Qatar’s budding city destination offers everything from world-class museums to five-star cuisine and special events for food, film, music and sports lovers.
Not so long ago, the desert capital of Qatar was barely on the tourist map.
But this ambitious, oil-rich city has seen spectacular development in recent years, and today its 2 million inhabitants welcome visitors from all over the world, drawn by its incredible architecture, luxury resorts, cultural institutions of world class and its traditional Arab markets. .
Doha also boasts a packed calendar of events and festivals, so whenever you visit there’s always something exciting happening – whether it’s the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, a dazzling performance by the Orchestra Qatar Philharmonic or a global sports festival such as FIFA. World Cup, which will take place in Doha in November and December 2022.
Foodies will also be in heaven thanks to a culinary scene ranging from small local cafes serving authentic Middle Eastern dishes to more glitzy restaurants in the city’s five-star hotels, where alcohol is allowed (drinking in other public places is illegal). And, like in Dubai, the malls are big and bold, perfect if you like to shop.
As Qatar prepares for global attention and football mania, now is the perfect time to visit and experience Doha’s brilliant blend of 21st-century Western glitz and centuries-old Arab-Islamic tradition.
What to see and do in Doha
The Museum of Islamic Art
Qatar has invested heavily in prestigious cultural projects, and this is undoubtedly the jewel in its crown. Designed by the famous international architect IM Pei and built on an artificial island, the museum houses a fabulous collection of paintings, ceramics and textiles, as well as a 5-star restaurant run by the famous French chef Alain Ducasse.
Currently closed for further development, the museum is expected to reopen in time for the FIFA World Cup.
Offering a taste of traditional Arab life – although the buildings are newer than they look – the Souq Waqif (“standing market”) is built on the site of a dry riverbed where Bedouin traders once sold their livestock.
Now a popular tourist spot, it is home to vendors selling spices, perfumes, sweets and traditional clothing. Once you have bought some gifts, you can enjoy a coffee or a mint tea in one of the many restaurants and cafes nearby.
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National Museum of Qatar
Opened in 2019, this spectacular building is inspired by the “desert rose”, a crystalline formation present in the Qatari landscape. Inside its futuristic hull, you’ll find a collection of world-class artifacts from prehistoric to modern times that bring Qatar’s unique history and culture to life.
If you’re looking for fun and relaxation, head to crescent-shaped Banana Island, home to a glitzy resort town with excellent beaches. Access is by catamaran only, but it’s well worth the effort – the island is an oasis of tropical greenery and offers a choice of six restaurants.
Athletes can also try their hand at bowling, FlowRider surfing and Segway. Day passes cost around £70, but for this you get beach and pool access, plus a credit to spend on rides and dining out.
Where to go in Doha
If raptors are your thing, head to the falcon souk of Souq Waqif. This is where local ranchers come to buy and sell, and you’ll find dozens of hooded birds, sitting quietly on their perches.
If you’re lucky (and brave), you might be able to let one settle on your arm. Imagine the selfie!
Before the oil industry, pearl fishing was vital to the local economy, and this magnificent monument at the entrance to Dhow Harbor pays homage to that tradition. A fiery sunset would make the perfect backdrop for your photo.
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Stretching nearly five miles around the city’s crescent-shaped bay, this waterfront promenade makes for a pleasant stroll. You’ll find the best views from the water’s edge, near the Museum of Islamic Art, where traditional dhows float in the foreground.
From there, you can stroll (or jog) to the Sheraton Hotel on West Bay, admiring the city skyline as you go.
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What to eat in Doha
Shaped like a seashell, the Doha branch of Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s empire offers stunning views from its rooftop bar. Prices are also high, but the food, including Nobu’s famous blackened cod, is worth it.
If you’re only in town for one night, book well in advance for an evening to remember.
A favorite with locals, this bustling modern cafe is located in the tunnel connecting downtown Msheireb to Souq Waqif. Whether you’re looking for a simple flat white or a more exotic almond milk iced coffee, you’ll also find the perfect cup and great cakes.
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Cut by Wolfgang Puck
Another great restaurant worth booking in advance, CUT is located inside the chic Mondrian Doha Hotel.
Hosted by Michelin-starred Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck, it’s primarily a steakhouse, but it also has some superb chicken and seafood dishes (not to mention a dangerously more indulgent dark chocolate soufflé).
What to buy in Doha
Calling it a man-made island understates this stunning destination, built on 4 million cubic meters of reclaimed land, less than 15 minutes by taxi from the city center.
An upmarket residential and commercial complex with canals and Venetian-style bridges, it is home to countless five-star stores, including Missoni, Versace, Hermès and Lalique. There are also plenty of places to eat and drink, so you can easily shop till you drop.
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If you like all things glittery, head to the Gold Souk in downtown Doha. This vibrant market is brimming with everything from affordable chains and bracelets to impressive pieces costing thousands of dollars.
The jewelry market is strictly regulated here, so you can be confident in everything you buy, and most pieces are 22 carats. You can even have a necklace made for you, spelling out a loved one’s name in Arabic script.
Bargaining is almost obligatory but the sellers are in a good mood and the service is smiling.