As you lift the shell of Doha, you will uncover a pearl of rich cultural history underneath ready to be explored.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the United Arab Emirates and thought it might be something like Dubai, but I soon found that notion to be false. Each Gulf Cooperation Council state has a character and personality of its own and Doha is no different. A mix between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I say, Doha is calm, modern, relaxed with the feel of not much going on, and quintessentially Arabian with its own personality. As you lift the shell of Doha, you will uncover a pearl of rich cultural history underneath ready to be explored.
As I arrived to my hotel, the Al Messila Resort and Spa, a luxury hotel set in an indigenous botanical oasis, I was greeted with a warm Qatari welcome by hotel staff. Just 30 minutes from Hamad International Airport and 15 minutes from downtown Doha, the hotel is newly opened and truly an oasis in Doha.
My tour of Doha started with a pearl diving lecture, a trade that goes back centuries for the Qatari people. In fact, pearls were Qatar’s main industry until the 1940s, and then oil became the main industry moneymaker.
After breakfast on the helipad of the JW Marriott, I joined a tour guide group that went around the city. Our tour guide, Marilu, an Italian that has been living in Doha for years, gave a thorough tour of the city and its history. We started off at the Falcon Souk, which is the go-to place for buying, trading, and learning about this regional bird. The sport of falconry is a popular activity in the Gulf region. Wearing their hooded bonnets and perched on posts, falcons can be purchased in the souk.
Walking through the Katara Cultural Village, I was exposed to Qatari architecture and mosques. As men and women entered and exited the Gold Mosque, I was reminded of how faith is an integral part of the lives of the people in the region. A large walkway along the Arabian Gulf coast and restaurants grace the seaside development of the village.
The Pearl district in Doha is a mixture of shopping and restaurants at its highest. Think Dubai’s the Palm, and this gives you a bigger picture of the Pearl. I really enjoyed the Venice area -seeing the exact replica of the Rialto Bridge that’s in Venice, Italy was awe-inspiring. This area is newly built with apartment buildings inspired by Venetian and European architecture.
The Museum of Islamic Art has the largest Islamic art collection in the world, and I was told it cannot be missed. Right off the Corniche, the postmodern complex was designed by Im Pei, the architect of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. The ground floors showcase temporary exhibitions, while the first and second floors house permanent collections. But I’d have to say that the National Museum of Qatar was my favorite. Situated near the Museum of Islamic Art, the uniquely shaped building, shaped like a desert rose, opened during the spring of this year. The museum houses 1.5 kilometers of galleries that are laid out in three chapters: Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and Building the Nation.
With all the walking, lunch was needed and I found myself in the Parisa Souq Waqif restaurant. It serves quintessential Persian food with its Persian-inspired ambience. The walls are filled with Persian artwork, mosaic tiles, and magnificent chandeliers all handpicked from Iran. Often, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani dines at Parisa. A sensory overload, the restaurant is not just a place that satisfies the gastronomic rumblings of hunger, it also overwhelms the eye with its interior layout. The great thing about the location of the restaurant is that it’s in the Souq Waqif, so I was able to eat and then shop in the souk.
The Souq Waqif is the best place to find traditional souvenir buys, with typical 19th-century souk architectural features of mud walls and exposed timber-beamed buildings. Full of sensory overload, the souk sits on an ancient market site where the Bedouin would bring their animals for trading and selling. From the best cloth for sewing to souvenirs, traditional clothing, and cafés and restaurants, it’s the place to go for Arab ambience and culture.
While Doha may not be on your list of places to visit, it should be. From the hotels that pamper you, to the ancient cultural history that educates you, the shopping, the museums, and the food, I found the city to be a pearl in the Arabian Gulf -one that I’m looking forward to uncovering again.