Things to do in Doha, Qatar
After almost a year in Doha, some of my friends back in Sydney still ask me “how’s life in Dubai?” <insert palmface emoji here > . I don’t blame them, I knew very little about Doha (or Qatar in general) when I was living in Australia. It was only through working in a major airline in Australia that I first heard about the national airline Qatar Airways which had started flying to Melbourne. Shortly after that, the whole world had heard about the prosperous Gulf country through their successful, albeit controversial, bid of the upcoming 2022 World Cup.
Contrary to a lot of peoples first perceptions about Doha, the city is very progressive. As a woman, yes, I can drive, and no I do not need to cover my hair – I do however cover my shoulders and knees (which is my norm anyways as my life uniform consists of skinny jeans and tshirts so this wasn’t a big adjustment). I also have a license to eat bacon and drink mojitos in my own home. True story.
The pace at which Qatar has transformed since the discovery of its abundant natural resources has been fast. Really, really fast. I’ve encountered many expats who have been here for no more than 10 years and when they first arrived, the current Doha skyline in West Bay was almost non existent and the only hotel for a long time, was the iconic Sheraton Hotel. In the midst of all this change and progress, the traditional Qatari culture luckily hasn’t been lost with the Arabic and Qatari influence still evident in a lot of the architecture of the city. Modern glass skyscrapers tower over Museums filled with local Qatari talent, and the two major souqs – Waqif & Al Wakra – are designed to reflect the architecture of the souqs of yesteryear. Docked next to the leafy corniche are dhow boats, hinting at snippets of the pearl industry of the past.
Since I have been living in this cosmopolitan city for almost a year now (8 months to be exact), I figured I could probably call myself a ‘local’ and give an insiders view of what to do in D town. Whether you are new here and looking for things to do, or visiting friends and on a stopover for 2 days, I hope my guide on what to do in Doha helps with your travel plans.
Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
I’m not a big museum buff, but the MIA is my favourite place in Doha to chill out. Once you finish admiring the artwork and the architecture of the building, go to the gift store to buy some goodies and then relax at the cafe designed by renowned architect, Philippe Starck. Try to get a seat by the floor to ceiling glass window for one of the best views of West Bay. If you’re willing to spend a little extra and stimulate the economy, the top floor of the museum is home to IDAM by Alaine Ducasse – a French haute cuisine dining establishment, with a menu paying homage to Arabic dishes (Try: the mezzes are value for money and you get to sample a wider range of dishes).
I’ll be writing a separate post that gets into more detail on what you can do at the MIA, but do yourself a favour and go!
Have a Friday brunch or weekday Business lunch
Ask any expat what to do in Doha, and one of their responses will probably involve eating, namely brunches. Hailing from Australia, the term brunch to me was when you have an a la carte meal involving avocados on artisanal bread or some sausages and eggs served on a hipster wooden board – washed down with a kale smoothie in a mason jar. You usually
stumble into the restaurant have your brunch around 10:00-10:30, shortly after waking up from a big night and still in #strugglestreet.
When I first arrived in Doha, brunch took on a whole different meaning.
1. Firstly, it starts from 12:00 – 12:30
2. Secondly, it is served buffet style in a hotel restaurant
3. Lastly, there are no bearded baristas with man buns
If you enjoy buffets, join the local crowd and indulge in a Friday brunch. I went to a few during my first few months here at the Intercontinental, Marriott, and the Four Seasons, with the latter being my favourite so far.
If you’re not into buffets, the weekday business lunches are a good option to try a few dishes without eating an overwhelming amount of food. You can usually choose between a 2 or 3 course menu priced between 75-100 QAR. My pick for business lunches would be the bento boxes at Spice Market at the W Hotel which we’ve been to several times (Try: the tom yum soup, lamb vindaloo) and Opal by Gordon Ramsay in the St Regis (Try: the celeriac and apple soup and roast hamour). If you live in Doha and eating out is one of your favourite things to do, I suggest purchasing the Entertainer book or app for plenty of 2 for 1 meals and awesome savings.
Get your fitness on
Go running along the Corniche and take in the amazing backdrop of the skyline and Arabian Sea. Stop by one of the cafes/tea houses and grab a cup of Karak with the locals. If you’re keen to really get the heart pumping, you can play tennis at the world class facilities of Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in West Bay. The sprawling centre contains multiple courts that are around 50 QAR per hour to hire. If you’re into water sports, the calm waters around Doha make it perfect for stand up paddle boarding – lessons and board hire can be done through QSUP at The Pearl.
Smoke a shisha
I know, I know, it’s a typical touristy thing to do in the Middle East, but its also a very local thing to do! You can have a shisha on a hotel rooftop with a view, or you can hire them on the cheap at a discreet place complete with plastic laminate tables and vinyl chairs.
Go on a desert safari
For those seeking a little thrill and nature, a desert safari is the perfect activity. You can opt to do a half day or a full day tour with or without food. Most tour companies will pick you up from your hotel/accommodation and drive to the desert, passing by the industrial city of Mesaieed. Most of them will also go with a convoy so once you arrive at the desert, you will have some free time to go on a camel joy ride (we paid around 20 QAR for 5-10 minutes), drink tea, or just enjoy the desert scenery while you wait for the others in the group.
The safari experience is mostly dune bashing in a 4wd through the hills of the Qatari desert. The main attraction of the tour and where you will stopover last is Khor Al Adaid, commonly known as the Inland Sea, which is an inlet in the middle of the desert. From the Qatar side, you can see the mountainous terrain separating Qatar and its neighbour Saudi Arabia.
We went with Qatar Inbound Tours who were really good value (there were 4 pax in our group and we paid 190 QAR each), and very reponsive to all my emails.
Visit the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
Only a 45 minute drive from Doha, the historical fort turned into a museum, houses the impressive collection of artefacts, art and vintage automobiles acquired over time by avid art collector Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani. The collection is separated by themes and is sprawled over the complex in different rooms. Entry is free however you need to make a reservation online through their booking form to enter.
Go souq & market hopping
Start off early at the Wholesale Market where you can pick up some cheap fruits and vegetables from the local vendors. Just be careful not to venture too far and end up at the slaughterhouse next door!
During winter, there is a seasonal market called the Park Bazaar on the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Arts. It’s a nice vibe with local artisans selling their photography, art, crafts and fashion goods. For foodies, you can take your pick from several of the food stalls set up. It’s the closest thing to street food I’ve experienced here in Doha (apart from the hotel style ones) that you can enjoy for less than 50 QAR. 10 QAR satay sticks and pad thai anyone?
Visit Souq Al Wakra to drink karak by the corniche. The souq isn’t quite completed yet and doesn’t have as much variety as Souq Waqif in the dining space, but it does have an amazing waterfront to rival the more popular souq.
End your day at the very instagrammable Souq Waqif which has a large variety of stalls where you can buy souvenir thobes, postcards and the ubiquitous camel figurines. Different parts of the souq are dedicated to pets, gold, general stores and food and spices so its easy to spend a whole evening here.
When in Doha – spend your riyals
For some consumer indulgence, visit the many malls that Doha has to offer. During summer they can get busy as they provide air conditioned comforts, dining and entertainment under one roof. If you don’t mind crowds, its a great festive atmosphere – if you’d rather shop without the masses, try visiting in the mornings or in the middle of the day. It usually picks up around 6pm onwards with the after work dinner crowd.
My favourites are Landmark, Lagoona Mall and Villagio Mall (sans the venice-esque canal) which have a good selection of stores ranging from the Zara Group chain brands to upmarket and high end designer stores where you can pick up your new Antigona or damier Speedy.
Most malls also don’t have fees for parking during the weekend so you can spend all day spending! Bonus.
Visit Katara Cultural Village
Katara Cultural Village is a world class facility that hosts multicultural events and is home to several galleries, theatres and halls. If you’re not keen to check out the artworks, you should still visit just for the beautiful architecture and the picturesque waterfront views of the Arabic Gulf.