This vibrant complex is, without doubt, one of the most atmospheric places to explore in Qatar. Built on an ancient market site, the area remains the social heart of Doha. Centuries ago, Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings. Despite the ongoing gentrification of the area, the chief business of the souq continues unabated, and it remains one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region. This is the place to look for national Qatari dress, including the beautifully embroidered bukhnoq (girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes and oud (incense made from agarwood).
Museum of Islamic Art
With the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, drawn from three continents, this fabulous museum is so rich in treasure that it rewards short, intense visits. Rising from its own purpose-built island, and set in an extensive landscape of lawns and ornamental trees off the Corniche, the museum is shaped like a postmodern fortress with minimal windows (to reduce energy use). The views across the water are splendid. The museum was designed by IM Pei, the architect of the Louvre pyramid in Paris, and you know that something special awaits from the minute you lay eyes on the grand, palm-tree-lined entrance. Inside, the building is a masterpiece of light and space, drawing your eyes up to the dome, a clever modern take on an element so prevalent in Islamic architecture. Both men and women should avoid strappy tops or vests and shorts because you may be refused admission.
Banana Island Resort
With its opaque waters and 800m golden-sand beach, the crescent-shaped Banana Island is one of the best excursions in Qatar, even if you're not staying at the luxury hotel. Covered in tropical plants and greenery, it's reached via catamaran. Six restaurants on the island, from traditional Middle Eastern and American to Italian, keep guests fuelled up for the many activities on offer, including Segway rides (QR250), beach diving (from QR700), bowling (QR50) and flowrider wave riding (QR150 for 30 minutes).
National Museum of Qatar
The much-anticipated opening of the National Museum of Qatar took place in March 2019. French architect Jean Nouvel's sprawling desert-rose-inspired structure is spectacular and houses 1.5km of galleries that have been organized into three 'chapters': Beginnings, Life in Qatar and Building the Nation. Exhibits focus on Qatari history and heritage, celebrating the nation's past, present and future on the world stage. A thrilling, immersive and educational experience that should not be missed.
Qatar National Library
One of the best libraries in the world, this incredible, spaceship-like structure contains a literary wonderland of two million books, including ancient maps and Qurans and literature dating back to the 15th century. You enter the building through a futuristic hatch; inside, the bookshelves appear to almost float on the wall of the library. In the center of the expansive room is a labyrinth-like pit where all the ancient heritage books are kept on a maze of carefully positioned shelves.
The library also contains egg chairs, work stations, exhibition spaces (with rotating shows by modern artists), a children's library and a cafeteria-style restaurant. An innovation station has a recording studio filled with instruments; it's free to use, but bookable by residents only. Likewise, anyone can read the books while visiting the library, but only Qatari residents may borrow them from the building.
One of the best and most beautiful green spaces along the Doha waterfront, Museum of Islamic Art Park is home to Richard Serra's vertical steel sculpture, known as 7, this celebrated artist's first public piece of art in the Middle East. It's also home to cafes with some of the finest city views in Doha, including the MIA Park Cafe, as well as pop-up food trucks. Runners enjoy the 1km crescent pathway around the park, and there's also a kids play area. Renting a picnic basket inside the park costs QR50; you can fill it up with goodies from the local cafe.
7 by Richard Serra
Visitors can walk through this sculpture, comprised of seven steel plates – a number with special spiritual significance in Qatari and Islamic culture – and gaze up to the sky from inside. The first of two installations by celebrated artist Richard Serra to be commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority, the 24m-high artwork stands proudly at the end of the Museum of Islamic Art Park, looking out to the Gulf and the bright lights of the Doha skyline beyond.
Khor Al Adaid
This beautiful ‘inland sea’ is one of the major natural attractions in Qatar, and it takes on an almost mystical quality under a full moon, when the sabkha (salt flats) sparkle in the gaps between the sand. Often described as a sea or a lake, the Khor is in fact neither: rather it is a creek surrounded by silvery crescents of sand (known as barchan). A night under the stars on a camping expedition here is a special experience.
TaliaMare Beach Club
One of Doha's best hangout spots, TaliaMare is set on a pretty beach, among pastel-colored houses, and has a chilled-out vibe and music reminiscent of Ibiza's Cafe Mambo. Guests pay for an umbrella or a sunbed and get used to showers, lockers and other facilities, including beach toys for kids. Smoke shisha as the sun sets or have a bite to eat in the trendy cafe. The kitchen serves up excellent shakshuka, pancakes and omelets for breakfast, plus seafood mains and salads (breakfast/dinner plates from QR36/79). Wash your meal down with a cooling mocktail.
For a glimpse of Qatari heritage, don't miss the Falcon Souq. You only have to see the scale of the market, afforded its own traditional arcaded building off Souq Waqif, to understand the place of falconry in Qatari society. Evenings are the best time to come, especially on Thursdays, when you can watch customers examining the birds – most of them hooded in black leather and perched on posts or railings – and discussing the finer points of falconry with the shopkeepers. You may see shopkeepers crafting leather falcon helmets or enjoying tea on the cushioned benches at each store. Next door to the Falcon Souq is the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital – if you stop by when things are quiet and ask nicely, the staff are usually pleased to show visitors around.