Reincarnated in the last decade as the social heart of Doha, Souq Waqif is a wonderful place to explore and an undoubted highlight of the city. There has been a souq on this site for centuries; the Bedu would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look like a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops, exposed timber beams and some beautifully restored original Qatari buildings.
With booming prosperity, the advent of vast, air-conditioned shopping malls and Qatar's rush to embrace the new, Souq Waqif fell into serious decline by the 1990s and much of the souq was destroyed in a fire in 2003. The outcry from Qataris prompted the authorities to undertake a massive rehabilitation program, one that continues to this day. Such has been the success of this venture that the souq keeps growing to accommodate new ‘old alleyways’.
Despite the ongoing gentrification of the area, the chief business of the souq continues unabated and it remains one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region. This is the place to look for the national Qatari dress, including the beautifully embroidered bukhnoq (girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes and oud (an exotic incense made from agarwood). Watch for the alhmalah (porters in numbered maroon waistcoats who transport shoppers' purchases in wheelbarrows) – they're an essential element in the souq's story. Even the souq's functioning Heritage Police Station gets in on the act: its officers dress in uniforms from the 1940s while they keep an eye out for trouble.
Falconry is not the only traditional Qatari leisure pursuit you can see around the souq. Not far from the Falcon Souq, stables house Arabian horses, and no-one seems to mind if you wander in and have a look. And just off the corniche end of Al Jasra St, a pen is filled with feeding camels most of the day.
Most of the shops in the souq close around 1pm and reopen at 4pm, but the many cafes and restaurants remain open all day.
The excellent little Souq Waqif Information & Tourism Center has maps and printed information on the souq and friendly staff who are eager to help.