Qatar, not on everybody’s bucket list but it is gaining momentum on the tourist front especially through layover/stopover offers with Qatar Airways. I have lived in Qatar for over three years and have discovered that people’s perceptions of the country are limited and many people even expats don’t really head off the beaten track. So here are my hidden and not so hidden gems of Qatar!
Most people when they think of the Middle East think of swanky 5* and luxury hotels where expats can sun themselves all year long. One of my favourite hotel beaches at the Intercon – you can read about our recent staycation here
We have lived in Qatar for almost three years and think we’ve got to know it pretty well so in honor of Qatars national day we have compiled our a-z list of things to do in Qatar!
A is for al Khor & Purple Island One of my favourite places to go outside of the city. Purple island is located in al Khor and is called purple island because of the small snails found there which are said to create the color of the Qatar national flag when crushed. You can read our post about why Purple Island is the perfect desert experience for kids here! In the winter you can see flamingoes but it is a great spot for bird watchers all year round.
It’s also worth remembering that Al Khor has a great public park for children. B is for Barzan Towers
I love history. Qatar has some great forts located in the north but Barzan is even closer – right near IKEA in fact. Definitely worth a visit.
C is for the Corniche
Anyone who visits Doha has to visit the Corniche! You can walk around the whole corniche from the Museum of Islamic Arts to West Bay with great views of each. Al mourjan is a good place to stop to have lunch right on the water front. I love walking by night where you can get great views of the city.
D is for Dhows
Dhows are a great way to see the skyline and catch some rays. Qatar international adventures offers trips from the dhow port opposite the souq. You can do a day or night trip and have a BBQ on the boat. We even enjoyed jumping in the salty sea to cool down.
E is for East meets West
The famous Richard Serra sculpture in the desert at Zekreet. It’s size in such a barren landscape is such an awe striking scene. Nb you will require a 4×4 to visit
Nearby you can enjoy a beach day at zekreet and see the amazing mushroom rocks.
There is also a film city with a reconstructed village which is worth a look.
F is for Fuwarit
Fuwarit is a beach to the north of Qatar. One of the few powdery beaches in Qatar it also is a breeding site for turtles.
G is for the Grand Mosque
A beautiful structure in the center of Doha. It’s worth a drive past at night to see it in its full splendor.
H is for al Hazm mall
Although not open quite yet, the mall is a great architectural nod to the malls of Milan and Naples.
I is for the inland sea
A remarkable geologicalfeat. The inland sea is a great place to go dune bashing. We went with Arabian Adventures and had an amazing day. The driving was safe but exhilarating. I would recommend doing only with a recommended company as driving the dunes is tricky and not something to undertake on your own.
J is for al Jassasiya rock carvings
Comprising of 874 petroglyphs, you can see carvings showing boats, stars and rosettes amongst others. A great site for the archaeology lover!
K is for Katara
The cultural village of Doha. It has lots of great restaurants, (one is on my list of dohas best restaurants from a-z), is a great space for art with and exhibition space run by Qatar museums, and performance space. There is also a stamp museum specializing in stamps from the region and is a lovely place to go for a walk. In the winter, katara hosts a series of festivals the most well known is the show festival which takes place in November.
L is for lusail
A must see for sports enthusiasts. At the moment it is a city under dvelopment but it is worthwhile to try and get an event at the lusail arena.
One of Most iconic buildings in Doha, designed by I.M. Pei. It has a great collection comprising of jewelry, astrolabes and carpets amongst others and home to great temporary exhibitions such as the recent Treasures of China exhibition containing five terra-cotta army.
The park is also a beautiful place to go for a walk and has the cafe with the best views in Doha.
The park also has the al Riwaq exhibition space which houses exhibitions such as the Damien Hurst retrospective. Check the QM website for current exhibition details.
N is for the National museum
Although not open yet it is worth driving by the museum. An architectural gem in the making. Designed to resemble a desert rose, a geological feature of a Qatar, it will reopen to show the history of the country.
O is for Oryx
Qatar’s national animal. Unfortunately I’ve only seen as statues at the st Regis or on the tail of a Qatar Airways plane but there are apparently some in the wild. I would love to see one.
P is for the Pearl
Doha’s answer to the Palm. Great shopping and even better restaurants (see my a-z of Doha’s best restaurants for more information). We love strolling around the marina and looking at all the boats.
Q is for the qanat quarter
A largely residential area of the Pearl made to look like Venice. It even has its own Rialto bridge. A great place to walk around especially now more shops and restaurants are opening. I personally can’t wait to try the Breakfast Club.
R is for al ruwais
A town in northern Qatar. Known for its port, it has a lovely park and is a great jumping off point to see the forts of northern Qatar. You can read about our experience of al ruwais and forts here.
S is for Souq Waqif
Meaning standing market Souq Waqif is Doha’s main souq. It is a great place to experience local culture. Don’t miss the gold Souq and handicraft market.
Why not check out our Souq waqif series to find out more about visiting with a baby and our favourite restaurants in the Souq!
T is for the Torch
A striking building in the aspire zone. You can have dinner and view the city from above. Then why not take a stroll around the aspire zone park!
U is for under the stars kayaking
Ran by the company Entalek, kayaking under the stars is definitely on my Doha bucket list.
V is for villagio
A mall modelled on Venice with gondolas running through the center. Can be visited at the same time as the torch.
W is for al wakra
The old pearling center of Qatar. Today, it is known for having the second souq of Qatar, located on the waterfront.
Z is zubarah
Qatar’s only UNESCO world heritage site. A fort and museum that is worth the drive out of Doha to visiti! You can read all about how to get there and out experience here.
How many have you done? And what else do you think should be on the list?
As we approached gymkhana in Souq waqif last night, it dawned on me that we had never set foot inside one of the many boutique hotels in Souq waqif! I wasn’t sure what to expect but if there instagram page was anything to go by we were in for a treat.
When we entered we were greeted warmly and taken to a table with two large wicker chairs and a baby chair quickly followed. The decor makes it feel like you are in an old colonial hotel. Beautiful and impeccable.
The menus were brought and we decided to start with the gymkhana chaat. An unusual mix of paneer, chickpeas and pomegranate on a spiced biscuit base. It was very unusual but we loved the unique flavour. It was the closest thing we have had to our experience at Michelin starred Indian restaurant in London, Tamarind!
For mains we thought we’d try something traditional and something more unusual so we opted for the home style chicken curry and the ghee roasted pepper mutton. The curry tasted similar to a dhansak minus the lentils, with sweet and sour notes. Absolutely delicious! While the lamb was pulled with a spicy kick! Neither was greasy and both packed with flavour.
We finished with a chai creme brûlée which was spiced and rich and perfect for sharing.
This is definitely my new favourite curry spot in Doha and I can’t wait to try more. But perhaps my favourite thing about gymkhana was exceptional service! It was flawless from start to finish. I feel like I’ve been missing g out not trying the boutique hotels before and definitely want to explore them more.
The dinner with lassi and water cost around 300qar!
There are loads of great restaurants in souq waqif to eat at but one of my favourites is Parisa, an Iranian restaurant.
So why do I love it?
I think this has to be the most opulent restaurant in the souq. From the moment you enter through the mirrored corridor you are transported somewhere else. The mirrored ceiling, the mural walls and the beautiful foundation in the center make this a really stunning setting.
The staff are always attentive and willing to bring out more bread even after I Have consumed my own body weight in the stuff! They are also really friendly and great with small talk and recommendations.
You can’t go wrong with a kebab but Parisa excels at them. We love getting the sharing platter so we can try them all as I can never decide which one to order!
I also love their sweet walnut and pomegranate chicken stew which is like nothing else I have ever eaten.
But the star of the show is their rice. They do different kinds, saffron and dill being my favourites. It is truly the fluffiest rice I have ever tasted.
In the evening there are usually a couple of musicians playing traditional music which really adds to the ambiance.
I usually haven’t left nearly enough room for pudding but I always managed to force myself to have one. I particularly love the pistachio ice cream with saffron biscuits
When to go
Parissa is great all year round but can’t be beaten when it’s hot and you need interior seating. But in truth go anytime you won’t be disappointed!
Whenever we get visitors to Doha the first place they want to go is the Souq Waqif. Why wouldn’t they – the Souq is awesome and gives people a flavour of something uniquely Middle Eastern. Souq Waqif – meaning Standing Market, is located just off the Doha Cornice. A beautiful spot when you can get a real taste for the local culture. It was therefore no surprise when family came to visit Baby E that they wanted to go to the Souq. Baby E was born as we were heading into summer so was this going to be possible?
It absolutely was! But there are certainly ways to do it that make it more enjoyable for all so here are my top tips for visiting Souq Waqif with a baby in the Summer!
Do as the locals do!
Embrace the night-time. The souq doesn’t really come alive until the evening anyway so do as the locals do and head down to the Souq after sundown. This will be a more authentic experience, have a better atmosphere and cooler for everyone!
Baby carrier or pram?
This was a big debate we had. The Baby Carrier would make manoeuvrability a lot easier – The main street of Souq Waqif is cobbled, off which are a series of small narrow alleyways lined with shops and traders which aren’t to be missed for a true Souq experience – but carrying a baby that close to you was likely to make us both hot and sweaty. Given the time of year and the heat we opted for the pram. Yes this was a bit more cumbersome but a decision I am glad we took. When we return in the Winter we would definitely use the carrier but for summer months the pram is a must!
This goes without saying for adults, but follow all the rules and customs about keeping shoulders and knees covered as to not cause offence but remember these rules don’t apply to little ones. Dress your little one in vests only to keep them cool but be sure to have blankets with you as many of the Souq restaurants have fierce air-conditioning.
Ask for Lifts
Some of the restaurants have upstairs with lovely terraces or seating areas. Be sure if you are travelling with a pram to ask if there is a lift. The restaurant we were in had one but it was tucked out of sight!
I personally don’t like taking Baby E to places that are smoky, even with shish smoke (which some people wrongly say isn’t as harmful!), so we tend to visit restaurants where they either don’t serve shisha or where smokers are separated from diners.
These are our top five tips for visiting the Souq Waqif at night with a baby! What advice would you give?
This post was done as part of the #CityTripping Linkup hosted by MummyTravels
Fearless Family Travellers! Embracing luxury and adventure around the globe. On a mission to prove that travel with a baby is not only possible but fun!