Qatar is up to host a dozen or so world-class sporting events in the next ten years, grabbing the attention of the entire globe. Many Westerners see modest-sized Qatar as a hidden Arabia, the destination to discover romantic Bedouin caravans and shop in ancient souqs. Sorry, but Doha hardly has an Old Town to boast about.
Travel myth or not, if you ask someone to describe Qatar without having been there you’re likely to hear an eschewed rendition of Lawrence of Arabia. So if Qatar isn’t the hidden Arabia that we all think it is, then what’s it like? Surprisingly modern (really modern) with a hint of that Middle Eastern flare we all love.
- Capital: Doha
- Time zone: UTC/GMT +3 hours
- Official language: Arabic, English is widely spoken
- Population: 885,000
- Country code: +974
- Currency: Qatari riyal (£1 = 5.79QAR)
- Religion: Islam
- Flights: fly from London to Doha starting at £300
There are a lot of sides to Qatar and Doha does not do the rest of the country justice but for the sake of this Arabian travel myth, here are five sights in Doha that will definitely destroy the pre-conceived notion that Qatar is an “Arabian paradise.”
Doha’s sparking waterfront is the epitome of modernity. This long promenade along the coast of Doha Bay is lined with both balmy palms and steel skyscrapers. It’s prime turf for walking, jogging and even roller blading but you’ll rarely see a local on wheels (only ex-pats).Cycling is strictly prohibited.
Probably one of the strangest sights in the capital, this newly constructed shopping mall is made to look like Venice. You can even ride from one end of the mall to the other in a gondola (15QAR), steered by a somewhat Italian-looking driver. Even the ceiling is painted to imitate the setting sun in one of the most famous Italian cities. Western restaurants and shops line the canals.
Museum of Islamic Arts
Cubist art takes on architecture at this city museum, designed by I.M. Pei. The collection inside isn’t totally modern, displaying mostly artefacts from Muslim dynasties from Asia, Europe and Africa.The design of the building itself was modelled after Islamic monuments, trying to incorporate the many aspects of Islamic culture in one building.
Doha has a sense of humour, or they’re bringing a little Disney to the Middle East. This (free) outdoor theme park is a childhood dream come true, complete with roller-coasters, dodgem cars, go-karts (you actually need proof of a real driver’s license for these) and games. There is a small fee for each ride. There are women-only and family days, so check before you go.
Doha’s largest market district had been the site of trading for centuries, what you see now though aren’t the remains of historical architecture. The entire area has been made-over to imitate a 19th century souq with mud-covered stalls and exposed beams in the ceilings, just so that tourists can have an “authentic” shopping experience during their trip to Qatar. Are you convinced?
Have you ever been to Qatar? What were your impressions before and after?