Hamad International Airport. Photo by Qatar Tourism.

Qatar, powered by the great wealth of their natural resources, have since channeled their endowments into growing its cities and experiences, transforming this Middle-east nation into something of the future. Now, old desert forts contrast the hyper-modern cityscapes, especially that of Doha, the capital and hub of Qatar’s evolution.

TouchIng down at the Hamad International Airport, visitors will be welcomed by this prominent airport that has been described as the most architecturally significant terminal complex in the world, as well as the most luxurious. The hub for Qatar Airways, Hamad International Airport was voted Best Airport in the World (2023-2024) by Skytrax, taking the crown from long-reigning champion, Changi Airport, Singapore.

Since its opening in 2014, this airport has undergone rapid expansion, clearly understanding its important location as a central global transit, but increasingly as the first impression to welcome the growing visitors who have made Qatar their chosen destination. As such, the airport features 180 retail and dining options curated for all travellers including a Fendi Boutique with the first Fendi Cafe, a Ralph’s Coffee Shop, Oreo Cafe as well as a Harrods Tea Room, which has seen the addition of a brand-new, state-of-the-art indoor tropical garden known as the orchard along with new lounges.

National Museum of Qatar. Photo by Qatar Tourism.

Now, leaving the airport behind, travellers can immerse in city’s glitz and glamour, and experience the sensational destinations in and around Doha.

It’s always important to have context and that’s why the first stop should be the National Museum of Qatar for a deep dive into the country’s history. This institution will take you on a journey that starts more than 700 million years ago, taking you on the long evolution of the region from prehistoric to the contemporary, showcasing how Qatar has become the modern nation it is today. The museum building itself presents incredible architecture, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, with its white edifice rising out of the ground with a complex form modelled on the ‘desert rose’ mineral crystal.

Those of you who are library enthusiasts, it’s a must to visit Qatar National Library (QNL). It serves as a host to Qatar’s national heritage by collecting, preserving, and making available the country’s recorded history. This library is not only a national library but a research and public library. QNL fosters and promotes greater global insight into the history and culture of the Gulf region. And, as a public library, it provides equal access for all of Qatar’s residents to an environment that supports creativity, independent decision-making, and cultural development. QNL is also a home for 1 million books, as well as extensive digital collections. Each month, the library hosts up to 80 free events that are open to the public. You’ll find everything from a knitting group to art exhibitions going on here, a good way to engage in everyday experiences.

Museum of Islamic Art. Photo by Qatar Tourism.

Set along the Corniche promenade on Doha Bay, the Museum of Islamic Art is the city’s most celebrated site. It stands out as a beacon of cultural exchange and serves as a tribute to the lasting impact of Islamic art and civilisation. This attraction should be on your list when visiting Doha as it has stunning architecture and a huge collection of art and artefacts. Designed by revered architect I.M. Pei, this museum houses collections of ceramics, manuscripts, metalworks, textiles, and other fine art pieces of the Islamic world from 14 centuries ago to modern times. One can easily spend several hours here, with restaurants on-site and free chamber music concerts in the Atrium.

The museum hosts a variety of cultural activities throughout the year, including performances by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, film screenings and art and calligraphy classes for the community. The lush park next to the museum overlooks the Arabian sea, and is a favourite spot for family picnics, walking, running or outdoor yoga classes. A weekend bazaar in the cooler months features over a hundred stalls selling everything from food and drinks to handicrafts, clothing, and jewellery.

Souq Waqif. Photo by Qatar Tourism.

Spread over four blocks near the Corniche, on the banks of the Wadi Musheireb, a lively centuries-old market, Souq Waqif stands out. It stands as an anachronism, particularly against the backdrop of Doha’s dramatic modernist skyline. This marketplace once served as a trading hub for the Bedouin looking to buy and sell camels and wares. Those not in the market for a camel will find plenty of other eye-catching goods to buy, from gold jewellery to colourful fabrics and even Aladdin-style bronze lamps. With its mud-daubed buildings and winding alleys which offer a tableau of traditional street life, the market harkens to a bygone era while remaining a hub of many activities.

At the Souq Waqif, you can also experience the most exciting places in the city, Falcon Souq, where you can admire the majestic birds from up close. When modern Qatar has little practical need for falconry, the tradition of keeping and training these magnificent birds lives on, recognised by UNESCO as a culturally important practice. Here you’ll see men and boys proudly carrying their prized falcon on their arm as they stroll through the city streets and markets. There are many shops selling all sorts of falcon-keeping paraphernalia or visiting its monthly auction, where the more coveted birds could fetch tens of thousands of dollars. Taking photographs and posing with a falcon perched on the arm makes for a great moment to capture as well.

But when it comes to buying top branded items, Doha is indeed a paradise and there are plenty of hotspots. Visit the Villagio Mall for some of the best shopping in Doha, you’ll find a lavish shopping centre decorated in Venetian-style art and architecture complete with its very own winding canal. This mall is no ordinary complex. Covering 45 acres (18 hectares), it encompasses not just fashion boutiques but also a huge entertainment complex and fairground. With 13 luxury cinemas, an IMAX screen, an ice-skating rink, bowling alley and the enormous Gondolania amusement park, you will need much more than a day to see it all. Enjoy a day of shopping in the elegant surroundings and browse global brands, including Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior, Cavalli, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana and many more. Don’t miss the designer jewellery, footwear, and health and beauty stores either. Over 50,000 shoppers a day visit this mall, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular attractions in the city. When it’s time for a break, treat yourself to a gondola ride through the mall’s canal and imagine you’re in Venice.

If you are looking for a destination for art, culture, and cuisine, a visit to Katara Cultural Village, nestled between the gleaming financial district of West Bay and the half-moon towers of The Pearl residential neighbourhood, is in order. It’s a self-styled cultural village designed in a way to pay homage to traditional life with its maze of alleyways and Pigeon Towers. Pigeons and other birds can rest inside the towers’ holes, which have room for up to 14000 birds. The pigeons are given food and water by Katara as well. The towers are at least 60 feet tall and have a diameter of 30 to 70 feet. They are made of unfired mud bricks, lime plaster, and gypsum.

It’s the biggest and the most multidimensional cultural project in Qatar, bringing people together to explore various cultures. There are numerous foundations and landmarks constructed inside the village that are enhancing its excellent design and are purposefully arranged to exhibit the nation’s cultural and architectural heritage. Three are located near Katara Mosque and the others are near Tasty Street. The Katara Amphitheatre displays a grandeur of architecture of Greco-Roman, is a monumental edifice under a clear blue sky, prominently located in the centre of the cultural village.

Whilst Qatar, and indeed Doha, has focused its efforts in developing rapidly and showcasing the most state-of-the-art experiences, it is most refreshing to see how tradition, history and heritage continue to have a place in this vibrant destination.

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.