The modern, fast changing city of Doha, in Qatar, has lots of offer for an extended layover when travelling East or West. A modern futuristic architectural paradise with old fashioned Qatari traditions.
Until the end of 2018 Qatar Airways is offering all passengers flying via Doha a free one night stay, or 2 nights for $100 at selected hotels. It is well worth taking advantage and spending a couple of days in Doha, the capital.
Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
The museum was one of my favourite spots in Qatar, a modern architectural wonder designed by IM Peri. The two curved windows at the top of the building are designed to represent the veiled eyes of a woman.
Inside the collection spans 14 centuries, and the museums lofty open spaces and walkways will appeal to architecture lovers. Outside there are two terraces with archways where you can take in the futuristic Doha skyline and get your bearings.
Dine at IDAM in the museum; Alain Ducasse’s first Middle Eastern restaurant, with Mediterranean food with a Middle Eastern twist.
Sail Round Doha Bay on a Traditional Dhow
Take the short walk from the MIA to the harbour where rows of traditional wooden dhows are moored. Before the discovery of oil and gas Qatar’s economy was maritime based on fishing and diving for pearls so take a step back in time with a cruise around Doha bay.
Enjoy views of the downtown sky scrapers and the MIA as well as catching the refreshing breeze.
Visit the Mall
With the highest GDP in the world Qataris, like the rest of the Middle East love to shop and the malls are world famous. The newly build Al Hazm Mall allows shopping in style, and once fully open will be packed with luxury brands.
When you step into the lofty marble double height arcade you would be forgiven for thinking you had been transported to Milan, as the design is based on Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Al Hazm has the second largest glass dome in the world. Craftsmen were bough in from around the work to make the intricate marble carvings. Never mind the shops it is worth seeing for the over the top building!
Outside white marble has been used on the pavements to help reduce the heat, and a shaded breezy ladies only terrace provides relief from the heat, and a view of downtown.
Despite its ancient looks the Souk Waqif was totally renovated in 2006 but still maintains the traditional Qatari style.
The maze of alleyways packed with shops selling everything both locals and tourists could want to buy – from hardware, textiles, household goods, food and of course sweets (make sure you visit a halwa maker) and spices.
Spend some time shopping and bargaining with the store keepers, then stop for coffee or snacks in one of the many cafes and restaurants.
Despite the appearance the souk is well ordered, signposted and regulated – unlike the more chaotic souks in Marrakesh for example – but it is not lacking in charm or character.
Falconry is hugely popular in Qatar, and there is a large part area of the souk dedicated to the sport. Take the time to wander around the lofty airy falcon souk with its high arches and stained glass windows, which almost feels like a cathedral.
Inside the falcon souk are numerous shops selling the birds (for thousands of riyals) as well as hoods, gloves and other falconry equipment. Shopkeepers are friendly and seemed delighted that that we took an interest and were more than happy to answer our numerous questions about the birds. We were offered a falcon to hold several times for a photo.
Around the corner is the falcon hospital providing veterinary care for these birds.
Behind the falcon souk are some stables as well as the camel pen for the camel mounted Qatari police. Visit in the early morning to see the camels being exercised along the Corniche.
The Pearl is an artificial island with flats, shops, boutiques as well as plenty of shops and restaurants, walk along the side of the marina and admire the luxury yachts moored there. Pop by Flat White for specialist coffee with a wide choice of brew methods including my favourite V60 drip filter, as well as one of the best cold brews I’ve had.
Look out for The Pearl when flying in and out of Hamad International Airport.
The Grand Mosque
The Imam Abdul Wahhab Mosque opened in 2011, and is modern and minimalist from the outside with more traditional decoration inside. It is huge with room for 12,000 inside and a further 18,000 outside.
Non Muslims are welcome, but you need to dress modestly. There is a separate entrance for women, where we were lent black abayas and shown how to tie our hijabs before our tour. The mosque is cool, and spotlessly clean. Cameras are not allowed, but we were told we could take photos with our phones.
After visiting the inside of the mosque, have a stroll around the marble arcades around the central courtyard.
Qatar’s Inland Sea / Desert Tours
In the south of the country is the remarkable inland sea which is a UNESCO-recognised natural reserve. The water flows in between the narrow strait between Qatar and Saudi Arabia to create a tidal inland lake, with the sand dunes tumbling into it.
Sadly I didn’t get to go, but several operators offer 4×4 desert tours, with dune bashing, camel riding and a chance to swim in the sea.
Eating / Qatar International Food Festival
Mid to late march is an excellent time to visit Qatar – it is hot but not yet stifling, a gentle breeze and barely any humidity.
The International Food Festival is also held from around the 15th – 25th of the month in the park in front of the Sheraton Hotel and is an excellent chance to sample some of what Doha has to offer with stands from many of the local restaurants, hotels and food businesses. You will find all cuisines here, as well as street food and all manner of sweet treats, ice creams and coffees.
We watched a traditional Arda dance, where lines of men formally advance and retreat wielding swords, or banging drums whilst chanting a poem. Origially a war dance it is now performed at weddings or other celebrations.
Entrance is free so you can quickly wander around, watch the chef demonstrations, mingle with the Qataris, and do not need to feel you have to get your money’s worth, unlike other food festivals.
Elsewhere in the city there are limitless dining options including many Persian restaurants offering traditional Middle Eastern mezze followed by epic grilled meat platters. Be sure to pick the Arabic breakfast option in your hotel for breakfast – a plate of hummus, baba ghanoush, feta and labneh served with pita breads and watermelon juice is the perfect start to the day.
Katara Cultural Village
Between downtown and the Pearl is the Katara Cultural Village with buildings and exhibitions exploring all aspects of Qatari life, as well as a private beach and lots of restaurants. In the centre is a modern amphitheater (go and stand in the middle of the stage and speak and feel your voice reverberate back to you).
There is a beautiful tiled Mosque, traditional pigeon towers, and some workshops showcasing traditional crafts.
Sharq Village and Spa
We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Sharq Village and Spa, where the rooms are situated in peace villas surrounded by the tranquil gardens. Decor is comfortable, understated and Arabic in style, with cool marble floors throughout, and a rose petal filled fountain in reception.
On arrival you are welcomed with Arabic coffee and dates, and as you would expect for a 5* resort service is flawless.
The hotel is a short drive from both downtown and the airport and also has a 350m private beach with views of downtown.
48 Hours in Doha – Factbox
- +Qatar – is the offer from Qatar Airways and the tourist board to offer passengers travelling through Qatar a free one night stopover, or two nights for just £70. More details of the +Qatar scheme here.
- Kuoni (01306 747008 or www.kuoni.co.uk) is offering a three night, half board at Sharq Village & Spa in a Deluxe Resort Room including flights on Qatar Airways from London Heathrow and private transfers in resort. The price for selected dates in August and September 2018 based on two adults sharing is from £979 per person with a saving of up to £447 per couple. Sharq Village & Spa is a luxury waterfront Doha resort located 15 minutes from the Hamad International Airport on 350m of private coastline. Featuring 174 luxury hotel accommodations, an award-winning spa, world-class dining and impeccable service, this distinctive five-star hotel in Doha is an idyllic coastal retreat.
- Qatar Tourism Authority: For more information on Qatar please visit: www.visitqatar.qa
- Sharq Village & Spa Doha: For more information on Sharq Village & Spa please visit: www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village
- Qatar International Food Festival: For more information on the Qatar International Food Festival please visit: www.qifoodfestival.qa
- Qatar Airways: For more information on Qatar Airways please visit: www.qatarairways.com
- Uber – operates in Doha so get a local SIM for ease of booking, alternatively there are numerous taxis.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of the Qatar Tourism Authority. All opinions our own.