There’s more to Doha than shopping malls and skyscrapers. Behind the gleaming exterior of Qatar’s capital city lies culture in abundance, finds Kat Hopps 

I like cities with soul. Grid lines with intricate histories stemming from riotous neighbourhoods — the grimier the street, the better the story. For this reason, I have yet to visit Dubai. It’s also why Doha nearly fell off my travel list, but I’m so glad it didn’t. The former fishing village, and home of Al Jazeera news, is fast becoming a world-class cultural destination.

However, right now, Doha is a city literally growing day by day and the acceleration of change is supersonic. The country may be in its troublesome teens — media controversy has been well-documented — but when you consider the capital was little more than a desert until the 1950s not long after oil was discovered in the region, and that Qatar only became an independent sovereign state in 1971, its ascension into the modern world is remarkable. The 2,045 million native Qataris are some of the most affluent people on earth — it is the world’s richest country by GDP per capita — and once impoverished generations now live in luxurious developments and drive around in s.

All of which means a visit here is a juxtaposition of experiences. There is real beauty in Doha, yes it’s man-made like the Pearl Qatar island, but it’s artfully done, the Souq Waqif being a prime example. A modern representation of a traditional Bedouin market, the Souq is an Oud-fragranced labyrinth of shops and restaurants, a great place to people watch and observe traditional heritage. The 5,000 year old sport of falconry is a devout Qatari pastime and among the shops selling jewellery, spices, rugs and perfumes, you will find falcon shops and even a falcon hospital, such are the birds’ prized place in this Arabic culture.


Souq Waqif is busy with people during the daytime and at night

Katara Cultural Village is a cluster of performance venues and galleries celebrating regional and international talent. There is classical music, opera, dance and an amphitheatre lying open to the sea. A short drive away is The Museum of Islamic Art, the world’s largest curated collection of Islamic works. The exterior is worth the visit alone; designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, the five-storey high limestone building has panoramic views across Doha’s Corniche waterfront. Exhibits feature ceramics, textiles, arts and more; my favourites were the miniature and colossal Qurans. It’s also worth booking a table here at Alain Ducasse’s first Middle Eastern restaurant, Idam.

We visited Sheikh Faisal Museum, 22km out of town, a personal collection of objects of one of Qatar’s richest men. It is minimally curated, devoid of tourists and a mish-mash of displays, but there are vintage cars, dhows (sailing vessels)and a small plane; it was the highlight of my stay.


The Museum of Islamic Art was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei

Once you’re ready to exit the desert heat (it can reach 50°C in summer so visit in autumn and winter) Doha offers lavish accommodation. We stayed one night at the super trendy W Hotel Doha, with its stylish interiors and attentive staff. It’s worth visiting alone for dinner at much-lauded South Asian restaurant, The Spice Market.

For more traditional tastes, head to The Four Seasons Doha where the rooms are spacious and understated, with marble bathrooms and a neutral-coloured décor. The grand foyer is a cool, tranquil space to relax but there is much to distract busy minds too, from a swimming pool and tennis courts to a comprehensive fitness centre.


One of the luxurious State Suites at Four Seasons Hotel Doha

The recently opened, and world’s largest, Nobu restaurant is based at the hotel, and its curved exterior can be admired from your room balcony. It goes without saying that the sushi is amazing, but just as impressive is the view of the skyline from the restaurant’s terrace, where you can see award-winning architecture from French architect Jean Nouvel, in the form of Doha Tower, soon to be joined by his National Museum of Qatar in 2017 — a table here is a fantastic way to end your trip.


Nobu Doha’s terrace has a remarkable view

Trip notes

EXSUS has 5 nights in Qatar for £1,659 pp, based on 2 nights at The W Doha and 3 nights at The Four Seasons Doha. Price incl. airport transfers & return flights from London to Doha with Qatar Airways; Qatar International Adventures offers tours incl. Desert Safaris, City and Museum Tours; For info about Qatar, visit

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