Rising rapidly from the desert, this oil rich nation is laying claim to the crown of the Middle East. Set against a sweeping turquoise bay and endless sand dunes, its modern architecture is juxtaposed with a rich nomadic past, offering a contrast of two worlds fuelled by an unrivalled ambition to play on the international stage
As you make your way from the airport into town, this museum is one of the first sights you’ll see, and it immediately gives you a taste of where Doha wants to stand on the world stage when it comes to design, culture and architecture. Created by Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, of the Louvre’s glass pyramid fame, Pei came out of retirement to design this monumentally beautiful building. Among its many transformative features, our favourite is at sunset, when the light fades and sharp angles turn into curves in a bizarre but pleasing trick of the eye. The interiors are just as visually gratifying. You can easily spend an afternoon admiring the finishing of the structure – all based around a sweeping, suspended double staircase. Charged with near-unlimited funds and a surprising amount of reserve in the gilt-department, the museum’s exhibitions and commitment to ongoing projects of both contemporary and traditional Islamic art is to be commended. As is the permanent collection of artifacts curated from around the world. This is the jewel of Doha.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: In addition to the regular exhibition programme, check out the museum’s luxurious cinema, showcasing an eclectic mix of art-based films and documentaries. On Fridays they also have a music evening in the front gardens.
Located in the centre of Doha, this updated souq has been on the same site for centuries, having been originally founded by Bedouins and local traders. It is now one of the city’s sightseeing highlights, with the government launching a restoration programme to protect its architecture and historical identity in 2006. Think Marrakech’s Jemaa al Fna but much cleaner, less chaotic and with far superior artisan products on offer. As you wind your way through myriad alleyways, there are tiny shops rather than stalls with craftsmen making and selling their own wares. From glassblowing to antiques, costumes and spices to nut stalls, it’s a feast for the senses… and the camera lens.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: We recommend getting a taxi to Souq Waqif and back as the walk along the Corniche (the waterfront promenade that extends for several kms) is pleasant, but quite a long way from the hotel district. Taxis are hard to find along the way, and especially when laden with the spoils of a good day’s shopping.
Sitting proudly on the West Bay point with uninterrupted views across the harbour and the Corniche, the Four Seasons is the leading hotel in Doha. With its own private beach, the best service in town, and the city’s premier Western lunch buffet at restaurant Elements – the Qataris love a buffet – it’s a welcome offering of luxury by the sea.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: The indoor Spa and Wellness Centre, which spans 3,345 sq m, is inspired by the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – forming the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. It’s free for guests and should you stay here, demands serious time and attention.
The W is by far and away the most cosmopolitan of Doha’s hotels and sits in the West Bay area – the city’s expat hub. Given that the only place that you can drink in Doha is in a hotel bar, the Wahm balcony bar boasts a sophisticated setting with spectacular views of Doha. It also receives a comfortable desert breeze of an evening. And while the cocktail bar’s décor is traditionally arabesque, it is without too much of the usual gilt that lavishes most of the city’s hotels. The high-rise also hosts some of Doha’s best restaurants, Market by Jean-Georges and La Spiga by Paper Moon, while its more casual Spice Market downstairs is a winner for Sunday’s all-you-can-eat lunch obsession.
You can’t miss this garish Lebanese palace as it’s lit up in ballistic neon pink of an evening. But in spite of its opulent exterior, it has incredible sweeping views over the Corniche. Classic Lebanese fare suits the occasion as you dine al-fresco looking out over the harbour with its bobbing dhows (junks) on the bay and Doha twinkling behind you.
TRAVEL TRUFFLE: After your lavish meal, sit back and order a shisha. There’s plenty of flavours to choose from and be sure to try some of the local Arabic desserts. Then relax and take in this complete cultural dining experience.
“Qatar is one of the world’s richest countries, but there’s more to its capital city than bling. It’s also a thriving artistic centre, with a wide range of arts events.”
“Just a few years ago, you could almost hear tumbleweeds blowing through this city, the capital of Qatar. These days, any remaining tumbleweeds are colliding with the giant skyscrapers and sprawling megaprojects that are exploding from the sands.”