Five years ago, Lonely Planet Local Polly Byles followed her heart to join the man she loves in the Middle East. She didn’t know a great deal about the tiny peninsula country of Qatar before she made the leap to move there, but its capital, Doha, rapidly became a city that she speaks about with affection, for its year-round sunshine, safe and luxurious lifestyle and as the place that her growing family now calls home.
When I have friends in town… our first stop is always the Museum of Islamic Art. Not only is this the most interesting museum in the city, but it’s also my favourite vantage point for a photograph. I like to take visitors for an ice cream at the cafe at the pinnacle of the MIA Park, where the views of the skyline from across the Gulf are unparalleled. We’ll then watch dhows (traditional boats) nipping in and out of the harbour from our comfy seats, staying put until the sun starts to dip so that we can witness the most spectacular of Arabian sunsets.
When I have a day off with my family… we usually head to the beach or the desert to make the most of the sun and enjoy the beautiful natural landscapes around Qatar. Some favourite spots include TaliaMare Beach Club on The Pearl Qatar for relaxed boho vibes and great pizza, Sealine Beach south of Doha for dune bashing and camel riding, and the desolate desert to the west of the city, where you can find interesting rock formations and even unique sculptures rising out of the sand. There are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had here if you search for them!
For cheap eats… nowhere does it better than Korean and Japanese restaurant Yee Hwa. It’s unpretentious, and dare I say it, a little shabby around the edges, but every time I’ve eaten here, it’s been full of Japanese and Korean expats, which points towards its quality and authenticity. The well-thumbed menu is extensive, serving everything from traditional Korean meat-based dishes, which customers cook themselves on table-top griddles, through to noodles and sushi.
A typical evening involves... heading to Souq Waqif or Souq Al Wakrah just after evening prayer for a cheap but delicious, authentically Middle Eastern bite to eat and a little shisha. At these traditional markets, you can also haggle for pretty fabrics and ornate trinkets, see camels and falcons up close and watch the world go by from one of the little cafes along the winding lanes.
An unmissable experience is… heading to one of Doha’s hotels for Friday brunch. Brunch in the Middle East is all about eating (and drinking) as much as you can throughout the afternoon. The food often comes in the form of extensive international buffets, and there’s usually some entertainment and live music thrown into the mix. Just be sure to pace yourself or you’ll be back in bed before 6pm!
I could spend all day… hanging out at The Pearl Qatar, the impressive manmade island that my family and I call home. There is so much to see and do here, from the semi-circular marina of yachts at Porto Arabia, to the pretty pastel houses of Qanat Quartier to the lively restaurants and cafes in Medina Centrale, to the chic designer outlets and art galleries dotted about. Handy water taxis transport you from one end of the island to the other in style, and it’s by far my favourite place in the city.
One thing I hate about Doha is… the long, hot summers when the mercury soars above 40°C, and everyone is forced indoors to shelter from the heat and humidity in air conditioning. We call the period between June and August ‘the summer exodus’, when a large proportion of the population heads out of the country for more comfortable climes, and for those who are left, it can feel like an arduous wait until things start to come alive again in September.
When I am craving a bit of green… we head out to one of Doha’s numerous parks. Our top choices are the Museum of Islamic Art Park for the views and situation, Hotel Park for its peace and serenity in the midst of the hubbub of the city and Al Bidda Park for its winding pathways, barbecue areas and hidden playgrounds.
For special celebrations I always splurge at... Nobu at the Four Seasons hotel. The largest restaurant of this global chain by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Nobu Doha is not only an architectural wonder, but it also happens to serve up the very best food in the city. There’s a unique Japanese afternoon tea concept, ever-changing omakase menus and one of the best close-up views of the skyscrapers of the city from the outstanding rooftop bar.
I know I’m a Doha-dweller because… I complain about the heat but secretly love it; I eat far too much every week but explain it away by telling myself we won’t be doing this forever; and I’m constantly sweeping sand off my balcony.