When to go and what to see when you’re in this vibrant, fast-growing Middle Eastern city
If Doha could be defined by one thing, that thing is actually a mix: namely, a deft blending of the past and the future. Here, a respect for the area’s traditional culture, art, and architecture combines with an increasingly futuristic skyline dotted with ultra-luxury hotels, restaurants, and shops. These two landscapes contrast, but they also complement each other, offering visitors a chance to take part in attractions and experiences both old and new.
Doha is the capital of Qatar, a country bordered by Saudi Arabia to the southeast on the Qatar penninsula. With a population of a little under 2 million people, it is one of the fastest growing cities in the region. The city itself is nestled on the eastern coast of the country — the side which faces out to the Persian Gulf.
The city was founded in the 1820s (the exact date is unknown), and became the capital of the country in 1971 when Qatar gained independence from being a British Protectorate. Following that, it has experienced rapid industrial and economic growth characteristic of most of the region. Thanks to this, the city’s size has quadrupled not only in population but also in land area. This expanse has even seen the city extend out into the ocean: The Pearl is an artificial island spanning nearly 4 square kilometers with around 12,000 inhabitants — and it cost $15 billion to build. Its high-end hotels, apartments, restaurants, and stores make it a must-visit for lovers of luxury.
Because of its geographical location, Doha experiences year-round high temperatures. In the coldest months, expect dry highs that average around 70 degrees F, which increases to a sweltering 110 degrees F (43 C) at the hottest times (June through August). While it’s a drier heat, 110 is … 110, making the best time to go the months of December through February, when temps are 70-80 degrees F (16-21 C) and it’s easy — and pleasant — to explore outdoors. This is said to be the peak season, with only one or two days of rain per month.
If the luxe shopping areas of The Pearl show the most glamorous face of this bustling, modern city, the Souq Waqif offers an authentic look at its rich history and culture. Here, you can step back in time, whether you’re strolling the winding streets filled with produce markets, spice shops, and clothing and craft stores, or taking in a traditional art and cultural show — all against a stunningly evocative architectural backdrop.
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Speaking of culture: Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, the country’s most important historic landmark, displays Islamic art and artifacts from three continents over a 1,400-year span. It’s an enriching way to spend an afternoon. And don’t miss the Valley of Cultures, a microcosm of Qatari culture in one large space housing an opera house, galleries, amphitheater, museum, cafes, and plenty of green areas for relaxing the day away. Concerts, exhibitions, and plenty of other events regularly take place here.
Another of Doha’s biggest cultural attractions is just outside the city — sand-dune drives in the desert. You can opt for a smooth ride or a more rollercoaster-like fast-and-bumpy route, depending on your taste for adventure. Or just walk the pearly white beaches and take in the spectacular sunset over the city.
Another popular place to stroll, back in the city, is the Doha Corniche, Qatar’s picturesque promenade area. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and green spaces in this incredibly popular area, and it’s a particularly perfect spot for a photo: stand next to the promenade, close to the Museum of Islamic Art, and from there include the vista of the city’s futuristic skyscrapers. It’s a perfect picture of the deft mix of old and new that defines this compelling place.
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