Difference between revisions of "Doha"
Revision as of 18:11, 18 May 2013
Doha is the capital of Qatar. It is a modern and rapidly developing city and, considering the money being poured into construction, Doha looks set to become one of the premier cities in the Gulf within a few years.
Doha International Airport (IATA: DOH) (ICAO: OTDB) is becoming increasingly important in the Persian Gulf Region. Local carrier Qatar Airways is building a worldwide network from there and already connects the city with destinations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Indian Sub-continent, North America and South America. During the second half of 2013 or early 2014 it will join the oneworld airline alliance.
If you're already in or around the Persian Gulf region, the cheapest way to fly to Doha is with Air Arabia or with FlyDubai, but you will almost certainly have to break your journey in Sharjah or Dubai, the airlines' hub in the United Arab Emirates.
For a full list of destinations that connect to Doha, see Wikipedia's article:Doha International Airport#Airlines and destinations.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that borders Qatar and it can be difficult to obtain permits to drive through Saudi Arabia.
In late 2005, a public bus service, with two different routes, was introduced as the city's first mode of public transport. By March 2006, there were six routes running and nowadays there is a wide network of bus routes covering the whole city as well as other cities. The main bus station is a large open lot adjacent to the Gold Souq. Buses are air conditioned as well as some bus stands.
The only other way to get around without your own vehicle is by taxi. The air-conditioned green taxis are operated by the Mowasalat transport company known as "Karwa" taxis. The other kind of taxis are "limousine" taxis, which are unmarked - and thus almost impossible to stop - and may well be your only choice when staying at an international hotel. They are more expensive (can cost twice as much as the Karwas), and may not feature a meter. If you feel secure about the price, you may negotiate it up front. Otherwise, insist on a meter.
The demand for taxis exceeds the supply and waiting times can vary greatly. Trying to obtain one during morning business hours requires about 24 hours notice. In other circumstances it may take 90 minutes or more to get an on-call taxi, and stopping one may be impossible in many places. The only places where you are guaranteed to find a taxi (normal or limousine) are at major malls, the airport and international hotels.
Occasionally, a local driver will offer to give you a ride if he or she sees you on the side of the road. It is customary to offer some money at the end, though sometimes they will refuse to take it. You can tell when someone is offering if they slow down and flash their headlights at you; beckon them over with a wave in response.
Tourists can hire a car at one of the several car-rental agencies located at the Doha International Airport. It is recommended that you have a vehicle reserved before touching down at the airport, otherwise tourists may not be able to obtain the best price and/or encounter waits while cars are brought into the temporary parking area from outside lots. Some rental agencies will require that you have an international drivers' licence.
Considering Doha is attempting to become something of a regional cultural hub, the current state of its museums is somewhat shambolic. Many museums are closed for seemingly never-ending refurbishment, the opening hours not particularly tourist friendly (closed on weekends), websites lack basic information such as opening times and location, and many museums require you to phone in advance for a special appointment (which can make the solo visitor feel somewhat uncomfortable as the curator opens up just for 1 person). All of this means that there is only really one museum that is currently open (as of May 2012) that you can just turn up and go (the Museum of Islamic Arts).
Msheireb Enrichment Centre  is a floating barge docked at the Doha Corniche, in close proximity to one of the city's oldest landmarks, the Sheraton Hotel. The Centre serves as an educational portal to showcase Qatar's glorious past and soaring ambitions for the future. Entrance is free. M-Th 09:00-20:30, Sa 15:30-18:30.
Mathaf: Arab Museum Of Modern Art - Recently opened the museum houses a collection of Modern Art from the Arab world based on a collection amassed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the museum is housed in a specially designed building in Doha. Temporarily located in Education City, about a 10km taxi ride from the Corniche. Entrance is free.
Al Khor Museum - The Museum building overlooks the seafront of Al Khor city. It presents the way of life of the inhabitants in the past in addition tyo archaeological discoveries from the Al Khor area and its surroundings belonging to the Neolithic age and the Mid-Bronze age. The building has two floors with each floor composed of a large hall twelve metres long and six metres wide. The myth of Ghilan and Mae (which is believed to be from Al Khor, and features the region’s first female pirate) is displayed in the hall, together with displays of marine life and artifacts.
Al Wakrah Museum - lies in the town of Al Wakrah, about 17 km south of the capital and displays marine life and natural history materials
Museum of Orientalists   - The Orientalist Collection of the State of Qatar is one of the most significant collections ever assembled in the world. The approximate 700 hundred paintings, water colours, drawings and prints, acquired over the last twenty years, trace Orientalism back to the early 18th century. Off Al Muthaf Street, Mirqab. Sun-Thu, 7.30am-2.30pm, but you can only visit by appointment. Call 463 7744 and ask for Fathi Hamzaoui.
Weaponry Museum - The museum houses a spectacular display of weapons and artifacts dating back to the 16th century. The collection has magnificent ceremonial swords that belonged to members of the Gulf’s ruling families: an 18th century gold-encased dagger owned by Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah Al Thani; a sword belonging to King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia; and a khanjar (traditional curved dagger) carried by the famed Lawrence of Arabia. The beauty and rarity of this collection bears witness to craftsmanship that has been lost for generations. The Museum is in the Al Luqta area of Doha and is open mornings, Sunday to Thursday, by appointment only, after obtaining a letter of authorization from the Museums Authority. Call Mr Yousef Mahmoud on 4486 7473.
Sheikh Faisal collection This magnificent private collection was acceded to Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani by his father, Sheikh Qassim bin Faisal.Beginning its life in the 1960s, it has now grown in size and splendor and is now beautifully displayed at the museum for the public to enjoy. The sizeable 5,000 sqm building features more than 3,000 unique pieces, including ancient Islamic manuscripts, major archaeological findings, metal objects, textiles, carpets, embroidery and antique furniture. There is also a comprehensive and fascinating collection of historic cars, including a 19th century steam vehicle. Open Mon-Thu & Sat 9am-6pm. Arrangements made in advance, contact Mr Waleed Al Dolaimi on 5569 1406.
Photography museum - (Not open as of May 2012). The Photographic Museum was designed by Santiago Calatrava, one of the most famous architects in the world. This unique museum will become a landmark within the urban setting and contribute to the urban development of the area situated in the centre of Doha City. The Government collection of photography - composed of some 15,000 items including historic cameras and accessories, and prominent photographs, 1960s albums and historic documents - will be exhibited, along some temporary exhibitions.
Al Koot Fort - Built in 1880, during the Ottoman period, this big white fort is located in what is now the parking lot of Souq Waqif. At the time it was built, however, the fort was located on the outskirts of the city. Though the fort was formerly used as an ethnographic museum, the building is now currently closed, though still a popular place to take photos.
Clock Tower - located next to the Grand Mosque, this old clock tower features Arabic numerals on its face. The tower is also located on a hill, and as such offers some wonderful views of the Corniche.
Doha Heritage Village - located along the Corniche in Al Rumeilia Park, is a skanzen based on a traditional Qatari village. Visitors can expect to see weaving, pearl trading, and a dhow (traditional boat). Also holds occasional festivals and activities.
Souq Waqif - Another place that is very worth going is Souq Waqif, the renovated Arabic market quarter. You can easily wander around the maze-like corridors for hours. The Souq is organized more or less by what is sold. There is a section of spice shops, another of textiles, and even a quarter where they sell falcons. Also look for places to buy souvenirs, sit down to smoke a Sheesha, or enjoy food at one of the restaurants bordering it. However, it can come across as rather staged; the 'perfectness' of the place results in the atmosphere being somewhat fake.
Al Zubara Fort - Situated just 100 km west of Doha lies the town of Al Zubarah, an important archaeological site famous for its old fort. This fort-turned-museum was constructed in 1938 during the reign of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Jassim Al-Thani and was erected on the ruins of a neighbouring fort. The fort itself is squre-shaped with circular towers in three of its corners and a rectangular tower in the fourth. With high, thick walls, this fort also served as a coast-guard station and, until the mid-1980’s, was used by the military.
Heritage library - Over 51,000 books in Arabic and other languages on Qatar and the Middle East, together with 600 antique maps, 2,000 manuscripts and 6,000 original photographs, will form The Arabian and Islamic Heritage Library in Qatar, another initiative of HH Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned through Qatar Foundation. It will be one of the biggest research centres in the Middle East, and is based on a collection started by Sheikh Hassan Bin Mohamed Al Thani in 1979.
Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar’s gallery - The gallery at the VCU-Q campus in Education City regularly hosts visiting exhibitions as well as the work of faculty members and students. On those occasions, the gallery is open to the general public. Located in the heart of a city and region with an extraordinarily vibrant and diverse cultural heritage, VCUQatar plays a central role in the modern cultural life of Qataris and Middle Easterners. Whether in the studio, the library, the computer laboratory, or the lecture halls, students can expand their cultural perspectives as well as acquire expertise for the workplace within an energetic and compassionate learning environment.
It has grown steadily since then through planned acquisition and purchase.
The collection will include Arab manuscripts, a foreign language section dating back to the 15th century, and 20th century books about art and politics. The library is scheduled to open by 2010 in a new, specially designed building.
Corniche - The visual highlight of Doha is Al-Corniche, a long seaside promenade that curves around Doha Bay and affords pretty views of Palm Tree Island and the city's skyscrapers. In the afternoons you will see plenty of locals strolling along the Corniche, often trying to get out of the way of the odd crazy Western ex-pat on rollerblades. It's also a good place for jogging. Cycling is prohibited. If you're looking to have the scenery all to yourself, go on a Friday morning.
There are several parks close to the Corniche which are ideal for families, as well as several statues. Of note is a giant statue of Orry, the Oryx who was the mascot for the 15th Asian Games, which took place in Doha from December 1-15, 2006. On the south end of the Corniche is a large Oyster and Pearl statue and near the Museum of Islamic Art is the Water Pots fountain.
Doha Zoo - located near the Sports City complex, the Doha Zoo features a variety of animals, including the Oryx, Qatar's national animal.
Rumeila Park - A landscaped park on Doha Corniche with an outdoor theatre, art gallery, water features, children’s play area and skateboard/rollerblading half-pipe. There are several shops, a cafeteria and public toilets in the park which used to be known as Al Bidda Park. Midway along the corniche, the unfenced Rumeilah (Al-Bidda) Park has some fun attractions for children, including a Ferris wheel, boats and the only train in Arabia since Lawrence (albeit a miniature one). 2012 - The park is somewhat run down now, all the shops have closed and the ferris wheel, train & boats no longer there
Cultural Village - Located in West Bay Area. a huge Cultural City which host a roman style public auditorium, Museums, Galleries, Libraries and many more cultural attraction. Several restaurants offer Egyptian, Indian, Turkish and seafood cuisine.
Doha has a reputation for not being the most exciting place on earth, however, there are a variety of activities, areas and events to take part in.
The Qatari government has worked hard to make Doha an educational centre in the Middle East. One of the benefits of this is the Doha Debates , where top political and academic minds in the Arab world come together to discuss difficult issues in the Arab World. Past debates have discussed whether Palestinians risk becoming their own worst enemy, whether the Sunni-Shia conflict damages Islam's reputation as a religion of peace, or if Muslims are failing to combat extremism.
The debates are always very thought-provoking and a good window to understanding the current state of the Arab world. Tickets are extremely limited but can be obtained from the website above.
UPDATE: The debates have been suspended, it has not been announced if/when they will resume in the future.
A typical Middle Eastern activity in the afternoons is to find a sheesha cafe and smoke some fruit-flavoured tobacco. One of the best places in Doha is Ras-Naswa at the non-Sheraton end of the Corniche. Located in a picturesque old-style building reminiscient, in colour and texture if not grandeur, of the red Mughal structures in India, Ras-Naswa has a nice outdoor garden and serves decent Middle Eastern food.
You can buy pretty much anything you want in Doha, apart from pork products and alcohol (except with a licence or in the major hotels). Shopping is a major leisure pursuit of many Qataris and expats, and you can expect cheaper prices than Dubai. As with most of the Middle East, be prepared to bargain.
Typically, most malls in Doha are open from 10am to 10pm Saturday to Thursday. Most will be closed on Friday mornings but will open up during the evening, when they'll be the most crowded. Also, be aware that some malls schedule "Family Days", where single men will be turned away at the door. In practice, however, most Westerners will be allowed in, but brown-skinned persons (particularly South Asians in their native dressing) will be turned away.
City Centre-Doha opened in April 2001 and is the largest shopping centre in Qatar. Located in West Bay, the modern part of the city on the Northern end of the Corniche, it offers a large and diverse shopping experience, including several jewellery and perfume stores. For entertainment there is a large multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, a children's arcade, as well as an indoor ice skating rink. There are several eating options including two food courts as well as several sit-down restaurants. By western standards, this mall is quite dated for its age, but remains popular due to its large size and ideal location. Finally, the mall is home to a large Carrefour supermarket.
Villaggio is one of Doha's newest malls, located near the Aspire Centre. The mall is designed to look like Venice in terms of architecture. The mall is home to many western stores, as well as a large Carrefour. The food court is home to several Western-style fast food restaurants, as well as several sit-down options. For entertainment, there is currently a long canal offering gondola rides for 15 QR and an ice-skating rink for 30 QR. A cinema is in the works for the future. (Update: this 3D Cinema opened in mid 2010.)
Hyatt Plaza is located near Sports City and the newer Villaggio in the Western suburbs. This shopping mall is comparatively smaller than others, but as a plus it is always less crowded. There is a good sized food court and a large children's playland called "Jungle Zone."
Landmark Shopping Mall  focuses mostly on clothing, jewellery, and cosmetics. There is also a Carrefour market for groceries. It is located in the northern suburbs.
The Mall was opened in October 1997 and is Qatar's first shopping mall. Tourists are better off going to any of the aforementioned locations if they wish to purchase store goods.
The best shopping experiences, however, are to be had in the various souqs (markets). Not far from the Corniche near an HSBC branch and a landmark spiral tower is the Souq Waqif (also referred to as the Iranian Souq or Old Souq), a good place to pick up souvenirs and to see falcons for sale with a pleasant ambience. Another souq worth visiting is the Omani Souq on Haloul St, parallel to Salwa Road. There you can buy things like spices, incense and woven baskets. Next door is a vegetable market.
The Gold Souq, near HSBC by the bus station, is the place to buy gold and jewellery.
Given the population diversity in Doha, there is a large variety of different types of cuisine, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Korean and, of course, typical Middle Eastern food.
Among the American fast food chains in Doha are McDonald's, KFC, Hardee's, Arby's, Burger King and Dairy Queen. Pizza places include Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's and Pizza Inn. Many of these are located in the major shopping centres or at the intersection of C-Ring and Salwa Road. Though known by the locals as Ramada Junction, (due to the Ramada being there), most Westerners jokingly refer to it as "Cholesterol Corner" due to the high number of fast food and other restaurants within a block or less of it.
There are also more upscale American chains, including TGI Fridays (in the Landmark and Villaggio shopping malls), Applebee's, Chili's, Fuddruckers, Bennigan's and Ponderosa Steakhouse. Recently, "Roger's Diner" and "Red Lobster" were opened too. They are located right opposite to each other on C-Ring Road, near the BMW, Audi and Mini Showrooms.
Finally, Starbucks are very common in the malls around Doha
Doha is home to a large Indian population. As such, the city centre is full of small Indian restaurants.
There are many other excellent Indian restaurants in Doha. Recently opened is "The Garden Village Restaurant Doha" recommended for its good ambience and nice Indian Village model interior. This is located opposite Yaarmuk Petrol Station & Nissan showroom (ahead of Al Ahli Hospital while going from Ramada signal).
Middle Eastern Food
Turkey Central on Al-Mirghab St. offers good, cheap Middle Eastern fare. The portions are large (try the Mixed Grill or Shish Tawooq) and the appetizers are excellent, particularly the chili labneh. To get there, turn right off C Ring Road just after TGIFriday's if you're heading away from City Centre. Across the street from Turkey Central and a little further east toward TGIFriday's is a good small Thai restaurant, Thai Snack. For Persian food, try Shebestan on al-Sadd Street just east of C Ring Road. Many good restaraunts in the Souq Waqif, or old Souq, are also worth trying. Perhaps the best include Tagine (Moroccan food) and Le Gourmet, particularly good for sheesha and a cup of tea. These are not as inexpensive as Turkey Central but have good atmosphere.
Best Fish a little further down Al-Mirghab St. sells good local fish dishes at reasonable prices, and has just been redecorated inside. The Grilled Hammour with garlic butter is recommended. For the best fish in town at upscale prices, try the Fish Market at the Movenpick Hotel.
Alcohol is only available in bars attached to international hotels such as the Ramada, W Hotel, Grand Hyatt, the Ritz-Carlton, etc. Bars are now required that patrons show identification at the door, so tourists will need to keep their passport on them when visiting these establishments. Crystal Lounge and Waham at the W Hotel and Skyview Bar and La Cigale are some of the places favoured by local expats. There is an excellent Irish pub with frequent live music in the basement of the Sheraton on the Corniche near City Centre Mall.
To purchase alcohol outside these bars, you must have a Residence Permit and apply for a alcohol licence. When you have that, you can purchase a certain amount of alcohol each month (equalling 10% of your salary) from one bottle shop on the outskirts of town know as Qatar Distribution Company (QDC).
It is not permitted to bring alcohol into the country and customs at Doha airport will confiscate any alcohol they find - all bags are X-rayed and a receipt is issued for you to reclaim your goods when you leave the country.
Soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages are readily available.
There are quite a few five-star international chain hotels in Doha and there are scores of new five-star hotels on the rise, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Intercontinental.
If you want to get out of the city, the desert awaits. Whereas you could take your rental car out to the sand dunes, unless you are familiar with the route or GPS, you run the risk of damaging your rental car and getting lost. The alternative is to go through one of Qatar's many tour companies, which can arrange a trip. This will cost you several hundred Qatari riyals, and may require a minimum of four persons to join in the fun. At international hotels, the receptionists will advise you, and hire a driver for you. Otherwise, there are several tour companies that can arrange a trip by phone or via their website:
Beyond sand dune trips, several of these will always arrange for overnight desert camping, excursions to historical sites, and city tours.
Located in the far south-eastern quarter of the country right down on the Saudi Arabian border is the Inland Sea known as Khor Al Daid in Arabic. The inland sea is an enormous inlet from the Persian Gulf surrounded by massive soft sand dunes that can only be reached by a hair-raising drive across the sand in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Singing Sand Dunes
In the desert 40 km southwest of Doha are the so-called Singing Sand Dunes. This is one of the few places on Earth that has "singing" sand. When the humidity is low and the wind blows along the sand an eerie hum sound can be heard. This sound can be amplified by running across the sand, or by sledding down it. Since the dunes are located a bit off road, you may want a GPS to arrive. The coordinates are N25° 02.446' E51° 24.540'.
Doha is by far the biggest city in Qatar, with more than 80% of residents residing in the city or surrounding suburbs. The country's other cities are quite small. Still, for those who want to see more of the country, they can be quite rewarding.
Dukhan on the west coast is predominantly an oil town and has limited sites, but there is a decent beach south of the town where you can watch the sun set into the sea.
Al-Khor is about 50 km north of Doha. It features a corniche, as well as a museum and several watchtowers.
Al-Wakra is about 12 km south of Doha. It features an old mosque, as well as several popular beaches.
Umm Salal Muhammad is about 15 km north of Doha. It features an old fort and mosque.