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
Estimated percentage of population made up of expatriates: 85
Area, in square miles: 51
Natural gas reserves in Qatar, in cubic feet (no. 3 in the world): 896 trillion
Per-capita GDP (no. 1 in the world): $104,300
Value of world’s most expensive artwork (Cezanne’s The Card Players, bought by Qatar’s royal family): $250 million
Number of stadiums to be built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup: 9
Number of new hotel rooms needed to handle the World Cup influx: 10,000+
Length, in miles, of proposed world’s-longest bridge between Qatar and Bahrain: 24.85
- – - – - – - -
“One of Doha’s hidden finds is a kitschy antiques shop called Champs-Élysées. It’s stacked with stuff like Arabic-language Coca-Cola signs and vintage cameras. Don’t forget to haggle!”
“Taking in a local football match is an experience. Qatari men are crazy about soccer. The 2022 World Cup should have a great atmosphere.”
“The café at the Museum of Islamic Art Park is one of the coolest places in the city to hang out. It’s a fantastic spot for cultured conversation in an idyllic setting.”
- – - – - – - -
If the Museum of Islamic Art’s holdings are the most famous of Qatar’s art collections, then Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani’s personal stash is perhaps the most infamous. Located on the edge of the city, the sheikh’s namesake museum keeps irregular hours, but for those who make it inside, a real eye-opener awaits.
Over the years, the sheikh has amassed a huge treasure trove (there are tales of cargo containers of purchases arriving every month), and items on display encompass everything from U.S. muscle cars to Islamic manuscripts, nautical equipment, rugs, stamps, coins, bowling balls and virtually anything else that can be collected.
The museum’s centerpiece, though, is an array of Saddam Hussein memorabilia, which includes items of the Iraqi dictator’s clothing. It’s a puzzling, even unnerving thing to behold. As one visitor was overheard to wonder: Why? Of course, that same visitor continued to gaze upon these artifacts for a good while, effectively answering her own question.
- – - – - – - -
In modern Qatar, falconry may be a status symbol for the wealthy, but the sport itself stems from an earthier concern: protein. The Bedouin of old trapped falcons in the autumn as they migrated across the Arabian Peninsula, using baited cages festooned with nooses to snare the raptors’ talons. They then trained the falcons and subsisted on the small game that the birds would capture.
While these old methods are still used, most falcons in Qatar today are imported from Central Asia. At Doha’s Falcon Souq, birds come with prices ranging from $275 for a puny or truculent male to $8,000-plus for a prized female saker falcon. There’s never a shortage of customers—as Qatar’s rampant development continues, falconry is seen as a link to a way of life that’s growing increasingly remote. (And when birding buffs aren’t buying these regal creatures, they’re taking pictures of them with their cellphones.)
View Three Perfect Days: Doha in a larger map