Doha

Overview

Introduction

Located on the eastern side of the main peninsula 30 mi/45 km south of Khor, Doha is the nation's capital and the only city in Qatar.

The emirate's gas- and oil-fueled prosperity is reflected in a wealth of world-class tourism, architectural and cultural attractions springing up in Doha. On the horizon where sand dunes once dominated now stand futuristic skyscrapers, many housing luxury hotel outlets.

Man-made island Pearl-Qatar, rising on 985 acres/400 hectares off the coast, is being promoted as "the Arabian Riviera" and is similarly endowed with luxury residences and businesses.

The city is organized around four crescent roads arching across the city (the "A" Ring Road is closest to the gulf, "B" Ring Road is the next one out, and so on). Most businesses, government offices and attractions are either on or near one of the ring roads or in West Bay at the north end of Al Corniche, Doha's fabulous seaside avenue.

This Arab boomtown has some impressive sights to see. The National Museum is housed in a former palace. We also enjoyed the old pearling dhows (sailboats) moored near the Al Bandar restaurant complex on the waterfront.

The new structure of most interest to visitors, however, may be the Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei around classical Islamic themes, the museum sits in splendid isolation in Doha Bay, on yet another man-made island located just off the Al Corniche promenade.

Even Doha's largest, most historical souk, or market, is actually new. The Souk Waqif, or Main Souk, dates back hundreds of years but was torn down and rebuilt with modern amenities on the orders of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The souk, packed with souvenirs such as waterpipes, dates and headscarves, sits next to the Al Koot Fort, alongside seven other souks specializing in gold, falcons, secondhand goods and more.

The former ethnographic museum, now enclosed by the Al Najada shopping complex, offers a glimpse of what life was like before the oil boom. A traditional wind tower rises above one corner of the building.

Other sites around town include a clock tower, zoological gardens, the Doha fort, traditional bazaars and more than 260 mosques (the multiple-domed Grande Mosque behind the Emir's Palace is, in fact, the grandest).

Al Corniche, which follows Doha's bay from the massive new Museum of Islamic Art all the way to the Sheraton Doha Resort, is a pleasant place for a walk.

Before Qatar's boom first started gathering steam in 1995, large swathes of Doha were still desert. Visitors can explore the stark, serene sand dunes still found south of the city on desert safaris, daytime or overnight. Speeding up and down mountains of sand to the Inland Sea by four-wheel-drive vehicle, complete with a stop for a camel ride, is not to be missed.

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