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The former pearling and fishing community of Doha has grown enormously since the 1930s, when oil was discovered. Though "watch this space” might have been a good motto for Doha a few years ago, "enjoy this space” is probably a better motto for today.

The centrepiece of the city, Doha Bay was carefully constructed with landfill to make an attractive crescent, along which runs shaded footpaths and cycling tracks. One great way to gain an introduction to the city is to begin at the south-eastern end of the corniche, at the Ras Abu Abboud street flyover, and either walk or drive to the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Resort, looking out for prominent landmarks along the way. Dhow (boat) rides are available to take you around the bay and if you have four hours to fill, it is a beautiful way to view the corniche.

If you are up for a spot of shopping, Doha will not disappoint. Gulf shopping malls like City Center-Doha, Landmark and Hyatt Plaza appear to be even more opulent versions of American malls, complete with themed entertainment and Starbucks. But then you will find an abeyya shop selling women’s cloaks or a prayer bead counter next to a waffle stand that confirms that you are, indeed, shopping in the Middle East.

Looking for something a little bit quirky? The best place to visit is the Second-hand Market in Doha’s Najma area. It is a great place to find that teapot from the British administration, minus the spout no doubt, or the date palm that you always wanted. The souq comes alive on Friday, when sales are conducted briskly from the back of trucks.

By this point you will have worked up an appetite. Pause for pomegranate juice in Arabian-style Al-Mourjan restaurant and watch the sun put a glint in the eye of Doha’s beautiful bay.

If you are not hungry, recharge by the beach at the Inter Continental Doha, which has a reputation for high quality service without the attitude.  Once your energy returns, hit the night running at the convivial hotspot, Paloma or at the city’s equally friendly cool-spot, the City Centre-Doha ice rink. Paloma is considered one of the most lively bars in town; curiously offering live music and Tex-Mex food. The City Centre is a hotspot of family-friendly fun, with ice skating, bowling and wall climbing.

Far from notions of exotic Arabian distance, and more than just a stopover, Qatar is a cultured destination refined by centuries of history, commerce and culture.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘A perfect day in Doha’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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