A visit to the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, Qatar
If you have read my post on things to do in Doha, my top recommendation is a visit to the Museum of Islamic Arts.
For architecture fiends, the MIA is probably one that is already on the list of places whilst visiting Qatar. Designed by Chinese American architect Ieoh Ming Pei (of Louvre pyramid fame), the iconic building adds an interesting feature to the Doha skyline. I’m not an architect nor really understand anything about the subject, but I can certainly appreciate its beauty and is the most appealing building in Doha to me. It’s the first place I would take visitors to show them that Qatar isn’t just shiny new everything- theres a lot of history and the MIA is the perfect place to get that culture fix.
What to see and do
You can spend several hours perusing the varied collection of Islamic art ranging from paintings, intricate ceramics rugs and textiles amongst many other pieces housed in the MIA. The collections are housed within dimly lit, dark wooden rooms with modern aesthetics, however they are designed so that all the entrances/exits on each floor take you back to the light filled atrium facing the water and skyline. Look out for my favourite piece in the Museum – the life sized steel cavalry armour (for horse and man) dating from Ottoman Turkey.
Aside from the art housed inside the MIA, there is also a sculpture created by American artist Richard Serra east of the main building to admire. From the MIA, follow the path along the corniche to the end where the ‘7’ sculpture stands at 80 feet tall. Taking inspiration from the design of minarets, it’s a minimalistic and modern feature that blends in perfectly with the MIA building and the Doha backdrop.
During winter, there is a bazaar/market held in the gardens of the Museum where small businesses sell their wares and local artisans sell handmade arts and crafts. Foodies are also catered for with some stalls selling organic honey and with the different cultures living in Qatar, there’s usually a big variety of food from all over the world (there’s a stall selling freshly grilled satay sticks that are ahh-ma-zing).
For those with discerning taste, gifts and souvenirs can be purchased at the Museum Gift shop where you can find beautiful coffee table books and other stand out pieces for the home. If you miss out on the gift store, Virgin Megastores at Villagio Mall has a concession stall selling some MIA wares.
With its prime position next to the Corniche and calm waters around the bay, paddleboards and kayaks are also available for hire through Aqua Sports Qatar. A picturesque way to get active and sight see at the same time.
If you have children, there’s a large playground, trampoline, bungee and plenty of large green spaces. It’s a very popular spot during winter so you’ll find a lot of families hanging out flying kites on the lawn and taking advantage of the weather.
Where to eat
For dining options, there is a café designed by architect Philippe Starck, located inside the atrium of the Museum. Offering views of the Doha skyline and Arabic Sea through the impressive floor to celling window, it’s a pretty cool place to chill at and people watch (or blog – they have free wifi!).
Also designed by Philippe Starck, IDAM by Alain Ducasse is located on the top floor of the MIA and offers penthouse views of the skyline. The fine dining establishment is very modern with white leather chairs and tables underneath the silver circular ceiling/chandelier pieces. At the same time it pays homage to traditional Arabic design – elegant Arabic script is weaved on the carpet and embroidered on the tall leather armchairs. It’s a very luxurious setting with prices to match, but they also offer a set business lunch for 200 QAR.
On the way, stop by the MIA Park Kiosk for a caffeine break and admire the vista by the sea. They serve light refreshments, juices and tea and coffee. Just make sure you bring a light jacket in winter as it does get quite crisp.
In winter, the MIA plays host to the Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF) where celebrity chefs, with the likes of Martha Stewart and George Calombaris of Australian Masterchef fame holding live cooking presentations to the public. However, the main stars are the food from various hotels, restaurants and food trucks showcasing highlights of their menu. If you’re lucky to be around during this time, its a festive atmosphere and a good chance to try the different types of food available in Doha.