Dangling precariously off the top edge of the Arabian peninsula, dwarfed by neighbouring Saudia Arabia and Iran, it is easy to miss Qatar on a map. Though the city does not immediately spring to most people’s minds as a tourist destination, with more long-haul travel routes connecting through the large Middle Eastern air hubs, Doha is very much worth a stop.
The Qatari capital has relatively few tourist attractions in the traditional
sense, so to get the most out of Doha you need to tap into the lifestyles of
the resident expats and locals.
Take in some culture
Suffering from stifling heat and humidity for most of the year, and prone to
sand and dust storms, Doha
is by necessity an indoors city. One way to combine air conditioning with
culture is to visit the Museum
of Islamic Art. On the southern tip of the bay near the airport, the MIA
boasts a fascinating collection housed in a striking modern building that will
have you admiring the architecture just as much as the artefacts.
Hit the shops
While there are lots of outdoor souqs (traditional markets) in the older parts
of town, Qataris and expats love hanging out at shopping centres like the
massive Villagio, next door to the Hamad
bin Khalifa sports stadium. While not quite as outrageous as some of the
attractions you will find in the malls of Dubai and Abu Dhabi,
Villagio’s indoor Venetian canal, complete with a gondola ride past expensive
jewellery stores and Western-brand clothes outlets, makes for a goodhearted
chuckle-inducing photo opportunity. A leisurely lunch at Dean
& Deluca deli is a great opportunity to observe wealthy locals browsing
top-end stores like Bulgari.
Stretch your legs
If you happen to visit during the milder months of October to April, a stroll
around the bay at dusk is magical. For the best view, start at the southern end
of the 6km horseshoe-shaped corniche and walk towards West Bay (confusingly, at
the north of the bay) where a large crop of futuristic skyscrapers has
sprung out of the ground in barely a decade. As the sky darkens and the lights
of the city brighten, remind yourself that you are in the middle of the desert.
Grab a meal
In the evening, there is simply no better place to be in Doha than Souq
Waqif, a recently renovated bazaar targeted at tourists but with an
authentic mix of locals and expats all shopping, eating and just hanging out.
Wander along the main thoroughfare with people from all over the world, through
clouds of scented tobacco smoke, past tacky souvenir shops for tourists that
trade right next to bulk foodstuff shops for locals, and stop at a random cafe
table for a spot of sweet black tea and people watching.
Qatar lacks a distinct national cuisine, the souq’s many restaurants reflect a
range of regional and global cuisines. Both locals and visitors love a long
session at the three-story Tajine. After a day in the cultural mash-up that is
Doha, eating camel (similar to goat in taste) on the roof of a Moroccan
restaurant in Qatar will not seem strange at all. Stick around after your meal
to watch either football or Lebanese music videos (it is only ever one of these
programs) on the giant projector screen on the wall, accompanied by mint tea
and a shisha.
Despite the almost total lack of a public transport system (there is a very
basic bus service), getting around Doha is relatively easy and cheap.
Aqua-coloured “Karwa” taxis are plentiful in most areas a tourist might
frequent and can be hailed by the side of the road. Meters are routinely used
(if it is broken your ride is free), and rates are low.
The article 'The local side of Qatar’s capital' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.