My time in Doha is now coming to an end. It has been quite the ride of new experiences and challenges; I am very much looking forward to seeing something besides brown sand, returning to Europe and not sweating the instant I walk outside. After 6 months here, I can safely give a review of the country as well as recommend where to go.
Firstly, if you think you are going to have this wild cultural experience in the country, think again. As far as I can tell, the country only just started to exist in the last 10-20 years and in fact has changed so drastically over that time, it is barely recognizable. Prior to gaining its independence from Britain in the 1970s, Qatar had little in the way of infrastructure or wealth, subsiding on a mostly Bedouin, nomadic culture. They have tried very hard to bring their society up to a modern standard – and in doing so quickly, there is little left in the way of Bedouin roots (at least for the non-Arab outside traveler).
This does not mean that Doha is not worth the trip as one can still experience a modern Middle Eastern culture; one that is completely safe and open to westerners, working its way to compete with neighboring giants of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
Doha Top 5 experiences:
1 – Islamic Museum of Art – This museum has been named one of the modern wonders of the world. This is truly the jewel of Doha – the most extensive, progressive art collection in the entire Middle East sits on the waters of Doha. Even not being particularly keen museum or art person, it is more than worth a visit.
2 – The Souqs – Completely rebuilt, the complex of waiving shops still takes you back into a world of old Arabia (which feels like something out of Aladdin). The best part – it’s not just made for western tourists and expats, locals also do much of their shopping there, including custom made thobes and abayas.
3 – Shisha (or Hookah as we call it in the western world) – The one thing I discovered in Doha that was a complete surprise to me was Shisha. A cultural practice; and probably the best legal buzz I have ever experienced, I soon become really picky over the ‘best’ places to go. You health nuts don’t snub your nose, I am one of you and was easily converted over long afternoons puffing this strong flavored tobacco. Order a pipe once a weekend, totally fine 🙂 If you are looking for some of the better places for Hookah in the city, below are my personal favorites:
Shisha Lounge, Sharq village – outdoors, with a beautiful view of the complex pool one of the few places you can smoke shisha and have an adult beverage http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village/dining/al-wanis-shisha-terrace
Sharq village also had one of the best spa in Doha, themed after old Arabia:
Shisha Terrace, Four Seasons – Air conditioned, but encompassed in all glass for a stunning view of the also impressive hotel complex. No adult beverages, but the smoothest shisha I have found in Doha
Damascus, Souqs – There is no shortage of places to smoke hookah in the Souqs, but one of the better places is the upstairs of the Syrian restaurant named Damascus. Air conditioned in the summer and open to the elements in the winter, its scenic and serves a full meal along with your choice of shisha flavours. Best shisha combo (ask anyone) is grape-mint
4 – Friday Brunch – Probably the best brunch I have ever had in my entire life was at the Kempinski hotel on Boxing day (26 Dec). Read any guide book and they will tell you that Brunches in Doha are a mainstay. Not just because they are one of the most extravagant spreads of food you will lay your eyes on, but even better, they come with an all you can drink package. In a town which taxes the Hell out of its alcohol (think Vegas drinking prices), this is the best deal in town.
Kempinski Hotel – A great way to see the latest gem of Doha, the Pearl
Top 20 brunches in the city:
5 – Night on the Town – Weekends in the Islamic world are on Friday & Saturday, but Thursday & Friday nights are your best evenings out. Because drinking is limited to the western hotels, ‘the’ places to go are the latest 4-5 star resorts. While this certainly puts a damper on ‘retro-cool’ places to frequent, you do have a guarantee of meeting every expat in Doha as the options are limited.
Jazz bar, & rooftop lounge St. Regis – Tag these two places with a Friday brunch and you have the best night out in town. The jazz club in the St. Regis has a partnership with the Lincoln center in New York City where they bring out some of the most talented jazz musicians in the world to play to an often half empty intimate lounge. Absolutely wonderful opportunity. If jazz isn’t your thing, then stumble over to the rooftop lounge next-door for the latest in EDM and fancy cocktails.
Sundowners, Sharq village – Another Friday mainstay. This place is one of the few that has the option of old school hip hop, EDM or lounge. Spend all evening here with food, drink & shisha options to chill out after dancing on their beachfront dancefloor.
W hotel, Crystal Lounge – If you are looking for a great place to dance, this is it. With mixes of old school hip hop and modern music, the W never disappoints.
A note: Nightlife and the 2022 World Cup
It will be interesting to see how this conservative country copes with having an influx of western football fans invade its small nation, particularly fans who have an ingrained culture of drinking. While being drunk in public is not something Qataris look favorably upon, they tend to accept it if done discretely. So the plan is to host tents where wristbands allow you to enter and partake in a beverage or two…
Final thing to do (but you can do it anywhere in the ME) – Ride a camel of course! There is no desert without camel rides so hope on. Lots of cool opportunities to do so, and also catch a wave on a sand dune while you are at it.