My kind of place: Doha
Since December, when Qatar won the World Cup bid, you get the feeling that the development phase is in full flow. The tiny peninsula is ramping up its social calendar, using every opportunity to practice hosting events creatively and on a large scale. I moved here days before the bidding team won and I can't remember the number of times I have heard the phrase "This sort of thing never happens in Qatar", and similar expressions of delight.
For the first time, an official public beach opened earlier this year at Katara, the city's cultural village; a Latin American Musical Festival was held early October; and from October 25 to 29, the third Doha Tribeca Film Festival will become the largest event of its kind to date. Things are certainly looking up for the city's million-odd residents. Time your trip well - anywhere from now until the sweltering summer months - and you could catch something that will help reverse the widely held notion that Doha is dull.
A comfortable bed
The W Doha Hotel (www.whoteldoha.com; 00 974 4453 5000; double rooms from 1,099 Qatari riyals [Dh1,108] per night) is a trendy five-star tower, with dark interiors, airy, modern suites and Market restaurant by Jean-Georges, one of Doha's best. It is walking distance from the Corniche. For a reasonably priced hotel with a beach, try the InterContinental Doha (www.ichotelsgroup.com; 00 974 4484 4444; double rooms from 978 riyals [Dh986] per night).
The Arabian-themed Hotel Souq Waqif (www.hotelsouqwaqif.com.qa; 00 974 4443 3030, double rooms from 801 riyals; Dh807), a boutique residence with only 11 rooms and two suites, sits on the edge of the large outdoor market.
The villas at Ritz-Carlton's ultra-luxury Sharq Village (www.ritzcarlton.com; 00 974 4425 6666; double rooms from 1,650 riyals [Dh1,664]), a Ritz-Carlton property in southern Doha, near the airport, are worth the extra spend. There is a beautiful outside area where the pool meets the waters of the Gulf, a Six Senses Spa and restaurants.
For a slice of history, stay at the pyramid-shaped Sheraton (www.sheratondoha.com; 00 974 4485 4444; double rooms from 1,249 riyals [Dh1,260]). The oldest of the five-star hotels, it is to Doha what the Burj Al Arab is to Dubai.
Find your feet
A weekend can easily be whiled away wandering through Doha's cultural landmarks. There is the three-year-old Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), designed by the 94-year-old Chinese-American architect I M Pei, who said this would be his final cultural building. He may well have saved the best until last. This large cube, home to thousands of artefacts from the Arab region, Asia and Europe, is in the city's downtown area, opposite the busy Souq Waqif. The building alone is magnificent, perched on an island in the Arabian Gulf with views of the city skyline.
A younger museum opened in December called Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, around a 30-minute taxi drive from the MIA.
Walk along the 8km Corniche to take in the panoramic views of the city. There is a busy tea hut serving Indian-style chai at the most northern part of the walk and a Lebanese restaurant, Al Mourjan, offers food and shisha at around the half-way mark. Small dhows take travellers on a 10-minute tour (around 14 riyals [Dh15] per person).
Meet the locals
The Heritage House near Rumailah Park, opposite the Corniche, is something of an undiscovered treasure. No more than 10 Qatari women work every day perfecting traditional Khaleeji handicrafts from 7am until 1.30pm in a majlis-style open space. Entrance and a guided tour is free.
For a chance to meet locals, head to Souq Waqif. Squashed between the international restaurants and chains that fill the refurbished bazaar, local chefs cook for a largely local clientele. The restaurants have Arabic signs, food is served in silver foil containers and Qatari citizens fill the wooden benches.
Book a table
Every cuisine you can possibly think of is available in Doha, home to more than 100 different nationalities. For fine dining, the Japanese Megu has opened. It's Qatar's time to shine and the New York branded restaurant is suitably on the Pearl, a man-made island. It's almost pitch-black interior adds to the cosmopolitan ambience. The beef salad is light but delicious and the crunchy asparagus sticks, dipped in batter and flash-fried (60 riyals; Dh61) have become a favourite among most diners.
For an average spend, visit Shehzan, a Pakistani restaurant close to the offices of Al Jazeera in the "TV roundabout" area. Waiters serving sizzling plates of barbecued chicken and lamb kebabs (40 riyals; Dh41) to families and groups in the grassy garden area.
Street food options include a selection of Lebanese and Turkish restaurants just off Al Matar. Petra remains the favourite for shwarma (10 riyals; Dh11), presented in a circular pita and packed with fresh lettuce. Or head to Khan Farouk Tarab Cafe (00 974 4408 0841) in Katara - it's rumoured to be the royal family's favourite and it's not hard to see why. Try the stuffed falafel, lamb chops and the koshary, which is made delicately for a dish composed of pure carbohydrates (about 50 riyals [Dh51] per head).
Doha is a land of extremes. One day, you may feel as if nothing is affordable and you're hardly able to buy more than a souvenir. Come during sale season, however, and your credit card will be needing its own holiday. Brands are still king, so for the major labels head to Villagio, the Venice-themed mall, complete with gondola rides. Quirky designers are creeping into the market, too. Toujouri is a three-year-old Qatar-based fashion label on the Pearl, sitting alongside big names such as Stella McCartney and Chloé.
What to avoid
Villagio Mall on a Thursday evening. It's heaving with teenagers on the eve of every weekend.
The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (http://qatarphilharmonicorchestra.org/) has dates lined up at the Opera House in Katara until next July. If you come anywhere from December 9 to 23, visit the Arab Games (www.arabgames2011.qa/newen/). Contestants will be battling it out in dozens of sports at venues across Doha.
Updated: October 22, 2011 04:00 AM