Qatar is a small nation on the Arabian Peninsula; it’s nestled on the Persian Gulf and borders Saudi Arabia. It’s a very wealthy country that is a growing tourist destination. In fact, Qatar is set to become the first Arab nation to host the FIFA World Cup in November of 2022.
If you’re planning a vacation to the middle eastern country, be sure to dedicate at least a day to its pretty and modern capital of Qatar, Doha. Here’s what to see and do while you’re there.
1. Take A City Tour
Those who just have a long layover at Hamad International Airport can take advantage of a great option offered by hometown hero Qatar Airways. With a 6-hour layover, Qatar Airways offers a city tour option, including one with a private chauffeur. Highlights from the area can be enjoyed in that amount of time, so even short-term visitors can experience the city of Doha. Be sure to check out this option if it fits in your travel plans.
For those with more time to spend in the city, there are numerous private tour options available. Additionally, Airbnb’s Doha City Tour is highly rated and lasts 4 hours. You can even combine your city tour with a Dhow boat cruise!
Starting with a city tour can help you get acclimated to the area, see the highlights, and decide where to explore further. It’s always the first thing I do when I visit a new place.
2. Museum Of Islamic Art
Widely considered one of the most striking buildings in Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Art should be on everyone’s Doha itinerary. It was designed by the world-renowned Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. Architecture buffs might recognize some of Pei’s other designs, like the glass pyramids at the Louvre in Paris, Washington D.C.’s East Building at the National Gallery of Art, and the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg, among many others. The collection includes ceramics, metalwork, glass, textiles, manuscripts, and more spanning 1,400 years of history and multiple continents.
Admission costs about $14. This attraction is conveniently open seven days a week and also includes a gift shop, cafe, library, and park with outdoor sculptures.
History buffs should check out the artifacts and natural history exhibits at the National Museum of Qatar.
3. The Pearl
One of the Middle East’s largest real-estate developments, The Pearl-Qatar is situated on an artificial island in Doha’s West Bay Lagoon district. Its name refers to Qatar’s past as a pearl exporter; the area rests on a former pearl-diving hot spot.
With a mix of residential and commercial properties, the Pearl is very pedestrian-friendly and boasts an extensive system of canals. Publicly accessible spaces like squares and plazas make it an ideal gathering area.
Be sure to find the stunning replica of Venice’s Rialto Bridge in this area for a unique photo op. Give yourself time to discover the vibrant architecture of this district and enjoy the gorgeous Persian Gulf views.
4. Katara Cultural Village
Katara is a cultural village on the eastern coast of Doha, located between the West Bay financial district and The Pearl’s half-moon high-rises. Here, you can explore gorgeous mosques, a Greek-style amphitheater, and art galleries, as well as shops and eateries. There’s also a public beach here.
5. Doha Corniche
With its breathtaking water views, Doha Corniche is a 4-mile promenade is a popular spot to explore some of Doha’s landmarks by foot. It’s also conveniently located adjacent to the Museum of Islamic Art, which makes it a great option for right before or after your museum visit.
The Corniche hugs the shore of Doha Bay, and while it’s pretty all day long, it really impresses at sunset. A visit here would make the perfect end to your day of sightseeing in the Qatari capital.
6. Best Restaurants In Doha
Doha’s diverse dining scene will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
Those who want more traditional fare should look out for the national dish, machbus, a combo of meat, rice, and veggies; be aware that this item is sometimes called machboos or kabsa as well. Additionally, Qatar offers great seafood due to its coastal access. Other popular foods include dates, saloona (a spicy, veggie-forward broth), and luqaimat (a divine dessert choice). Many area restaurants offer these Qatari options, so just keep an eye out for them around the city.
A noteworthy dining spot is the modern Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, which has a great cocktail list and is a fine-dining favorite. Other upscale options are Nobu at the Four Seasons and Three Sixty at The Torch, with its famous panoramic views. My personal favorite was the midrange, European-inspired Market by Jean-Georges, which is run by a three-star Michelin chef and resides in the W Doha Hotel.
Those seeking more affordable options should check out the food court at the Villaggio Mall; there, you can expect to pay $10 or less for a great meal.
7. Shopping In Doha
With both traditional markets and upscale malls, the shopping scene in Doha does not disappoint.
My absolute favorite part of my trip to the area was roaming around the Souq Waqif. (Souq means “market.”) Located in the city center, this area has been the heart of Doha for years and offers spices, handicrafts, and textiles. The area is also home to an art center, boutique hotels, and tons of restaurant options. Be sure to set aside time to wander the twisting streets, exploring the sights and sounds of the souq.
Like many Arabian tourist spots, Doha has numerous upscale shopping malls that are destinations in and of themselves. One of the most unique is the Villaggio Mall, which features an ice rink and indoor canals with gondolas. This shopping center in West Doha is home to luxe retailers like Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton as well as numerous specialty stores featuring footwear, cosmetics, and more.
The aforementioned Pearl development also boasts plenty of shops, and even the airport is a well-known shopping destination.
8. Luxury Accommodations
Those looking to splurge will be more than pleased with the upscale accommodation offerings in Doha. I enjoyed my stay at the Warwick Doha, a five-star retreat complete with spa, onsite eateries, and a stunning rooftop swimming pool. There’s also a Ritz-Carlton in the city that includes a marina and the Middle East’s largest chandelier.
Visitors looking for a midrange accommodation will delight in the centrally located Marriott. Another spot with a great central location is the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel. This property is within walking distance of the Pearl, the Museum of Islamic Art, and La Corniche, and it sits in the heart of the main souq.
What To Know Before You Go
With its perennially warm and sunny weather, Doha is a great place to visit at most times of the year. But the summertime, with its high heat and very little rainfall, is not the best time. However, those on a budget might consider a summer getaway, since hotel rates are lower then than during peak season.
Please be aware that Qatar is a majority Muslim nation, so public drunkenness will not be tolerated. Keep your beverage consumption to a reasonable amount. Additionally, to be culturally sensitive, female travelers may choose to cover their hair with a pashmina or shawl, but this is not required, or even expected by most locals. Generally, shoulders and legs should also be covered.
There’s so much to see and do in the Qatari capital. From its luxe shopping experiences to its world-class museums and markets, Doha won’t disappoint the traveler in search of adventure.