Doha: Islamic Art, Camel Racing, and Custom Suits
Head to Qatar between November and May for sand dunes, hookah, and some of the best Middle Eastern food around.
The skyline of Doha, Qatar's capital, as seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. Photograph by Erin Delmore
Qatar, a thumb-shaped country off the eastern border of Saudi Arabia, is about the size of Connecticut. Temperatures in this Persian Gulf nation frequently hit the triple digits—so try visiting between November and May, when days are temperate and nights require a light jacket.
WHAT TO DO
Doha is Qatar’s culture-rich capital. It’s ruled by an emir who’s dedicated to education and the arts, and it’s inhabited by a large population of expats, including many from Southeast Asia. Though rapid redevelopment has left few portions of the old city intact, you can still join locals in drinking mint tea and smoking shisha—a flavored tobacco also known as hookah—at the Souq Waqif. The market is also a great place to buy spices, scarves, and knickknacks.
You can make your way along the Corniche, a crescent-shaped waterfront pathway, toward the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei and opened in 2008. Request the audio tour—it’s free and excellent.
By night, stroll around the Pearl-Qatar, a newly developed artificial island with luxe hotels, shops, and restaurants; enjoy outdoor musicians and listen in on the English-peppered conversations of Qatari youth in full Islamic dress. Nowhere is the juxtaposition of old and new as profound as in the Villaggio (Al Waab St.), a Venetian-themed mall with high-end Western stores, an ice-skating rink, an indoor amusement park, and a canal with gondola rides.
If outdoor adventure is your style, try dune bashing—a high-speed ride in an all-terrain vehicle or open-top Jeep over desert sand dunes; you can do it through Qatar International Adventures. It’s worth traveling a bit outside Doha to the Camel Racetrack at Al Shahaniya—even if there’s no race going on, you can watch the camels practice.
You can have a suit custom-made by Kashmir Tailors and Textiles (Musherib St.) for a fraction of what it would cost in the States.
WHERE TO EAT
Head to Turkey Central (Al Mergap St.) for the area’s best Middle Eastern food—try the chicken shish ta wok or lamb chops. Lo Spaghetto (Al Sadd) is an Italian eatery favored by footballers, sheiks, and thin-crust-pizza enthusiasts.
At Thai Snack and Massage (Al Mirqab Al Jadeed St.), don’t let the name scare you off: Delicious papaya salad and seafood pad Thai are served up in a jiffy. And, yes, men can get a (legit) Thai massage in a back room.
For an elegant evening, try Pampano (Parcel 1, Porto Arabia) a high-end Mexican restaurant on the Pearl with great made-to-order guacamole and delicious black-miso cod. For dessert, walk to Alison Nelson’s Chocolate Bar (Parcel 1, Porto Arabia)—an exclusive café also found in New York City and Dubai—and sip a spiced hot chocolate while looking out at the harbor.
WHERE TO STAY
Many high-end hotel chains have opened in Doha, including the W (rooms from $275) along the West Bay and the Four Seasons (from $347) along the Corniche.
For the boutique-hotel experience, try Hotel Souq Waqif (from $175), with just over a dozen rooms and suites in lush Arab decor.
For a resort-style experience, treat yourself to Sharq Village & Spa (from $342), with a private beach, health club, pool, spa, and steam room.