Ask Qataris which part of their country they are most proud of and they will say Doha, a city known for its spectacular modern buildings, the spectacular Al-Corniche, rapid economic expansion barely brooked by the global recession, fabulous shopping malls and international sports tournaments. Here's how to get the most from 24 hours in Doha.
Absorb the best of Doha by promenading the corniche, the city's sparkling seafront, and enjoy watching the stellar skyline dance in the heat. Al-Corniche is unquestionably the highlight of the capital. Doha Bay was carefully constructed with landfill to make an attractive crescent, along which run shaded footpaths and cycling tracks. One great way to gain an introduction to the city is to begin at the Ras Abu Abboud St Flyover at the southeastern end of the corniche and either walk or drive around to the Sheraton Doha Hotel & Resort, looking out for prominent landmarks.
Cool down at the Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha’s priceless treasure house. Rising from its own purpose-built island, this monumental museum, designed by the renowned architect IM Pei (architect of the Louvre's pyramid), is shaped like a postmodern fortress, with minimal windows and a 'virtual' moat. With an avenue of palm trees extending along the approach road from the corniche, it makes a bold statement about a capital that has matured into one of the most culturally-engaged cities in the region.
The museum houses the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, collected from three continents. Exquisite textiles, ceramics, enamel work and glass are showcased conceptually: a single motif, for example, is illustrated in the weave of a carpet, in a ceramic floor tile or adapted in a piece of gold jewellery in neighbouring display cases, allowing visitors to gain a sense of the homogeneity of Islamic art. This is the kind of museum that is so rich in treasure that it rewards short, intense visits. Pace yourself by visiting the café downstairs or punctuate your visit with a browse in the extensive museum shop to avoid sensory overload. You won’t be able to see everything in the museum, but you will have enjoyed an exquisite taste.
Had enough of priceless antiquities? Seek out gems of a different kind among the pots and pans, silks and spices, and bargain bunnies for sale in Souq Waqif, a wonderful place to explore. There has been a souq on this site for centuries, as this was the spot where the Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool to trade for essentials. It grew into a scruffy warren of concrete alleyways in recent years but now its tourist potential has been recognised and it's been cleverly redeveloped to look like a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams.
By this point you will have worked up an appetite. Pause for pomegranate juice in Arabian-style Al-Mourjan Restaurant and watch the sun put a glint in the eye of Doha’s pretty bay.
If you’re not in need of food, recharge by the beach at InterContinental Doha which has a reputation for high quality service without the attitude. Once your energy returns, hit the night running at the convivial hotspot Paloma - or at the city’s equally friendly cool-spot, the City Centre-Doha ice rink. Paloma is considered one of the most lively bars in town, curiously offering live music and Tex-Mex food. The City Centre is a hotspot of family friendly fun, offering ice skating, bowling and wall climbing.
As a destination known more for being a stopover than holiday spot, Qatar does have many diversions to offer the traveller and is a cultured destination refined by centuries of history.