The FIFA World Cup descends on the Arabian Gulf for the first time this Sunday, but even after the action in Qatar dies down in mid-December, there are still plenty of reasons to extend your stay in the region.
Away from the shiny new stadiums and crowds of soccer fans, here are five of the most thrilling ways to explore the area’s vast swaths of desert, warm turquoise seas and immersive dining.
Countless new hotels have opened across the tiny nation to accommodate World Cup visitors, and they’re pretty much fully booked all month long—but for those staying on after the tournament, the new all-suite Raffles Doha in the crescent-shaped Katara Towers takes luxury to new heights. Michelin three-starred chef Enrico Crippa’s Italian restaurant Alba and the floating beach club Privée are both on the way, while the hotel’s Parisian Suite is probably the most exciting new place to stay in the city right now.
Spanning more than 4,000 square feet and occupying the entire 30th floor, it’s filled with the usual luxurious amenities, along with a huge terrace and butler service—but, in the spirit of Qatar’s general extra-ness, it also comes with its own fitness area with personal trainer, private beauty salon and on-call wine sommelier.
Suites from $1,373, Parisian Suite from $10,987
Touted as the world’s most expensive dinner—this is Dubai, after all—Sublimotion, the brainchild of Spanish Michelin two-starred chef Paco Roncero and creative director Eduardo Gonzales of Madrid’s Vega Factory, returns to Dubai this month for its second six-month run at the Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah. First launched in Ibiza in 2014, the spectacle blurs the boundaries between gastronomy and technology in a mind-bending, immersive evening that constantly surprises.
At the end, you’re left wondering what on earth just happened—in the best possible way. The price tag is similarly spectacular—close to $1,400 per person—but with space for only 12 diners in each seating, it’s one of the hottest tables in town. Last season’s dinners featured ever-changing digital scenes, AI goggles, airplane food and a disembodied pair of legs pushing a trolley. This year promises even more projections, performance and extraordinary episodes that have to be experienced to be believed. $1,361 per person
Luxury travel company Pelorus’s bespoke camps offer excursions into the deserts of Oman’s remote Rub’ Al Khali Empty Quarter, where you’ll likely be the only people for miles around. Within this harshly beautiful environment, Pelorus works with local Bedouin guides to set up Bedu Camp with traditional tents—though no comfort is spared, thanks to comfortable beds, plump pillows, high thread-count linens and traditional textiles.
While you can head out to explore the sands by camel or 4×4 vehicle, the best way to experience the dramatic setting is simply by sitting still and taking it all in. Whether sipping a cup of Arabic coffee in the early morning light, watching the sun set over the sea of dunes or spotting shooting stars in inky skies void of light pollution, there are few better ways to feel at one with the desert. From $11,000 per person
Living up to its name, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi takes opulence to a new level. Dripping in 30 tons of gold, it’s a palatial playground with lush gardens, pools and waterslides, as well as two freshly minted stars for restaurants Talea and Hakkasan in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Michelin Guide, which was unveiled earlier this month.
But there’s also a private marina, from which guests can zoom off by speedboat to a “secret” sandbank (the hotel won’t reveal the exact location) on a just-launched half-day trip to splash about in Abu Dhabi’s clear, warm waters. The experience is fully customizable—snorkels and SUPs can be loaded onto the boat, and masseuses are standing by—and with the hotel’s culinary credentials, expect picnic items to be dependably lavish. Sandbank experience from $381
An hour and a half from the Saudi capital Riyadh lies the Al Tuwaiq escarpment, a 500-mile stretch of mountains that skirts the edge of the desert. One particular stretch, Jebel Fihrayn, also known as the Edge of the World, plunges almost 1,000 feet straight down to what used to be an ancient seabed, covered with the tracks of dried-up rivers and wandering camels.
The remote location has long been known by local Saudi adventurers, but as the country’s fledgling tourism industry starts to grow, it’s more accessible than ever. There’s still a long stretch of off-road driving to be tackled, which is why it makes sense to join Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh’s private tours by Escalade, which include a Saudi-style lunch and cliff-edge barbecue, as well as a cushion-strewn Bedouin tent to rest in after hiking around the cliffs. Doubles from $346 per person