There are no direct flights from New York to Kigali so we chose to fly through Doha. We took advantage of a Qatar Airways offer that provides a free night’s hotel if you do a stopover with them. Our one night in Doha unexpectedly turned into two nights after a series of misunderstandings but I was glad to see more of the city.
Day 1 – Museum of Islamic Art + Souq Waqif
We stayed at Fraser Suites per our Qatar Airways offer in the old part of town, which was close to the Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif. The Museum was a 10-minute walk away but Doha is not really a walking city and it felt a bit strange to be constantly walking amongst cars trying to park and wondering whether the sidewalk would continue after the next intersection. Expect to be taking Uber or taxis most places – it’s very affordable.
Like many other structures in Doha, the Museum is an architectural marvel. The inside is even better than the outside. My favorite exhibits were on the second and third floor where there were fewer tapestries and more sculptures and jewellery. It’s always delightful to see pieces from a dozen centuries ago and it looks like something you could pick up tomorrow from Neiman Marcus.
Souq Waqif is a century-old bazaar that’s probably the only place in Doha that retains traditional Qatari architectural style. As you might expect, the souqs sell artisanal crafts, jewelry, clothing, and perfumes. As you might not have expected, they also sell pets – there were probably more birds than people there. Events are also held there, including a yearly spring festival.
This was my first time in the Middle East and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect re: modest clothing and alcohol rules. It seemed like there was a mix, almost 50/50, between people wearing Western-style clothing and religious dress. Bars and restaurants serving alcohol are almost exclusively in hotels. You won’t be popping into a pub for a pint in Doha.
We treated ourselves to dinner at Nobu, which was housed in the Four Seasons. Best crispy rice I’ve ever had.
Day 2 – Katara Cultural Village + the Pearl
For our second night, we decided to move to West Bay, which is the modern part of Doha. My American Express Platinum card got us an executive suite at the Ritz-Carlton at a shockingly reasonable rate. West Bay and the Pearl region is full of luxurious skyscrapers, each with a more interesting design than the last. It kind of reminded me of the Bund in Shanghai – not particularly cultural but impressive and beautiful (so naturally, it’s where all the expats live).
The Pearl is a manmade island that hosts a number of high end restaurants and boutiques. It is essentially a fancy outdoor mall along with some residential areas (that allow ownership by foreigners, making it another popular area for expats). Although, the Pearl looks very built up already, there is still some construction left to do – with an estimated cost of $15B when it’s all finished.
The Katara Cultural Village is almost like a boardwalk. It runs along a beach and is home to a number of restaurants and shops. It’s quite tourist-y and meant to be that way. Free guides in the form of golf carts and drivers pick you up and take you around, pointing out each attraction with about as much enthusiasm as you might expect for a Lebanese restaurant in Doha. We visited Doha amidst its National Day celebrations so there were a few extras – like the camels featured in the photo above.
If we had more time, I would have loved to visit more museums – like the Sheikh Faisal Museum, which my friend described as “a hoarder’s dream house”.
All in all, I wouldn’t be dying to go back to Doha but it’s not a bad place for a short stopover. We were vaguely familiar with the political issues going on with Qatar, particularly over the FIFA World Cup, which Qatar is meant to host in 2022. However, there was really no mention or tension about this in Doha. Culturally, Doha is well-equipped for tourism and the locals were generally friendly, or at the very least, unbothered by foreigners.