The eyes of the world were firmly on Qatar when it hosted the Fifa World Cup in 2022. At the centre was the capital of Doha: a gleaming metropolis perched between desert and ocean and an enchanting mix of old and new. Once the epicentre of one of the world’s pearl diving capitals, Doha has skyrocketed to newfound heights thanks to the discovery of natural gas and an unrivalled vision for education and development, along with a focus on arts and culture. As a result, Doha is a thriving city that should be on everyone’s Middle East travel list. From wandering the souks to visiting leading cultural hubs and dining in celebrity chef restaurants, here are the best things to do in Doha.
Visit the National Museum of Qatar
Immerse yourself in the history and heritage of the Qatari Peninsula by visiting the National Museum of Qatar, the city’s most famous museum. Visitors are taken on a journey through the gulf state’s fascinating history and journey to the wealthy and prosperous nation it is today, from the millennia-old sea life and fauna to the Bedouins, pearl diving, discovery of oil, natural gas, the building of modern Doha and Qatar and ultimately hosting the Fifa World Cup – with plenty of immersive exhibits, displays and priceless artefacts. The building itself is magnificent, a sandy hue and designed by architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by the desert rose crystal. Complete your visit with a stop-off at Jiwan for lunch, Alain Ducasse’s stunning outpost part of the museum’s storytelling (think mother of pearl decorations and spoons) and serving up reimagined Qatari dishes with beautiful views of the city or the buzzing coffee shop frequented by locals. Make sure also to browse Wadha, a store by Qatar designer Wadha Al Hajri on the grounds of the museum selling her signature handbags, gowns and fragrances.
Visit one of its many art museums
Doha is the art capital of the Middle East, largely down to the work of Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, a passionate art lover and arts advocate. Her rumoured art budget of $1 billion has made Qatar a key player on the world’s art stage with plenty of incredible art museums and exhibitions, past and present, by some of art’s biggest names. Islamic art spanning three continents and 1,400 years is championed at The Museum of Islamic Art: the building itself jutting out into the water and a masterful marriage of traditional and 21st-century architecture. Modern and boundary-pushing art, including quirky pop-ups from local and international artists, can be seen at the Fire Station Art Gallery – a cool space in a disused fire station. Other top galleries include Katara Art Center, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Eiwan Al Gassar Gallery at the St Regis Doha and The Gallery at VCU Arts Qatar, located at the city’s prestigious Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. Pass by the city’s Sidra Hospital and you’ll also see Damien Hirst’s The Miraculous Journey, and there are always exhibits at Hamad International Airport.
Explore the sustainable new city
A visit to, or indeed booking a hotel in Msheireb Downtown Doha, is one of the best things to do in Doha: a mini city within a city with its own tram billed as a sustainable and futuristic settlement. The gleaming creamy limestone buildings and squeaky clean streets are packed with cool cafes and trendy restaurants, which come to life post 10pm when locals descend on the area. This is the epicentre of culture and sophistication in Doha. For starters, some of the best hotels are here, the Mandarin Oriental Doha, Park Hyatt and Alwadi Hotel Doha – MGallery along with cool cultural hubs like M7 – a gallery-cum-design-school-cum-exhibition space with a concept shop (the gallery hosted Dior designer of dreams and Valentino), the Mshredib Museum (three museums focusing on human behaviour), and the Cultural Pass Club, a private members’ club spread over 12 townhouses, each designed by an influential figurehead – including Diane Vion Furstenberg and Donna Karen.
Get lost in Souq Waqif
The best place to get a taste of traditional Qatari culture, and the Qatar that once was, is by paying a visit to Sout Waqif, the beating heart of Doha and a maze of stalls selling everything from spices, garments and pearls to falcons and camels. The souq dates to the early 20th century (renovated in 2006) and is also packed with buzzing restaurants, shisha lounges, coffee shops, and traditional places for an authentic Qatari dinner. For something a little more elevated, head to Parisa, the outpost of The Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village’s Persian Cafe, with its head-spinningly colourful hand-painted interiors. Showing the country’s dedication to art, visitors will also find art galleries and studios, along with space for artists and creatives to work, showing how the souq also gives back to the community.
Go on a luxurious shopping spree
Qataris love to shop. Fact. Testament to the nation’s love for luxury goods and retail therapy is its brilliant selection of shopping districts and malls, particularly those that are European-themed or born. Opposite Katara Cultural Village is the city’s Galleries Lafayette, a spectacular iteration of the French department store with Murano glass details, and European cafes lining an air-conditioned street and courtyard. Also paying homage to France is Place Vendôme, a new four-story retail haven in the Lusail district, moments from the famous World Cup stadium. Visitors can browse 580 high-end stores in the shiny new setting and enjoy plenty of dining and entertainment options, like a water canal running through the mall and fountains with a 3D laser show. French department store Printemps has also opened in Doha, the largest department store in the Middle East with the largest wellness area to match.
Take in an open-air museum
Back in the 18th century, Qatar was known as Katara, and a fun way to spend an afternoon is revisiting this period by heading to Katara Cultural Village – a leisure, entertainment and shopping complex-cum-open air museum paying homage to the peninsula’s past. Designed as a small traditional village guests can wander down a maze of sandstone-hued lanes past mosques (including a shiny golden mosque), cafes, boutiques and coffee shops. The village is home to a huge creamy-hued 5,000-seater amphitheatre overlooking the ocean, which hosts live concerts and entertainment and sights like the Katara Mosque, designed by Turkey’s Zeynep Fadilloglu and featuring Persian and Turkish tile and enamel work in shades of blue and gold. Weather-dependent, also take a stroll along the beachfront and climb the verdant Katara Hills next door.
Enjoy a Traditional Dhow Boat Ride
The best way to see this spectacular city and its fascinating mix of old and new is by dhow boat. There are plenty of dhow boat companies around the city offering day cruises and sunset adventures, where you’ll gently glide along the harbour taking in sights like the glittering West Bay and corniche.
Embrace its luxury hotel scene
Doha’s five-star hotel scene is quite impressive – and growing at a rapid pace. Along with the city’s much-loved stalwarts like The Ritz-Carlton, Mondrian and Mandarin Oriental, a new wave of hotels have opened from other big-name brands Raffles, Fairmont, The Chedi and even Soho House, with the opening of The Ned. Check out The Ned’s swanky new restaurants and bars, admire the arabesque architecture at The Chedi Katara and book into a joint stay at the palatial Raffles and Fairmont – both housed in the futuristic Katara Towers (a sight in itself).