I only have 24 hours to spend in my 99th country. After my all-business class flight from London, I have a one-day layover in Doha to explore as much of the city as I can. It’s a challenge, but I look forward to seeing what the capital of Qatar has to offer.
After a 40-minute drive from the airport, I discover that my accommodation, the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, is every bit as luxurious as the plane. My room has a stunning view of the beach and yacht marina, and even though it’s early in the morning, but I can’t resist a trip to the spa. I’m glad I do, too. It’s enormous, and there are more pools, saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs than I’ve ever seen.
But I didn’t travel all the way to Qatar just for the spa (although that would be pretty amazing). I also came to see the city.
And I do. Despite only having a one-day layover in Doha before I travel back to London, I manage to see a lot.
My tour of Doha begins with a traditional lunch of Arabic mezze and lots of lamb, then transitions into a walk through the Katara cultural village on the waterfront.
The beautiful tiled facade of a mosque is juxtaposed by contemporary artworks by a Palestinian artist, and every time I duck my head into a building, I find a photography exhibition or artistic showcase.
Nearby is the amphitheater, where famous artists from all over the world have performed to a packed house, and next to it are waterfront restaurants selling seafood from around the world.
The next stop on my one-day layover in Doha is The Pearl, a residential and retail development on the water. Janet Jackson supposedly has a villa here, and everything from the luxury goods shops to the beautiful tropical fish in the harbor feels expensive.
But better than expensive is priceless, and when I arrive at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, I find an amazing collection of priceless objects from all over the Middle East. From 12th century Syrian tiles to 16th century Turkish vases, the museum’s exhibits have an amazing depth.
As does the museum itself. Designed by I.M. Pei and inspired by the Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, it’s a stunning work of architecture both inside and out.
The exterior looks like an angular woman in a burqa, while the interior makes amazing use of space and light.
The museum is as contemporary as our next stop is traditional. My tour of Doha continues with a visit to Souq Waqif. In particular, the Falcon Souq. Given my ancestry, I’m always excited about a good falcon, but this market is truly exceptional.
Every shop I walk into has rows and rows of live falcons sitting on low posts, while falconry accessories line the walls. Across the alley is a dedicated falcon hospital, the first I’ve seen in all my travels.
As I walk through the Falcon Souq, the guide says that some falcons sell for millions of US dollars, and that some airlines allow passengers to bring their falcons on the plane with them. Supposedly they even offer an in-flight meal for the bird (chicken, apparently, which is more than most airlines offer human passengers these days. Ah, to be a sheikh’s falcon!).
Next to the Falcon Souq is another animal-related market. This one sells exotic pets, from pure-bred Himalayan kittens to tropical toucans. I’m not sure how legally these animals arrived in Doha, but they’re here and everyone seems to love them.
Elsewhere in the souq, my tour of Doha continues with a trip to the local artisan shops. I visit Iranians selling fragrant spices and Syrians with a store stuffed full of taxidermy animals, all of which are sourced from the Damascus Zoo.
Across the way in the Handicraft Center is an Iraqi artist who draws on leather, and next to him is a Syrian shop selling Middle Eastern musical instruments called rababs, which are made from real wolf skin. It’s a lively mix of colors, sounds, and scents.
It’s also the last stop on my tour, and the end of my one-day layover in Doha. It’s been a very short trip, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot. And I still have my flight on Qatar Airways’ new A380 to look forward to, which is an exciting end in itself.