsite café serving a range of food including sandwiches, hot chips, coffee and ice creams. 

Location: Al Samriya, 22 km west of Doha
Contact: +974 4486-1444, fbqmuseum.org
Hours: Sunday to Thursday 09:00–16:30, Friday 14:00–18:00, Saturday 09:00–18:00
Fees: Adults QR 15, children ages 8 to 18 QR 10, children under eight are free. There is an extra QR 50 fee for taking photos.

Notes: 

  • As the road to Al Samriya is changing due to road construction, check detailed instructions on the website. Directions given via Google Maps or GPS are not likely to be accurate.
  • The website is out of date. As of writing this article, it incorrectly states that you must book a private tour in order to visit the museum and that the cafe is still under renovation.

Upcoming museums

The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) has plans for four more museums that are in various stages of construction. The National Museum of Qatar, designed by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by a desert rose sand crystal, is still under construction. Once open, it will be an exciting new space in Doha for children of all ages to explore and learn about Qatar’s cultural heritage and diverse history. 

There are also plans for a children’s museum, the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum and the Orientalist Museum.

Things to note:

  • Check out qm.org.qa for family-friendly activities, exhibitions and workshops.
  • Most of the QMA museums and galleries are free to enter, although there are occasionally fees for special exhibitions, workshops and events.
  • Mathaf, Fire Station, Al Riwaq (next to MIA) and Building 10 Katara are art galleries rather than museums in the traditional sense. Keep an eye on the website for special family-friendly events as visits with young children to these galleries can otherwise be challenging.
  • Sign up online for a Culture Pass to get priority access and discounts to cafes, restaurants, stores and more (qm.org.qa/culturepass). 

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