How to spend 48 hours in Qatar
Once a pearl-diving settlement, Qatar is transforming into a country of the future with its state-of-the-art architecture and ambitious new real estate projects. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find history going back centuries.
Qatar's facelift began a few decades ago when a boom in natural gas transformed its fortunes, making it one of the wealthiest countries in the world. In years that followed, traditional fishing villages made way for over-the-top buildings, shopping malls and man-made islands designed by award-winning architects like Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel.
Empty spaces in its capital Doha are filling fast, making it denser and taller by the day. In recent years that transformation has accelerated, in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, when all eyes will be on this small Gulf nation to fulfil its promise of showing one and a half million international visitors a good time.
It's not all about the skyscrapers though. Look beyond its glamorous facade, and you'll see traces of Bedouin history in its hundred-year-old souqs.
National Museum of Qatar
Few buildings impress like the National Museum of Qatar. Designed by acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel, the museum's disc-like exterior takes inspiration from the desert rose crystal found in the country. Inside, specially curated audio-visual displays showcase everything from natural history, falconry, pearl-diving and oil exploration to modern-day developments. Don't miss the exquisite gift shop on your way out. qm.org.qa/en/project/national-museum-qatar
Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
Built on a specially constructed island off the Corniche, MIA is perhaps Doha's most recognisable building. Its contemporary look pays homage to Islamic architecture, and the interior carries a similar theme. Occupying three out of its five floors are artefacts from the 7th to the 19th century: jewellery, manuscripts, paintings, textile and ceramics. On the outside, the natural stone building comes to life with vast floor-to-ceiling windows, fountains and courtyards with unparalleled views of Doha’s skyscrapers. mia.org.qa/en/
Explore the desert
If you're looking for day trip options out of Doha, then a desert safari is worth considering. In less than an hour, you could be speeding up and gliding down steep dunes, bashing against the sand several times as you do so. As well as the enthralling experience, the half-day (four hours) tour also includes a trip to Khor Al Adaid or the inland sea on the border with Saudi Arabia and a camel ride at a desert camp. dohabus.com/product/desert-safari-half-day/
Dhow boat ride
Like London and Sydney, Doha looks most spectacular from the water. Once used for pearl diving, the traditional wooden dhow boats now take travellers from the Corniche, along the Persian Gulf to The Pearl and Katara Cultural Village. You can also enjoy the city at your own pace by hiring an entire boat for as little as twenty-five pounds an hour.
This bustling market is the heart of Doha. Walk down its narrow lanes to find everything from garments, spices, dried fruits and Iranian artisan goods. In addition to general trinkets, there is also a bird market and an elaborate falcon souq for all things falconry related. If bigger animals are your thing, then proceed to the horse and camel market.
Thursday and Friday evenings are the liveliest. Locals often spend their weekend grabbing a bite to eat at one of the several food stalls and restaurants before hanging out at a coffee shop and all night hookah cafes.
Venice in the Middle East? Why not. Built on an old pearl diving site, The Pearl is Qatar's ambitious new real-estate project complete with luxury apartments, boutique stores, and even a replica of Venice's pastel-coloured buildings, canals and Rialto Bridge. There are plenty of retail stores, restaurants and cafes to keep you entertained.
Just off Al Souq Street in Souq Waqif is a restaurant so opulent it took three and a half years to construct. Parisa is as much about having a Persian experience as it is about food. A dazzling lobby covered in colourful glass invites you into a two-storey dining area decorated, floor to ceiling, with thousands of intricate mosaics and handpicked mirrors imported from Iran. The authentic menu includes everything from toasted walnuts salads and stews with pomegranate molasses to charcoal-grilled meat and rose-infused desserts. Make a reservation to avoid disappointment. ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village/dining/parisa-souq-waqif
IDAM at Museum of Islamic Art
Chances are you'll want to do very little after you've consumed a delicious seven-course meal at Alain Ducasse's first restaurant in the Middle East. The sophisticated dining area designed by Philippe Starck serves French Mediterranean cuisine with an Arab twist. The dishes look pretty as a picture and come with a selection of freshly baked bread and pastries. Once done, you can relocate to La Patisserie d'IDAM – an outdoor terrace with Instagram-worthy views of Doha's skyline. Spend the evening watching the sunset with a drink in hand. mia.org.qa/en/visiting/idam
Mosaic, Mandarin Oriental's signature restaurant, has nine lively open kitchens cooking up a feast from countries along the Silk Road. Start with a sampling tray of lush cold mezze accompanied by sesame-topped hot bread, follow it up with an Indian curry or Japanese sushi, and end your meal with a lovingly-prepared European dessert. Located on the eight floor, views of El Corniche and West Bay offer an ideal backdrop. mandarinoriental.com/doha
Located in the heart of Doha’s buzzy West Bay area, Club Junior Suites at Dusit Doha Hotel (dusit.com/ddh) start from £180 per night including breakfast. Hailing from Thailand, it's a luxury property with a rooftop pool, Devarana Spa and its signature Thai restaurant Benjarong. Children are welcome and there's an indoor play area for little ones.
Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) fly direct from London Heathrow to Doha from £670 return.
Doha Bus Desert Safari start from £70 per person based on two people.
For more information, visit visitqatar.qaInternet Explorer Channel Network