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Doha city guide: What to see, do and eat in up-and-coming Qatari capital

Author: Melissa Moody

Published on:

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Qatar’s budding city destination offers everything from world-class museums to five-star cuisine and special events for lovers of food, film, music and sport.

Not long ago, the desert capital of Qatar barely figured on the tourist map.

But this ambitious, oil-rich city has seen spectacular development in the past few years, and today its 2 million inhabitants welcome visitors from all over the world, drawn by its incredible architecture, luxury resorts, world-class cultural institutions and traditional Arab markets.

Doha also offers a packed calendar of events and festivals, so whenever you visit there is always something exciting going on – whether it be the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, a dazzling performance by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, or a global sporting fiesta such as the FIFA World Cup, which is coming to Doha in November and December 2022.

Foodies will be in heaven, too, thanks to a culinary scene that ranges from small local cafes serving authentic Middle Eastern fare to more glitzy restaurants in the city’s five-star hotels, where alcohol is allowed (drinking in other public places is illegal). And, as in Dubai, the malls are big and bold – perfect if you love to shop.

As Qatar gears up for global attention and football mania, now is a great time to visit and experience Doha’s brilliant blend of 21st-century Western glitz and time-honoured Arab-Islamic tradition.

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What to see and do in Doha

The Museum of Islamic Art

Qatar has invested heavily in prestige cultural projects, and this is arguably the jewel in its crown. Designed by the celebrated international architect IM Pei and built on an artificial island, the museum houses a fabulous collection of paintings, ceramics and textiles, as well as a 5-star restaurant run by French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse.

Currently closed for further development, the museum is expected to reopen in time for the football World Cup.

Souq Waqif

Offering a taste of traditional Arab life – though the buildings are newer than they look – the Souq Waqif (‘standing market’) is built on the site of a dry riverbed where Bedouin traders once sold their livestock.

Now a popular tourist spot, it is home to vendors of spices, perfumes, sweets and traditional clothing. Once you’ve shopped for gifts, you can enjoy a coffee or mint tea at one of the many restaurants and cafes nearby.

- READ MORE: Qatar holidays: Why you should go to Qatar - what to see, do and eat -

National Museum of Qatar

Opened in 2019, this spectacular building was inspired by the ‘desert rose’, a crystal formation found in the Qatari landscape. Inside its futuristic shell you’ll find a world-class collection of artefacts from prehistoric to modern times that bring the unique history and culture of Qatar vividly to life.

Banana Island

If you’re looking for fun and relaxation, head out to the crescent-shaped Banana Island, home to a glitzy resort with excellent beaches. Access is by catamaran only, but it’s worth the ride – the island is an oasis of tropical greenery and offers a choice of six restaurants.

Sporty types can also try their hand at bowling, FlowRider surfing and Segway-riding. Day passes cost around £70 but for that you get beach and pool access, plus credit to spend on rides and restaurant meals.

Take a catamaran to Banana Island for a day of relaxation. Credit: Shutterstock

Where to go in Doha

Falcon Souq

If raptors are your thing, head to the falcon souq in Souq Waqif. This is where the local breeders come to buy and sell, and you’ll find dozens of hooded birds, sitting quietly on their perches.

If you’re lucky (and brave) you may be allowed to let one settle on your arm. Just imagine the selfie!

Pearl Monument

Before the oil industry, pearl fishing was vital to the local economy, and this beautiful monument at the entrance to Dhow Harbour plays homage to that tradition. A fiery sunset would make the perfect backdrop for your picture.

- READ MORE: Dubai holidays: Top five cultural delights to experience in UAE city -

Doha Corniche

Extending for nearly five miles round the city’s crescent-shaped bay, this waterfront promenade makes for a delightful stroll. You’ll find the best views from the water’s edge, close to the Museum of Islamic Art, where traditional dhow boats bob in the foreground.

From here you can meander (or jog) all the way to the Sheraton hotel on West Bay, admiring the city skyline as you go.

Head to the falcon souq and you may get a chance to hold one! Credit: Shutterstock

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What to eat in Doha

Nobu

Shaped like a shell, the Doha branch of Japanese MasterChef Nobu Matsuhisa’s empire offers stunning views from its rooftop bar. Prices are high, too, but the food – including Nobu’s famous blackened cod – is worth it.

If you’re in town for just one night, book well in advance for an evening to remember.

Nomad Cafe

A locals’ favourite, this lively modern cafe is situated in the tunnel joining Msheireb Downtown to Souq Waqif. Whether you’re after a simple flat white or a more exotic almond milk iced coffee, you’ll find the perfect cup and some great cakes, too.

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Cut by Wolfgang Puck

Another grand restaurant that’s worth booking in advance, CUT is located inside the swish Mondrian Doha hotel.

Masterminded by Michelin-starred Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck, it’s primarily a steakhouse but there are superb chicken and seafood dishes too (not to mention a dangerously moreish dark chocolate soufflé).

Head to the Nobu rooftop for a luxurious meal with amazing views. Credit: Shutterstock

What to buy in Doha

The Pearl-Qatar

Calling it a manmade island undersells this amazing destination, built on 4 million cubic metres of reclaimed land, no more than 15 minutes by taxi from the city centre.

A high-end residential and retail complex with Venetian-style canals and bridges, it’s home to countless five-star stores including Missoni, Versace, Hermès and Lalique. There are plenty of places to eat and drink, too, so you can easily shop till you drop.

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Gold Souq

If you love all that glitters, make a beeline for the Gold Souq in downtown Doha. This vibrant market is packed with everything from affordable chains and bangles to impressive pieces costing thousands of dollars.

The jewellery market is strictly regulated here so you can be confident in everything you buy, and most pieces are 22-carat. You can even have a necklace made for you, spelling out the name of a loved one in Arabic script.

Haggling is almost mandatory but the sellers are good-natured and service is with a smile.

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