When it comes to shopping, Qatar is the most happening place in the Middle East. In the capital Doha, you can wander a labyrinthine souq,
take in some of the glitziest shopping malls known to man and explore decidedly
hip boutiques from exciting local designers. This is because the country has the
richest residents in the world, thanks to myriad oil and gas revenues.
last five years, this massive spending power has led the Qataris to snap up
some of the world’s biggest brands. The country’s sovereign wealth fund ploughed
millions into buying luxury department store Harrods
in London, and has stakes in everything from professional football club Barcelona FC and Bloomsbury Publishing to Barclays Bank and Sainsbury’s supermarkets. On the
streets and in the malls, if wealth is indeed power, then the Qataris have some
serious biceps with which to flex their shopping bags. Unless they have paid a
store assistant or porter to carry their purchases for them, that is.
Start your day of shopping with an early
morning tour of old world Arabia at Souq Waqif,
located behind the crescent-moon shaped waterfront Corniche. Renovated in 2004
to resemble the authentic, dusty souqs found in cities such as Aleppo and
Damascus in Syria and Cairo, Egypt, rather than the heritage theme parks of
Dubai and Abu Dhabi, this working open-air street market is a maze of narrow alleys
where merchants barter perfumes, handicrafts, jewellery, Bedouin weavings,
bridal chests and silverware – all the trappings of Qatar’s heritage and wealth.
In the heart of the souq is the Souq
Waqif Art Centre and the miniscule Al Hosh Al Qatari Lil Funoon Gallery (974-441-1305),
both great spots to pick up a folk painting of Old Doha, or, in the surrounding
lanes, spoil yourself with some of the region’s finest dried fruits and nuts,
honey and incense from a variety of ever-changing vendors.
The real star of the souk, though, is the architecture
– so much so that the local designer Mohamed Ali Abdullah won the respected Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Wind
towers dot the top of buildings, and roofs have been constructed in traditional
style, with local woods and bamboo bound together by a layer of clay and straw
– it is easy to imagine Bedouin traders and merchants buying and selling their
wares under the exposed timber beams.
After a morning browsing the souq, jump
into a taxi for the 20-minute ride to the
Pearl-Qatar, a man-made island in West Bay Lagoon and one of the most
up-and-coming areas in Doha.
Make a beeline to Toujouri, the flagship
boutique of London-trained, Doha-born star designer Lama El-Moatassem for glamorous
dresses and ball gowns, followed by Dados Boutique, run by local fashion
guru Heba Al-Okar, which specialises in chic garments for women hand-picked
from the boutiques of Paris and Milan. Its sister shop, Dados Salon, at Al-Seal Residence
in the newly developed West Bay neighbourhood, is a spa-themed boutique selling
fashion, swimwear and jewellery that would not look out of place in Paris
Hilton’s wardrobe. And for a sneak preview of next year’s trends, local fashionista
Farooqui is making a name for herself with a series of Indian-influenced
designs, patterns and motifs. Though she does not yet have her own outlet, it
is only a matter of time before her eponymous label is stocked throughout the
city’s ubiquitous malls. Until then you can buy her creations online via her Facebook
As the afternoon heats up, head to one of the
world-class arcades that are spread throughout the length and breadth of the
city, and are the beating heart of Qatari life. Choose from luxury hub the Gate in West Bay, home to designer labels including Hugo
Boss, Paul Smith, Givenchy and Just Cavalli; the Mall near the airport, the country’s
longest-standing shopping mall (since 1997) and home to diverse brands such as
La Senza, the Body Shop and Mothercare; and Landmark in Al Duhail, a haven for expats
thanks to global brands including GAP, H&M and Zara. If that was not enough,
gigantic retail park Doha
Festival City, located 15km north of downtown Doha, with more than 400 shops and the
country’s first IKEA, is due to open later this year.
The pick of the malls, however, is Villaggio, a Venetian-themed shopping
extravaganza located next to the purpose-built sports area Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports
City, and an excessive
altar to everything Italian. It is not only home to the Via Domo luxury
precinct (expect to see Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Valentino among
other Italian brands), it coaxes in visitors with Las Vegas-style indoor
gondola rides on the canals that run between the shops and the indoor Gondolania
Theme Park, with rollercoasters, flume rides and a free-fall tower.
Now that it has reopened after a big-money renovation due to a
government clampdown on mall safety regulations, City Center Doha in the
diplomatic quarter should give Villaggio a run for its money. Easier to access
from the main tourist sights in Doha, its claim to have everything under one
roof is entirely justified; there are cinemas, an ice rink, a vast food court and
an A to Z of all the international brands you would expect, from Aldo through
to Mango and Swatch, Last December it even opened from 10 am until 4 am for “Starlight
Shopping”. For some Qataris, there just are not enough hours in the day. But,
really, with that amount of loose change in the bank, who can blame them?