What to see and do in Doha
Doha is not a famous destination as its neighbour Dubai, where the tourist goes to explore the country having special experience between relaxing and fun but, if you can, spend some days for leisure, business, or through a flight stop-over, you might be impressed. Qatar has grown very fast in the last years, preparing the country to welcome tourism and FIFA World Cup 2022, and, despite what most people think, there’s a wide range of interesting spots that keep you busy during your stay in the city.
1 – Discovering Doha Heritage
There are many places where you can enjoy the real essence of the country among forts, towers, museums and traditions:
- Souq Waqif: located between Al Souq & Grand Hamad Streets, it is the beating heart of Doha and walking along its alleyways, you’ll experience the authentic taste of Qatari street life, traditional architecture and culture. A maze of small shops with a dazzling array of typical Middle Eastern wares: from spices and delicacies, perfumes, jewels, clothing, handicrafts and many other things. All enriched by music, art and traditional cultural performances. In the souq, there are also coffee bars and a good restaurant where taste local traditional dishes. Opening time: every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Falcon Souq: in this country, falcons belong to an important tradition, and once in the souq, you can admire a dedicated section ( inside Souq waqif ) where these birds are trained and sold. The Souq is located in one corner of Souq Waqif. Next door to the Falcon Souq is the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital. Hours: Sat-Thu 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. & 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Fri 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Al Koot (Doha Fort): Built in 1927 as a Police station to protect the adjacent Souq Waqif and used as a prison. This square-shaped white fort has a crenellated tower in traditional Qatari style on each corner (three circular and one rectangular). Currently is closed, but it worth a look while you are walking in the Souq Waqif.
- Katara Cultural Village: It is a cultural village in Doha, and it is located on the east coast between West Bay and the Pearl. This place hosts international, regional and local festivals, workshops, performances and exhibitions. If you want to learn more: http://www.katara.net/en.
- Al Wajba Fort: Located 15 km west of Doha, the Al Wajba fort was built in the late 18th / early 19th century. Its historical importance derives from the site of a famous battle in which the Qatari forces defeated the Ottomans in 1893 and the residence of the sheikhs in the course of history.
- Al-Jassasiya: Al-Jassasiya is in the northeast of Qatar, 75 km from Doha. The Al Jassasiya is an attractive site where you can find petroglyphs, which are considered the most extraordinary for their quality and state of preservation. The site is always open, and there is no admission fee.
- Al-Zubarah Archaeological Site: It was once a successful centre of global trade and pearl fishing positioned. It is one of the most extensive and best-preserved examples of an 18th–19th-century settlement in the region. The site is located on the northwestern coast of the country (Al Shamal municipality), about 105 km from Doha. UNESCO World Heritage since 2013. This site is always open, and there is no admission fee (The Al-Zubarah Fort is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Friday mornings).
- Al-Wsel: It is an archaeological site located on the east coast of Qatar, about 27 km north of Doha. The site is always open, and there is no admission fee. Remember to bring some snacks and refreshments along, as there are no facilities in the area.
- Barzan towers: Located in the village of Umm Salal Mohammed (around 30 km from Doha), the recently restored towers were built between 1910 and 1916. Barzan means “the high place”, and the towers probably served as a lookout to protect the local waterways or the observatory from determining the lunar calendar dates. Visitors can enter the building 24-hours a day.
- Al Wakra: This Fort lies in the city of Al Wakrah, about 20 km from Doha. Al Wakrah Fort was built in the early 20th century on an earlier ruined fort that had belonged to Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. It was used as a Police Station and barracks. No fees.
2 – Arts & Culture
Doha is a good place to learn something about Islamic culture and religion and discover its amazing art: many sites can be reached easily through your walk into the city.
- Museum of Islamic Arts: The building, which is located on the Corniche which runs around the bay, is an architectural gem, and inside, you can find masterpieces of Islamic art as metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles, glass and much more collected from three continents and dating from the 7th to the 19th century. No Fees; Opening time: Every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Friday 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more info: http://www.mia.org.qa/en/
- Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art: Arab Museum of Modern Art, founded in 2010, is situated in Education City in Qatar Foundation (QF), in a renovated former school building. Mathaf Collection, co-owned by Qatar Museums and Qatar Foundation, is now holding over 9,000 works, making it the world’s largest specialized collection of its kind. Opening time: every day 11:00 am – 6:00 pm except Friday 3:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Monday closed. Free admission to the permanent collection exhibition. Temporary exhibitions- 25 QR.
- Qatar National Museum and Aquarium: This futuristic building is one of the best attractions to visit in the city: you can find museums, public art, cultural heritage and colourful fish. It is located on Museum Park Street off the Doha Corniche, not far from the Museum of Islamic Art. Opening time: daily from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. except Saturdays. For more info: http://www.qm.org.qa/en.
3 – Learning more about Islam
Doha hospitality is great, and during your stay, you shouldn’t miss the chance to discover more about its religion. Here below some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the city:
- Al Fanar (Islamic Culture Center): It is one of the most widely known architectural landmarks in Doha. Al Fanar, located in Abdullah Bin Jassim Street, next to Souq Waqif, offers various activities, exhibitions, tours of the cultural centre and mosque, Arabic language courses and the unique opportunity to attend the khutbah (Friday sermon) in English. Opening time: Every day from 7:30 to 13:30 and 17 – 20. For more info: https://www.binzaid.gov.qa.
- Grand Mosque: Built in the first half of the 20th century, the mosque features an imposing building with many domes and a fascinating mix of traditional Arabic and modern architecture. The mosque is located in Al Mohandiseen Street, south of the Corniche nearby the Qatar Sports Club.
Besides the Grand Mosque, there are many other beautiful and elaborate mosques where you can admire the Qatari style: Amiri Diwan Mosque and Emir’s Palace, Katara Mosque, The Golden Mosque, Doha Souq Mosque.
Keep in mind that most mosques are open to the public except during service or worship times, and all of them require both women and men to be dressed appropriately.
4 – Shopping
If you like shopping, Doha can offer a big choice of traditional and modern shopping. Hence, it is up to you: get lost in the Souq Waqif alleyways among spices, antique jewellery, colourful textiles, animals and much more or enjoy the luxury of themed air-conditioned shopping malls.
- Doha City Center: City Center Doha, located in the heart of the economic district of Doha in West Bay (4th Street), is one of the largest shopping centres in Qatar and one of the biggest in the region. People also can witness a range of variety of shows, seasonal events and activities targeting different age groups. Opening time: Sunday-Wednesday 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Thursday 10:00 a.m. – 00:00 a.m.; Friday 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. & 1:00 p.m. – 00.00 a.m.; Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 00:00 a.m.
- Villagio Mall: This mall, located on Al Waab Street in the west end of the city and within Aspire Zone, hosts a dedicated mall area of 183,000 sqm. It is a Venetian styled interior combined with an astonishing range of shopping, dining and entertainment venues. Opening time: Sunday to Wednesday 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Thursday & Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. 11:00 p.m.
- Gold Souq: Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this beautiful place in downtown Doha, next to the central bus station and Al Fardan Plaza (Al Ashat street). This gold market offers a wide range of jewellery, from affordable to very expensive. The preciouses are weighed in front of the buyer before being sold, and the must-buy accessory for tourist is the necklace with the person’s name written in Arabic. Opening time: Sat – Thur 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Sun-Sat 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
- Landmark Mall: It is a nice place with a wide selection of outlets, places to eat or go for a coffee, entertainment and other services and attractions. The Mall is located in the Al Gharaffa area to the north of Doha City (Al Shamal Road). Opening time: Saturday to Wednesday 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Thursday to Friday 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
- Pearl Doha: Visiting this engineering masterpiece located in West Bay Lagoon is an excellent opportunity to admire its ambitious style and get lost in the city’s luxury. Enjoy your day among sand, villas, skyscrapers, streets, restaurants, luxury shops, bars and offices.
5 – Walking along the Corniche
Have a walk along the Corniche, an amazing waterfront promenade on Doha Bay approximately 7 Km long. The best views are from the water’s edge close to the Museum of Islamic Art, with dhows in the foreground and the skyscrapers of West Bay across the water. It doesn’t matter if you have time: don’t forget to have a Dhow Cruise on the bay (especially in the night is something magic). Along the Corniche, you’ll be able to find a wide selection of dhows. Tourist dhows from Corniche will take the visitors on a trip to several other locations dotted along the Corniche, and usually, the price is around 20 riyal per person. If you want to hire yourself for an hour, usually it costs around QR 200 (USD 55). Anyway, don’t forget to bargain! There are also longer duration dhow trips as evening cruises with dinner, music and entertainment.
6 – Desert Adventure
Book an adventurous journey into the heart of the Qatar desert, gliding across the sand in a 4×4 vehicle. Choose the most suitable package with one of many agencies which can offer you different price and enjoy this unique experience. Take pictures of the beautiful area surrounded by large golden dunes before continuing to Khor Al Adaid, one of only three places in the world where the desert meets the sea.
7 – Nightlife
When day turns to night, the iconic skyline of the city lights up, and Doha is ready for the nightlife. Qatar may not appear fascinating as in the western world as far as people are concerned because there are restrictions and regulations during the night as in any other Arabic/Islamic country but don’t worry, there are many bars, pubs, restaurants, discos and nightclubs where you can eat, drink, dance and have fun. The Pearl Qatar is home to many local and international hangout spots. Luxury hotels add their share to nightlife as they have in-house clubs that attract locals and tourists alike (for example, the Admirals Club at Ritz-Carlton Doha, one of the popular nightclubs in the city).
8 – Al Maha Sanctuary
The Arabian Sanctuary in Doha is home to the Arabian Oryx which, the symbol of Qatar. The Al Maha Sanctuary came into existence as a result of preservation for these endangered desert deer species. Today, the Sanctuary is managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation with more than 1000 Oryx under protection in reserves Shahaniya, Ras Ushaijrij and Al Maszhabiya.
9 – Future Qatar
As we already said, Doha is a rapidly growing city, with many of its tallest skyscrapers having been finished in the last few years. Moreover is gearing up for the 2022 World Cup and walking in the city you can see undergoing constructions everywhere: apart from the most known area, West Bay, where you can see buildings with futuristic shapes, Qatar is developing some amazing projects as Lusail City (just off the West bay lagoon will be home to residential buildings, island resorts, commercial district, marinas and luxury shopping facilities), Education City (an initiative put forward by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development located on the outskirts of Doha covering 14 square kilometres), or Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports City (250-hectare sporting complex located in Al Waab district) http://www.aspirezone.qa/index.aspx?lang=en
10 – Sports & Activities
Doha is a rich city in all aspects. It provides a range of various activities for all so you will not get bored during your stay: have relaxation on sandy beaches, enjoy watersports or fishing, golfing at Doha Golf Club, join horse or camel racing at Al Shahaniya racetrack, or visit the sports city Aspire Zone. The country is growing so fast and will be even more competitive, preparing for the next FIFA World Cup 2022.