In just a few years, the capital of Qatar has gone from desert backwater to major player in global tourism, offering cultural riches, top-notch cuisine and a bottomless supply of bling
Author Alistair Crighton Photography Aurelie Korady
DAY THREE | A lie-in and breakfast in bed—eggs Benedict (no ham)—steel you for your first activity of the day. At midmorning, you’re heading to the ‘burbs for that most Qatari of pastimes: shopping.
Doha can’t compete with the retail wonderland of Dubai, but Villaggio is a step in that direction. With its swank boutiques and canal-traversing gondolas, the Venetian-themed mall is hugely popular with locals, who shop for brands so exclusive you’ve never heard of them, with price tags you’re not likely to forget. You pop into Gondolania, the in-mall theme park, and perch beside its ice rink to take in the unlikely spectacle of a Qatari hockey game. Then it’s back to downtown, where a different sort of retail experience awaits.
Most of Msheireb, part of the old city center, is in the process of being rebuilt. The areas that have escaped demolition are some of the most colorful in town—a clutter of markets selling everything from fruit-and-veg to $5 “Rolexes.” You hit the Gold Souq, where you deck yourself out in a handful of Mr. T-grade gold chains for a very reasonable sum.
Msheireb also boasts some of Doha’s best ethnic restaurants. You decide to go Keralan at Al Osra, which does a mean fish curry, served with buttery paratha and a tangy mango lassi, all for less than the price of a knockoff luxury timepiece.
From here, you scurry past the insistent traders and retrace your steps to the St. Regis, where you’re booked for a treatment at its Remède Spa. With every muscle being expertly tended to, you’re back in the lap of luxury, and you’d be lying if you said it didn’t feel good.
Next, it’s a five-minute stroll to Katara, a “cultural village” showcasing aspects of Qatar’s heritage that risk being swept away by relentless modernization. You decline the chauffeured golf cart and wander among the mock-Arabian buildings, pausing now and then to look in on an art gallery. Having admired the lovely, blue-tiled central mosque for a bit, you move on to the Opera House, where you’ll catch the first half of a performance by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.
The QPO is famed for incorporating classical Arabic music into its repertoire, but tonight it’s Ravel, with the full orchestra pulling out all the stops for Boléro. At the intermission, you discuss the benefits of tax-free income with expat culture vultures before you shuffle off to L’wzaar Seafood Market, one of the many excellent regional restaurants in Katara. You select a healthy-looking hamour—a local meaty fish—and six giant Omani prawns. They come grilled to perfection and accompanied by an array of delectable mezes.
Finally, it’s back for a nightcap at Vintage, the upscale bar at the St. Regis, where the Czech lager is served in iced pewter tankards and the patrons look like extras from Casino Royale. The latter turns out to be apt: Not only is Doha known as a diplomatic hot spot, but the bartender here shakes a very good martini. While the cheesy lounge act diminishes the mystique a little, you find yourself nodding in time to the music as you settle into one of the shadowy nooks. This, you feel, bodes well for Doha’s future. Even the bad stuff is pretty good.
Abu Dhabi-based freelance writer ALISTAIR CRIGHTON has very nearly recovered from his afternoon of dune bashing.