Desert days and city nights in Doha


By Eloise Barker

Photography by Nashira A. Hameed / EyeEm

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April 2017

Now is the perfect time to visit Doha. Preparations for the 2022 World Cup have brought this fascinating capital into the spotlight. In the thrum of new industry and excitement, daily business and daily pleasures continue. And, as you’ll find in this rapidly changing city, traditional routines often come with a twist.

Whether you’re here for high-tech architecture, mosaic-encrusted mosques or the rolling dunes, start your trip at the corniche – every Middle Eastern city worth its salt has one. Doha’s is clean, pedestrianised and offers fantastic views of the bay and the skyscrapers, whether for an evening stroll or a morning boat trip.

A mad, Western style mall filled with Middle Eastern excess, including a canal complete with free gondolas ferrying bemused shoppers.

Seek skyscrapers at West Bay where an almost Oz-like Emerald City glitters above you. See the famous Doha Tower veiled with geometric patterns and prepare to enjoy outrageous shopping experiences. The Villagio Mall, improbably based on an Italian village, is a good bet on a hot day. It’s a mad, Western style mall filled with Middle Eastern excess, including a canal complete with free gondolas ferrying bemused shoppers.

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  • Katara Cultural Village. Photo by Ahmed Adly / Getty Images

    Pigeon towers

    One of the most photographed sites in Doha and one of the most alien. These strange towers are actually dovecotes.

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  • Through rose-tinted lenses in Souk Waqif. Photo by Jane Sweeney / Getty Images

    Soak up the souk

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Sightseeing in the city you’ll soon realise that tradition and religion sit alongside glamour and modernity. The Pearl is Qatar’s answer to both Dubai’s Palm and the French Riviera: glamorous, upscale and polished. En route, stop in the Katara Cultural Village with its curious old pigeon towers, the most photographed buildings in the city. They are juxtaposed by the colourful Katara mosque next door, shining with enough colourful mosaic to completely overwhelm your camera.

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Devote a day to the unmissable Souq Waqif and the nearby Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) – both have real treasures within. There’s a ruby encrusted coffee cup holder in the MIA, in a building designed by Louvre pyramid architect IM Pei. In the souk, browse the caged falcons, but you’re better off buying traditional pearls or oud. Sneak round the back and admire Arabian horses being tended to in their stables. For more art in a city that can’t get enough of new galleries, nearby Al Riwaq has hosted exhibitions devoted to both Damien Hirst and Picasso. Further afield, the Al Samriya Farm houses the excessive and somewhat random collections of the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum: nothing, not unique fossils, not antique cars, escape this fascinating man’s notice.

  • The Masjid (Mosque) of Katara Cultural Village. Photo by Emad Aljumah / Getty Images

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Stay

The Grand Hyatt Doha has a private beach on the pedestrianised Corniche waterfront and a relaxing spa for when the heat hits.

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Eat

Seafood, dates, and a curious but delicious mixture of cuisines from Moroccan to Mediterranean. Try the shisha bars and restaurants around Souk Waqif.

Don’t miss

A chance to explore the desert. The coast road south from Doha to Khor Al Adaid is a seemingly endless wilderness that touches the sea. Sandboarding and dune bashing are the best ways to travel.