Not too long-ago, quiet little Qatar was known only for camel races and falconry. It still is, but now you can expect to find a nation bursting into the future, with ultra-lux skylines and a fast-forward cultural scene. The capital city of Doha is transforming daily – smart, stylish and ready to take its place amongst world-class playgrounds. The art and culinary worlds here are quickly becoming their own destinations. But even if your visit to Doha is just a momentary break on a long-haul flight, you’ll be rewarded with the spectacle of a great city in transformation.
Today’s Doha is the lucky recipient of immense investments of capital, imagination and sheer confidence. Exploding into the 21st century with its burgeoning malls, metro, and museums, Doha is quickly catching up with its Emirati peers in the region.
Perhaps nothing illustrates Doha’s cultural and artistic explosion as does the futuristic, IM Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art. Set on its own select island, the white, cubist structure rises amidst reflecting pools, and landscaped palms. Within a brilliant interior that plays with light, form, and space, you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Islamic art. The museum’s treasures span 1,400 years and are drawn from three continents. Take a break from the hum of the city and feast upon a filling collection of ceramics, jewelry, textiles, glass, and ancient manuscripts.
Blending traditional and modern elements, the newly refurbished grand market, Souq Waqif, is a delightful onslaught of clothing, spices, handicrafts, and sheer atmosphere. Wandering the Souq’s many alleyways, you’ll pass locals, expats, and tourists all engaged in the adventure of clinching a good deal. Just off the Souq, is an adjoining market, the Falcon Souq, dedicated to that special sub-culture of Qatari society, falconry. Here you’ll find rows of the revered birds, displayed on their pedestals while devotees of the sport inspect and bargain for the next addition to their flock.
Ever wanted to see how the other side lives… the other side being a wealthy sheikh? At the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum, you can taste the good life on the property of a prosperous sheikh. View his vast collection of favorite things – swords, tapestries, carpets, classic cars, even stuffed camels. And all of this housed in a fortress-like edifice constructed of blocks of white limestone.
Traveling outside the city will bring you up close to a variety of cultural attractions. In northern Qatar, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the imposing Al Zubarah Fort stands out in a sea of sand – its four giant corner towers guarding a time and way of life that has long disappeared.
For a uniquely Qatari experience, drive an hour from Doha to see the “sport of sheikhs” – camel racing. At the Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack watch the fiercely competitive races from the stands or even drive alongside the track during the race. Adding a hi-tech angle to this age-old diversion is the adoption of robot jockeys – small, mechanized riding machines attached to the camels and signaled by remote control. It’s the world of digital melding with the traditional – the perfect metaphor for today’s Qatar.