Here at STA Travel Towers we’ve been getting all dreamy eyed over Qatar Airways‘ cheap flights to, well, practically everywhere. We couldn’t quite decide which of their 125 destinations we’d most love to jet off to – Dubai, Bangkok, Goa, Perth – so we settled for Doha, the airline’s base where most flights stop off on the way elsewhere. Naturally we put on our research hats and started uncovering the best things to do in Qatar’s capital city, so even if you’re not heading there for a holiday, you can maximise your stopover and cram in all the good bits.
What to do with 24 hours in Doha
Qataris are fond of their shopping centres, and City Center Doha is the largest mall in the country, so if you’re after a few souvenirs or just want to get your retail therapy on, this is the place to be. Oh, there’s also an ice rink inside, naturally. But if you fancy something a tad quirkier (and who doesn’t? you’re on holiday after all), the upmarket Villagio in Doha Quarter is an attraction in itself. Home to an indoor Venetian canal, this mall lets customers take a nice romantic gondola ride past the shops. If you’re after something a tad more, well, authentic, try the Souq Waqif, a centuries-old market full of traditional spices, perfumes, antiques and restaurants.
A spot of culture
The Museum of Islamic Arts is a beautiful, thoroughly modern building designed by the architect behind that glass pyramid at the Louvre. It houses one of the world’s biggest collections of Islamic artefacts, including manuscripts, textiles and ceramics. There’s also the National Museum of Qatar, and Heritage House, a restored 1935 building complete with wind tower (formerly used as air conditioning pre-electricity).
Walk along the Corniche
Al-Corniche is Doha’s 7km palm studded seafront. Previously an empty walkway, it’s now home to several local tourist attractions like the museum, as well as hotels and skyscrapers. It’s popular with joggers and cyclists, especially in the evenings when they can look out at the twinkling lights of the city as they pass. From here you can take a three or four hour ride on a fishing boat (known as a dhow) around Doha Bay, complete with dinner and entertainment. Most of the tour companies offer this so be sure to give it a go if you have a spare afternoon.
Get some peace in Purple Island
Ok so it’s not strictly speaking in Doha, but if you’re stopping over for a while, the hour drive to Al Khor Island (known as Purple Island) is totally worth it. So named because of the purple dye produced here thousands of years ago (supposedly reserved for royal robes), Al Khor is an oasis of calm, complete with mangrove forest and rare species of birds and fish.
There’s a huge variety of food in Doha, given its diverse population and numerous tourists stopping over. Traditional Qatari cuisine tends to be influenced by India and North Africa, and sea food features heavily on the menu. Expect to see lots of lobster, tuna, hummus, taboulleh and Koussa mahshi (stuffed courgettes). Try restaurants in Souq Waqif like Al-Tawash for authentic fare, or Tent, an Arabian restaurant in, you guessed it, a tent. Obviously you’ll find lots of American chains too like Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays, mostly in the malls, but if you’re only in Doha for a day it would be a crime to pass up the local cuisine.