It’s rare to see a great city in the making these days, but here's your chance. Whether it's the stunning and constantly changing skyline or the massive investments Qatari authorities are making in landmark cultural icons, Doha is a city oozing confidence and style, and it's as much ease with its modern shopping malls as it is with its heritage and traditional souqs.
Wander the fabulously atmospheric Souq Waqif, wonder at the sheer beauty of the world-class Museum of Islamic Art and its exhibits or head out to Katara to explore Doha's art culture. Wherever you look, Doha is threatening to eclipse Dubai as the Gulf's most dynamic city. Throw in a new metro system in the making and the 2022 FIFA World Cup on the horizon, and even despite the Gulf-Qatar diplomatic crisis, chances are Doha is going to come out on top.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Doha.
This vibrant complex is without doubt one of the most atmospheric places to explore in Qatar. Built on an ancient market site, the area remains the social heart of Doha. Centuries ago, Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings.
The much-anticipated opening of the National Museum of Qatar took place in March 2019. French architect Jean Nouvel's sprawling desert-rose-inspired structure is spectacular and houses 1.5km of galleries that have been organised into three 'chapters': Beginnings, Life in Qatar and Building the Nation. Exhibits focus on Qatari history and heritage, celebrating the nation's past, present and future on the world stage. A thrilling, immersive and educational experience that should not be missed.
With the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, drawn from three continents, this fabulous museum is so rich in treasure that it rewards short, intense visits. Rising from its own purpose-built island, and set in an extensive landscape of lawns and ornamental trees off the Corniche, the museum is shaped like a postmodern fortress with minimal windows (to reduce energy use). The views across the water are splendid.
One of the best libraries in the world, this incredible, spaceship-like structure contains a literary wonderland of two million books, including ancient maps and Qurans and literature dating back to the 15th century. You enter the building though a futuristic hatch; inside, the bookshelves appear to almost float on the wall of the library. In the centre of the expansive room is a labyrinth-like pit where all the ancient heritage books are kept on a maze of carefully positioned shelves.
For a glimpse of Qatari heritage, don't miss the Falcon Souq. You only have to see the scale of the market, afforded its own traditional arcaded building off Souq Waqif, to understand the place of falconry in Qatari society. Evenings are the best time to come, especially on Thursdays, when you can watch customers examining the birds – most of them hooded in black leather and perched on posts or railings – and discussing the finer points of falconry with the shopkeepers.
One of the best and most beautiful green spaces along the Doha waterfront, Museum of Islamic Art Park is home to Richard Serra's vertical steel sculpture, known as 7, this celebrated artist's first public piece of art in the Middle East. It's also home to cafes with some of the finest city views in Doha, including the MIA Park Cafe, as well as pop-up food trucks. Runners enjoy the 1km crescent pathway around the park, and there's also a kids play area.
With its opaque waters and 800m golden-sand beach, the crescent-shaped Banana Island is one of the best excursions in Qatar, even if you're not staying at the luxury hotel. Covered in tropical plants and greenery, it's reached via catamaran. Six restaurants on the island, from traditional Middle Eastern and American to Italian, keep guests fuelled up for the many activities on offer, including Segway rides (QR250), beach diving (from QR700), bowling (QR50) and flowrider wave riding (QR150 for 30 minutes).
One of Doha's best hangout spots, TaliaMare is set on a pretty beach, among pastel-coloured houses, and has a chilled-out vibe and music reminiscent of Ibiza's Cafe Mambo. Guests pay for an umbrella or a sunbed and get use of showers, lockers and other facilities, including beach toys for kids. Smoke shisha as the sun sets or have a bite to eat in the trendy cafe.
Visitors can walk through this sculpture, comprised of seven steel plates – a number with special spiritual significance in Qatari and Islamic culture – and gaze up to the sky from inside. The first of two installations by celebrated artist Richard Serra to be commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority, the 24m-high artwork stands proudly at the end of the Museum of Islamic Art Park, looking out to the Gulf and the bright lights of the Doha skyline beyond.