things to do in Doha - Museum of Islamic Arts

Stopover in Qatar: 10 fun things to do in Doha

Why Doha? Well, with Qatar Airways’ easy and inexpensive stopover program, it’s simpler than ever to plan a quick getaway in intriguing Doha whether it’s to learn more about the culture, explore the desert on a day trip or visit the word-class museums. This is a city I found myself baffled by, completely taken aback by the surprisingly (to me anyway) rich, innovative cultural offer on hand as well as the uninhibited architectural marvels. Here’s a handy list of things to do in Doha as well as helpful everything you need to know about planning a stopover in the capital city of Qatar.

Book a Doha city tour

things to do in Doha layover

Doha is a fascinating city, fast-paced and utterly modern, that definitely requires a guide to get around (the trafic in Doha is, how shall I put this, not for the faint of heart) and truly understand the many layers of culture that led it to where it is today.

Get a first look at FIFA 2022

Unless you’ve been living under a rather large rock, you’ll know that the FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar in November 2022. Football enthusiasts will enjoy discovering the many stadiums, including Al Bayt Stadium for the opening match, Stadium 974 where most matches will be held and the 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium, where the final will happen.

Visit the National Museum of Qatar

things to do in Doha - National Museum of Qatar
things to do in Doha - National Museum of Qatar
things to do in Doha - National Museum of Qatar

One of the most recent constructions of Doha, the National Museum of Qatar is truly an architectural masterpiece. The newest part was designed by Jean Nouvel and opened in 2019, and is adjacent to the original 20th-century palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, the former emir of Qatar.

The museum is a tribute to Qatari heritage and its striking allure is certainly testament to that thanks to its features reminiscent of desert roses. It consists of three interrelated spaces, with themes ranging from the history of the Persian gulf to the Bedouin traditions, from the tribal wars to the new oil-age Qatari state; all spaces are heavy on audiovisual, lights-and-sounds immersive experiences with state-of-the-art technology and museology.

Get lost in Souq Waqif

Although it was heavily renovated in 2006 in a traditional Qatari architectural style, Souq Waqif retains an old-world charm with some features dating back to the early 1900s that almost feel like an anachronism in contrast with the modernist skyscrapers nearby. Located in the geographical centre of Doha, it’s a trading hub of spices, produce, gold, pearls, textiles and handicrafts that buzzes with activity from day to night.

Fun fact: in its earlier days, the souq was directly connected to the waterfront in order to allow shipments arriving from the Persian gulf to unload directly at the market.

Taste Qatari cuisine

Doha restaurants
Qatar cuisine
Lunch at Parisa in Souq Waqif

With strong influences coming from all over the Middle East, Qatari cuisine is highly flavourful. Obviously, dates, seafood and lamb are common staples here with machbūs (known as kabsa in other parts of the Arab world, it consists of rice, slow-cooked meat and vegetables) being the national dish. A few of the restaurants I tried during my trip and that I wholeheartedly recommend:

  • For waterfront views: MIA Park Café
  • For traditional Syrian fare in a convivial setting: Damasca One
  • For the best desserts in Doha: Al Aker in Souq Waqif
  • For the freshest seafood: Al Bandar in Souq Waqif
  • For Australian brunch: Jones the Grocer
  • For high-end Qatari with a view: Walima

Enjoy the view at the Museum of Islamic Arts

things to do in Doha - Museum of Islamic Arts

The museum’s location, at the tip of a reclaimed island along the Corniche, makes for the perfectly framed view of Doha’s roaring skyline and dhow harbour of West Bay, along with accompanying photographs (colloquially known as the shot). Another one of Doha’s landmarks designed by a star architect, namely I.M. Pei, who’s also behind that little pyramid you may have seen at the Louvre in Paris and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong).

Additionally, the Museum of Islamic Arts is the first of its kind to feature 14 centuries of Islamic art in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf including textiles, wood work, manuscripts and other historical artifacts, making it one of the most comprehensive Islamic arts centre in the world.

Admire the Qatar National Library

The last of Doha’s architectural masterpieces, the Qatar National Library is open to the public and is certainly worth a visit if you’re into design, trailblazing architecture and Qatari history. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, whose work is mostly known for its approach to deconstructivism, the building sits like a diamond in the middle of the desert nearby Doha city centre, in Education City. The library holds a vast collection of rare documents and manuscripts, in both European and Arabic languages; the ancient collections are safely located in the lower parts of the building and seem to rise out of the ground.

Take a walk in The Pearl-Qatar

things-to-do-in-Doha-The-Pearl

The 14 square kilometres artificial island located in the West Bay is built over was used to be a pearl-diving site (hence the name) back when Qatar was one of the top pearl traders of Asia. The man-made marvel is designed like a shell with a pearl inside. It’s now home to Doha’s largest marina as well as a thriving expat community, drawn to the freehold ownership and prestigious Mediterranean allure (it even has a full-on replica of Italy in Qanat) with some travel guides even going as far as naming it the ‘Arabian Riviera’.

Explore Katara cultural village

things-to-do-in-Doha-6

Doha’s main cultural landmark is named after the historical name used for Qatar prior to the 18th century. There are loads of small art galleries, a massive open-air Greek style amphitheatre and shopping centres (including Galeries Lafayette) on-site, as well as two major and stunning mosques: the Gold Mosque, as well as Katara Mosque, famous for its technicolour Persian facade and for being the work of the world’s first women architect to be specialised in mosques.

Embark on a Dhow cruise

Hop on this historic Qatari single-sail, wooden boat for a dhow cruise in Doha on the Persian Gulf sailing by all the aforementioned landmarks (the waterfront museums! the Corniche! the Doha skyline!) from a different point of view. It’s also a great occasion to learn more about Qatar’s intrinsic history with the Gulf and extensive seafaring expeditions!

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