Visiting Doha, Qatar, and want to know more about the #1 tourist attraction, Souq Waqif? Souq Waqif is a beautiful local market and known for its perfumes, spices, souvenirs, and dry fruit shopping. Read our article to find the best things to do in Souq Waqif. You may also like our post on Best Things to do in Doha, Qatar.
Souq Waqif, Doha is one of the best places to visit in Qatar. Shopping in the souk in Doha, Qatar is an amazing experience.
So why is Souq Waqif so special?
Doha City has many malls including the Villagio Mall which resembles Venice, the Pearl which is home to designer brands, the Doha Festival City which offers hours and hours of window shopping, and even an Ikea!
And yet, visitors prefer to buy souvenirs, dine at the restaurants, enjoy the atmosphere, and indulge in street shopping in Souq Waqif.
Here’s a detailed travel guide to one of the bets street markets in the world.
History of Souq Waqif
Souq Waqif is a magical portal that seems to transports you to Aladdin’s Arabia.
Here you will find mounds of spices, shimmering crystal chandeliers, glittering jewelry, and mirrors on apparel. You will find women dancing to traditional tunes and men playing the oud, the Arabian musical instrument. You will see camels, horses, and falcons – and even an occasional monkey in the pet souq!
Souq Waqif is truly magical.
The Souq has a fascinating history. Souq Waqif was Doha’s ancient standing waterfront market since the ancient times when Doha was a pearling village.
When pearling and trading declined, the market fell into ruins and newly reclaimed land along the waterfront pushed the market inwards. And that might have been the end of it but for an ambitious restoration project by the government in the 2000s.
The crumbling walls of the souq were demolished. The narrow streets and alleys were rebuilt in traditional Qatari architectural style. The beautiful Souq was resettled by merchants, restaurants, and hotels.
Commercial spaces were carefully assigned: souvenir shops and restaurants dominated the main thoroughfare and day to day shops were established in the inner alleys.
The result is magnificent: Souq Waqif is a delight to explore with its charming architecture, cobbled streets, narrow alleys, all sorts of shops, dramatic sounds, and colors, and popular restaurants.
You can find almost anything in the Souq from apparel, household goods, patio furniture, pets, and even falcons.
The restored Souq Waqif has fast become one of the trendiest places to visit in Doha.
Things to do in Souq Waqif, Doha
There are plenty of things to do inside Souq Waqif. The market is open in the morning which is the best time to do your shopping and closes in the afternoon.
When it reopens in the afternoon, it really comes to life.
We recommend leaving haggling and purchases to a quiet morning visit and keeping the evening for a beautiful night out – people watch, eat delicious food, and explore the inner alleys.
Also remember, the Souq is really crowded but vibrant over the weekend – which is Qatar is Friday and Saturday.
Here some of our favorite things to do in the Souq:
Shop for handwoven and embroidered textiles, accessories, and apparels
The Souq has many shops selling beautifully embroidered textiles, apparel, scarves, purses, jackets, bridal wear, shoes, and more. Many of the materials are handwoven and richly studded with gems, rhinestones, mirrors, and other decorative items.
The bridal wear especially is a delight to look at with its heavy embroidery and vibrant colors. You can buy traditional Qatari dress shirts for all ages – even babies and toddlers. If visiting in the winter, I definitely recommend buying a warm wool kaftan.
See the beautiful jewelry in the Gold Souq
Souq Waqif has a big Gold Souq where you will find stunning jewelry costing a fortune. You can see a variety of patterns, designs, and sizes – the bridal sets are especially spectacular.
There are necklaces of various lengths, earrings, bracelets, and bangles for women. Most of the shops also have jewelry for men.
Apart from gold, you will also find gemstones, diamonds, sapphires, silver jewelry, and the famous Qatari Pearl jewelry in the Gold Souq.
Watch a street procession or two with costumes, songs, and dance
If you spend time in Souq Waqif in the evening, you can see a variety of parades and processions passing through the main street. The procession includes a variety of artists including masked stilt walkers, bands playing traditional Qatari music instruments, and groups of traditionally dressed men dancing through the street.
If you visit the Souq on Friday or Saturday evenings, you will able to see more processions than on a weekday. There are no processions in the morning – you will need to visit in the evening to enjoy them.
Stay at a boutique hotel in a room overlooking Souq Waqif, Doha
Souq Waqif has 9 hotels that are located inside the Souq and these make a perfect base for exploring the area. These hotels are the best places to stay in Doha, Qatar.
You will be waking up to the sights and sounds of Souq Waqif and stepping foot inside its alleys as soon as you step out of the hotel.
You can have a leisurely breakfast in the Souq, just like the locals, before you visit the Museum of Islamic Arts or Katara Cultural Village during your stay in Doha. It is really the best experience – we can vouch for it!
Watch the locals shop and porters haul the purchases
If you wander far enough inside the Souq, you will come across grocery stores and shops selling household goods. There are hardly any tourists in this area and you can watch the locals shop.
You will see lots of Qatari women and families shopping with their kids and liveried porters pushing goods-filled handcarts to the cars. This area provides a fascinating glimpse into local Qatari life.
Change money to buy souvenirs and to shop in the Souq
Souq Waqif has money changers located near the police station on the main street and is the most convenient place to exchange money in Qatar.
The money changers carry most currencies including popular Asian currencies, USD, Euros, Australian dollars, and many others.
The rates are also much better than the airport money changers. We like the added convenience of exchanging just as much money as needed since it is close by.
Buy a gold embroidered porcelain tea set
Drinking tea is an indispensable part of the Qatari culture. You will see beautiful teapots and tea sets everywhere you go in Qatar including hotel lobbies, airports, and retsuarants.
Even the Souq Waqif shops carry many beautiful porcelain tea sets with intricate gold embroidery. You can find handmade tea sets costing a few hundred dollars to basic teapots under 20 bucks. The tea sets are a great souvenir to buy from Qatar.
Watch a myriad of lights on display
While strolling inside Souq Waqif, our kids were most fascinated by the chandelier shops. These sell a variety of colorful lights from Moroccan lamps to Tiffany-style shades and from candle holders to funky outdoor toadstool lights.
The sight of all these lights hanging from the ceiling is magical!
Be entranced by overflowing sacks of spices and dry fruits
Spice heaps and dry fruits is an iconic picture of street markets in Asia and the Middle East. From the fresh dry fruits for sale in the street markets of Amman, Jordan to the mountain of colorful spices in India, we love seeing them all.
Souq Waqif is also an amazing place to shop for these goodies. Seeing the products artistically arranged in the small shops lining the pretty streets of the Souq is an amazing great sight.
You’d be surprised to know that Qatar doesn’t produce either dry fruits or spices in large amounts. However, since the early days, it has been an important trading center for these.
Doha imports spices from Asia, particularly India, and dry fruits from other Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, and Syria.
Eat roasted chestnuts, fava beans, and other variety of foods at the roadside carts
The main street inside Souq Waqif is lined up with street carts selling a variety of foods from corn on the cob, chestnuts, fava beans, chickpeas, pasta, chocolates, and even ice cream.
Many people, especially locals, prefer to eat here on the cheap rather than dine inside the expensive restaurants. The variety of food on offer is tempting.
Try the roasted chestnuts on a chilly day or the steaming hot tangy fava beans which are liberally sprinkled with spices. Or get ice cream to beat the desert heat.
Drink the best fruit shake in Doha
This recommendation comes from the Lonely Planet Qatar guidebook and we honestly wouldn’t have known about this little cafe without the book!
The delicious shakes at Al Mandarin in Souq Waqif are truly amazing. Al mandarin is located near the Souq Waqif Art Center. The shakes are unique layered mixes of fresh fruit juices and cream and just delicious.
The weather wasn’t exactly great for ice-cold juices during our visit, but we simply had to try one. So there we were, shivering in the wind, drinking cold shakes, and falling in love with their taste! So much that we had to order seconds!
Have a romantic dinner in Souq Waqif
If eating at street carts or filling up on fruit shakes isn’t your cup of tea then you can venture inside the restaurants of Souq Waqif and eat a full-service meal.
Most of the restaurants have a romantic ambiance, menus that cater to tourists and are great for spending quality time with your partner or enjoying a meal with family and friends.
You can try various cuisines in Souq Waqif including Qatari, Irani, Syrian, Indian, and Moroccan food.
Smoke a shisha and drink some Turkish coffee or Moroccan tea
Many popular restaurants have outdoor patio heaters and shishas for their guests to enjoy. These are perfect for the winter weather and to spend a romantic night out in the Souq.
You can also enjoy either piping hot Moroccan mint tea or Qatari tea or thick Turkish coffee while enjoying the shisha/hookah.
Learn about the Abrahamic religions and their relationship to each other
If you are a cultural traveler, then you will enjoy learning about the Abrahamic religions, especially Islam while in the souq. You can see several leaflets explaining the origins of the religion.
You can also pick up quite a few books from the free religious paraphernalia centers that you will see at many places inside the Souq.
Several of these books provide interesting insights into the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and a unique perspective about them that can be obtained from only within an Islamic country.
Warning: It is not for everyone and is actually an attempt of religious proselytizing but if you keep an open mind it can be a fascinating experience in experiencing a different culture.
Understand the Middle Eastern tradition of falconry in the Falcon Souq
Adjacent to the main Souq Waqif is the Falcon Souq.
This souq sells falcons that are trained for hunting in the ancient sport known as falconry. Here you can see various types of falcons for sale with prices ranging from few hundred riyals to more than tens of thousands of riyals.
The shops also sell falconry accessories and the Souq even has a state of the art falcon hospital to treat sick falcons. To know more about the falcon souq, read our article here.
Watching the hooded falcons isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if you do venture inside you will spend an unforgettable afternoon learning about this age-old tradition.
Become a local art connoisseur
The Souq Waqif Arts Center is a great place to visit for art connoisseurs and take in local Qatari art. Here you will find contemporary as well as traditional art and occasionally even see artists painting inside the center.
The art center also has sculptures and other art forms and is great to spend some time and encourage local artists.
The Souq also has a separate arts and crafts section where you will find all sorts of creative knick-knacks, paintings, sculptures, glass items, handicrafts, music instruments, and more.
Pick out souvenirs for your trip to Doha and Qatar
Of course, you can’t leave Souq Waqif and Doha without purchasing some souvenirs. There are souvenir shops everywhere inside the Souq. Here are some of our best tips to buy souvenirs: haggle, haggle, and haggle!
The prices aren’t fixed and most shopkeepers will be willing to reduce them a bit if you’re insistent enough.
Also, we recommend shopping in the morning and not in the evening. Shopkeepers are in general more motivated to make a sell early in the day. Also, you can examine the quality of the items you are purchasing in a good light.
We have bought magnets, dry fruits, Qatari tea, apparel, and a few toys for our kids in the Souq. Souq Waqif is also great to buy spices and fragrances – especially, the popular oud perfume.
Visit the pet souq near Souq Waqif
The pet souq is a fascinating area. Here you will find a cacophony of noises and animals of every kind! It is definitely a unique experience in Souq Waqif, Doha.
There are all sorts of animals for sale in the souq. You can see turtles, dogs, cats, chickens, ducklings, parrots, colorful birds, fishes, and even rabbits dressed in short skirts.
Kids love this area and they can even pet the animals, especially rabbits. You can see many eager children buying their first pets with their parents.
The animals are mostly caged, so this area isn’t to the liking of all travelers.
See the grazing camels inside the camel pen
Adjacent to Souq Waqif and quite near the Falcon Souq area is the camel pen. The camels here are for sale and are tethered here at all times.
If you visit during the day, you can even enter the pen and pet the camels.
Walk through the stables to see the beautiful Arabian horses
Near the camel pen, you will find Arabian horse stables. When we walked through the horse stables, a friendly stable hand even led us inside a stall and allowed us to pet the horses.
The horses here are Arabian and very beautiful; they are also carefully looked after.
See the traditional uniformed policemen in Souq Waqif
The policemen inside Souq Waqif are also a popular tourist attraction mainly due to their traditional dress.
In keeping with the vintage look of the Souq, their uniforms resemble those used in the 1940s. They can be seen on horseback inside the Souq and redirecting traffic near its entrance.
People watch at Doha’s best outdoor destination
Souq Waqif is absolutely the best destination to people-watch in all of Doha. You can see locals, ex-pats, and tourists intermingle and families and couples have great times.
There is so much activity inside the Souq that you will never get tired of watching everything.
Shopkeepers trying to upsell to tourists, locals haggling for daily goods, tea sellers, children enjoying the Souq from high up on their father’s shoulders, music performances, and processions, police on horses – you can see them all!
We hope you liked our detailed guide to the fascinating Souq Waqif in Doha.