A whole lot of art, some exceptional bars, excellent shopping and a designer kite – two days in Doha are full of surprises
How predictable that we recommend a museum to kickstart your weekend in Doha? Yet, we do so with just cause. This one boasts a superlative collection of Islamic art that stretches across millennia. It’s the perfect place to understand the culture you’ll be experiencing over the next two days. The building itself is a testament to the treasures inside, built like a fortress with a virtual moat.
The exhibits inside include medieval ceramics and Islamic artefacts collected from across the world. Also on display is incredible architecture, furniture, textiles, tilework, and even scientific innovations. Since there are so many interesting things to do in Doha, a day or two won”t suffice. Book into one of the good Doha Hotels at least for a week and explore this place in detail. It will make the trip memorable.
The walk through the museum can be overwhelming, and possibly heady – the artwork is stunning, and the well-preserved pieces are incredibly arresting. Take a break and head out to the park outside. Ignore the busy children’s area, and head to the end of the park. Here you will find an isolated stretch and a café thoughtfully dotted with cushioned seats. This is a great place to contemplate the world and the rest of your journey. There are some gentle hillocks where you could plonk down with a book, a good playlist and watch clouds float by while listening to the river water gently lap the dhows.
Ice hockey in the middle of a desert – of course. It’s the Middle East after all – they’re regulars at creating extraordinary lifestyles. So the Ice Rink in the City Centre Mall is not really that big a deal. Except that it’s a pretty cool space. It’s a full-sized rink and even comes with an ice ramp that you get to ride down in. The second option is to skate or see how long you can stand on skates before collapsing. The third option is to catch an ice hockey game – apparently it’s a favourite among the expats here – and this time, you can sit on the bleachers.
Quite predictably, the most popular cuisine here is Middle Eastern, especially Lebanese and Persian. A number of (very good) restaurants serving these dishes are lined along the promenade at The Corniche and of course near the biggest traditional market, Souk Waqif. Tuck into velvety baba ghanoush, deliciously spiced sojok sausages, thick rich Turkish coffee and of course sweet sheeshas to finish off.
Don’t forget to try some Persian fare as well – flatbreads with sesame stew and the myriad varieties of kebabs. Obviously, if you wish to taste the different delicacies here, you need to spend at least a day or two in this place. Book into any of the good hotels in Souq Waqif and rest for the night before heading out to explore cuisines.
Doha is a young city, and like its Middle Eastern counterparts is a marvel of steel structures and some overwhelming natural beauty. And a lot of it is concentrated on The Corniche, the promenade along the Arabian Sea. The tree-lined pathway that runs along the sea, is one of the prettiest bits of the city, and is a perfect spot to catch the sunset, and then wind up at the cafes for some coffee or karak, a Qatari tea very similar to our chai. For a breather stop to watch the dhows sail gently by, and the fishermen drawing in their nets.
Despite the overwhelming number of steel structures along the Doha skyline, there’s no hiding the fact that the city still boasts an ancient culture. And the place to get a taste of it are a handful of old forts that lie around an hour away from the city. Of these the fort of Al Zubara is the best – purely because of its oddity. Once you get there, you’re virtually handed the keys to the place. You’re free to wander around the few preserved rooms, which have pottery and sundry bits and pieces salvaged from archaeological digs. You will also see abandoned villages around the fort – wander around the houses to get an idea of what simple life was like before oil turned almost everyone there into multi-millionaires.
When in the Middle East do like the locals and definitely check into a hammam. The Turkish bath and general massage haven is popular here and there are a number of outlets and hotels that offer this traditional bathing ritual. It usually starts off with a scrub down with soap followed by a steam, a vigorous massage, some lounging around in a hot Jacuzzi, possibly more massages and then hopefully a nap. You don’t necessarily have to look out for a traditional hammam – most spas offer Turkish hammam treatments.
Great design need not be restricted to clothes, décor or one-off pieces in a museum. At the Museum of Islamic Arts gift shop, you can pick up a gorgeous kite designed by designer Philippe Starck. The design is a beautiful homage to the arabesques of Islamic art, inscribed with elegant calligraphy, the text written by eminent calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, which translates to ‘the wind’. It comes with its own backpack – but of course looks and works best soaring in the blue skies. The park at the museum again comes in handy.
The Souk Waqif is one of Doha’s most energetic spaces. A few decades ago, it was transformed and made to look like a souk from the 19th century. Traditional looks aside, it truly is an exceptional space – even if just to wander around. Many are drawn to the spices souk, where you can buy empty jars and ask the shopkeepers to fill them up with different coloured layers of spices and seal them. But seeing as you might be relatively familiar with all of them, you will be drawn towards the textiles and food. The national Qatari dress is beautifully embroidered and picking up a few balls of oud (Arabic incense) might make for interesting conversations.
Doha’s nightlife is such a curious mix of cultures and communities that one night might never seem enough to experience it in its entirety. Which is why we suggest you bar-hop. Start off at the Paloma Bar, a generic bar at the InterContinental, serving decent Tex-Mex and spilling over with Doha’s younger generation. Sufficiently boosted, move on to the Pearl Lounge Bar, full of Arabic pop, rich sheikhs, and a lot of cocktails.
Having now rubbed shoulders with a few princes from the Middle East, finish your night off at the Sky View Bar, the 15th-floor bar at La Cigale, looking out at a spectacular city spread with an equally stunning clientele to mill around with. Check the timings of flights to Doha and book into a flight that suits your schedule. Book online and enjoy some additional discounts.
There is a bit of Venice in Doha, if you head to the Villaggio Mall. You can ride gondolas past the boutiques, stepping off to pick up Lebanese pop CDs, some couture or fragrance, and even some Krispy Kreme doughnuts.