Jutting out into the Persian Gulf is Qatar, one of the fastest-moving Middle Eastern Cities. As its neighbours sprang into action nearly half a century ago, Qatar remained in its staid, somnambulant state, seeming to be happy to be the dowdy aunt of the Gulf. However, over the last decade, the country has shrugged off its frumpy persona to reveal a glittering, buzzing country, ready to take the worlds of tourism, commerce and oil, and give its opulent neighbours a run for their money. Qatar’s capital Doha, is a perfect example of the country’s ugly-duckling style transformation. Once dubbed the most boring city on earth, Doha now boasts world-class art galleries, unrivalled shopping and a burgeoning culinary scene. However, amid the rapid growth of this adolescent city, there is evidence of its not-so-distant past, which adds to the allure and opulence of this admirable city. Like watching a slow-motion nature film of a bud unfurling into a flower, on your trip to Doha, you will have the opportunity to see a city growing before your eyes.
Direct flights to Doha will bring you to Doha Hamad International Airport (DOH), about 8 miles east of the city centre.
Doha is the perfect location for some winter sun, when temperatures hover in the low-to-mid-twenties. In the summer months, it is not unusual for temperatures to soar to well over 40°C, making it too hot for many, despite the many opportunities to seek shade and air con. If you are looking for cheap flights to Doha, book well in advance and aim for the shoulder months – March-May and September-November, avoiding European school holidays.
Despite its rapid growth, Doha has a choice of lush green parks where you can relax, enjoy the sunshine, and watch the world go by. And, of course, Doha’s parks are world-class. Located on the waterfront, MIA park is the perfect place to while away the hours. Take a look at “7”, Richard Serra’s acclaimed steel sculpture, or if you visit Doha between March and September, head to the park on the first Saturday of the month, when you will be greeted by a bustling market selling crafts and souvenirs from 12 noon until 7 p.m. For a bit of beach action, head to Katara Cultural Village, where you will find the nearest beach to the city. There is a small charge to go onto the beach, but children under 6 go free. Women are advised to wear one-piece swimming costumes. For a real bit of Arabian action, head to the Horse Stables, which is home to incredible Arabian horses; alternatively, you can head to the Camel Pen at the end of the Corniche, or, if you want to get more hands-on, book a camel trek with a local guide.
As one may expect from a Gulf city, the Corniche is a perfect place to acclimatise yourself, people-watch and take in Doha’srising skyline. Sleek, futuristic towers soar overhead, an exquisite contrast to the palm-tree-lined walkways and tranquil ocean. On Friday afternoons, the area is filled with a babel of nationalities, walking, enjoying the weekend sunshine, and spending precious time with their families. The focal point of Doha’s burgeoning cultural scene centres around the Arts, and art lovers will be spoilt for choice on their trip to Doha. Rising from a purpose-built island, the Museum of Islamic Art features the world’s largest collection of Islamic art. The building itself is of post-modern construction, taking the usual, curved domes and arches of a typical Middle-Eastern building and transposing it into cubes; the overall impression maintains the grandeur of Islamic architecture, but with a futuristic edge. In contrast, the Gallery Al Riwaq, on the outskirts of MIA Park, hosts world-class contemporary exhibitions from renowned artists such as Takashi Murakami and Damien Hurst. A trip to Mathaf will complete your cultural tour, as you explore the vast new exhibition space, which showcases international art with an Arab connection.
In Doha, there are markets, markets, everywhere, purveying everything from gold to birds of prey! Falconry is an important part of Qatari heritage and a trip to the Falcon Souk reinforces how important the sport is to society. The massive souk is lined with perches, filled with birds – usually hooded- waiting to be taken home to their new owner. After your visit, pop into the adjacent Falcon Hospital – if it is a quiet day, staff may give you a tour. Marketplaces have been the centre of Middle-Eastern life for centuries, and Souk Waqif remains the epicentre of life in Doha. With its timber beams and restored traditional buildings, the souk gives an impression of what it would have been like 200 years ago; browse spices, perfumes, textiles and incense to bring home as a memento of your trip to Doha. Like the Falconry Souk, the Gold Souk may be worth visiting to window shop, without the intention of buying, but it is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Take in the incredible craftmanship and detail that goes into every gleaming piece, from a simple bangle to lavish bridal jewellery. For a more mainstream market experience, head to the Omani Market, where you will find an eclectic array of items: handwoven baskets alongside Iranian honey; camel sticks and date flowers; dried fish and preserved lemons. The scents and sounds of the market wash over you, invoking images of ancient Arabia.
As an Islamic country, alcohol is not a part of daily life in Doha. Most hotels and resorts serve alcohol, but it can come at a price (anything from £5 to £10 for a drink). Try Qatari coffee – a sticky mixture of cardamom, saffron and sugar, or quench your thirst with a refreshing lemon and mint cocktail. Traditional cuisine is typical Arab fare: delicately spiced stews of meat or fish, served with rice, fresh vegetables and pulses. As Doha continues to forge its way into the tourist industry, increasing numbers of international restaurants can be found. Head to the Corniche and find a restaurant that takes your fancy – the food will almost certainly be delicious, but it is the spectacular views of this glorious city at night that you are most likely to remember. One thing is certain: Doha is on the way up, and if you visit it now, you will be privy to the city’s spectacular transformation. Let Travangelo help you to find cheap flights to Doha.