Arabian Nights – and Days in Doha, Qatar

By Chrissie Walker

Qatar has excellent flight links via the quality airline Qatar Airways, and so has become the stop-over of choice for many of those traveling to the Far East and beyond. It’s genuinely Arabic, with women in black burkas and men in snowy white dishdashi and white keffiyeh, the flowing headdress.

Doha, the capital, is a vision of modernity with a thick veneer of exotic. The skyline is striking and ultra-modern with buildings to inspire anyone with a love of architecture and photography. But this is a complex country which looks to the future while respecting its past. There is plenty to see and do in Qatar for all the family.

The Qatar International Food Festival is held each Spring and it provides fun and food for everyone. It’s free to enter the QIFF grounds, which offer entertainment and dishes from around the world. One can enjoy local fare or American burgers. There is Turkish ice cream and Indian curry. Coffee aficionados will love the hot beverages at this event.

Doha has its own souk called Souq Waqif, and it is a colorful spot in every regard. It looks ancient, but it was rebuilt just a few years ago following a fire. There are small shops that sell household goods, gifts, clothes, pastries and sweets, and spices. In fact, the spice market here is world-famous and a must-visit for any serious food lover. Haggling for a better price is OK. I had remarkable success with buying several items from the same shop and thus getting a multi-buy discount. Please don’t barter in chain department stores, though.

There is a Persian restaurant in the souk and it is worth a visit not only for the delicious kebabs but also for the décor, which is straight out of Scheherazade! The restaurant is called Parisa, and it is remarkable. Ask for directions at your hotel, as Souq Waqif is something of a maze. It’s a safe place though, so no need to feel intimidated.

The Museum of Islamic Art will surely be on the bucket list of anybody who is interested in the ancient crafts and aesthetics of this region. The beauty showcased here is staggering. One doesn’t have to be a professional art critic to appreciate the exhibits, as they speak for themselves and they tell stories of gentler times and a rich history. The building housing these treasures is also noteworthy, and a visit to the Museum shop is a lovely experience.

There is a café, with magnificent views from the museum across the bay to the city. And there is a restaurant, too:  French Chef Alain Ducasse has an outpost of fine dining in this building, and a meal here at IDAM is a deliciously memorable experience. It offers contemporary French Mediterranean cuisine presented with an Arabic flair.

Yes, it gets very hot in Qatar, but relief is at hand in the shape of a sail in a Dhow. That’s a traditional Arab wooden boat that was originally used for fishing or even for pearl diving. Take a trip and enjoy a cool breeze, the best view of those unique skyscrapers, some music and refreshments. Slow down, take some pictures and enjoy another aspect of Qatar.

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