A First-Timer's Guide to Doha, Qatar

By Briana Seftel


While small in size, Qatar's capital is larger than life. With skyscrapers, souqs, a replica Venetian town and luxury hotels, Doha is quickly becoming one of the hottest destinations in the Middle East. Whether you're there on a layover or spending a few days, here are the top things to do in Doha, especially if it's your first time visiting.


Get cultured at the Museum of Islamic Art

Housing a collection of Islamic art spanning over 1,400 years, the Museum of Islamic Art is an absolute must-see in Doha. Designed by the same architect who was responsible for the Louvre's glass pyramid, the museum is a work of art both inside and out. Don't miss the diamond and emerald-studded necklace that once belonged to Shah Jahan, builder of India's Taj Mahal, and the panoramic views across the bay. The best part? The museum is free!


Step back in time at Souq Waqif

Doha's spiritual heart, Souq Waqif is a journey back in time before skyscrapers and hyper-modern hotels made Doha what it is today. Translating to "the standing market," the Souq Waquf was built on the site of an old Bedouin marketplace and is a treasure trove of beautiful fabrics, fragrant spices and ornate trinkets. Popular attractions include the exotic animal market, camel pen and falcon handling. The souq is also a great place to try local cuisine at one of the outdoor cafes.


Walk or bike along the Corniche

A promenade extending along Doha Bay, Doha’s long, horseshoe-shaped Corniche is a favorite among locals for an evening stroll. Whether you choose to bike or walk, the Corniche is the perfect way to introduce yourself to the city. Gaze out towards the water to see the traditional wooden dhow boats lining the Bay.


Feel like a celebrity at The Pearl Qatar

The ritziest address in Qatar, The Pearl is a manmade island with yacht-filled marinas, luxury residential towers, 5-star dining and designer shopping. Stroll past pretty pastel houses and canals of the Venetian-inspired Qanat Quartier and enjoy a meal at one of the lively restaurants and cafes in Medina Central. It's no surprise they call this the Arabian Riviera!


Go on a desert adventure

With Doha's proximity to golden sand dunes, it's totally doable to book a half day or full day tour to the desert. A favorite activity is driving in a 4x4 vehicle through the sand dunes, known as dune bashing. For a more relaxed experience, you can also go camel riding or enjoy a typical Bedouin feast under the stars. Another favorite is a visit to the UNESCO-certified Khor Al Adaid, also known as the "Inland Sea."


Head for the mall

Going to the mall in Doha is no average experience. At Villaggio Mall, visitors can sail an indoor canal, glide across the ice at the indoor Olympic-sized skating rink and go for a thrilling ride at the indoor theme park. Of course, shopping here is top notch with 220 high-end stores plus plenty of dining options. When it's too hot out, this is one of the best places to get relief in Doha.


Where to Eat

Dining in Doha is world class, with some of the best restaurants in the world including Alain Ducasse’s Idam Doha, Hakkasan, Nobu and Gordon Ramsay’s Opal. Brunch is another favorite activity, with hotels hosting indulgent feasts fit for a king. You'll find Qatari cuisine similar to other Middle Eastern cuisine with an emphasis on rice, meat and locally grown dates. Try Qatar's national dish known as machboos, a rich stew of seafood or meat and spiced rice.


Travel tips to Qatar:

  • While drinking alcohol in public is strictly prohibited, visitors may drink at licensed hotel restaurants and bars.
  • Since Qatar is a conservative Muslim country, women should avoid wearing revealing clothing and men should wear long shorts or pants.
  • Qatar in the summer can feel like being in a pizza oven. For cooler, more comfortable temperatures, travel between the months of October to March.
  • Most visitors rely on taxis and Uber to get around Doha.

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