Travelling around the Gulf has been on my bucket list for quite some time, especially Doha, as this Qatari capital is known for its fascinating buildings accompanied with rich culture, beautiful people, and a lot of recreational activities. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of travelling to Qatar for three glorious days exploring, relaxing, and most importantly, shopping, during Qatar’s first annual shopping festival. Shop Qatar is not only a season of unparalleled offers at major shopping destinations throughout the country, it is also a time when visiting customers, like me, can avail of fantastic flight packages from Qatar Airways and great offers at hotels around the city. So, I phoned a friend who lives there, packed my bags, and headed to the airport for a fantastic weekend.
Day 1: Souqs and shopping malls
I’m always game for travelling, but there’s nothing worse than prolonged airport procedures, so I avoided the hassle by booking Al Maha Meet and Assist services (+974 4010 3446). When I landed, I was greeted at my gate and welcomed to their lounge for a quick cup of coffee as they deal with arrival procedures. In less than a half hour, I was rolling my bag out the front doors.
I felt a momentary rush as I stepped onto the street. It was overwhelming to set foot in what I’d call the “Manhattan of the Gulf”. I’d heard stories about this metropolis, from its big city lights, to its towers and skyscrapers, to its cultural fashion, shopping malls, and vibrant nightlife.
I wanted to have the ultimate cultural experience during my stay, so I had selected a room in one of the nine hotels scattered around Souq Waqif, a renovated traditional souq that boasts a cultural atmosphere, restaurants, cafes, and shopping. I settled on the Al Mirqab Boutique Hotel (+974 4433 6444; souqwaqifresort.com), a traditional-themed hotel that sports dark wooden Islamic and Arabian designs adorned with lanterns and seating areas in red velvet.
Al Mirqab felt like an old mansion that had been renovated to perfection without taking away its essence or soul. As I walked into my posh-yet-traditional souq-view room, I stopped to admire the paintings gracing its walls before opening the curtains and taking in the beautiful of the city.
After relaxing for a couple of minutes, I went out to explore the souq. Al Mirqab is perfectly positioned at the gateway to the souq, so my journey of wandering began the moment I left the building. The energy was impeccable with people from around the globe shopping their hearts out for souvenirs. Walking into labyrinth of allies leading to more shops that sell traditional Qatari items, I felt a resemblance to our own Mutrah souq, but with a modernised architectural style, and more diversity.
I came upon a courtyard filled with open-air coffee shops and restaurants. It looked older than the rest, so I stopped a local and asked him about the area and was told that this place used to be a trading centre for Bedouins. Turns out it was renovated in 2004, but much of the old structure had been preserved in the new tourist hub. And in ancient style, most shops still close from noon until four in the afternoon.
My stomach began to growl, so I decided to stop at Parisa (+974 4441 1494), a lavish Iranian restaurant in the middle of the souq for a bite. The space itself was a wonderland of mosaic carpets, colourful windows, and Persian paintings along with a fountain filled with fresh fruits, and traditional music playing in the background. Parisa wasn’t just a majestic-looking place, it also had some of the best Persian food I’ve ever tasted. I started with a dish of eggplant and dried cheese whey, called kashke bademjan, followed by a mixed grill platter piled high with luscious minced meat kebabs and cubes of tender beef served with pomegranate seeds, pickled cucumbers, roasted eggplants, and aromatic mint. The tender, moist Persian kabab koobideh were rich, juicy, and perfect.
Full and happy, I continued exploring, heading to the nearby Msheireb Museums (+974 800 3642; msheireb.com), which is located in the heart of old Doha, which is now known as Msheireb Downtown Doha. The collection of four museums aim to preserve the historical past of the country, with the most iconic being the Company Museum, which showcases the tools and equipment utilised by Qatari men back in the day, as well as their journey of discovering oil and building their modern nation. Mohammed Bin Jassim House was built by the son of the founder of the state of Qatar and focuses on the development of the project and is home to the Echo Memory Art Project, which displays objects uncovered during demolition of the site. Radwani House, built in the 1920s, gives a glimpse of everyday family life in Qatar from the past to present. And, most unique among them, is Bin Jelmood House, which memorialises the history of the global slave trade in the Indian Ocean region and celebrates the changes since its abolition in Qatar. This is a topic often left untouched in the region, making this museum distinct among the historic projects in the GCC.
After relaxing a bit in the hotel, my evening was to be all-about-shopping. I headed out into the night with the ambitious aim of visiting as many of Doha’s shopping malls as I could to take advantage of the month-long shopping festival. I began at the newly opened mall of Qatar, where they have a load of international brands, restaurants, and entertainment centres, and then suddenly, I ran out of energy. I took my shopping bags back to my hotel, where I ordered room service and called it a night.
Day 2: european Palaces and arabian dhows
After a comfortable, and much needed, night’s rest at Al Mirqab, I headed down to the al fresco diner, Al Terrace Lebanese lounge (+974 4433 6666) for my morning coffee fix before setting off with the Qatar Tourism Authority to visit the yet-to-be-opened shopping destination called Al Hazm (+974 4466 6625; alhazm.com), which I expected to be just another large mall.
When we arrived, I was stunned to see a grand palace that looked like something from a European postcard. I wandered around the property in awe of the attention to detail, from the elaborate mosaic carpets and marble of the interior, to the grand, streetlight-lit courtyard. I made a mental note to return for its grand opening later this year.
For lunch, I headed to the harbour to try a traditional Qatari lunch served aboard a traditional dhow. As we cruised the waters of Doha, I enjoyed views of Sheraton Hotel, the oldest in Qatar, as well as the floating-on-water Museum of Islamic Art (+974 4422 4444; mia.org.qa), and the high-end global sushi restaurant, Nobu (+974 4494 8600), while enjoying a refreshing cardamom karak. Later that evening, I called my friend to join me for a walk on the corniche. The views were magnificent. And as I stood overlooking the towers of Doha city, lit in colourful hues, I could die of happiness.
Day 3: Room service and super sales
On my final day in Doha, I woke up early, had my breakfast, and headed to the open-air pool for a quick swim before indulging in a Spa Fusion treatment, which combined five different massaging techniques, including Thai, Balinese, and Shiatsu. Fans of Asian healings will totally love this. I certainly did. But, I needed more shopping. So before heading to the airport, I made a quick visit to Ezdan Mall (+974 7790 4003; ezdanholding.qa) for one last sale and splurge before my flight.
My weekend in Doha was a beautiful journey, and it’s now one of the cities I’d love to keep revisiting over and over again. Its culture, its people, shopping, and its modern-yet-traditional atmosphere are simply splendid. Until next time, Doha. —[email protected] **media**
Shop Qatar Festival
Qatar kicked off its very first month-long shopping festival, Shop Qatar, on January 7, promising an unparalleled shopping experience accompanied with tempting offers, fun activities, and entertainment for the whole family spread across the city. The festival aims at showcasing what Qatar has to offer in the retail sector, from luxury brands, to local fashion boutiques, to night bazaars, and traditional souqs. The annual event also features fireworks by the corniche, food trucks, fashion shows, an African circus, live comedy performances, a Broadway musical, 30 pop-up shops showcasing local talent, and concerts from major Middle Eastern superstars, Majid Al Mohandes and Hussain Al Jassmi. It is also a great time to get special flight and hotel offers.
Booking and Information: shopqatar.qa
Malls to Visit
Mall of Qatar
The Pearl Qatar
The Gate Mall
*Festival runs until February 7th, 2017