FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Doha: All Roads Lead To Doha

Jun 1, 2012
2012 / June 2012

Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a city of gilded tradition mixed with shiny modernity. Since it hosted the Asia Games in 2006, this glistening playground on the Persian Gulf experienced rapid growth under its reigning emir and his visible, progressive queen. Guided by their vision to create a global city of the arts, Doha leads the way as a cultural mecca and educational research hub for the Middle East. Opulent campuses, including an extension of the Cornell Medical Center, bejewel the city’s outlying area, serving both men and women (a first for this region); and a new cultural village showcases contemporary art, music and film. In a country where camel races and hookah lounges are common forms of entertainment, Doha’s luxe hotels and galleries contribute a Western sheen to a proudly Muslim population thriving on the sun-kissed Gulf.

By night, Doha feels like Manhattan in miniature with a touch of New Orleans. Fly into the city after dark and you’ll see a shimmering bay of skyscrapers fronted by a busy coastal promenade lined with ornately carved fishing boats, called dhows, lit like miniature riverboat casinos. At dawn, the scene feels quite different. Tall cranes crowd West Bay, the hotel corridor, where developers race to build luxury suites in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and minarets send out the call to prayer across dunes flanking the city on all sides. It’s hard to believe that, until 1940, the Qataris were a nomadic people. The discovery of rich oil and natural gas reserves turned this once moon-like landscape into one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, and the growth appears to be waxing rather than waning.

Start your day with a power breakfast at the Kempinski Residences & Suites, where a mirrored door in the lobby leads to a sumptuous buffet of exotic fruits, cheeses and pastries. For a quick bite, visit the hotel café for a croissant and a wallopingly strong cup of coffee. Then lace up your running shoes and join the locals along the Corniche, a 4.4-mile walkway drawing expat joggers and veiled speed walkers alike. Cruising this waterfront promenade gives you a good sense of City Center’s layout, which extends from the pyramid-shaped Sheraton Hotel in the business district (West Bay) to the palm-flanked Museum of Islamic Art on Doha Bay’s eastern tip. If you’ve got time, be sure to visit the museum, a sandcastle-like structure built by celebrated architect I.M. Pei. Under its floating dome you’ll find a world-class collection of textiles and calligraphy, and the view of Doha Bay from the museum café is breathtaking.

If you prefer to sightsee by car, grab a taxi. They’re Tiffany blue and affordable. You can cross the city for less than $4, and the drivers are knowledgeable and friendly. A taxi is a must if you plan to see Doha’s most-talked-about building project, Katara Cultural Village. This sweeping arts complex feels like a small Roman city, complete with aqueducts, archways and a beautiful outdoor coliseum. Tucked into picturesque alleyways, stakeholders like the Doha Film Institute, the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and the Qatari Society of Engineers do business here. Look to the Village website for an impressive list of upcoming concerts and gallery exhibits, along with links to fine restaurants.

For a lunch meeting, meet up in Katara Village at Mamig, a popular Lebanese restaurant overlooking the Gulf. Book a private room or reserve a window table on the first or second floor. In the evening, Mamig offers spectacular sunsets along with live Arabian music to entertain dignitaries and high rollers. Before you depart, duck around the corner and visit Al Gannas, a cultural association for falcon hunters. In this sanctuary-like space you can meet some feathered friends, purchase a designer falcon hood or talk to the locals about the significance of falconry as a sport in the Arab world — it’s especially prized among nobility.

For afternoon entertainment, wander the Souq Waqif market and enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee served with dates at one of many street cafés. Or head to an Arabian spa like the one at The Ritz-Carlton’s Sharq Village Resort, a haven for international travelers. Enjoy a power pedicure or an executive facial, or just sit in the cigar bar under the slow-spinning fans. Afternoon tea in the resort’s shady Al Jalsa is an excellent way to unwind, as is its oceanside Al Dana, one of the area’s best alfresco dinner destinations. For a private meeting, consider booking one of the canopied booths on the resort terrace. It’s a great place to entertain in the style of local aristocracy, with opulent couches, a gorgeous view and a devoted staff to replenish snacks and shisha water pipes.

Thrill-seekers find plenty to do in Doha, from dune bashing in the desert to fishing tours on Doha Bay. After hours, most entertainment moves indoors. The W Hotel is popular among Mercedes-driving moguls and expats in search of cocktails in an otherwise dry city. Hotel bars and their restaurants serve alcohol, but you’re otherwise pressed to find any libations other than fruit juices and sodas. For a luxurious dinner with drinks, try the tasting menu at the W’s Spice Market, headed up by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Beneath low-lit lanterns illuminating deep banquettes, guests can enjoy pristine sushi and refreshing cocktails made with ginger and basil. For after-dinner drinks, check out the W’s Wahm Poolside Lounge, where you can relax in the comfort of a curtain-drawn enclosure or hit the miniscule dance floor.

For a more traditional evening experience, dine at Al Tawash. This lively Arabian restaurant in the open-air Souq Waqif is frequented by local VIPs who enjoy the communal-style meals of hummus and roasted meats (including camel), served with plenty of mint tea. The décor is sumptuous, full of blood-red carpets, high ceilings and heavily draped tables that ensure privacy. Smoke some shisha with your guests afterward, and everyone will feel rosy. A stroll through the market after dark is essential — visit the pearl vendors or pick up a pashmina for friends back home.

Doha City Center

Katara Cultural Village

Kempinski Residences & Suites Doha

Mamig Restaurant

Museum of Islamic Art

Qatar Tourism Authority

Sharq Village & Spa

Spice Market Restaurant

W Doha Hotel & Residences

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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