My first encouter of Doha was in 2010 when I boarded a transit flight on Qatar Airways from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi where I was about to start a new chapter in my life. Almost 7 years later, I found myself at the same airport, only with a different sparkle in my eyes. While my short 5 days trip was mainly for business reasons, the travel bug in me found some time for sightseeing and exploration of this glittery city.
A short 1 hour flight on Qatar Airways (in my personal opinion, one of the best airlines I have ever flown with), and we landed at Hamad International Airport. At first sight, the city of Doha is a myriad of shiny skyscrapers and constructions sites, however the deeper you look between the buildings, you will notice a touch of culture. Hoardings covering construction sites are covered with art, the corniche is laced with sculptures and fountains, the malls display art pieces, while most hotels hold prized paintings on their walls; basically the city itself is an open air museum.
Doha’s history can be traced to 1820 however today it is one of the emerging financial centres of the Middle East. Qatar holds the world’s 3rd largest natural gas and oil reserves in the world, making it the highest per capita income country in the world and it is very much in the race to lead progress and developement in the Arab world, most notably with winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup – becoming the first Arabic country to do so.
My conference took place at the majestic InterContinental Doha located in West Bay, just 10 minutes away from the downtown area. The property is massive featuring 8 restaurants and bars, a 5 km long beach, picturesque swimming pool, and a gorgeous SPA. The hotel is truly “InterContinental” as it blends local knowledge, seamless services and illuminates luxury travel – I loved how much detail has been put into the design, which reflects Arabian hospitality, not to mention the F&B team has put on incredible culinary creativity during our themed coffee breaks – check these out!
My first cultural experience was 5 minutes away from the hotel at Katara Cultural Village – a beautiful medley of Arabian style buildings and alleyways which are protected by the sun’s rays. While the village is still under a lot of construction, I was able to walk around and enjoy the beautiful natural walkways while listening to the sound of trickling streams. Katara currently has a beautiful mosaic covered mosque, stamp museum, contemporary art gallery, majestic outdoor amphitheater which regularly puts on concerts by the Philharmonic Orchestra, an Opera House, beach and several restaurants and cafes – all with the perfect seaside view!
Among the roaring building sites and modern skyscrapers, my second cultural experience took me to Souq Waqif, a real historical gem and exactly the authentic style souq I have been searching for. From the minute we arrived, the scent of mixed spices overpowered my senses and I felt somewhat transported back in time. Strolling through the narrow walkways, I admired dazzling arrays of spices, seasonal delicacies, perfumes, jewelry, clothing, Iranian handmade carpets, souvenirs, traditional music, art and cultural shows, all of which add to the authentic ambiance.
Souq Waqif dates back to the early 1900’s however was renovated in 2006 in order to preserve the traditional Qatari architecture featuring low rise buildings, and a composition of wood, mud and date palm leaves. It was a place where Bedouins and locals would trade in the olden days … and walking within the walls, you can definitely feel a spirit of the past. Its streets are characteristic of Middle Eastern markets in the sense that it is a maze with no defined patterns. I was pleasantly surprised to find a collection of 9 boutique hotels scattered within the souq and countless restaurants and cafes — definitely the best place to chill out in the evening! 🙂
The only negative experience I had, actually a shocking one … was when I witnessed an entire courtyard dedicated to the sale of animals – cats, dogs, turtles, parrots, rabbits… you name it. As an animal lover, I couldn’t stand to look at these poor creatures struggling in cages in the heat and humidity… and I truly hope that the country stops this cruelty and that the animals find their forever loving homes … sadly I couldn’t rescue them.
My final cultural experience (and literally 1 hour before I had to go to the airport) took me to the Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by world renowned architect, I.M. Pei (who also designed the Louvre glass pyramid), the museum is located along the Corniche and overlooks Doha’s traditional dhow harbour on one side and a purpose built park on the other. The museum is impressively designed using geometric patterns and houses collections of Islamic art from 3 continents, spanning 1,400 years of history. I visited the permanent exhibitions which included beautiful artifacts, majestic jewelry, calligraphy, manuscripts and textiles to name a few. During my visit there was a special display of textiles from the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires featuring beautiful hand woven tapestry, jewelry, prized porcelain and a stunning showcase of precious stones such as emeralds and rubies. One can easily spend hours admiring ancient history and really made me wonder how talented our ancestors were. The museum also has a restaurant with a picturesque view of Doha’s downtown area and a gift shop, naturally I had to pick up some souvenirs 😉
The Corniche, is a great place to enjoy walks while soaking in the sensation of salty sea water, and admiring the vibrant skyline. Qatar has plenty of modern things to offer including large malls and an impressive complex called “The Pearl”, which reminds me very much of Al Mariyah Island in Abu Dhabi’s newest commercial hub – shiny, modern and is filled with upscale restaurant names and iconic fashion houses. As much as the new sights and sounds are thrilling to experience, it is the authentic, historical and cultural sights which really make me feel connected to a city’s true spirit, and made a strong impact of my first visit to Doha.
- InterContinental Doha: www.intercontinental.com/doha
- Katara Cultural Village: http://www.katara.net/en
- Museum of Islamic Art: www.mia.org.qa
- Qatar Airways: www.qatarairways.com
- Souq Waqif: www.visitqatar.qa/discover/tourist-hotspots/souq-waqif.html