From a bustling souq to Michelin-star dining, a weekend in Qatar’s capital is an enticing option. Words Katy Gillett.
In just three short years, Doha’s skyline has transformed beyond recognition. It wasn’t long ago that only one recognisable building – the pyramidal Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel – stood along the corniche. Nowadays towering skyscrapers and iconic architecture abound, clearly demonstrating the city’s firm focus on the future.
Almost everything that’s worth visiting in the capital has an intriguing and modern edge. Souq Waqif, which literally means ‘standing market’ in Arabic, is perhaps the best example of old merging seamlessly with new in Qatar. The marketplace was renovated in the 1970s to save its structure, which is over 250 years old. Today, you can wander through labyrinthine alleyways that weave between shops selling spices, household goods, souvenirs and pets (although it’s best to avoid this section if you’re an animal lover!), as well as quaint local art galleries such as the stunning Souq Waqif Art Centre (Grand Hamad Street, +974 4417 6204) and a plethora of restaurants with cuisines ranging from Yemeni to Syrian, Italian to Thai.
Another example of history meets modernity is Katara Cultural Village (West Bay Lagoon, www.katara.net) – Katara being the ancient word for Qatar. Opened in 2010, this modern-day ‘village’, which is said to be 20 percent complete, encompasses fabulous five-star restaurants, including Michelin-starred Indian Chef Vineet Bhatia’s Saffron Lounge (building 26, +974 3325 8919), numerous art galleries with ever-changing exhibitions, a dramatic amphitheatre by the ocean and a beach where plenty of activities are offered before dark. It’s easy to spend an entire day here by the water and wandering through the small alleyways, discovering the spirit of Qatar’s cultural mission.
Elsewhere, along the West Bay Corniche, is the iconic Museum of Islamic Art (next to Doha Port, +974 4422 4444). This striking building, which is home to some spectacular examples of Islamic art spanning 1,400 years, was designed by the award-winning Chinese architect IM Pei and lies on a floating island that juts out into the water.
Outside, you can go for a stroll in the park that stretches out from the museum, hire a paddle boat for half an hour to work up an appetite and then either kick back in the outdoor café with its gourmet snacks and fabulous view of the city’s skyline, or head back inside to IDAM restaurant (+974 4422 4488). This exquisite eatery, which is arguably one of the finest in the country, is overseen by three Michelin-starred Chef Alain Ducasse, was designed by Philippe Starck and serves truly unique dishes that are influenced by Middle Eastern ingredients and French cooking techniques. Granted, a meal here certainly doesn’t come cheap, but this is one restaurant experience you would be hard-pressed to repeat.
It’s easy to whittle away the days in Doha shopping, eating and sightseeing, but the city’s nightlife is also slowly picking up. The W Doha Hotel & Residences (West Bay, +974 4453 5000) is easily one of the more exciting nightspots in town with the indoor-outdoor Wahm Lounge, which plays host to a range of star DJs and offers fabulous private cabanas on the balcony overlooking the city. Away from West Bay, La Cigale Hotel (Suhaim bin Hamad Street, +974 4428 8888) is another great option for a night out at Sky View, an exclusive rooftop bar, or the stylish Club 7 if you fancy a trip around a pumping dance floor.
It’s no secret that Qatar is the richest country in the world so don’t expect anything too shabby on offer. As hordes of expats flood into the country in time for the World Cup 2022 preparations, the city is set to get bigger and more full of life with new world-class museums, luxurious resorts and hotels, and impressive restaurants and bars. One thing is for certain, in another three years from now, the Doha we know of today will be unrecognisable.
Need to know
Getting there Fly Dubai flies direct from Dubai to Doha from Dhs600 return. www.flydubai.com.