How to spend a day in Doha

As a stopover destination, the Qatari capital is packed with choice and charm

Helen Coffey
Monday 14 October 2019 23:32
What to do for a day in Doha

For many Brits, Qatar may not have registered as a travel destination so much as the host country for the 2022 World Cup. But capital city Doha offers much more than the promise of future football: swaggering architecture, traditional charm and dizzying views await, not to mention all the sugar-packed baklava and caffeine-loaded karak (Qatari tea) you can knock back.

The Independent discovered just how much it’s possible to pack in during a day in this Middle Eastern peninsular – proof that Doha makes for the ideal stopover city if you have a connecting flight.

Here’s how to tick off its best bits.

8.00: Explore MIA

Architectural heavyweight the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) was designed by IM Pei – the starchitect responsible for the Louvre’s glass pyramid, who died aged 102 in this year – and even before you venture inside, it demands attention. The boxy, stepped pyramid structure looks right at visitors through almond-shaped eyes, designed to represent a woman peeking over the top of her niqab.

Inside, the only question is what to look at first: the showstopper of a double staircase? The intricate geometric patterns of the central spire? Or the art itself, with artefacts spanning 1,400 years, sourced from three continents, on display?

10.00: First look at the National Museum of Qatar

The country’s newest institution opened at the end of April 2019. Again, the exterior deserves its own dedicated fanclub – the façade is designed to emulate the desert rose, a phenomenon that occurs only in the desert heat when sandstone builds up into quirky shapes and formations that look like petals. The building looks like a collection of elegantly stacked flying saucers.

Inside, interactive elements, films projected across the museum walls and more traditional exhibits all combine to tell Qatar’s story: all the way from its formation to its post-pearl industry struggle to its oil-rich present.

11.30: Visit Venice in Doha…

One of Doha’s most bombastic elements is the Pearl. It’s a string of manmade islands that are dripping with wealth, high-end designer shops and car showrooms around every corner. Several of the islands take inspiration from Europe. Fancy a trip to the Alhambra? Or Rome? Or Venice? Ersatz versions are all present and correct (although the canals here are a darn sight cleaner than the real thing).

The International Museum of Qatar is based on a desert rose

12.30: Chill out at Katara Cultural Village

The first thing you notice about this oversize complex – it’s hot. The second thing you notice – it’s not as hot as it should be. That’s because there’s outdoor air conditioning: vents in the ground expel cool air as you walk past. Bonkers.

There’s a theatre, opera house, shops, restaurants, two mosques and plenty more besides; hop aboard a free buggy (these seem to be on hand at most major attractions) and take the stage at the outdoor amphitheatre. It’s an acoustic marvel, producing a mesmerising echo.

14.00: Linger over lunch

It makes sense to duck out of the intense Qatari sun in the heat of the day – a gut-busting multi-course lunch break comes courtesy of IDAM by Alain Ducasse back at MIA. The exquisite food (think white asparagus with smoked king fish, octopus confit and “tender” camel) has competition here, as chairs are placed so that all diners get to stare, agog, at the restaurant’s A-list views of Doha’s iconic skyscrapers, all lined up for inspection over in West Bay.

Souq Waqif is a huge, rambling maze

17.00: Stroke a camel

To come to Doha without visiting its famed Souq Waqif would practically be sacrilege. By late afternoon the maze of streets is already fairly busy, but it’s nothing compared to after sunset when everyone descends to shop, socialise, eat and drink. The air is full of spices and incense – an intoxicating combination – and the lively haggling of shoppers over everything from saffron to strings of pearls. The best bit involves the souk’s more exotic clientele: head to the livestock area for the chance to stroke and feed long-lashed camels.

19.00: Dine al fresco

Taking a seat outside at Al Terrace Lebanese Restaurant at the Al Mirqab Boutique Hotel is the best way to make the most of a warm evening. Traditional Lebanese dishes of fattoush, grilled halloumi and the flakiest whole hammour fish grilled with ginger, garlic, spices and pine seeds are all on the menu. Don’t miss the cheese kanufa for dessert: a whole white cheese encased in crispy pastry and drizzled with pistachios and syrup (it’s a lot lighter than it sounds, honest).

See the West Bay by night on a Dhow boat

21.00: Go cruising

Once the sun has fully set and the skyscrapers are lit up like the Vegas strip against the night sky, there’s only one thing to do: take to the water. A Dhow boat cruise – complete with party lights and banging sound system – sees guests play DJ while gliding by the neon-gilded West Bay.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Qatar Airways flies direct from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Doha from £433 return.

Visiting there

Visit for more information.

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