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The Crown Jewel of the Middle East

Doha Is a City of the Future

By Cathy Whitlock | Photography courtesy of Visit Qatar

Doha is a city on the move. With a nod toward its rich heritage and an innovative eye on the future, it’s no wonder the capital city of Qatar is quickly becoming a popular Middle Eastern tourist destination. Move over, Dubai—your counterpart is just as modern, quieter, and offers a more authentic travel experience.

A peninsula extending into the Persian Gulf from the border of Saudi Arabia, the once unassuming desert nation known for its fishing and pearl diving is now home to nearly three million residents, of which 12 percent are native Qataris while many more are expats from several nations. One of the richest states per capita in the world, we can credit Qatar’s vast oil-producing wealth for Doha’s impressive cultural landmarks and the colorful cosmopolitan skyline that towers over the Arabian Gulf. As a vacation spot, the city has it all: glitz and glamour, rich culture, exotic Qatari cuisine, scenic beaches, extravagant shopping, an array of luxury hotels, and adventures in the desert. And this November, the city can add international sports to its résumé with the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Here are a few impressions of this enchanting city.

Hamad International Airport is the home of the country’s international flagship airline, Qatar Airways. As one of the world’s most luxurious airlines and hubs, they make the experience of flight delays much more enjoyable. | Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

It’s All about the Journey

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” certainly applies to the flights on the national airline of the state, Qatar Airways. With its new standard of business class accommodations known as Q-suite (think mini-first class), the pod-like setting is your personal cocoon, and apart from answering nature’s calls, the only person you are sure to see is your ever-attentive flight attendant (who also turns down your seat into a fully flat bed at night). For those traveling with family or business associates, a Q-suite quad is available with movable panels that close at bedtime. Pajamas from The White Company and a leather toiletry case from Diptyque are nice touches.

On the ground, Qatar Airways continues to amaze with the Al Mourjan Business Lounge (one of six lounges) located around an Olympic pool ten times the standard size. The overall experience begs the questions: When was the last time you took your time getting off a plane? Or you didn’t want the flight to end? Or when the words “flight delay” meant you were happy hanging out another hour in the lounge? Qatar Airways is the ultimate jet lag-free way to begin a trip to Doha.

An array of fresh spices is a mainstay at the Souq Waqif.

Skyscrapers on Steroids

With Doha’s trademark futuristic skyline comprising myriad geometric shapes, colors, and sizes, Frank Lloyd Wright would be in awe if he could see it.

The list of architects who have left their mark on the country’s capital reads like a who’s who of the best, from the legendary I. M. Pei (Museum of Islamic Art) and Rem Koolhaas (Qatar National Library) to the French architect Jean Nouvel’s acclaimed National Museum of Qatar, inspired by the area’s desert rose formations. The late Zaha Hadid’s designs for the upcoming World Cup stadiums, which mimic Middle Eastern references such as a dhow boat and an Arab tent, are nothing short of amazing. It doesn’t get any better for architects, interior designers, and those interested in all things beautiful.

Culture in the City

There is no better way to understand a city’s people, history, and origins than through the lens of the culture. Doha boasts a variety of ways to soak up the local scene where there is something for every taste and interest through its staggering array of museums, mosques, art galleries, shops, and markets. One of the best ways to see the various mosques and cities within the city (such as The Pearl-Qatar, aka the “Arabian Riviera”) is through a tour guide and air-conditioned car, as temps can get up to 115 during summer days).

Offering everything from brightly colored textiles and crafts to jewels and al fresco dining, the marketplace is extremely popular with tourists and locals alike.

A day at the museum affords the visitor a quick study. The Museum of Islamic Art (perched on a peninsula) features artwork and artifacts from the past 1,400 years. The National Museum of Qatar offers an immersive journey through the nation’s rich heritage. Katara Cultural Villages’ rooftop dining, an assortment of galleries, art studios, and an amphitheater that houses the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra are not to be missed.

For those who love to shop, two diverse options are available. After the sun goes down, head to the Souq Waqif, where the Middle East meets Asia. Winding alleyways filled with spices, textiles, jewelry, and memorabilia await (note: the marketplace is most popular on Friday evenings). The open-air market also features the Falcon Souq and stables housing majestic (and Instagram-ready) Arabian horses and camels. Be sure to stop and savor Persian cuisine at the ultra-gilt and jewel-clad Parisa. If you are looking for modern luxury and fashion, check out Place Vendôme, which offers five-hundred-plus stores from Hermès to Zara. Inspired by Paris’s eighteenth-century square on Rue de la Paix, the palatial feel signals this isn’t your run-of-the-mill mall.

Decisions, Decisions—Where to Stay

For hotel aficionados, Doha can be a mecca. Perhaps your biggest decision will be where to stay, as the city offers an impressive selection of five-star hotels, each more luxurious than the last. The stately St. Regis is a wonderful choice if grand luxury is to your liking. The hotel is located on the West Bay and offers direct access to the beach with private cabanas and water sports. Sea views are another plus, along with the Arabian decor touches and state-of-the-art technology. Opening this year, the Residences at St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island in the tony yacht-filled area of The Pearl-Qatar will be available for purchase or rent.

Located by the water, Katara Cultural Village includes a collection of museums, galleries, public art exhibits, a golden-domed mosque, and an amphitheater.

Design enthusiasts will love the uniquely modern interiors at Banyan Tree. Created by the renowned interior designer Jacques Garcia of Hotel Costes fame, the lobby, with its sculptural interpretation of earth, water, and fire, is worth the stay alone. The room designs blend contemporary and Asian styles with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. For dining, don’t miss the authentic Italian restaurant Il Galante or Vertigo Doha with its 360-degree views of the city. Situated in the cultural hub of Mushaireb, the property has its own garden oasis with more than 130 trees (and yes, they are banyan trees).

A stay at Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara is a welcome respite from the city. Only twenty minutes by boat from downtown Doha, the resort’s golden beaches, crystal clear waters, private over-the-water villas, and villas on land (complete with sea views and a private pool) are a huge draw. The vibe is relaxed and family friendly, where activities include a health spa, cinema, beach games, a dedicated kids club, and, for the adventurous, a wave rider surf pool.

Soccer, Anyone?

If you are among the 3.5 billion soccer fans, no doubt you know Doha is hosting the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 from November 21 to December 18. Eight state-of-the-art stadiums—each seemingly more unique than the others—will host thirty-two teams for the world’s most popular sporting event. In addition, over one hundred new hotels were built this year, and Doha Metro shuttle buses will transport the soccer faithful.

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Head to VisitQatar.qa to learn more or start planning your trip.

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