From a desert pearl-diving settlement to a glossy 21st-century city, Doha bridges yesterday with tomorrow with gusto and élan.
One moment you are navigating Middle Eastern souqs, and the next, you are striding the waterfront promenade on an artificial island. Doha, the capital of Qatar, has enjoyed an incredible journey through the years.
With a tiny size that belies its super-sized ambitions, Doha, the burgeoning Qatari capital, stands like a glittering oasis in the blistering Arabian desert. The futuristic skyline of Doha dancing on the historic waters of the Persian Gulf boasts extraordinary architecture, modern attractions, luxurious hotels and glitzy malls. Thanks to the futuristic visions and unimaginable oil wealth, incredible development and progress, Doha has expanded from a tiny pearl industry hub to a Middle Eastern powerhouse. But under the gloss of Western modernity, you can still find an Arab-Islamic heart that pulsates with love for spices, shisha and sandalwood.
Get into the Gulf groove with a leisurely stroll along the calming Corniche that stretches along Doha's seven-kilometre long bayside promenade. This crescent-shaped boardwalk overlooking the Persian Gulf is enlivened with shops, eateries, shaded paths and work-out stations. Pan out to the contrasts, from the uber-modern high-rises to Amiri Diwan, the pyramid-shaped Sheraton. Dive deeper with an evening ride on a traditional dhow for a 360-degree view of the sunset over the cityscape.
Seek out the impressive public art installations that proclaim Doha's thriving art scene. The most famed of these, Le Pouce, is a giant thumb celebrating the 2019 Qatari win of the Asian Cup for football tournament. Other unique sculptures are ‘The Challenge’, huge hands reaching the sky at Lusail Multi-Purpose Sports Hall; ‘The Force of Nature II’ by Lorenzo Quinn at the Katara Cultural Village and the ‘7 Sculpture’, an 80-feet steel fantastic behemoth by Richard Serra.
Explore the country's past and present at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al Zubarah Fort. Have your fill of the military architecture, battlements, palaces, cemeteries and one-metre-thick walls at a fort that bore witness to 18th-century tribal wars. The museum’s armoury and pearl diving era artefacts deserve more than a second glance.
Cultural aspirations are best fulfilled at the Katara Cultural Village, named after the ancient name for the Qatar Peninsula - Catara. This is a glossy, reimagined city where you will be enthralled by live performances at the amphitheatre, opera, art galleries and museums. The gold-covered Ottoman-style mosque adds a touch of glamour. Do not miss the traditional Pigeon Towers, designed to collect pigeon droppings used as fertiliser for local farms.
Indulgent moments are plentiful at the Pearl-Qatar, a four million square-metre, man-made island complete with Mediterranean-style yacht-lined marinas, premium shopping and refined culinary experiences. Amble along the pedestrian-friendly squares, landscaped gardens, and a 3.5-kilometre marina-front boardwalk 'La Croisette’. Soak up the Arabian Riviera.
Head out of the city to soak in the dramatic landscapes and golden dunes. Whether you pick the thrill of dune bashing in a 4x4 or a slow camel ride, make sure you add a Bedouin-style camping experience to your bucket list. Notch up the pampering with a quintessentially Turkish hammam and massage at an extravagant spa. The scrub, steam, bath, fragrant oil infusion and fresh rosewater essence will leave you craving for more.
Souq Waqif: The one souq that continues to trade on the Arabian Peninsula is your go-to for refined artisanal products. Let your imagination and purse strings run wild with pashminas, oud perfume, lamps, glasswork, pottery, antiques. How about a carved customary sword to take back home? Checked-in luggage of course!
Gold Souq: Glitter, glitter and more glitter are everywhere in this traditional gold souq with glittering jewellery stores. Treat yourself with a 22-carat necklace, hoop earrings or even a ring beautifully crafted in traditional Qatari style. Or, pick up some geometric fabrics, a colourful rug, spices or dates.
Falcon Souq: One of Doha’s unmissable attractions for a glimpse of Qatari heritage, the Falcon Souq makes the best place to learn about falconry in Qatari society and to shop for falcon accessories. Prepare to examine birds hooded in black leather, engage in animated discussions about falconry with shopkeepers or witness leather falcon helmets fashioned before your eyes.
Doha Festival City: With over 500 stores, Doha Festival City is one of the largest malls in Qatar. Furnishings at IKEA, Pottery Barn, and West Elm to high street fashion brands including Bershka, Calvin Klein, Levi's, and Next or department stores like Debenhams takes retail therapy to a whole new level at this shopping destination.
Mall of Qatar: Humungous is the word for this five hundred-thousand square metre shopping destination with a 28-metre-tall skylight, dancing fountains and giant trees. Shop 'til your drop with 500 international home and fashion boutiques, including luxury marques like Bulgari and Valentino.
Museums & the Arts
Museum of Islamic Art: Claiming a sizeable chunk of Qatar's cultural pie is this marvellous building designed by acclaimed architect I.M. Pei of Louvre Pyramid fame. An impressive collection of objets d'art that spans three continents includes over 15,000 rare manuscripts and texts from around the globe. Stop to stare at the 50-metre-tall dome.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum: Located 45 minutes outside Doha, this museum holds the private collection of one of Qatar's most famous industrialists. 15 halls are filled with 15,000 artefacts, including Islamic manuscripts, fossils, prehistoric figurines, scriptures, textiles, carpets and rare coins. Gloat over the collection of 600 vintage cars.
Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art: Trip down to the Education City to spend a few hours poring over 9,000 - 20th & 21st-century - works of Arabian origin. The permanent gallery houses pieces from Iran, Turkey and India.
Msheireb Museums: A complex of four restored homes in the historic downtown area is ideal for learning about Doha's fascinating history. You can dig deep into the evolution of family roles, the history of oil in the region, and even understand the part that slavery played in the peninsula's development.
National Museum of Qatar: This must-visit pitstop for museum fanatics is a treasure trove of unusual exhibits related to Qatari heritage and history. Let the multimedia narrative and innovative films guide you through 11 galleries, starting with one that displays a 400 million-year-old fossilised fish.
Football: Football is the most popular and most played sport in Qatar. Within a short period, the country has morphed into an Asian and world football giant. With the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, you can expect to experience world-class stadiums and state-of-the-art facilities all across Doha.
Diving: Considered to be a paradise for diving enthusiasts, Doha’s legacy as a top pearl diving centre enhances its underwater appeal. Experienced divers can scuba dive for marine life, search for boat wrecks and hunt down limestone formations in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. PADI training courses and trips are available for amateurs keen to master an exciting sport at various dive locations.
Camel racing: One of Qatar’s most popular activities includes attending a camel race at Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack. As part of a quintessentially Qatari tradition, animals are steered along the race track by colourfully dressed robot jockeys, controlled remotely by their handlers. Prep for heavy doses of dust, sand, and excitement while you accompany the handlers in their pickups or 4x4s along with the racing long-legged beasts.
Restaurants and Bars
Market by Jean-Georges: This modern restaurant at the W Doha Hotel offers an exceptional choice of contemporary European and international dishes. Fresh ingredients are bathed in combinations of flavours and spices from the region. The grilled Omani lobster, black truffle pizza & slow-cooked salmon are a few must-try dishes when you are here.
Hakkasan Doha: If you are craving Cantonese culinary delicacies, book a table at Hakkasan Doha. Located in the St Regis Hotel, the award-winning menu includes the popular specialties of Peking duck with pancakes and Applewood Peking duck with Beluga caviar. Lavish dining, traditional cooking and an opulent setting make it an experience to remember.
Nobu Doha: The world’s largest Nobu restaurant is located at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha. Choose from seven dining spaces, including the main dining room and the restaurant’s rooftop lounge with enviable views of the Arabian Gulf. One must not miss the signature dishes, including blackened cod, sashimi, ceviche, and tacos.
IDAM by Alain Ducasse: The first Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Middle East floors diners with refined Mediterranean dishes that borrow from Arabian flavours. Culinary dreams become a reality when you order the farm veal with purple artichoke and zaatar or the marinated red snapper with citrus.
Nozomi: Commanding views of the Persian Gulf are yours for the taking in this restaurant located in the gardens of Marsa Malaz Kempinski. Fans of contemporary Japanese cuisine will love the sushi, marinated seafood, tempura, and meat and seafood.
Luxe it up with a box reservation at the five-star Al Shaqab Equestrian Center, where you can watch prized thoroughbreds competing for glory in a 980,000 square-metre horseshoe-shaped performance arena. Watch Arabian horses being trained in one of the world’s finest horse-training centres in the world. Facilities include a pool, treadmill and equine jacuzzi. Later, tour the breeding facilities and newborn nursery before continuing to the Center's retirement village and hospital.
Pick up a handwoven Al-Sadu cushion cover, rug, carpet, or blanket. These vibrant materials made from the hair of sheep, goats and camels, reflect ancient Bedouin culture and make a perfect Qatari souvenir. The rich, geometric patterns using red, black and white colours can add a touch of exotic to any home.
Qatar’s extraordinary Inland Sea
Khor Al Adaid, an inland sea is a UNESCO-recognised natural reserve with its own ecosystem. In this natural wonder where the sea extends into the heart of the desert, you can discover abundant wildlife like endangered turtles and birds. Khor Al Adaid is a rare landscape where you can start with dune bashing and end with a beach barbecue. But even sitting in the warm sand, peacefully inbibing the amazing vistas is a memorable experience.
A hidden gem of Doha’s nightlife
Celebrate the good life at Doha's trendiest club and champagne bar, Crystal. Dress to kill in this swanky nightclub, where the floor is lit with coloured lights and lasers, and the interiors are decked with vibrant purples and golds. Dance the night away with foot-tapping music that ranges from R&B to hip-hop. Expect inventive cocktails and a rocking time!
In the run up to the FIFA Men's World Cup 2022, Doha is on a hotel-building spree. After the final whistle is blown, Qatar will have a collection of the some of the finest hotels in the Middle East. By 2030, Qatar aims to be one of the world's top holiday destinations - with amazing hotels and experiences luring sophisticated tourists.
Reaching downtown Doha from Hamad International Airport is a breeze with various transportation options, including taxis, car rentals and limousine services. Public transport within the city is efficient. Consider hiring a car if you prefer to be on your own and plan to explore areas beyond the city centre. Uber is readily available. The new underground metro system is a practical and convenient alternative.
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