12 Experiences You’ll Love in Doha

It’s not very often that we get to witness the making of a nation. With Qatar, we are invited to do just that. To watch in awe as a tiny pearl-diving seaside village transforms itself into one of the most vibrant cities in the Middle East. And it’s not just glitzy shopping malls, fine cuisine, five-star hotels, and futurist architecture, with 350 miles of sandy coastline Qatar has a lot to offer by way of sun and sand. It rarely rains and the sky is always blue. Which means, there is lots to do.

Al Souq, Doha, Qatar
Souq Waqif is one of the top tourist destinations in Doha and one of the most traditional markets in the region. A hundred years ago, this was the place where the Bedouins traded livestock, spices and general goods, but now, the old souq has been restored and the new one looks like a 19th-century Qatari market, with mud shops, exposed wooden beams, antique shops, modern art galleries, a wide variety of restaurants, and divan-like outdoor cafes to smoke shisha and drink chai-karak, the local tea. This is the perfect place to look for traditional Qatari clothing for men and women, spices, antiques, pearls, and oud--an incense as well as a perfume made from agarwood. The market is patrolled by the Heritage Police Officers who wear uniforms from the 1940s and ride regal Arabian horses. As any traditional market, bargaining is expected. Most of the shops in the souq close around 1pm and reopen at 4pm, but the many cafes and restaurants remain open all day.
There are a few countries in the world where the ocean encroaches deep into the heart of the desert: Qatar is one of them. There only 30 singing sand dunes sites in the world and Qatar has one of them. The combination of these two unique features makes a desert safari in Qatar an unforgettable experience. Several companies offer 4x4 desert safaris which include everything from the thrill of dune bashing—the drivers go up and down giant dunes—to stops at Bedouin tents for dates and tea, full BBQ dinners at campsites, overnight camping, camel rides, and shisha stops, among others. Singing sand dunes, also called booming sand dunes, are rare dunes of sand that emit an audible acoustic reverberation when the actual grains are disturbed or moved. Luckily, catching the singing dunes doesn’t require a tour company. It requires the right combination of sand particle size, temperature and humidity for sand dunes to “sing” and some sand-boarding down the dune to create an avalanche. The bigger avalanche the louder the sound is.
Al Asmakh Street
Doha’s skyline looks like something out of The Jetsons, is futurist, the buildings’ architecture is bold and a feat of ingenuity and good engineering and the best place to see it all is from the water, preferably at sunset when the promenade and buildings are lit and the sky over the teal waters of the Arabian Gulf turns different hues of orange. Dhows—Qatari fishing boats--are available along the promenade for hourly hire. Some dhow cruises offer three- to four-hour outings with dinner, traditional music and entertainment, while others will offer quick itineraries as short as fifteen minutes. Day dhow cruises are also available and include a stop at Al Safliya a nearby island for a swim, jet-skiing and fishing.
Furousiya St, Doha, Qatar
The Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club is one of the best horse-training centers in the world. From October to May the imposing gates of this state-of-the-art facility opens its doors to offer every Thursday, free of charge, horse racing events, thoroughbred Arabian horse shows, and auctions. With its luxurious grandstand, spectator seating capacity of 1400, vast children’s playground, number of restaurants, and the highest priced horses in the world, the Racing and Equestrian Club is a must see in Doha.
Doha, Qatar
Katara Cultural Village is the largest multi-cultural project in Qatar. With two majestic mosques whose architecture evokes imagery from 1001 Nights, a variety of art galleries, a Romanesque open amphitheater, a drama theater, an opera house, a museum showcasing Qatar’s maritime history, spectacular sea view, and an impressive array of the finest international restaurants, Katara offers visitors a break from the glitz of the city. Whether for a bike ride, a swim or a stroll, whether to watch the Qatar philharmonic perform at the opera house, to smoke shisha or spend a few hours in a culturally stimulating environment, Katara will send you home with amazing pictures and a renewed sense of tradition amidst the swanky newness of its surroundings.
7GPJ+5CF, Doha, Qatar
The Gold Souq: Located in downtown Doha, next to the central bus station and Al Fardan Plaza, this gold market offers anything from very affordable imported bangles and chains to locally made bridal jewelry sets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the gold available is 22-carat, although white gold, silver and platinum pieces are also available. The main attraction of this souq is that the jewelry is strictly regulated and all gold and precious gems sold here are weighed in front of the buyer, and have been previously tested and hallmarked, thus guaranteeing the purity of the metal. The must-buy accessory for tourists and expats is the necklace with the person’s name written in Arabic. These are made in just about every jewelry shop at the souq for a very reasonable price. Needless to say, haggling is mandatory.
Doha, Qatar
Wholesale Market, located off the Salwa Road on the way to Mamoura, this is the equivalent to a Farmer’s Market with a few cultural twists: a section devoted to fish with its own subsection for crabs, lobsters, crayfish, prawns, squid, locally-caught whole fish, and a non-air-conditioned fish cleaning section; an animal/meat section where butchered meat is available as well as live goats, sheep and cows which are taken to the slaughter house next door; a Vegetable Souq, where locals and international chefs barter for imported and locally-grown fruits and vegetables. There is no place like the wholesale market to observe true Qatari life, see porters carrying peoples’ buys in a wheelbarrow to their cars, or spot a few camels ready to be slaughtered.
7GQP+H7V, Doha, Qatar
Al-Fanar Islamic Cultural Center is one of the most widely known architectural landmarks in Doha. In this wedding-cake shaped building, non-Muslim visitors are offered extended as well as crash-courses on the Islamic faith. It offers a variety of educational, yet unforgettable, activities, such as exhibitions, tours of the cultural center, visits to the mosque, Arabic language courses and the unique opportunity to attend the khutbah (Friday sermon) in English. The center is happy to meet the visitor before the prayer to explain mosque etiquette, the dos and don’ts.
Ash-Shahaniyah, Qatar
Not many places in the world celebrate, honor, and look after camels with the passion Qataris do. During the winter months, Shahaniya Racetrack holds weekly camel races, where visitors are invited to follow the camels from the comfort of their cars on a paved road that runs along the track. The entry is free, the camel handlers are friendly and eager to practice their English with visitors, the camels are robust and imposing, and the overall experience is unique. To top it all off, Qataris also celebrate the physical attributes of their camels by holding annual beauty contests. The owner of the winning camels walks away with a hefty prize and many kudos.
The corniche: A waterfront promenade and probably the most attractive 5 miles in Doha. This crescent-shaped boardwalk runs along the Doha Bay allowing unobstructed views of the Persian Gulf on one side and the bustling business district on the other. With shaded paths, work-out stations, and Doha’s uber modern towers overlooking the Bay and the Gulf, the Corniche is one of Doha’s highlights. At night, the dhows are lit and ready to take strollers around the bay on a short cruise.
This white mangrove forest is accessible by kayak from the Al-Thakira Marina in the northern town of Al-Khor. This network of channels is home to an unexpected variety of birds, including flamingos and a new species of sea slug. It’s an easy paddle accessible to the inexperienced and with the reward of a stop at a mangrove secluded beach. Entalek EcoAdventures (http://www.entalek.org/) and Paddle Qatar (http://www.aquasportsqatar.com/) are two eco-adventure tour companies offering organized mangrove kayaking expeditions.
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