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Things to Do in Doha
The State of Qatar gave me my first taste of the middle east. It’s a territory I have never been to. But always wanted to visit. While searching for things to do in Qatar here on the internet, I was surprised to see that there’s… well not much to do, particularly in Doha, the capital city.
And if you’ve followed me here you’ll know I’m not the best planner when it comes to making travel plans. But sometimes, that’s just the way I like it.
With just a little bit of research there were only 2 places worth visiting in Doha’s Old City:
- Souq Waqif
- Musueum of Islamic Art and nearby Doha Corniche
And that’s pretty much it. Regardless I booked my annual return flight from Bangkok to NYC with a 4 day stopover in Doha, flying Qatar Airways (a review of the airline soon).
I felt really excited to visit Doha. However, there’s one thought that must’ve crossed a lot of peoples’ minds before thinking about heading over to the middle east. Especially if one haven’t been there before like yours truly.
Is it safe to Travel to Qatar?
I was concerned about my impending visit to Qatar, especially as an American citizen. I wondered whether or not Qatar is safe. I mean geographically, it’s not far off from all the craziness that is radical Islamic terrorism.
But out of all the countries in the middle east, Qatar is directly bordered by Saudi Arabia to the west and the UAE on the Southeast. The Persian Gulf separates Qatar from Iran on the east side. So in a way, Qatar has a good ring of protection.
I wasn’t too concerned about crimes against tourists because I haven’t heard much about it. But I am sure that petty crime does exist in Doha. I know Qatar is a developed country as is most oil and natural gas producing countries in the middle east. But it’s always a good idea to keep your wits with you, where ever you go.
Doha’s Old City
In Doha I explored parts of the city on foot, day and night. I stayed all my days at a hotel located in the old city. When they call it the Old City they weren’t kidding. I mean there are a lot of construction sites all over the place to spruce up the city.
But if you stray off the roads you’ll find a lot of very old residential apartment buildings. Many of them occupied by the working class that keep Qatar running.
Currently there are malls in construction now as well as planned sites for what looks to be subway train stations in the future. I really have to admit, the Old City of Doha is not really pedestrian friendly like it is in Seoul, South Korea.
The side walks are narrow and cracked. And good luck if you have to pass by some major construction sites. Because there are literally holes in the pavement that you have to watch out for.
Taxis in Doha
Taxis are plenty and cheap in Doha. I stuck with Karwa taxis which are sky blue in color. The initial charge is 4QR about $1USD within the city. There on it’s about 1.20QR per kilometer. However there is a minimum charge of 10QR. All the final fares are announced from an automated message and you can get a receipt from the driver.
From Hamada International Airport the meter starts at 25QR about $7USD. Overall I paid about 40QR or $11USD from the airport to my hotel in Old City Doha called Letoile Hotel.
On my 4 day trip in Doha I must’ve taken the taxi at least 4 or 5 times and I’ve never had any problems at all with communication or drivers acting shifty.
There are other taxi companies but I believe those are unmetered and you just strike up a deal with the driver for the price to take you to your destination. There’s also Uber.
I did walk around a lot as I mentioned before. It’s my preferred method of travel to really get to know the lay of the land and explore.
But if you go off the main streets like I did on Qatar’s C Road, you’ll come across a lot of old low level tenant buildings. There are also what seemed like high end residential buildings too but many more were apartment dwellings for I assume most of the people working as manual laborers.
60% of the population live and work in Doha. So not surprising to see so many residential buildings all around the Old City.
1. Doha’s Souq Waqif
Souq Waqif is one of the few must see tourists attractions in Doha’s Old City. If you need souvenirs, that’s the place you want to hit up. Restaurants are plenty there too with many outdoor seating. It has a wonderful family atmosphere, if not the only one in the old city quarters.
Because this is the only area that I’ve been to in Doha where I saw children and women together. In other parts of Doha I only see men hanging out with… more men. I rarely see women and children walking around the streets. Except in Souq Waqif.
You’ll find lots of things here. Need a pet bird or a rabbit? Yeah, they’ll set you up with one too at Souq Waqif. Need a hunting falcon? That’s right, head on over to Souq Waqif.
Kidding aside (though I’m not kidding about the sales of live Falcons), this market was founded a century ago. It wasn’t until 2006 that it was renovated to the family friendly atmosphere today. And you can get a good sense of the history and nostalgia by walking though the labyrinth and maze of shops carrying spices and perfumes.
Long ago traders would bring goods from all over Europe and mostly Asia to the nearby port and transport them a short distance to Souq Waqif.
2. The Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art is not a big museum. Matter of fact you can just about spend 2 or 3 hours there at the most. But you will find many beautiful works of art from all over the middle east, housed in one of the most beautiful space I have ever been in.
The museum itself was designed by the well known Chinese American architect I.M. Pei. There are exhibits located on 3 floors with wide open space in the middle with a café directly facing the Persian Gulf. Café prices for food and drink is on the pricey side. If you are hungry I recommend heading to nearby park located outside of the museum. There are local vendors selling food and drink at much more reasonable prices there. But I’m not sure if you’ll only see the markets on weekends.
I particularly enjoyed their collection of ancient compasses and measurement tools. I even saw an ancient protractor on display. That certainly brought back some memories of using one in school.
Even their hand crafted jeweled animal figurines impressed the hell out of a non artistic guy such as myself.
Entrance to the Musueum of Islamic Art is free. Check out the museum’s opening and closing hours here on their official website. Though they are closed every Tuesdays. And the museum has free internet Wi-Fi too.
It’s definitely a must visit spot while visiting Doha. The museum is located just a short 10 minute walk from Souq Waqif. Look for the underground pedestrian passage which cuts right through the highway above ground, leading to Doha Corniche.
Out side of the museum is a big park which leads right to Doha Corniche, a walkway with a great view of the Persian Gulf. You’ll also see families taking a stroll along the walkway as well as joggers taking advantage of the long stretch of the promenade extending several kilometers.
Final Thoughts on Doha
Since I only stayed around the Old City with a limited amount of time, I did not have the chance to explore the much more developed City Center. That’s where all the modern skyscrapers and huge mega malls are located. Which is clearly visible from Doha Corniche. I actually prefer the old more than the new which was why I decided to stay in the Old City for my first visit to Doha.
That said, from what I’ve seen, the Old City probably won’t look so old in the near future. There’s just so much construction going on that you get the feeling the country is trying to transform the city on fast track.
Doha was fun for me. It was nice to see something different than what I would normally see elsewhere on my normal stopover routes. I love the food. There’s a variety of Arab and Indian food all over. I certainly had my fill of authentic falafels at Doha.
But next time I’m passing through Doha again I’ll be sure to explore the newer City Center.