24 hours in Doha
Written by Frances Gillespie
The small peninsula of Qatar is the only true desert country worldwide, with no natural surface water, but featuring a long (563km) coastline with fine sandy beaches and majestic rolling dunes in the south.
Before oil production began 60 years ago, the population was around 25,000; now it nudges 1.7 million and is expected to increase still more as the nation gears up to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Only 15,000 years ago this low-lying land was submerged beneath the waters of the Arabian Gulf; human occupation appears to have begun around 8,000 years ago when Stone Age hunters arrived. For centuries, nomadic Bedouin wandered the gravelled plains of the interior with their sheep and camels, while coastal people fished for pearls – the main source of Qatar’s pre-oil wealth. Nominally part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, the foundations of the modern Qatar state were laid by Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, ancestor of the present ruler.
The fast-growing capital, Doha, encircles a wide bay and features stunning buildings designed by some of the world’s most famous architects, as well as lovingly preserved traditional architecture.
For a nightcap upon arrival head for Bubbles on Two at the Ramada Plaza, open until 1am, or the Crystal Lounge at the W Hotel which stays open until 2am. Your passport is required for entry.
All the 5-star hotels lay on a lavish breakfast buffet offering Arabic and international cuisine. Try the conveniently central Mövenpick Tower & Suites Doha +974 4429 1111 on the Doha Corniche.
Longing for the desert experience? Take a half-day tour: 9am–1pm, or 2–6pm. Breathtaking roller-coaster drives over golden dunes, camel rides optional. Arabian Adventures +974 4436 1461.
A must for every visitor, the jewel in Doha’s crown is the Museum of Islamic Art on its own island off the Corniche. Persian carpets, Moghul jewels, ceramic and glassware treasures galore.
To sample authentic Qatari cooking, lunch at Al-Tawash (‘pearl dealer’) Restaurant in Souq Waqif. Try Hamour Kabsa: grilled fish on fragrant rice; or Machbous: spiced rice and chicken. +974 4498 2002.
Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al-Thani Museum, 20km west of Doha on the Dukhan road, is set in a beautiful wooded park, and houses an extraordinary range of artefacts, including a collection of traditional dhows.
Doha’s most popular shopping venue is Villaggio Mall on Al Waab Street. A vast Italian-style building packed with top-name designer boutiques, a skating rink, and a Venetian canal with mini-gondolas.
Wander along the Corniche and step aboard one of the small dhows, festooned with lights, for a tour of the bay with views of the city’s glittering towers reflected in the calm waters of the Gulf.
Enjoy some of the finest Arabic/Lebanese food in Doha, followed by a relaxing shisha (hookah) pipe, at Al Mourjan with a terrace offering stunning views over the sea.
The liveliest club scene in the city is the Qube nightclub/bar at the Ramada Plaza, where the energetic gather to groove the night away until 2am at weekends. Don't forget your passport!