First time in Doha? 10 things you should do on your trip
Doha is the capital of Qatar, located on the coast of the Arabian Gulf. It was declared the capital in 1971 so is a modern and rapidly developing city. An important commercial centre, there are still opportunities to see the country's Muslim traditions at ornate mosques and the Museum of Islamic Art. Be prepared for the hot temperatures and enjoy the diverse cuisine from the large expatriate population.
An undoubted highlight of the city, Souq Waqif is in the renovated Arabic market quarter. With all the air-conditioned malls in the region, it's good to see the entire market area has been redeveloped to look like an authentic 19th-century souq.
Shops are open from 10am to midday, then from 4pm to 10pm. There are also lots of restaurants, cafés and Shisha lounges for the afternoon and late into the night. This traditional marketplace has maze-like corridors to keep you busy for hours.
The Souq is organised more or less by what is sold. There is a section for spice shops, another for textiles and a separate building for the Falcon Souq as falconry is an important facet of Qatari culture. There's a Bird Souq behind the colourful spices section for caged birds and the Gold Souq is worth visiting in the evening.
The Doha Corniche is a landscaped, water-front promenade extending for several kilometres along Doha Bay. Much more than most other Gulf cities, Doha makes full use of its attractive Crescent water-front promenade, especially for the views of the city's skyscrapers.
In a city not known for its pedestrian-friendly streets, the Corniche is popular with locals and visitors. Visitors like to go jogging and families come for an afternoon stroll. The busiest time in the week is probably Friday afternoon and the quietest is Friday morning.
On the south end of the Corniche is the large Pearl Fountain, near the Dhow Harbour. Do consider a cruise on a traditional boat (dhow) or an exclusive yacht cruise to watch the sun set. The camel pen is also nearby.
A local landmark restaurant along the Corniche is Al Mourjan in the Balhambar building that gets lit up in pink at night. There's terrace dining to enjoy this excellent Lebanese cuisine.
MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART
An iconic feature of the Doha skyline, the Museum of Islamic Art opened in 2008 and is located on its own purpose-built island on an artificial peninsula overlooking the south end of Doha Bay.
Inspired by elements of classic Islamic architecture, the museum was designed by I.M. Pei, architect of the Louvre pyramid, and is shaped like a postmodern fortress with minimal windows (to reduce energy use) and a 'virtual' moat.
Inside there is the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, collected from three continents over 1,400 years. As well as the regular temporary exhibition, the 1st and 2nd floors house the permanent collection with Turkish mosaics, Persian rugs, ceramics, gold jewellery, metalwork, manuscripts and more.
The museum has free admission and is closed on Tuesdays. There are free guided tours plus online tours on the official website too. Dress modestly to respect the local Qatari culture.
Connected to the Museum of Islamic Art (see above) is MIA Park – a popular, green space at the waterfront.
This beautiful, family-friendly park has a large playground and is home to the American artist Richard Serra's almost 80-foot high, vertical steel sculpture. Known as '7', it celebrates the spiritual and scientific significance of the number 7 in Islamic culture.
Open 24 hours a day, MIA Park is great for renting a paddle boat in the daytime or for simply gazing at the Doha skyline at night. Do note modest dress is required at all times.
From October to March (avoiding the hottest months), MIA Park has lots of events from fitness classes to open-air cinema. There's also a Park Bazaar on Fridays and Saturdays with around 150 stalls selling local handicrafts, jewellery and unusual gifts.
STATE GRAND MOSQUE
Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab Mosque – better known as The State Grand Mosque – is the largest in Qatar. The building is named after the 18th-century Islamic theologian. It features a mix of both traditional Arabic and modern architecture and has room for 30,000 worshippers.
The imposing building has 93 domes plus half-moons, a minaret and large open outdoor spaces. It is extravagant yet has managed to retain the simple, clean lines for which Qatari architecture is known.
The mosque does not allow non-Muslims inside and, controversially, worshippers are not allowed to bring children under seven years old.
Do note, this architectural landmark should not be confused with the green Grand Mosque next to the Emiri Diwan, the Grand Mosque in Katara or the Grand Mosque at Fanar.
A city-within-a-city, The Pearl is a luxury man-made island off the coast of the northern side of Doha. The complex shape of the island has created different neighbourhoods for deluxe apartments, marinas and high-end retail.
Take a stroll at the Porto Arabia marina to see impressive boats, and Qanat Quartier has a Venetian feel with an extensive canal system plus a replica of the Rialto Bridge.
The designer shopping is not just clothing stores but also Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Ferrari car showrooms.
This is a wonderful location for dining with a sea view at the variety of international cafes and restaurants.
KATARA CULTURAL VILLAGE
Located in the West Bay area, Katara Cultural Village was created to preserve the cultural identity of the country. It is the largest cultural project of Qatar and includes a Roman-style amphitheatre, an opera house, cinema, exhibition galleries and more.
There's also the 1.5km private Katara Beach for gondola rides, water sports or a dip in the sea.
Stay for dinner as there are lots of restaurants overlooking the sea. L'Wzaar Seafood Market is a choose-your-own-fish restaurant and the dishes range from traditional fish soup to sushi, Pad Thai, paella and fish and chips.
AL ZUBARAH TOWN AND FORT
The walled town of Al Zubarah, Qatar's largest archaeological site, lies on the country's northwest coast about 100km from Doha. It's one of the best-preserved examples of an18th and 19th century Gulf merchant town as a layer of sand blown from the desert has protected the remains of the site's palaces, mosques, streets, courtyard houses, fishermen's huts, etc. In 2013 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Zubarah Fort was originally built in 1938 to guard and protect Qatar’s north-west coast. Until 1986, the fort was used as a military and police post and has since become a museum and heritage attraction to display archaeological findings.
The fort has a regular square courtyard with one-metre thick walls. Three of the corners have large circular towers with pointed crenellations, and the fourth corner has a rectangular tower with traditional triangular-based ledges with slits to shoot at enemies.
Zubarah Fort is free to visit and is open 7.30am to 5pm daily.
It's well worth taking a desert safari tour out to the edge of the city in a 4X4 across the golden sand dunes. And the adventure is easily combined with lunch and a swim in the warm inland sea.
The Singing Sand Dunes are a lot of fun too. About 40 km southwest of Doha, this is one of the few places on Earth that has "singing" sand. When the humidity is low and the wind blows along the sand it creates an eerie hum that can be amplified by running across the sand, or by sliding down the dune.
And see if you can combine your day trip to see some camel racing, traditionally known as the sport of the sheikhs, at Al Shahaniya (also Ash Shahaniya). Fiercely competitive, the racing track is an hour's drive into the desert to the north of Doha. There are domestic and international tournaments on Fridays from November to February.
CITY CENTRE DOHA
When you want to enjoy hours of retail therapy with air-con City Centre Doha is the mall to visit. Located in West Bay, this is one of the largest shopping centres in Qatar with around 350 shops. The tented architecture and glass-fronted lifts make a visit more of an event than just a shopping trip.
The jewellery and perfume stores are eternally popular and you can expect cheaper prices than Dubai. The complex stays open late every evening when it can get quite crowded.
It's not all shopping as there's a multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, as well as an indoor ice-skating rink. And there are several eating options including two food courts.
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