Vast natural gas resources have driven Qatar’s rise as the world’s wealthiest nation and transformed its capital, Doha, from a once-declining fishing and pearl-diving town into the Persian Gulf’s future-forward cultural gem. Intriguing landmarks by the likes of Rem Koolhaas (Qatar National Library), I.M. Pei (Museum of Islamic Art), and Jean Nouvel (National Museum of Qatar) dot the skyline.
Many others are in various stages of completion in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, including a stadium designed by the late Zaha Hadid to resemble a dhow, the region’s traditional wooden fishing boat. (To best take in the shimmering skyline, book a harbor cruise on a dhow at sunset.)
Order chargrilled kebabs, young chicken in saffron and pomegranate sauce, and savory stews at Parisa Souq Waqif, a Persian fine-dining restaurant where glittering mirrors and hand-painted mosaics cover every inch of wall and ceiling space. For West Bay views, warm gulf breezes, and delicious lamb chops and Lebanese specialties, reserve a table outside at Al Mourjan, the only restaurant on the Corniche. Sukar Pasha serves a wide assortment of hot and cold Turkish mezes, spit-roasted lamb, and grilled skewers in an elegant setting of woven textiles, patterned tiles, and hand-painted ceilings.
Alcohol is heavily regulated, so Qataris and visitors socialize over hookahs at shisha bars. Le Gourmet’s sidewalk patio draws a crowd for strong Arabic coffee and freshly pressed juices in the morning and, at all other times of the day, for tobacco in flavors such as apple, mint, and grape. For wine and cocktails, head to the restaurants and bars of licensed hotels. Iris Doha channels a laid-back lounge vibe at sunset and heats up with international DJs, musicians and a lively crowd by night.
One souq to rule them all: Labyrinthine Souq Waqif’s whitewashed buildings and cobbled alleys hold hundreds of shops, including Arumailah Gifts & Masterpieces, where traditional lanterns, swords, and daggers are on display. The overflowing sacks of colorful nuts, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, and saffron at Souq Waqif’s spice market are a feast for the senses. Find your way to the smaller Souq al-Deira, next to Souq Waqif, for nameless fabric shops specializing in pure Indian silk, cashmere pashminas, and intricate embroidery. Haggle with confidence at the Gold Souq, across the street from Souq Waqif, where every piece of jewelry sold – from handcrafted, ornate bridal sets to 22-karat bangles – is inspected by the government and hallmarked to guarantee its metal’s purity.
Set in West Bay overlooking the gulf, the 336-room St. Regis Doha welcomes travelers with coffee and dates on offer in public areas, which feature traditional arched doorways, carved wood latticework, and Arabian lanterns balanced against clean architectural lines. The property is home to ten dining venues and bars (including two restaurants by Gordon Ramsay).
Plan for at least one desert adventure outside the city: Head southeast for Khor al-Adaid, the “Inland Sea,” a former refuge for Abu Dhabi pirates that’s now a haven for sea turtles, ospreys, flamingos, oryx, and other wildlife. Just out of town, Al Shaqab keeps Qatar’s equestrian heritage alive and welcomes visitors to races and shows with its elegant Arabian horses.