The Doha Rundown
Put aside abstract speculation over just how tiny Qatar was able to secure the 2022 FIFA World Cup: the fact that the emirate was even a contender is a sharp signal that the Arabian Peninsula is on the rise. On the rise beyond petrodollars even, as new global players like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Manama prove with each gigantic high-rise and mega land reclamation project.
Doha is certainly one to compete with the likes of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait for regional supremacy. Though also in the shadow of Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf capital of Qatar has done well to brand itself on the international stage with events as random as the WTO Doha Development Round, 2006 Asian Games and WTA Tour Championships of 2008-2010. Add the World Cup to the mix and, clearly, Doha has formidable plans that do not involve oil and natural gas.
Lofty aims tend to come to pass when you have the most enviable GDP per capita on the planet. Pritzker Prize architects answer your calls, Michelin celebrity chefs pack carbon steel knives and catch planes, stars of academia and business help you develop a new knowledge economy and a global workforce takes notice. Such is the Doha blueprint. The pace of change has come fast and furious, most notably with impressive initiatives like Education City and landmarks like Aspire Tower, The Pearl island, Dubai Towers and Doha Sports City. The result is a city in a palpable state of frenetic flux.
Doha’s Top 10
10. Umm Salal Muhammed Fort is worth the short drive outside of Doha proper.
5. Doha Zoo is fun times for the kids and has a decent reptile and insect house.
9. FANAR, Qatar Islamic Cultural Center is home to the city and state Grand Mosque.
4. Al Wajbah is the best fort in Qatar.
8. Aspire Tower, until a slate of new skyscrapers break ground, is the current king of the sky in Doha.
3. Qatar National Museum is the relic repository of record in the emirate.
7. Doha Corniche is the waterfront congregation point in the city.
2. Heritage House Museum was built in 1935, just before the oil boom.
6. Suq Waqif accomplishes, in part, the mission statement of every good suq. The marketplace is a hive of activity, with cafés, restaurants and shops galore.
1. Museum of Islamic Arts is a world class facility by any standard and arguably one of the best works in I. M. Pei’s arsenal.
- Al Zubara Fort – An important archaeological site, this fort/museum was once a garrison and coast guard station.
- Doha Fort – Built during the Turkish occupation in the 1900s and used as a prison.
- Souq Waqif – Centuries-old Arab bazaar with endlessly winding passageways to explore.
- Wind Tower House – Wind towers were used as ancient form of air conditioning by the Arabs.
- Al Koot Fort – Large stone fort built in 1880 during the Ottoman Empire.
Doha Art & Culture
- Islamic Museum of Art – Unique Islamic art exhibits. The building itself is architecturally impressive and equipped with modern amenities.
- Al Khor Museum – Located on the seafront, this museum portrays life in ancient times and exhibits of archaeological findings in the area.
- Doha Heritage Village – Replica of a traditional Qatar village. Traditional weaving and pearl trading can be seen here.
- Weaponry Museum – Display of swords, guns and the like dating back to the 1600s.
- Heritage House Museum – Located near the famed Corniche, the building’s architecture is well worth a visit.
- City Centre-Doha – The largest shopping mall in Doha with a wide array of shopping. It is great for jewellery and perfumes.
- Villagio – This is the newest of Doha’s malls. A number of American stores, fast-food restaurants and a Carrefour can be found here.
- Hyatt Plaza – A smaller shopping mall and the Jungle Zone theme park are located here.
- Landmark Shopping Mall – Best for local clothing, jewellery and makeup.
- The Mall – Doha’s first mall. There is better quality and more variety available at the aforementioned malls.
Gay & Lesbian Doha
Doha has strict laws against homosexuality and has no outright gay spots. It is advisable for gays and lesbians to exercise caution and refrain from displaying public acts of affection. Note: Bars and nightclubs are usually located at large Western hotel chains and may charge a “membership” fee for entry.
- Doha Corniche – This waterfront promenade may provide opportunities for gay cruising.
- Qube – Located in the Ramada Plaza, this is one of the best places in Doha to get some dancing in. Live bands or DJs on most nights.
- La Paloma – This bar/restaurant located in the InterContinental Hotel is a good place to party to DJs in an informal setting.
- Pearl Lounge – This cocktail lounge is a two-level nightspot in the Marriott offering a dance floor.
- Sky View Bar – This rooftop bar in the La Cigale Hotel has great views and drinks.
- Khor Al Udaid – Known as “Inland Desert Safari”. Charter a tour company that will take you for camel rides, sand boarding and unforgettable desert sunsets.
- Jungle Zone – This is the largest indoor theme park in Doha, with children’s amusements and animal theme.
- Inland Sea – Huge arm of the Arabian Gulf right on the Saudi Arabian border surrounded by sand dunes.
- Singing Sand Dunes – Just 40km from Doha, the wind strikes the sand dunes, creating an unusual humming sound. Sand sledding and running heightens the effect.
- Doha Golf Club – One of the world’s most challenging golf courses, with lots of sand dunes and strong winds.
- Enjoy the track, swimming and tennis events at Doha’s numerous sports stadiums, built for the 15th annual Asian Games.
- Watch the Motorcycle Grand Prix racing.
- Participate in indoor bowling and ice skating at the City-Centre Doha.
- Appreciate a refreshing swim in the Inland Sea.
- Join the Qataris in sand boarding, dune rides and trekking on the desert.
Doha is a small city of only 132 km<sup>2</sup> and 1 million people. Visitors who want to get intimate with the Qatari capital’s areas of note need not travel far.
West Bay is the prominent home of Doha’s lofty skyline ambitions.
Education City merges the university campus ethos with the subtlety of the technology park. The result is a 14 km<sup>2</sup> academic and research quarter, with branch outlets of brand-name institutions like HEC Paris, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Cornell and University College London. A new boon for lovers of avant-garde, sky-is-the-limit architecture.
The Pearl, like Palm Dubai, is Qatar’s essay to artistically cobble a group of artificial islands in a clever pattern. The aerial theme: a string of pearls. The development gifts Doha 32 km of new coastline and features the typical hodgepodge of luxury high-rise condos, luxury villas, luxury restaurants and luxury shops. Gordon Ramsay, John Galliano and Stella McCartney are a few of the big names already in business.
Al Waab is a new expat haven south of central Doha. The affluent residential and commercial area is home to massive Villagio Mall.
The Aspire Zone, or Doha Sports City, is part of Al Waab. The Doha enclave was mostly purpose-built with the 2006 Asian Games in mind, what with Khalifa International Stadium, Hamad Aquatic Center and the Aspire Zone. The area will play a major role in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Lusail is yet another by-product of Doha’s prolific expansion plans. The new city is set to be a leisure, entertainment, recreation and commercial pulse point, with enough space for a quarter of a million residents. The future Lusail Iconic Stadium will crown the World Cup in 2022 and, with a limitless budget in the capable hands of Foster + Partners, will undoubtedly blow away fans and footballers alike.
Al Dafna is a seaside central business district and the new downtown of Doha. Another patent show of evidence of what colossal land reclamation can do for a city in the Arabian Peninsula.
Katara Cultural Village is a diminutive enclave between West Bay and The Pearl.
Doha Eat & Drink
The culinary scene in Doha has become remarkably sophisticated, as wealthy developers, restaurateurs and hoteliers cull stars from the pantheon of celebrity chefs. Still, beyond the sleek supperclub fixtures and cushy banquettes lurk a few takeaway gems and affordable family-style kitchens. If you fancy a cocktail or glass of wine with your meal, however, you will have to dine in a hotel.
Bombay Balti (Rawdat Al Khail) is just the place in Doha for a dosa or rogan josh fix.
Market by Jean-Georges (West Bay) is a cookie-cutter re-creation Chef Vongerichten’s ever-popular Manhattan eatery.
Al Tawash (Jasra) serves some of the best traditional Arabic food in the city.
The Grill (West Bay) serves slabs of beef and premium red wines to Doha’s power brokers.
L’Wzaar (West Bay) is a plush SoBe-like seafood paradise in Katara Cultural Village.
Spice Market (West Bay) delivers upscale takes on Asian street food.
Soy (Jasra) is a Pan-Asian eatery in Suq Waqif with a lot more than tofu and edamame on the menu.
Fish Market (West Bay) is the spot to nosh on the catch of the day, luxury buffet-style.
Maze (The Pearl) marks Gordon Ramsay’s entry into Qatar.
Al Shami Home Restaurant (Nasr) delivers the goods to huge crowds who appreciate honest, affordable Arabic fare.
Khalifa International Stadium, the de facto National Stadium of Qatar, is the multi-purpose host of events like the 2006 Asian Games, 2011 AFC Asian Cup and blockbuster 2022 FIFA World Cup. The stadium is part of the Aspire Zone/Doha Sports City complex.
Doha Tribeca Film Festival takes place in late October at Katara Cultural Village. Given that Qatari law still leans heavily on sharì'a, it should come as no surprise that the programme is “tightly curated”.
Doha Food Festival faces no such restrictions, save for in the realm of halal. Still, despite the lack of pork and alcohol, the late February festival is no less of a delight.
Doha Song Festival draws a constellation of vocal talent stars from the Arab world to the city every January.
Doha Jazz Festival is a wonderful east meets west event that expands the limits of the genre every May.
Qatar Masters Golf Tournament is a foremost stop on the European Tour and ever popular with top players who enjoy the enormous appearance fees.
Qatar Marine Festival is a signature event in the emirate capital that celebrates the state’s maritime heritage with a variety of events in the month of March.
Doha International Book Fair is one of the oldest annual secular events in Qatar. The fair takes place over ten days in early January.
When To Go
Doha is most unkind when sporadic clouds of dust and sand swoop in from Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf. Similar to other capitals across the Arabian Peninsula, the city is at the random mercy of blast furnace winds that blow in sheaths of microscopic debris. The subsequent fallout is enough to obliterate the sun, if only for a spell.
What is more predictable in Doha is the desert swelter, which stubbornly crests and holds between May and September. The worst of the arid climate coerces the mercury to brutal levels of 77°F (25°C) to 107°F (42°C), on average. The reality on the ground is often much worse and paler visitors do, invariably, take cover in hotels and malls.
Thankfully, the “winter” months provide somewhat of a respite. Come to Doha between December and March and the temperatures, for the most part, waver between 55°F (13°C) and 80°F (27°C). Rain is never a worry, of course, with less than 75 mm on average for the year.
What To Miss
The vast majority of the over 11,000 British nationals who live in Qatar and 40,000 plus who visit the emirate state every year do not endure a hint of trouble whatsoever. Nonetheless, it never hurts to take a gander at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice webpage. It may alarm some to see “Terrorism” under the “Safety and Security” section but in truth, the threat in Qatar is minimal and attacks unlikely. Still, rare as they are, try to avoid large protests in Doha.
Drivers in Qatar and especially Doha, have a positively abysmal track record, with some of the most unenviable year to year fatality rates in the world. Exercise extreme caution on the roads.
The law code in Qatar is Islamic in nature and, as such, visitors must heed a host of local customs. Special rules apply thoughout the holy month of Ramadan, for example, and the state exacts harsh punishments for offenses like public intoxication and narcotics and pornography possession. When in public, be vigilant about immodest dress and overt displays of affection. Homosexuality and homosexual “behaviour” is illegal in Qatar.
As the only commercial airport in a state fast on the rise, Doha International Airport is under perpetual strain and at or over capacity. The hub currently handles over 14 million passengers a year and serves as one of the primary gateways to the Arabian Peninsula at large. In the wake of the emirate’s successful bid to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup and the growth of Qatar Airways - the Skytrax 2011 Airline of the Year recipient - Doha International will surely expand in the years to come. In the interim, the airport connects with a wide range of international destinations, such as London-Heathrow, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Madrid, New York-JFK, Shanghai-Pudong and Tokyo-Narita.
Within Doha, a decent bus network provides AC-comfort and access to the main areas of the city. In a telltale sign of the city’s nascent growth, the current demand for taxis far eclipses supply. As a result, it behooves visitors on the go to reserve one well in advance or rent a car at the airport.
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