Doha, the capital of Qatar, was once considered a dusty layover—a place you stopped on the way to exciting destinations like Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But that perception is changing quickly. As Qatar prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha is seeing a tremendous amount of construction and development . What’s more, travelers are starting to appreciate the city’s distinct local culture as well as its surprisingly good nightlife and international food scene. Put all of these things together, and it’s the perfect time to plan a trip to Doha.
Here are seven reasons to visit Doha:
1. The city is booming Few countries in the world experience the kind of rapid growth that Qatar is seeing right now with new luxury hotels, glitzy malls, and all kinds of megaprojects taking shape across the country. The bulk of the boom is, unsurprisingly, taking place in Doha, which is quickly becoming a world-class city. The breathtaking skyline is constantly changing with the addition of new (and sometimes fantastical) architecture, and residents say that the city is changing so fast that if you visit again in in a couple years you’ll barely recognize the place. As part of this boom, the city is expanding on its (already impressive) arrray of museums and attracting lots of world-class restaurants.
2. The coastline is dazzling
One walk along the corniche (the crescent curve of Doha Bay) will almost make you forget that you’re smack dab in the center of the Middle East. During the day, the beaches surrounding the city are filled with sunbathing locals and tourists, and at sunset, the sky erupts into a cotton candy array of pinks, oranges, and yellows, and the sea sparkles like diamonds. For the best views, stroll along the east bay and then head west, past the impeccable Souq Waqif and a number of mosques until you see the city’s skyline with its buildings covered in mirrored glass.
3. The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the best in the world
You can’t go far in Doha without someone asking if you’ve been to the Museum of Islamic Art yet. This cultural treasure is home to over 4,500 works of art that span more than 13 centuries and three continents, and the building itself, which is made up of a mix of geometric patterns and shapes, is one of the most iconic in the city. Its breathtaking atrium alone is enough to send any instagrammer into photo-overdrive.
4. Qatari food is mouthwatering
Restaurants in Doha serve a wide variety of cuisines, from Turkish to Iraqi to Moroccan. For an easy way to explore the city’s offerings, head to Souq Waqif, the city’s main market, which is also home to many popular eateries. Favorites include Isaan Thai Restaurant, Bandar Aden (which serves Yemeni cuisine), and Al Matbakh Rooftop Grill (which boasts amazing views and spicy Middle Eastern fare).
Thanks to its location on the Persian Gulf, Doha also has excellent seafood. Some of the best is served at Al-Dana, the city’s only oceanfront restaurant, which is located in the seaside Sharq Village (a Ritz-Carleton property). The restaurant serves an international selection of dishes from raw oysters and buttery mussels to perfectly grilled salmon.
5. Yes, there is a club scene
Qatar’s legal system is based on Sharia law, and most of the country is completely dry, but alcohol is still permitted in international hotels and licensed nightclubs. For visitors who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of these regulations, the city’s club scene often comes as a surprise.
But if you’re looking for a party on a Thursday or Friday night, the places to see and be seen are the Strata Lounge, a club inside the InterContinental Hotel with colorful neon lighting, and Illusion, a dazzling rooftop bar with cabanas at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski resort (also known as the Pearl).
6. Escaping to the desert is easy
Only a few miles from Doha you’ll find an expansive landscape of rolling sand dunes, desert forts, and deep caves. For the best experience, book a trip with an outfitter like Arabian Adventures Qatar and choose between a day of off-roading and exploring and a leisurely desert camel safari that will take you to pristine beaches near the Qatar-Saudi border.
7. You can learn about the ancient sport of falconry
Falconry is huge here. This pastime dates backs hundreds of years in Qatar, and the falcon souq at Souq Waqif sells all of the necessary equipment, from landing pads to tool kits, electronic guidance systems, and more. The birds themselves are also for sale, and if you’re lucky, you might get to witness a local enthusiast purchase a prized hunting falcon.