The eyes of the globe will be on Qatar when they play host to the 2022 World Cup. Many have questioned its ability to cater for the biggest show on turf, but the country is no stranger to large sporting events. The tiny Arab nation has previously held both Formula One and Moto GP Grand Prix’s as well as the FIFA Arab Cup only last year. When you think about it, it’s rather incredible how Qatar has evolved to become a major attraction for competitive spectacles and tourism alike. Fascinated by this rising society, I decided to head over to its capital of Doha ahead of the tournament and create a guide for football fans and potential travellers keen to immerse themselves within its unique offering. Whether it’s food, architecture, activities, sport, or accommodation, this list will ensure you make the most of the trip.
While there’s an incredible story behind most playing venues, Stadium 974 is genuinely one-of-a-kind. Located across the water from Doha’s magical West Bay skyline, the 40,000 seater dons a new age for innovation and design. The temporary venue is made from 974 recycled shipping containers in homage to the site’s industrial history and the international dialling code for Qatar (+974). Miraculously, the containers house everything from the players’ changerooms to corporate boxes, along with amenities such as bathrooms and concessions. Following the World Cup, the shipping containers and seats will be dismantled and used to assist other under-developed countries worldwide. So if you don’t have a chance to check it out in Qatar, keep a lookout for Stadium 974 showing up somewhere else in the future.
It’s no secret that Qatar loves sport, and nothing best encapsulates this passion than the 3-2-1 Museum. Now, I will admit its exhibits are slightly bizarre and contrived, but if you know that heading in, it’s still a fantastic experience. The venue boasts several interactive exhibits, activities, games and inspiring artefacts, highlighting the positive impact of sport throughout the world. Weaving your way around countless displays of the world’s best athletes and their achievements, there’s never a dull moment, making it a must for families and fans alike.
Katara Cultural Village
The Katara Cultural Village was hands down the highlight of my trip. With a view over the city’s lights, it’s the place to go for art galleries, theatres and amazing architecture, including the picturesque blue-tiled Katara mosque, the luxurious Golden Mosque and the stunning classic Greek-style amphitheatre. If there’s one place you don’t want to forget your camera, this is it. However, if this doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, there’s high-end shopping at the iconic French department store Galeries Lafayette and 21 High Street’s boutiques. If you’re worried about the heat zapping you of some much needed retail therapy, don’t stress, the outdoor air-conditioning will keep you fresh and ready to drop some coin.
Souq Waqif is the city’s oldest marketplace. Once a waterfront hub for trading sheep, goats and wool, its been turned into an unmissable tourist hotspot and link to the nation’s past. Its streets and lanes are filled with stalls full of unique clothes, spices, antiques, jewellery and food. If you’re looking to pick up a souvenir, taste some local produce and meet some local wildlife, such as falcons and camels, this is a can’t miss destination on your travels.
Dune Bashing in Khor Al Udaid
Qatar’s landscape and weather accommodate all kinds of adventures, but four-wheel driving is at the top of the list. Zooming across the vast sand dunes in the country’s south is a totally different game from ordinary off-road driving, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it yourself. The best option would be to organise a half-day, full-day or overnight experience, depending on your goals. It’s the most exhilarating way to experience the country’s beautiful scenery. Also, make sure the tour guide takes you along the magical Inland Sea, which lives on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Stand-up Paddleboarding/Kayaking in The Pearl
The Pearl is another iconic and unique site to visit while travelling in Doha. The artificial island, situated on 4 million sqm of land near the West Bay district, offers visitors a one-stop solution for everything needed on holiday. From luxurious accommodation, entertainment, shopping and food, the spot has to be seen to be believed. One of the best ways to view this marvel of human ingenuity is on the water. Whether you grab a stand-up board (SUP) or kayak, go for a paddle around one of the world’s biggest and most stunning yacht marinas.
Restaurants and Bars
While Qatar boasts unlimited fine dining options, nothing will taste as delicious as a feed from Turkey Central. From the outside, the restaurant doesn’t look like anything special, but inside lives a gem of fast Turkish food. Their signature mezzes are served with straight-out-of-the-oven bread, and their kebabs are enormous in size and flavour. If you’re balling on a budget, head here to refuel before attacking the day.
The Ritz-Carlton B-Lounge
While Doha isn’t exactly Ibiza, there are still some great venues to party. Located inside The Ritz-Carlton at the Doha Marina, B-Lounge offers breathtaking views, exceptional Asian fusion cuisine, fresh beverages and some of the most out-of-the-ordinary cocktails in the world. Chic and glamourous, it’s the place to head if you want to rub shoulders with the city’s most influential and other global jet setters. In particular, the Frozé Brunch on Fridays is renowned for its famous DJs and wild atmosphere.
Banyan Tree Doha
Hosting the Belgian World Cup team, Banyan Tree Doha, at La Cigale Mushaireb is a delight to the senses. Fusing Asian Zen with Middle Eastern glam, the towering hotel with 126 rooms and 66 suites has incredible views across the city’s skyline as well as its own garden oasis with more than 130 trees. It boasts a mouth-watering lineup of five restaurants and lounges, including regional Indian, traditional Thai and fine-dining Italian. There’s also a breathtaking rooftop bar and club for those looking for some after-hours fun. Featuring a 30-ride indoor theme park, a branch of Planet Hollywood, French department store Printemps and a 19-screen cinema, there are plenty of options for some family-friendly fun.
Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas
Located far away from the city is the Hilton’s luxury hotel complex, complete with the biggest adventure park in the country. Spanning across 3.5 kilometres of private beach, there are roughly 250 rooms and suites with an added 110 villas on the water. The vast grounds contain more than 20 food outlets, including seven gourmet restaurants, a high-end spa, swimming pools, sports courts, corporate facilities and a gorgeous marina. For the thrill-seekers, there are dozens of attractions such as the waterparks King Cobra tube ride and a fully-fledged outdoor go-karting race track.
Full disclosure, I genuinely hate flying. Airports, screaming babies, and inedible food isn’t my idea of a good time. However, Qatar Airlines makes a brutal experience more than bearable. In particular, their business class suites are a standout and well renowned across the airline industry. A unique feature worth mentioning is its sliding doors, allowing passengers to feel safe and secure and, more importantly, providing privacy while you sleep. Creating a little sanctuary in the sky, the cozy pods make flying more personalised and self-contained.
To learn more about Qatar and its entire offering, head to the Visit Qatar website.