Weekend break in Qatar: A city tour of Doha

Weekend break in Qatar: A city tour of Doha

After my recent weekend away in Qatar, I thought I’d summarise my itinerary to help others who have a stopover and are looking for things to do for a day. I’ve been to Doha several times to visit friends and on business, but have never really had the chance to see the city, so this time I wanted to change that.

I had been strongly recommended to visit the Museum of Islamic Art by several people so I made this my first stop. It was only a few minutes and a 30 riyal taxi ride from the airport and they had a storage room that I could leave my small bag of luggage in. I’m not really a huge fan of museums, but the building itself was captivating, with a stunning design and great views from the airy atrium cafe, complete with delicious home-made treats like Turkish delight. There was a fantastic temporary multimedia exhibition too: Hajj – The Journey Through Art which featured the work of five international photographers as well as videos, drawings and paintings and documents, and really demonstrated the essence of the Hajj.

I left my bag in the museum and, armed with the drinks and sweet treats from the cafe, wandered down the grand palm-lined entrance to the corniche. The short walk along the water gave some great views across the sea of the modern Doha skyline towering over the old dhows and young guys fishing. I walked out along the long break where the dhows were being built/repaired and, despite being the only woman I saw, didn’t feel uncomfortable – in fact it gave me the opportunity to get some more great pictures. After taking the obligatory picture of the giant open oyster shell and pearl at the entrance to the break, I then turned inland and walked down the main street for only a few hundred metres before finding the souk on my right.

I had read that the souk had been restored and ‘Disneyfied’, however I thought it had been very well done. Designed to look like the traditional mud huts and with tiny winding alleyways, it was a great place to wander around. I arrived at 4pm, just as they were starting to open for the evening (a word of advice, don’t go earlier in the day as there’ll be nothing to look at!) I was enjoying the stroll, stumbling upon the area selling birds that had been made famous on the Qatar Airways inflight video, until I saw lots of little chicks that had been dyed bright fluorescent colours, followed by stalls selling tiny little bunnies that should have been with their mothers. As I rounded a corner to see the progression of caged animals develop into kittens and little puppies, I couldn’t take anymore and had to turn around and walk back out again. The main cobbled streets on the edge of the souk were wider and lined with cafes and restaurants, and here is perhaps where the Disney reference came in, particularly as every few minutes two uniformed Qataris would ride through the crowd on horses. I stopped for a quick juice break, and to inhale the fumes of the shisha pipes around me, and although it wasn’t the most authentic place I’ve ever been, it was obviously very popular with locals and expats alike.

After all the walking, I got a taxi back to the museum to pick up my bag and head over to my friend’s office, which provided a nice, slow taxi crawl along the corniche (the traffic in Doha is horrendous) and plenty of opportunities for photos. I was finally dropped in the centre of modern Doha, with the unique, futuristic skyscrapers a world away from the recreated mud huts I had just seen.

My friends live away from the centre so I spent the evening in their compound catching up, but was thrilled when we headed out early the next morning to walk the dogs in the mangroves. These were probably an hour away from where they were in Doha, but it was well worth the drive. It was interesting to see the landscape of Qatar too – once outside of the city it was mostly gravel and salt flats as far as the eye could see, not the undulating dunes or towering mountain landscapes that we are used to seeing in the UAE.

We had to drive down onto the beach and along the water’s edge to reach the mangroves, which were stunning. There was no one around and there were so many birds (much to the delight of the dogs) so we spent a peaceful morning wading up the rivers of cool water before heading back to the car and preparing a BBQ breakfast on the beach (we lasted until about 11am before it became too hot to be enjoyable). Unfortunately I don’t have details of the location of the mangroves, but I believe they were south of the city.

Now that I’ve had the chance to see a bit of Qatar, I’m keen to do more on my next trip. Qatar Airways flies to so many destinations now, I’d definitely recommend to anyone with a stopover in Doha to at least time their flight to give them four hours in Doha and have a really chilled out and relaxed break in between flights, as well as the chance to see something new.