Qatar ranks as one of the world’s richest countries, yet despite its isolation in the Middle East, surrounded by desert, its capital Doha is far more than just a glossy place to visit. There’s a depth here, whereby the government has taken careful steps to maintain and practice the old traditions of their ancestors, where they could have otherwise been lost and disrupted in their climb to the top of the economic pile. The city has been putting itself on the map over the past few years, winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and becoming a major stopover between the east and west.
This pearl in the Middle East is a thriving centre for arts, culture and trade, where you will find plenty of ways to soak up the wealth of culture available in this small part of the gulf. Due to its economic surge over the last decade, the city has gone from strength to strength, with the unrivalled Museum of Islamic Art boasting potentially the finest and most beautiful souq in all the Gulf region. While the neighbouring UAE is racing to build its skyline as high as possible, Doha is instead investing in its own culture. A blossoming culinary and arts scene, alongside all the spaces for real culture to bloom, makes Doha an incredibly attractive prospect for anyone travelling on flights from Manchester to Doha.
If you are visiting during the summer months, make sure you are drinking plenty of water and prioritise finding a hotel with air-conditioning. The most popular times to visit are either side of the summer period – spring and autumn are far more temperate and enjoyable. The sun is not as overbearing, and the evenings are just cool enough not to be uncomfortable. It’s important to bear in mind that many areas and attractions require people to dress ‘decently’, so typically avoid strappy tops and shorts when moving around the city.
There’s plenty to see and do in this modestly sized city, for both short and long breaks. Here are our favourite things to do when passing through this part of the Arabian Peninsula:
Discover a wealth of heritage and treasure at The Museum of Islamic Art
Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art is worth the journey alone. Designed by architect I. M. Pei – who oversaw the remodelling of Paris’ Le Grand Louvre, one of the world’s most iconic structures – this modern marvel explores the traditional geometries found in Islamic art and design. It is a striking arrangement, almost like a medieval fortress brought into the modern-day, and rests on its own artificial island. The light limestone walls gently reflect the intense Arab heat, protecting the wealth of treasure within – over 1,400 years’ worth of Islamic art from three continents. Over three floors, the whole experience can seem vast and overwhelming, a real exploration of the senses. Guided tours are available in English and can be very helpful when you might otherwise get lost.
Go back in time to the traditional marketplaces of The Souq Waqif
This hustling and bustling market has been reinvigorated alongside Doha’s ever-changing skyline, and offers a juxtaposition against the stainless steel and glass towers in the distance. This social hub has been the centre of trade for centuries, and now it has been lovingly redesigned to look like a traditional 19th-century souq. It would be easy to think that old sites like these would be quickly forgotten with so many new developments and malls in the city. The welcomed decisions were taken to ensure the survival of these traditions against the rapid expansion of new developments. In the market, you will find traditional Qatari items; beautifully embroidered headdresses (bukhnoq), exotic perfumes and spices, which fill the streets with delightful colour and scents. It is easy to get lost in the winding back alleys; you can quickly stumble into stables housing Arabian horses, or the souq’s functioning heritage police station where the officers dress in 1940s uniforms, only adding to the souq’s trapped in time aesthetic. A must-visit for those looking to immerse themselves in Qatari heritage – just be careful not to lose a whole day if you are in a rush.
Get the best views from the bank of Al Corniche
Doha’s waterfront promenade is one of the most attractive parts of the city. This seven kilometre stretch around Doha bay connects the emerging business district to the north to the older downtown towards the south. From beginning to end, it takes about 90 minutes to walk – perfect for late afternoon strolls to experience the best vistas the city has to offer. You will see those from all walks of life and nationalities along the waterfront, basking in the late afternoon sun. The bay is lined with luxurious cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as areas filled with amazing architecture and forward-thinking art installations. If strolling is not your style, cruises around the crystal-clear bay on luxury yachts are available for those looking to capture the magical views of Doha’s skyline from a different angle.
Wander the path less travelled with a wealth of historical sites
If you want your history to come alive, Doha and Qatar have some of the best preserved archaeological locations in the whole of the Gulf region, from whole villages and towns, to military forts and traditional Qatari towers used for spotting pearl divers. With the wealth of history embedded into every nook of Qatar, you will see the traditions and urbanisation of the ancient civilisations that once profited from the rich Gulf waters and trading routes through the region. Qatari heritage can be found throughout Doha and its surrounding areas. The Al Wajbah Fort is one of the oldest and most significant structures in their history, playing a vital role in repelling Ottoman invaders in the 19th century. One of the most impressive sites; the ruins of Al Zabuarah town to the north east of Doha is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is well worth taking a tour to reach this phenomenally preserved settlement if you have the time.
Doha is easily one of the most interesting places to visit right now, with its almost seamless transitions between tradition and modernity being difficult to capture. It is rare to see a booming economic power develop so quickly, all the while maintaining and keeping up their traditions. Don’t let the size of modest Doha fool you – the city and country are rich with diversity, and those willing to explore further will be rewarded even more so. You will find that the pearl of the Middle East will capture your imagination.