x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

My Kind of Place: Refined ambition in Qatar's capital, Doha

The newly opened St Regis hotel is just one of the many signs the capital city, which is set to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, is realising its vision.

Restaurants and cafes line the street in Doha's Souk Waqif. The growing city also boasts two Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Ryan Carter / The National
Restaurants and cafes line the street in Doha's Souk Waqif. The growing city also boasts two Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Ryan Carter / The National

Why Doha?

Like Abu Dhabi, Doha is developing fast. It has a 2030 "vision" which includes a slew of new museums, universities and other developments, and an impressive line-up of world class events, such as the 2022 Fifa World Cup, which will showcase its enviable and futuristic sporting facilities. Some attractions, like the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and Mathaf, the city's Arab Museum of Modern Art, are newly up and running; others, such as the National Museum of Qatar, are still several years away from completion. In the city centre, the reconstructed, pedestrianised and ever-expanding Souq Waqif lends an authentic atmosphere. Yet it's the intangible that proves most compelling. The city's young people, many of whom are highly educated and hold down jobs at the Qatar Foundation and other institutions, have a sophisticated ambition and open-mindedness that demands and deserves a global audience.

A comfortable bed

Probably the most comfortable hotel in town is the new St Regis, situated in the West Bay area between the city centre and the Pearl. The brand's signature beds and large suites make the place a luxurious cocoon. Double rooms cost from 1,140 Qatari rials (Dh1,100) per night, including taxes (www.stregisdoha.com; 800 3257 8734). On a much smaller scale, and located in Souq Waqif, are several boutique hotels, four of which form a group called Souq Waqif Boutique hotels (www.swbh.com); two more will be added by the end of the year. Double rooms from Dh760 per night, including breakfast and taxes.

Find your feet

Doha is very spread out, so a visit here takes planning. Start with a good few hours at the Museum of Islamic Art (www.mia.org.qa), to take in its impressive display of ceramics, jewellery, rugs and other artefacts from the Muslim world from the 7th to the 19th century, originating from India to Spain. From here, unwind with a stroll along the waterside close to the museum to admire its exterior and Doha's evolving skyline opposite. If it's night-time, you could extend your walk along the city's Corniche, but probably not all the way along, as it's about 7km end-to-end. Drive through the downtown area for a close-up view of some impressive skyscrapers, and stop at Qatara Beach if you want a swim. Katara Village (www.katara.net) is a Qatari version of Dubai's Bastikiya district, with an emphasis on architectural reconstruction and art galleries. A golf buggy will take you on a free tour; worth seeing is the amphitheatre, the QMA gallery and the waterside restaurants. The 18-month-old Arab Museum of Modern Art (www.mathaf.org.qa) makes a good contrast to the MIA, if you can stomach its restrictive opening hours, out-of-town location and the fact that during many temporary exhibitions, its permanent collection goes into storage.

Meet the locals

The cafes and shops in Souq Waqif are good value and a great place to people-watch; for something more upmarket, head to the Sukar Pasha Ottoman Lounge at Qatara (www.sukarpasha.qa). The stylish Crystal bar at the W Hotel (www.whoteldoha.com) is popular with expatriates.

Book a table

The St Regis is home to two excellent Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Book into Opal, the more casual of the two, for the hammour ceviche with avocado, horseradish, ginger and wakame (QR65), the chilli, salt and Szechuan pepper squid (QR70), tamarind chicken wings with spring onions and coriander (QR85), the macaroni cheese (QR35) and thin-crust rustic pizza with artichokes (QR90).

For Asian food, book the Friday brunch at the Spice Market restaurant at the W Doha, which offers a range of dishes on different food "stalls", from Indian to Vietnamese (www.spicemarketdoha.com), from QR280 per person, including soft drinks. For an authentic Qatari meal, visit the lovely Al Tawash restaurant in Souq Waqif (00 974 4498 2002) for relaxing Arabian interiors and delicious dishes such as margouga - a spicy meat and vegetable stew - from just QR25. For a snack in Souq Waqif, treat yourself to a local pancake called hobs ergag - with a variety of fillings - from QR5.

Shopper's paradise

Souq Waqif is the best place to buy fresh spices, Arabic musical instruments, leather goods and thobes. Al Hadeetha tailors offers great service and the best fabrics from Japan. The museum shop at the MIA has some reasonably-priced posters of ancient maps and texts, cards, books on Arab-inspired architecture and interiors.

What to avoid

If you're planning a weekend in Doha, try to give yourself three full days. Be aware that taxis can be in short supply (leading to overcharging) and most museums and other attractions are closed on Friday morning. The QMA Gallery is closed on Sundays, Mathaf on Mondays and the MIA on Tuesdays. The audioguide at the Museum of Islamic Art is heavy and confusing and its batteries tend to die before the end of the tour.

Don't miss

Souq Waqif. With all that's new in Doha, don't miss out on a few hours of wandering here to appreciate life on a more human scale.

Go there

Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) offers six flights a day from Abu Dhabi to Doha and 11 flights a day from Dubai to Doha. Return flights from Abu Dhabi to Doha cost from Dh670, including taxes.