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Being a tourist in quirky Qatar

From its propensity for teapots and all things tea to its ancient sports of falconry and camel racing, Qatar gives out a definite quirky vibe. It has made its way into the 21st century by virtue of its futuristic skyline and oil exploration revenues without losing sight of its Bedouin heritage; the government has taken significant efforts to reconstruct ancient souqs and depict pearling past and wooden dhows in its public art.

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The Museum of Islamic Arts is Doha city’s most renowned attraction and is designed by architect I. M. Pei of the Louvre pyramid fame.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is Doha city’s most renowned attraction. The museum is designed by architect I. M. Pei of the Louvre pyramid fame. The architecture is stunning and blends in the ancient Qatari / Islamic style prominently seen in Souqs and elsewhere in the city with 21st century architectural features such as clean lines and simple geometric forms. The building’s upper air vents have been designed to look like the eyes of a veiled Qatari woman and thus the overall impression is that of a Qatari woman looking at you. The museum is built over its own reclaimed land. 

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A majestic double grand staircase adorns the museum entrance and a giant circular chandelier stands suspended over the atrium.

The interior is spectacular with 5 storey tall windows offering sweeping views of the turquoise Doha bay and skyline. A majestic double grand staircase adorns the entrance and a giant circular chandelier stands suspended over the atrium. The museum café is located in the atrium with tables overlooking the bay and futuristic skyline.

The museum’s collection is vast with artifacts spanning across North Africa, Middle East, Spain and parts of Europe, and Asia. Intricate patterns and motifs in Islamic architecture are well represented as are astrolabes and ancient mathematical instruments. Everyday objects and antique jewelry are interesting to look at. Exhibits are made from variety of materials including textiles, stone, ceramics, wood, glass, enamel and metals.

C, S and I had lunch at the Museum Café, the food was decent quality and prices reasonable for the setting. The lunch is definitely more about the tranquil view than the food, though my Date cheesecake was fantastic.  We didn’t see the museum garden; it is said to be well-maintained and has breathtaking views of the museum building and skyline.

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Views of the Doha skyline from Al Corniche or the waterfront promenade, with a dhow boat in the foreground.

On Day 2, we walked the Al Corniche or the waterfront promenade from the museum to West Bay. It makes an excellent walk; the promenade is broad, lined with beautiful flowers, and offers excellent views of Doha skyline. Various sculptures and murals are present along the promenade. Dhows or traditional Qatari wooden boats dot the bay along the Al Corniche and are eager to take tourists on a cruise of the Doha bay.

C, S and I spent a good part of both days in Souq Waqif which literally means a standing market. It has been wonderfully restored as per ancient Islamic architecture and takes one back in time to an era when police patrolled on horses and porters lugged purchases on wheel barrows. It is full of hustle-bustle and narrow alleys that add to the charm of the place. Shops sell varied things like perfumes, spices, household goods; the Souq is an excellent place to bargain and buy souvenirs. I had rather fun shopping experience in Souq Waqif. I began talking in English but found the Souq owner conferring with his assistant in Hindi and then I too switched to Hindi. I got a better deal. After that I approached almost everyone in Hindi and it worked! We even got to pet a horse due to my Hindi speaking skills.

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Pet Souq where all sorts of pet animals, birds and aquatic animals can be found.

The Souq also has an alley which is known as the Pet Souq where all sorts of pet animals, birds and aquatic animals can be found. The Souq also has a camel section and horse stables. There is a separate gold souq as well. The Falcon Souq located next to Souq Waqif is dedicated to selling falcons and falconry supplies; a visit to the Falcon Souq is essential to understanding the ancient tradition of falconry and its importance in Qatari society.

Overall Qatar is a great and extremely safe Middle-Eastern country to visit. Doha seemed like an easy city to drive compared to Amman, Jordan. The Islamic call to prayer can be heard during the day; Islamic law and its principles are religiously followed. I also saw many stadiums or arenas under construction, probably for the 2022 FIFA world cup. Qatar is trying to position itself as the next Dubai with the Qatar Airways free transit visa program; it will be an interesting country to visit in the years to come.

I visited Doha, Qatar in January 2017

More in Qatar

Demystifying the Falcon Souq in Doha, Qatar

Read all Qatar articles here.

10 COMMENTS
  • Sachin Sharangpani
    Reply

    Excellent artical , do you have to book hotels and tours through Qatar Airways for transit visa ? Otherwise do you require a local sponsor for visa ? The information on there website is confusing ( for Indian citizens )

    1. Ketki R S
      Reply

      Sachin, if you are traveling via Qatar Airways and have a stopover in Doha then you receive the visa free of cost. You just need a ticket into Qatar and an onward flight ticket, both tickets have to be on Qatar Airways. You also need to provide a copy of passports. The entire application can be completed online at Qatar Airways website. You can book hotels/cars/tours on your own. The visa won’t apply if you have a India-Qatar round trip ticket. It is an excellent stopover if traveling from US-India.

  • Rhonda Albom
    Reply

    I’ve never really thought about going to Qatar, but I have been to Oman and U.A.E. The souqs are one of my favourite parts of those countries. Thanks for the detailed itinerary.

  • Meg Jerrard
    Reply

    I love that the government is making such a concerted effort to preserve Bedouin heritage throughout Qatar – sounds like a really authentic destination – reminds me a lot of neighboring Dubai but without the mass tourism and western influence. The Museum of Islamic Art sounds really interesting – such a beautiful building too – I adore that staircase!!

  • elphie1
    Reply

    Wow! There is so much to see and do! Did you know that in this country, they toast with water for weddings? I learned about this years ago because I’m obsessed with weddings and I don’t drink alchohol so I thought this was the coolest ever and would love to visit!

  • emilykydd1984
    Reply

    Qatar definitely looks like a fascinating place, a meeting of cultures and architecture to be sure! Some day I would love to explore the Middle East, and it’s rapidly changing cities like Doha!

  • Claire Sturzaker
    Reply

    I had no idea that Hindi was spoken so widely in Qatar! Sadly I don’t speak hindi or Arabic, so no horse-petting for me 🙁 I love markets though, I think I’d be happy just wandering around!

  • Jose Harvey
    Reply

    I’m all about visiting this section of the world and your article gives me even more reason to want to visit. I hope one day it will be possible to do so. With current geo-political tensions, it’s still on my list but on hold slightly. Your article is great and your photos are wonderful!

  • Jose Harvey
    Reply

    I think Qatar looks and sounds like an incredible place to visit. Hopefully one day! Great article and awesome photos…thanks for sharing!

  • Lauren
    Reply

    Such an amazing place with a rich history! I’d like to explore that museum more. I’m a bit nerd for history and historical sites, too!

What do you think? Leave comments and let me know!