After my week in the United Arab Emirates exploring Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it was time for me to explore some more of the Gulf, starting with a four-day trip to neighbouring Qatar. Qatar ended up being one of my favourites (only after Oman) and I actually was completely blown away and impressed by the entire country, and particularly the capital city of Doha.
Someone I work with is based in Doha and she very kindly picked me up from the airport and showed me around all of her favourite spots in the city - it's SO much better exploring a place with a local who knows the do's and don't's of a place. From the moment I landed, I loved Doha. It's clean, safe, futuristic, peaceful, dignified and prosperous. It truly is a city of the future - especially after all the investment for the 2022 FIFA World Cup - and now the city offers world class accommodation, dining, transport options and next level cleanliness and thoughtful investment and design.
Things like disabled access to public parks, air conditioned bus stations for the searing desert heat, an electric tram system, exceptionally clean streets, futuristic metro systems and free museums abound. I didn't know what to expect from Doha and I truly loved it.
Note that, as with everywhere in the Middle East, you should always have your knees and shoulders covered out of respect for the local culture.
Where to Stay in Doha
I checked into La Maison Hotel for my three nights in Doha. While there are plenty of 5-star luxury hotels available across the various districts of Doha, I found La Maison Hotel to be the perfect blend of comfort, quiet and clean while being quite affordable for such a city!
How to Get Around Doha
Of course the easiest way to get around Doha, particularly the bits further away from the core districts, is by car. The roads in Doha are exceptional - clean, wide, safe, and extremely well-maintained.
However, I can highly recommend the metro here; it was completed just in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and provides clean, fast and punctual access to all parts of the city. You can pick up a metro card for 10 Qatari Riyal (4 Riyal = 1 euro) and then load funds onto it starting with 10 Riyal (each trip costs 2 Riyal). So easy!
The metro cars are divided into standard (for men) and family (for women traveling alone, and families).
Where to Eat in Doha
There's tons of great places to eat - from the very fancy to the very local. You can get fantastic Middle Eastern / Qatari food (think loads of yummy mezzes) and also international options abound.
I can highly recommend Yasmine Palace in the Place Vendome Mall - you can sit right in the courtyard of the mall where, every half hour, a surreal light and music show plays at the central fountain, which is a spectacle to witness. The mezze here is divine (and huge portions). This mall is also worth a wander; it's inspired by French shopping and dining and was also opened in 2022 in time for the FIFA World Cup.
You absolutely MUST have breakfast at Shay Al Shoomos, the only woman-owned business in the entire Souq Waqif (main market of Doha), and highly rated and loved by celebrities, travelers and locals alike. The Emir has dined here, as has David Beckham!
If you want to splurge, we had a splendid mezze for our final meal at Babel at the St. Regis Marsa in the heart of Pearl Island which offers amazing views of the Pearl and back on the Doha city skyline.
10 Things to Do in Doha
As you might gather from this post, I thoroughly enjoyed Doha. Here's everything I got up to in the city during my four-day stay.
I also did a tour across Northern Qatar which nicely rounded out my Qatar experience - check out my separate blog post for all the details on that trip!
1. Old Doha Port
As you first enter Doha from the airport, you'll pass the Old Doha Fort which has been completely revamped and upmarketed into a colourful waterfront shopping and dining district. There's also a great view out to Stadium 974, built for the FIFA World Cup, with a nod to +974, the country's calling code, by using 974 shipping containers to build the stadium.
2. Doha Corniche
The corniche of Doha stretches seven kilometres along the waterfront, with fantastic skyline views.
3. Katara Cultural Village & Mosque
This beautiful architectural complex is actually attached to the Galleries Lafayette shopping mall and is a really peaceful and beautiful little area to wander around, photograph, shop and dine at.
4. Katara Hills North Viewpoint
The viewpoint from this hill is just from the parking lot of the Bayt El Talleh Restaurant but it's one of the highest points in Qatar, a manmade hill on top of old reused construction rubble, in what is otherwise a very flat country! And the view is stunning, especially at sunset and golden hour.
5. Al Maha Island
We stopped by the island of Al Maha, which has tons of good restaurants, for sunset over the stunning marina and views of the iconic Katara Towers. Apparently epic colourful sunsets are rare in Doha, but we lucked out and got this phenomenal show over the water.
6. Souq Waqif
We spent a swelteringly hot morning wandering the many souqs of Souq Waqif, smelling the fragrant spices and perfumes, and bargaining at a stall for a brass camel for my home which I delight in filling with goods from my worldly travels. I loved this spot.
7. Amiri Diwan & Palace Guard Camels
The Royal Palace of Doha is patrolled by a brilliant and photogenic royal guard, all of whom sit on their camels in their beautiful white thobes. If you come for 8am, you'll get to visit the camels before they start their morning patrol. It's an honour - I spent time bonding with Reem and honestly it was one of the best mornings ever.
8. Falcon Souq of Souq Waqif
We headed back into Souq Waqif to tour the falcon souq. Falconry is an incredibly important pillar of Qatari culture and this souq is home to many stores offering falcons for sale (which can go for tens of thousands!) as well as all the detailed gear for heading out into the wild deserts of Qatar to hunt. We then had the absolute privilege of getting a tour of the falcon hospital, and witnessed a falcon undergoing an x-ray, as well as stopping in to the surgery room where they do feather implants - it's crucial a falcon has all their wing and tail feathers for the perfect physics of flight. Fascinating!
9. Msheireb Museums
These incredible free museums are housed in four beautifully restored heritage homes in the Msheireb district, each presenting a different facet of Qatari history, including slavery, the discovery of oil, and the history of Qatar. Brilliantly done and absolutely worth the visit.
10. The Pearl
One of the most iconic districts of Qatar, The Pearl is an artificial island, home to some of Doha's most idyllic neighbourhoods, world class accommodation and dining and beautiful coastlines to wander. This is a popular residency for expats.