There’s plenty to do in a day in the Qatari capital with ice hockey, gondolas and giant oyster shells, says Kate Ginn
“Doha – worth spending a day?”
This was the question recently posed on the travel website TripAdvisor by an American lady who was travelling from New York to Malaysia and had the opportunity to do a 24-hour stopover in Doha but wasn’t quite sure whether to bother.
All six replies were of the same opinion: definitely worth the stop.
I don’t know if the American traveller took their advice but I did.
Faced with a time-critical assignment, I had the urge to spread my wings further than Dubai but not so far from Muscat that my day’s excursion would be spent in airport departure lounges.
Doha, ‘the shining jewel of Qatar’, came to mind, being a short hop away but far enough to feel like a mini-adventure of sorts. The fact it has great shopping too clinched the deal.
First off, here’s an astonishing fact about Doha, the capital of Qatar. More than 60 per cent of the country’s population, around a million, live in the city or its surrounding suburbs.
It’s also the economic centre of the country, which in turn is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Quite how fast the city is growing was apparent when I looked out the window of my hotel room on arrival. Right in front was a huge sprawl of a building site with the yellow skeletons of cranes dominating the skyline, a fleet of mobile cement mixers trundling around and an army of blue boiler-suited worker ants scurrying about to the thud-thud beat of metal on stone.
It was just like being in Dubai.
This little hive of activity was, I discovered when I tried to sleep that night, a 24-hour operation and floodlit too.
How any of the residents in the area got any shuteye is anyone’s guess, but I suppose they are used to it by now.
All around, similar work can be seen, evidence of a country in the grip of a construction boom fuelled by the World Cup, which the tiny oil-rich state will host in 2022.
Up to RO17 billion will be spent on hotels, leisure, tourism, sports and other projects in the run-up to the World Cup.
An entire rail network, a metro system, a new network of roads and even an entire new city, Lusail, north of Doha, are going to be built over the next eight years. Not to forget the 12 stadiums, nine of them brand new, which will start to rise from the sand next year.
It even has its own version of Dubai’s The Palm – The Pearl, a man-made island development nicknamed the ‘Arab Riveria’ with the city’s most exclusive marina and luxury residences.
Preferring the old-fashioned mode of transport, I walked to Doha’s Corniche rather than take one of the official taxis, with their distinctive turquoise livery.
Doha literally means ‘the big tree’ and there are some of these down by the waterfront, just don’t expect lush greenery, though I did pass one grand-looking building with an immaculate lawn like a giant
The Corniche, with its dazzling views of the skyscrapers of downtown Doha across the water and dhow boats bobbing in the harbour, impresses, as does the simple architectural elegance of the Museum of Islamic Art.
This spot is popular with families, joggers or those simply seeking a break from the frantic pace of this multicultural melting pot.
I got the obligatory photograph posing next to the giant pearl shell on the Corniche and headed off for some retail therapy.
There are several good shopping malls in Doha but there could be only one for me; Villaggio.
It was a 40-minute taxi drive away but worth the trek.
Located in the Aspire Zone, the Doha Sports City complex, which includes the 50,000-capacity Khalifa stadium built for the 2006 Asian Games, the Italianate-themed mall is a must-see.
Inside, it’s like stepping into an Italian hill town with the ceiling painted as the sky and a 150-metre long indoor canal complete with gondolas.
It’s a surreal experience, especially with the disorientating lack of
With many famous brands from the US, UK, Italian and German markets, and a designer alley with top names on the shop fronts, along with familiar favourites such as Carrefour, a whole day can easily be passed here.
I even sat and watched the local junior ice hockey team, the Qatar Raiders, in a practice session at the indoor ice rink.
The mall recently re-opened after a fire in the nursery in May last year, which killed 19 people, including 13 children.
On the way out, I declined to go up the 300m high Aspire Zone Tower, the tallest building in Qatar, as I’m terrified of heights but I’m told the view is spectacular.
As my budget didn’t stretch to food at top restaurant Opal by Gordon Ramsay at The St. Regis Doha, dinner was a very fine salad and bowl of pasta at gourmet deli Dean & Deluca.
I didn’t get time to see the Grand Mosque, National Museum, Fort and Doha Zoo, or wander round the Katara Cultural Village, with its brand new opera house and ampitheatre. Children and big kids will also love the Aqua Park, with its slides and lazy river, while cultured types have the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.
The only camel I saw during my trip was a toy one in the Duty Free at Doha airport but there are plenty of companies offering Desert Safari Tours.
Is Doha worth spending a day? Yes, definitely. In fact, it is worth stopping for two. I’m just not sure there’s much to sustain visitors for longer than that, though.
[styled_box title=”How to Get There” color=”gray”]Flying time is around one hour direct from Muscat and several airlines offer the service including Oman Air, Qatar Air and KLM.
Other airlines, including Gulf Air, Emirates and Etihad, offer one-stop services, stopping in Bahrain or other cities.
Gulf Air fares from RO20 one way.
All airline prices vary according to date and time. Cheapest tickets available when booked in advance.[/styled_box]