The hub of one of Asia's most dynamic economies, slated to host soccer's World Cup in 2022, and constantly adding new wonders to its impressive skyline, Doha is quickly becoming a magnetic tourist destination.
The city's appeal isn't all based on dynamism and epic construction. There's a more modest, historical side to Doha as well, which can be seen at markets like the Souq Waqif or the stunning Museum of Islamic Art.
There's an endless schedule of cultural festivals to enjoy as well. Whether you want to catch the latest international films or the finest Arabic musical performers, Doha is the place to be.
Qatar's government has poured billions of riyals into its cultural infrastructure, with some incredible results. The Museum of Islamic Art is the jewel in the crown, featuring paintings, ceramics, carpets, and much more. But the strikingly designed National Museum of Qatar and the Arab Museum of Modern Art will keep culture fans occupied for days.
Doha prides itself on its packed calendar of major international events. Aside from massive one-off spectacles like the 2022 World Cup, the city hosts an annual superbikes Grand Prix, golf's Qatar Masters, a thriving Ajyal Youth Film Festival, and May's Doha Cultural Festival, with dance, poetry, and theater to enjoy.
Qatar is one of the sunniest places on earth, and temperatures hardly ever dip below 70 degrees, even in the Qatari "winter." That makes it the perfect place for sightseeing, along with outdoor activities like golf, sailing, or kayaking.
The most impressive thing about Doha is the speed with which it is becoming a major international hub. Across this city of 800,000 people, mega-malls, soaring towers, mosques, and museums are peppering the landscape, while there are even vast reclaimed islands like "the Pearl" to explore.
Qataris love to shop, and Doha is full of wonderful (often cavernous) malls. The most visually appealing of all is the Souq Waqif, an old Bedouin bazaar that has been carefully restored and is now one of the city's foremost arts venues (as well as being a wonderful place to shop).
Before Qatar tapped into its vast offshore natural gas reserve, Doha was a quiet seaside village where a largely impoverished population made a living diving for pearls. The precious gem today is Doha itself. With the highest GDP per capita in the world, Doha's lustrous portfolio shines with hip boutiques, glitzy malls, gorgeous beach resorts, a burgeoning arts scene, and a firm foothold in major global sporting events - the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While Ferraris and Lamborginis on the road are common, Doha is known for the very uncommon art and artifacts found at the Museum of Islamic Art - the largest collection of Islamic art in the world. Drawn from three continents, its treasures include ceramics, glass, textiles, inlaid metalworks, and antique manuscripts spread over three floors. Built of limestone to reflect the daylight's varying shadows and shades of color, the iconic, 377,000-square-foot museum with its domed, five-story atrium seemingly rises from the sea in Doha Bay - an architectural masterpiece for the masterworks it contains.
As the economic and social hub for Arab peoples for centuries, the souq was where sheep and goats were once bartered for essentials in an open-air marketplace humming with commerce. While the sheep and goats in Doha are gone, the redeveloped Souq Waqif still bustles with activity in the shops, cafes, and restaurants that line its snaking labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. Meander through its mud-rendered shops and bargain for jewelry, incense, spices, antiques and traditional Qatari dress. Then relax at a cafe to sip chai-karak - the local tea, or puff on shisha - a molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked with a hookah.
A popular destination by way of its elegant extravagance, the Pearl-Qatar is an artificial island spanning almost two square miles of new residential towers, marinas, luxury shopping, five-star hotels, villas, cafes, promenades, and fine dining. Built over a former pearl diving site, Pearl-Qatar when complete will encompass 13 islands along 20 miles of new coastline, including 18,000 new dwellings and marina moorings for up to 200 yachts.
Taking in most of Doha's key landmarks, this palm-fringed, pedestrian boulevard extends more than four miles along the city's seafront with the glistening waters of the Persian Gulf to one side, and the breathtaking modern skyline of Doha on the other. The attractive promenade winds in a crescent shape through monuments, ornamental wind towers, a green grassy park, and lazy dhows moored from their all-night fishing trips.
With over 9,000 works celebrating modern and contemporary art from Qatar, the Middle East and regions connected to the Arab Peninsula - such as Iran, Turkey and India - the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art showcases the largest specialized collection of its kind. Founded in 2010, the museum provides a rare comprehensive overview of modern Arab art from the 1840s to the present.
The main thing to consider when planning a trip to Doha is the heat. Between late May and October, daytime temperatures rarely dip below 100 degrees (although evenings are pleasant). If you can't handle that kind of heat, visit between November and April, when the weather is warm, dry, and constantly sunny.
Hamad International Airport (DOH) is a major entry point for visitors to Doha and is located on a reclaimed peninsular, around three miles east of the city center. There are car rental branches in the arrivals area (including Hertz, Prestige, and Europcar), as well as a public bus connection to downtown Doha. To use the bus, you'll need to get hold of a Karwa Smartcard from the information desk near Baggage Claim Belt 5 and 6 (QAR30), which you can then recharge whenever required.
If you choose to rent a car at the airport, getting into town won't take long and should be hassle free. Take the access road away from the airport, then take a right along the Ras Abu Abboud Expressway, straight into the city center. If you are driving along the coast from the UAE, take the E11 coastal road (you'll need to pass briefly through Saudi Arabia) and change to highway 5 at Salwa. Doha should be signposted from there.
Local bus numbers 777, 109, and 747 all run from the airport to locations in central Doha. Mowasalat also runs buses from other Qatari cities, including Al Khor and Mesaieed, and there even cross-border buses from the UAE or Saudi Arabia to Doha.
Doha has a superb portfolio of luxury hotels, in keeping with its forward-thinking, upwardly mobile economy. Some of the most luxurious of all are located on the Pearl, a few miles north of the city center, including the Marsa Malaz Kempinski. More central 5-star hotels include the Doha Marriott Hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort and Convention Hotel, and the Grand Hyatt Doha Hotel and Villas - all of which feature large pools, spas, and everything tourists could need to unwind during their Qatari vacation.
Al Souq - Doha's historical core, Al Souq, is just south of the harbor. It's where you'll find the delightful Souq Waqif market, the Al Koot Fort (which has been turned into a museum of Qatari life) along with cultural attractions like the Al Markhiya Gallery and the Abdul Aziz Nasser Theater. Whether you need to shop or catch a festival performance, Al Souq is the place to visit.
Doha Port - Doha welcomes droves of cruise ship visitors every week, and the port is its tourist hub. The star attraction here is definitely the exceptional Museum of Islamic Art, which has its own little island, but there's plenty to see, including a collection of restored Arab dhows in the special Dhow Harbor.
The Pearl - located a few miles north of the city center, the Pearl is an extraordinary place. This enormous collection of artificial islands features high-rise apartments, 5-star hotels, beach resorts, gourmet restaurants, and an endless array of designer boutiques.
At present, Doha's public transportation options are limited to city buses, although a modern subway system is due to be completed in 2019. Until then, the buses can be navigated with a rechargeable Karwa Smartcard. Single fares vary slightly but should be between QAR3 and QAR4 (or up to QAR9 if you are heading to nearby towns).
Taxis are an excellent way to get around Doha, and should be fairly affordable as well. Most taxis are provided by the public transportation company Mowasalat, and charge a meter drop of QAR4, followed by around QAR1.60 per mile (QAR2.50 at night).
Renting your own car is a superb option, particularly if you intend to stay in one of the resorts in the northern portion of the city. You'll find branches of Hertz and Europcar at the airport, along with companies like Eurodollar and Unique Rent A Car in the heart of town. Rates can be as low as QAR5 per day, making car rental a very cost-effective way to get around.
Shopping sometimes feels like a national sport in Qatar, and few destinations are as geared toward luxury shoppers as Doha. Aside from the charming Souq Waqif (the best place to go for craft products like carpets or ceramics), you'll find malls like City Center Doha and Villaggio, which has an unusual Venetian theme. The Hyatt Plaza features a child-friendly jungle play zone, the Landmark Doha is a great place to shop for jewelry, while Medina Centrale is the Pearl's retail hub, hosting boutiques like Aigner, Petracer's, and Migato.
Doha hosts a large number of supermarket chains from all over the world, including a Walmart and numerous Carrefour stores, but local companies like Family Food Centre are more numerous. Expect fairly low prices, with a gallon of milk coming to around QAR20 and 12 eggs QAR10.
Given Doha's upmarket population, it's no surprise that the city hosts some stellar restaurants, with options from all over the gastronomic map. For example, the Cellar is an exceptional tapas restaurant, Ruby Wu's has perfected Chinese-Western fusion cuisine, Aroma offers Qatari specialties (including camel burgers), while Mykonos is as good a Greek restaurant as you'll find outside Athens. Prices are almost always low, at around QAR30 for a good sit down meal.