Doha on a stopover

MIA-April-dusk-2018

Would I go again and/or recommend a holiday in Doha?

No and no.

Would I advise a friend to take up a ludicrously well-paid job for more than a month in Doha?

No. Unless the money would be hugely, and I really do mean “hugely”, life-enhancing. If you have visited other Middle Eastern countries but never Qatar and thus assume Qatar will be similar, it’s not. A driver even told me he’d had a better experience living and working in Saudi Arabia, which I had assumed would be even harder.

Ramadan in Doha means that during daylight for a month you can’t even be seen to drink water in public, even as a non-Muslim, let alone eat. UAE, for example, is nowhere near as strict on non-Muslims as Qatar during Ramadan; do not underestimate how hard the month of Ramadan would be if you lived in or visited Qatar at that time, other than in expat compounds and at home. If you are a practising Muslim, of course there’s a different perspective.

I have been told by people living in Qatar that in winter it’s slightly cooler than other GCC countries, particularly in the evenings, but also slightly hotter in summer, the former which I have experienced and agree with, the latter which I have managed to avoid experiencing.

Would I suggest Doha as a journey stopover for a day?

Yes.

Spending time in Doha:

I have stayed in Doha (only for work, albeit with time off) five times since January 2017.

My lack of enthusiasm for Doha is from having stayed in some unforgivably atrocious hotel rooms (three star and four star hotels), failing to find accessible beaches to walk or sit on, walking along far too many main roads (the road itself, not even a pavement), waiting almost ten minutes to cross main roads on a green light, seeing more car accidents than anywhere else I’ve ever been, feeling horribly conscious of strict rules and regulations on clothing and behaviour and struggling to find good European/Australian-style coffee (I’ve found one great coffee shop but I suspect more will follow) and non-chainy, non-hotel-or-mall places to eat.

On the plus side, when I know I’m going there I look forward to a particular restaurant and wandering around the surrounding area (Khan Farouk Tarab, Egyptian restaurant, at Katara Beach), the best Nutella pancakes ever (an area within Souq Waqif), wandering around Souq Waqif people-watching, eating, drinking and shopping, seeing the falcons at the falcon souq and stroking the Arabian horses in the stable beyond the falcons, the views from the Museum of Islamic Art and absolutely everything else about the Museum of Islamic Art, and also discovering what new architectural wonders have been completed on each visit.

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Villaggio-Mall-Aspire-Zone-canal
Nutella-Pancake-Making-April-2018

The rate of city growth is staggering and the roads, skyline and buildings change or are added to constantly. There will be a metro in time for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and a massive increase in hotels, restaurants and, I’m sure, activities between now and then.

I would recommend visiting Doha as a layover between, say, UK and Australia, as Qatar Airways is a good airline, it’s currently visa-free for Brits and many other nationalities and you can see arguably the best sights in a short period of time and decide then if you would want to return to explore more. But re-think that plan if your time in Doha would only be on a Friday and, worse, only before 1.30pm (Museum of Islamic Art opens at 1.30, souq at around 4pm on Fridays).

For a half or full day, I would recommend Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), which includes the views of West Bay skyline, possibly slightly more impressive at night time than day time, and Souq Waqif (a 20 minute walk from MIA, though less than ten minutes if you didn’t have to navigate the roads and traffic lights). These two sights/experiences alone make a stopover, even a visit, worthwhile and in fact are two of my favourite places in the world, though MIA is top five, Souq Waqif top 20.

If you had another day, Katara Heritage Village (including amphitheatre) and Katara Beach is a pleasant area to spend time (Khan Farouk Tarab restaurant is there and other places to eat, including outdoor seating and street food on the beach for special events), but bear in mind it’s currently a fairly small bubble of niceness surrounded by construction and a beach which has very strict rules for how to dress and how to behave. Katara is more a visit for half a day or a few hours than a whole day, though there will soon be a new indoor mall opening, part of the mall’s construction being in the shape of a gift wrapped parcel.

Falcon-Souq-shop-Jan-2017

Also, Education City (which on my last visit, April 2018, had a few amazing buildings but mostly construction and navigation/road confusion) is becoming a showcase for architecture (the new National Library, for example; emphasis on “new” library and “Education City” if you go by taxi). That area will be better, more accessible and more full of life the longer you leave it to visit.

As above, Aspire Zone/Sports City, another themed area, has some stadia, The Torch tower and the Venetian-themed, complete with “canal” and gondola, Villaggio Mall. I have no interest in sport and limited interest in malls (though I did visit because I wanted to experience a bit of, ahem, Venice in Doha – after the initial “oh my goodness” it really is just a mall though) so for me it’s not worth the trip but it might be if you like sport and want to see some of the 2022 stadia.

The Pearl. A big disappointment for me, more appealing in name and concept than reality. Unless you want soulless faux Venetian housing and tower blocks (it’s a kind of wealthy European/American citizens’ community), no public beach, a marina lined with chains and fairly expensive shops and restaurants on one side and a few probably mainly private yachts and boats (not exciting enough to seek out) on the other, avoid The Pearl. Walking alongside the pedestrianised marina walkway is pleasant but unlikely to be considered a destination-walk.

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