From a sleepy desert city to a bustling blend of traditional Islamic culture and ultra-Western modernism, Doha has spent the past decade reinventing itself. Nestled in the Persian Gulf, the capital of Qatar is a city of contrasts: Arab-Islamic culture sits easily alongside a thriving art scene and luxury consumerism industry.
Set between neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Iran, Doha is not often considered a classic tourist destination. However, with urban expansion and tourism on the rise, this increasingly appealing city is emerging as a travel hotspot. Whether you go for the bustling souks (open-air markets), the Islamic art, the skyscrapers or the sprawling Western malls, a trip to Doha is sure to leave you intrigued.
Qatar’s most iconic building, and a stunning fusion of Islamic and 21st century architecture in its own right, the Museum of Islamic Art houses a fascinating collection of works that date back more than 1,400 years.
Continue your trip back in time at Souq Waqif, the social heart of Doha. Despite being redeveloped in 2005 to resemble the authentic souks of Cairo and Damascus, it’s still one of the most traditional Qatari market places in the region. Pick up locally made garments, souvenirs, handicrafts and spices, or simply wander around and soak up the atmosphere.
For something a little more modern, head to The Pearl-Qatar. This enormous man made riviera-inspired island, which comes complete with international restaurants and retail outlets, is undoubtedly one of Doha’s most popular attractions – not to mention one of the most glamorous.
Eat and Drink
Doha is a cosmopolitan city, with international cuisines sitting comfortably alongside authentic Middle Eastern food. Souq Waqif is the best place to find traditional street food – be sure to try the Qatari national dish of machbous, a spicy rice and meat based stew. Spanning the length of Doha Bay, the trendy boulevard of Doha Corniche is home to up-market international eateries, with Latin American, Italian and Mexican cuisine available. Alternatively, The Pearl-Qatar is a popular choice for high-class restaurants in Doha. Be aware that nightlife remains solely in the domain of Western-style hotels, and that Muslim beliefs dictate that alcohol does not flow freely in this city.
Where to Stay
Doha has a well-deserved reputation for luxury. Splash out at one of the many premium hotels, where plush rooms, spa treatments and top-notch service reign supreme. For a more bespoke Qatari experience check out the traditional-style guesthouses around Souq Waqif. Or for something a little more affordable, steer clear of big-name hotels and boutique accommodation and rest your head at one of the good quality budget-friendly options located a little further out from the city centre.
Considering it’s home to some of the richest residents in the world, it’s hardly a surprise that Doha offers the best shopping in the Middle East. The world’s biggest brands have flocked to the enormous glitzy malls that dominate Doha’s shopping scene to grab a slice of the action. Check out The Pearl-Qatar for flagship boutiques or head to The Gate in West Bay to snap up designer labels.
Villaggio Mall, which comes complete with a Venetian-inspired canal lined with gondolas, is the pick of the crop for luxury Italian brands. For something a little more affordable, The Mall, situated near Doha airport, stocks a great range of global high street brands. Souq Waqif is the hero of traditional market-style shopping in Doha, where you can barter for handicrafts, jewellery, perfume and traditional Bedouin weavings.
Doha Like a Local
Despite the malls, designer labels and lavish Western hotels, Doha still holds traditional Islamic values close to its heart. Take some time to discover the region’s history at the Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre. Their mission is simple: to offer a better understanding of Islam and Qatari culture to non-Arabs. This government run organisation showcases all aspects of Islamic culture in an interesting and easily accessible way.