What to do in Doha, Qatar
What to do in Doha. In recent years I have often found myself traveling to the Middle East and my tour, after Dubai, Oman and a part of Saudi Arabia, continued with a visit to Qatar. It’s a peninsula of the Arabian peninsula, located right in the middle of the Persian Gulf. In truth, formally, I had been a few times in its capital, Doha, waiting for other destinations (the airport is an international hub and Qatar Airways is one of the best companies I’ve ever flown with, both for services on board and for the food). This time the trip was entirely dedicated to this country: three intense days discovering the city, the desert and the many activities that it offers… Continue reading to find out more!
What to do in Doha, Qatar, in 3 days
To reach Doha I took the Qatar Airways flight from Milan Malpensa. It takes just 5 hours and 40 minutes and there are more routes par day to choose from: on the outward journey we opted for the 3:55 pm flight arriving at Hamad Airport at 11:35 pm, while on the way back we left at 8:10 am and land in Italy at 12:35 pm.
No visa is required to enter the country. The time difference is +2 hours compared to Italian solar time.
The airport is a few kilometers from the city and is connected by a motorway with seven lanes in each direction! We discover that people in Qatar move only by car: the motorways cover the whole territory, while there is no railway network. The underground network is under construction in Doha and will be completed for the 2022 World Cup.
The first stop on our trip to Qatar was the hotel, the Mondrian. It took us about half an hour to reach it, along part of the Moto GP circuit. After checking-in at the elegant Mondrian lobby, I went up to my room on the 18th floor: very spacious and elegant, with a wall decorated with a colorful wallpaper depicting a hawk, which I later discovered to be the symbol of hotel. Qatar, as the entire Middle East, is a land of raptors and the architect who designed the Mondrian was inspired by the shape of the hawk for the construction of the facade of the skyscraper and the shape of the entrance. Fun fact: the architect is Marcel Wanders, the same one who created the Eurasian Garden Spirit that I visited last April in Japan (I told you about it HERE)!
A delicious surprise awaited me on the table: a tray with lots of finger food, both savory and sweet … What I wanted at that moment was to have a night snack before going to sleep!
The Mondrian hosts several restaurants inside, a spa and on the top floor, just below the dome, a beautiful swimming pool from which you can admire the view of the entire bay!
The next morning I went down to the beautiful breakfast room and found a rich selection of bread, croissants, fresh fruit (including my beloved dragon fruit), yogurt, cereals and the omelette station waiting for me.
First stop in Doha was the Katara Cultural Village, where young people are encouraged towards all forms of art. First, in 2010, the Amphitheater was inaugurated, which hosts concerts, musicals, comedies and even TED Talks. There are also art galleries, shops and restaurants. Inside the complex there are also two mosques: the Blue Mosque, whose name and decorations are inspired by the homonymous mosque in Istanbul, and the Golden Masjid, a mosque of unique beauty with the minaret covered with gold leaves that shine in the sun. To reach the various places of interest you can move with the free golf-cart service: so useful when it’s too hot to walking under the sun!
To visit the Katara Cultural Village and, more generally, the public places of Doha, it is recommended that women always cover their shoulders and knees. Qataris women wear the abaya for religion and tradition: it’s a black dress that covers the whole body, including sleeves, up to the ankle. Some fully cover the face, others only the hair. The Qataris men, on the other hand, are recognizable by a long white tunic, the thawb, and by a headscarf of the same color (or white and red), the guthra, which they wear to protect themselves from the rays of the sun.
It was time for lunch so we got on a very comfortable golf-cart to reach the restaurants area. Just outside the Katara Cultural Village there are the very elegant Galeries Lafayette. We found out that this is one of the most visited places by Qataris over the weekend (which starts here on Thursday evening and ends on Saturday). The reason? The air conditioning rises from the floor and refreshes the air, allowing people to walk in the scorching August sun (where temperatures can reach over 40°C). Qatar has two seasons: summer, with very high temperatures peaking in August, and winter, when temperatures are between 30°C during the day and 15/20°C at night. In this period I advise you to always carry a sweatshirt or a light jacket: it will serve not only in the evening, but also to shelter from the strong air conditioning of closed places.
In addition, they explained to me, with regards to the open-outdoor air conditioning, that all the stadiums that will host the soccer world championships, in order not to discourage spectators due to the high temperatures, will have this feature!
After lunch we headed to the National Museum of Qatar, a building that I really loved from the outside for its unusual shape and for the beauty of its sand color in contrast with the clear blue sky. The architect Jean Nouvel was inspired by a natural formation typical of desert countries such as Qatar, the desert rose, and created 76 thousand panels that intersect each other forming disks that mimic the shape of this stone! Everything is round, even inside the walls are not perfectly straight and the floors are not all level: for this reason alone it is worth a visit!
But I must admit that this is not the only reason why this museum deserves to be visited. Divided into three main pavilions (the first dedicated to the formation of Qatar, the second to life in Qatar before the discovery of oil and gas, the third to modern history from the 16th century to today), the museum offers an immersive experience in the history of the country also thanks to the art films, made by international directors, which are projected on the walls. The visit begins with the discovery of the many animal and plant species that have populated and still inhabit the territory of Qatar. First of all the orix, animal which is the symbol of the country (and also of the national airline, Qatar Airways: you can find it on the wings of their planes): it is an antelope with the ability to find water even at a distance of 20 km! Another desert animal is the jerboa, also called cangaroo-mouse because it resembles the kangaroo in the shape of the body and is also fast and active in the night. Then there are aggressive animals like gazelles and other antelopes. But Qatar is not just desert: there is the whole marine world of the Persian Gulf to consider! Here you can spot sea turtles, sharks and the very nice dugongo (a species of herbivorous mammal that feeds on algae and aquatic plants, unfortunately endangered)!
Qatar is a very young state: in the past it was a Portuguese colony, then part of the Ottoman empire and finally an English protectorate until the independence in 1971, when the modern emirate was formed, ruled by the Al Thani family. Moving on to the archaeological part, I discovered that the particular red color of the state flag comes from the shells, which have a green part that, exposed to the sun, turns into this unique maroon color!
Continuing the tour, the guide explained to me that before the discovery of oil and natural gas, the first in 1939 to the second in 1971, 90% of the economy of Qatar stood on fishing and in particular on pearl fishing. Then Mikimoto discovered how the pearl formation process takes place: any kind of parasite that enters a shell, even in a mussel, make the mollusk react inside and form a pearl. So it began the era of the fishing of the so-called cultivated pearls: they are still natural, but they are formed in a much shorter period of time, 2 years, and are much less valuable. The original pearls of Qatar, on the other hand, took 7/8 years to form and fishermen risked their lives to collect them, immersing themselves in the depths of the sea without any protection or even oxygen mask!
Speaking of pearls, there is a museum room that is absolutely not to be missed: there are masterpieces from all over the world, all made with pearls from Qatar. Jewels, crowns, robes and a carpet with over 1.5 million pearls commissioned by an Indian Maharaja to cover the tomb of the prophet Mohammad. A truly incredible collection!
Once the visit to the Museum was over, we returned to the hotel for an appointment at the SPA. But first we took a walk in the harbor until we reached a privileged point where we could admire the Doha skyline. After taking a few photos and shooting a video for my Instagram Stories, I was about to leave when with the corner of my eye I saw a dhow (a wooden boat typical of these places) about to leave: so I went back behind my camera to capture this moment! Loving the contrast between past and present that intersect in this shot!
As I mentioned above, we then returned to the Mondrian for a relaxing massage in their SPA: just what I needed after a long day around the city!
The second day in Qatar started with a trip to Banana Island Resort by Anantara. This is a heavenly place: a natural banana-shaped island located right across the bay of Doha, with over 1 km of white sand. To reach it you need to book the ferry that, from the port, takes about half an hour to reach the destination. Before getting on board, they offered us some Arabic coffee: it was the first time I tasted it and I discovered that there is a ritual linked to Qataris hospitality. When you are a welcome guest in other people’s homes, they poured a little coffee at a time into the cup, so as to prolong the visit as much as possible by adding coffee little by little. If, on the contrary, you are not a welcome guest, you will be served the cup full of coffee immediately and this means that once you have drunk it all it will be time to leave!
The taste is very special as it contains milk and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon! To sweeten it is usually served with a date!
Once I reached the resort I was literally speechless: the crystal clear water, the wooden structure perfectly integrated into nature, the palm trees and the flowers… It seems to be in the Maldives or in the Caribbean!
The resort hosts several restaurants within it: we opted for Riva, the Italian restaurant run by the Italian chef Oscar Bagattini. I like to taste the local cuisine and discover new dishes, but for me nothing is like Italian food and I was very happy to meet the chef! We shared a pizza, arancini and a plate of truffle risotto which was delicious!
In October the sun sets around 4:30 pm and seeing it here was really a show, while I was walking on the beach listening to my favorite playlist. I brought with me the new Sony headphones that cancel the noise and the silence that you feel when you wear it is really amazing!
I was very surprised by the amount of shells on the shore! And it was like being child again… Now it’s rare to find them on Italian beaches.
At the Banana Island Resort you can do a myriad of different activities: diving, water sports (there is even a swimming pool for surfing), tennis, golf, bowling… There is also a cinema, as well as of course a SPA and gym! Impossible to get bored!
A part of the island has been extended with the construction of some amazing water villas, with private swimming pools and gazebos and a privileged view of the Doha skyline!
If you don’t have time to stay in the resort, you can take advantage of one of the daily packages that include beach, pool or spa services!
In the late afternoon we reached another characteristic place of Doha, the Souq Waqif. One of the oldest places in the city that, although recently renovated, still preserves the magic of the past. The alleys alternate with stalls selling spices, clothing made by local women, perfumes, incense and gold, but also hotels and restaurants. In one of these we had dinner: it’s called Parisa and it is a restaurant with Persian cuisine of incredible decor… It seemed to be in the Aladdin movie!
The third day in Doha was dedicated entirely to the desert that stands out as soon as you leave the city behind. After just an hour’s drive we reached our first stop of the day: the camels! Here the Bedouins take you for a walk in the desert on the back of their beautiful animals, dressed in beautiful colored fabrics!
After the trip a cup of hot tea is normally offered in the shade of the tent: I could not skip this ritual!
Once we greeted the camels, we left the highway and went into the desert with our car, a Land Cruiser, to do some dune bashing!
Then we reached the Inland Sea, a very unique landscape in the entire world: the sea creeps into the desert creating natural salt water lakes… Going South you can find the border with Saudi Arabia! Can you see the land beyond the water?
After another session of dune bashing, we reached just before lunch the Regency Sealine Camp. Here you can reserve your private beach tent for the day. The water here is even more incredible than at Banana Island. And the place is one of absolute peace!
There is also an area to relax in the evening and be together around the fire!
Finally we resumed the off-road to return to the dunes at the best moment of the day: the sunset!
We then had a quick pit-stop: it was time to inflate the car’s tires before returning to Doha!
Last stop on this Qatar trip was at Al Hazm Mall. I was expecting a common shopping center with luxury shops and instead I discover a very exclusive place, where the Qataris find themselves walking outdoors, chatting and eating together. There is also a beautiful terrace from which you can admire Doha from above and its illuminated skyline!
Among the many restaurants, including Le Train Bleu (twin of the Parisian restaurant), there are also some fashion boutiques and perfumeries.
There is also a reproduction of Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele entirely made of Carrara marble.
We had dinner at the Lobster fish restaurant: obviously I ordered a lobster dish, really delicious!
So we arrived at the last day in Doha, which started very soon due to our flight. But this has allowed us to see the dawn rise from the row of palm trees that line the Corniche, the panoramic road on the city’s waterfront: look at that beauty!
I hope as always that my tips on what to do in Doha and Qatar can help or inspire you!
I have to thank Alessandra, Fanny, Yassin and the whole team of Visit Qatar for having organized this itinerary for us! I was pleasantly surprised by this country: I discovered that it has a lot to tell!
Happy Wednesday to you all!