If Doha was a star sign it would have to be a Gemini! How else can you explain the mind-boggling dual personality of this tiny pearl-diving town where glitzy shopping malls, towering skyscrapers, and futuristic architectural buildings sit side by side with old-world souqs and stunning deserts? Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of the frenetic construction—a stark reminder of the impending sporting event the FIFA World Cup 2022 to be held in November.
During my five-day tour of the city, art is something I see everywhere—draped on the walls of the metro station to the artistically-designed stadiums I pass every day. If you find yourself planning a trip to Doha, prioritize these experiences to get a real taste of this marvellous city.
Food to fall in love
Doha is, without a doubt, a foodie paradise. This is not the time to go on a diet. While it’s fun to enjoy a fancy dinner at a high-end restaurant facing the marina in Doha, the real fun begins when you visit Souq Waqif. It’s here that the Qatari women set up temporary stalls serving traditional food. Arabic coffee is served in small cups and there’s limonana-a-lemon and mint for the teetotalers. Be warned that food comes in gigantic portions (family-style meant for sharing) with a mind-boggling variety of mezze, meat dishes, rice, and desserts. It’s a veritable smorgasbord, so wear your stretchy pants, and work it off afterward by strolling the narrow, twisty passage ways. The standard international fares are available, but be sure to try local delicacies such as luqaimat deep-fried dough balls (think gulab jamun), machbous—a stew of spiced rice with meat, and ragag—a thin dosa-like crepe topped with cream cheese or Nutella, and folded in the shape of a cone. One meal that is studded in my food-obsessed memory is the dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant Jiwan on the fourth floor of the National Museum of Qatar. The magnificent food, apart from the cozy dining pods inspired by the sand dunes, offers some of the best views of Doha Bay.
Go on a high-adrenalin dune experience at Khor Al Adaid, Qatar’s Inland Sea
There are a few countries in the world where the ocean encroaches deep into the heart of the desert: Qatar is one of them. This makes dune bashing not just thrilling but a uniquely mesmerizing experience. We were taken in a Toyota Land Cruiser to the Khor Al Udeid region where the driver first reduced the air pressure in the tires (in the desert, tyres need to be flatter than on the tarmac to avoid getting stuck), before plummeting down the dunes. It’s like being on a roller coaster rocking from side to side with Bollywood music blaring in the background. The top speed is about 40mph. The best part is when a gleaming body of water suddenly appears once you crest over the white dunes. This is where the driver stops for photo opportunities. There’s also sandboarding, where you slide along the dunes lying on a surfboard. After the adrenaline-inducing activity, we head to Regency Sealine Camp, a glamping site for lunch and a dip in the translucent waters. On the weekends, locals come in their own 4x4s in droves and try to outdo each other, providing a sand show for onlookers.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to put sunscreen on, and wear a hat and sunglasses.
A stroll at the Souq Waqif
Squeezing your way through the narrow labyrinth of this ancient market is like being transported to another time. A time when the bedouins traded in livestock, spices, and other goods here. It’s still the best place to taste, smell, and experience Qatari way of life. This is where the locals buy spices, perfumes, textiles, and even camels, as well as their beloved falcons—birds of prey that are emblematic of Qatar.
Don’t miss the Heritage Police Officers who wear uniforms from the 1940s and ride regal Arabian horses. The best thing to do here is to grab a seat at one of the outdoor cafes, smoke shisha, drink karak chai—the local tea—and watch the world go by. While here, do stock up on souvenirs (hint: go for the fragrant oud). Of course, you must haggle!
Experience desert life
What’s the point of being in the desert if you don’t experience life as the bedouins did? Glamping in Doha offers a blend of traditional bedouin camping coupled with luxurious comfort. The adventurous can go quad biking or camel riding through the desert. But for me, the best thing to do is to listen to some live jazz under the stars and indulge in mouth-watering Qatari cuisine, before falling asleep in a luxurious tent equipped with all the amenities of a five-star hotel.
Pro tip: If you are spending the night in the desert, bring a jacket because the temperature drops significantly.
Experience Art in Doha
This tiny desert nation has a surprising number of cultural gems. Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, the country’s most important historic landmark is set on a purpose-built island with displays of Islamic art and artifacts spanning over 1,400-years. Katara Cultural Village is another charming space littered with theatre, art galleries, public installations, and eateries. The diamond-shaped Qatar National Library is a palace for books and manuscripts. There are over one million books and a heritage library in the basement dating to the 7th century A.D. Even the fire station in Doha is now converted into a thriving art gallery!
Splurge at Villaggio Mall
This opulent Venetian-style mall is where you can shop under a 'sky' of fluffy white clouds, eat pizza at Paul, and take a ride on a gondola. Interestingly the mall is split intoThe best two sections: one with high-end luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana among others and another section with affordable everyday items. If you don’t want to burn a hole in your pocket, you can go ice skating at the Olympic-sized skating rink, bowl, and even ride roller coasters.
FIFA World Cup 2022
The magnum opus of the sporting world remains the ultimate reason to visit Doha right now. Scheduled for November this year it will witness 32 countries fight it out over 65 matches. Four magnificent games will be played each day spread across eight futuristic and state-of-the-art stadiums. One of them, Stadium 974, is built using 974 shipping containers! Another one, Al Thumama, resembles Ride-sharing traditional Arab headwear. If you haven’t bagged tickets to watch the match in the stadiums you can catch it at the Fan Zones that will screen the matches live along with food and entertainment options.