A good airport usually offers a snapshot of the destination at large. Especially a popular transit spot that can lure frequent fliers to go beyond the confines of the airport and explore the destination. That’s what Hamad International Airport achieved in my case. It’s one of Asia’s most efficient airports and was the starting point of an engaging 24-hour trip through Doha.
The imposing ‘Small Lie’ by American artist and designer KAWS (Brian Donnelley)Ashwin Rajagopalan
The Doha airport has never been busier thanks to the 2022 World Cup. It’s easily one of Asia’s best airports for art and benefits from a unique partnership with Qatar Museums, whose vision is to take art beyond its traditional museum model into public spaces. It’s an eclectic mix of artworks — a blend of acquired objects and those that have been specially commissioned for the airport.
My favourite is the imposing ‘Small Lie’ by American artist and designer KAWS (Brian Donnelley) that celebrates his relationship with wooden toys. This 32-foot installation weighs 15 tonnes and is crafted from Afrormosia wood. Other popular artworks include ‘A Message of Peace’ by Iraqi artist Ahmed Al Bahrani and ‘Lamp Bear’ by Swiss artist Urs Fischer. You can book a walking tour (36 QAR / Rs 800) organised by Discover Qatar in collaboration with Qatar museums (also available for transit passengers).
Travel back 1,400 years
The Museum of Islamic ArtAshwin Rajagopalan
Celebrated architect IM Pei travelled six months through the Muslim world for design inspiration for one of the finest museums in the Middle East. He was 91 when the Museum of Islamic Art first debuted in 2008. Located on an artificial island along Doha’s 7-kilometre-long Corniche, this museum aggregates Islamic art from three continents – countries as diverse as Spain, Iran, Egypt and India, and from over 1,400 years. There’s room for intricate metal work, ceramics, manuscripts, jewellery, textiles and glass. The museum is also home to IDAM designed by Phillipe Starck — Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East that has won global accolades.
All dunes lead to the Sea Line desert where quad bikes and all-terrain SUVs take on the best sands in the region for dune bashingAshwin Rajagopalan
Even if you’ve done it at Dubai, I’d still urge you to experience the thrills of dune bashing all over again in Qatar. All dunes lead to the Sea Line desert where quad bikes and all-terrain SUVs take on the best sands in the region for dune bashing. Late afternoons are the best time, you can wind up with a picture-perfect sunset at the Sea Line beach, Qatar’s maritime border with Saudi Arabia. You can do the more ‘touristy’ camel ride if you arrive early or just pose with the camels.
A slice of history
Souq Waqif literally translates to Standing MarketAshwin Rajagopalan
The Souq Waqif has become a popular backdrop for most of the pre- and post-match coverage from the Word Cup. Doha’s century-old historic market was painstakingly restored a decade ago and is easily one of the city’s most charming experiences. Souq Waqif literally translates to Standing Market. This was once a space where Bedouins and locals would trade livestock and other goods, now it’s a spot for visitors to shop for precious gold jewellery and local spices or explore the world of falconry. We’re not talking Harry Potter here. Falcon Souq is home to the region’s most prized birds of prey that can fetch up to thousands of dollars in auctions. There’s also a one-of-a-kind falcon hospital within the souq. If you’re a mall rat, you will be spoilt for choice. The Villaggio, that will remind you of the Grand Canal Shoppes in Las Vegas, is a popular option.
The Villaggio mallAshwin Rajagopalan
An afternoon steeped in culture:
Doha has its very own blue mosque and it’s quite stunning. It’s part of the Katara Cultural Village, a great spot to spend a whole afternoon. This complex takes its name from ‘Catara’, the first and most ancient name designated for the Qatar Peninsula in geographic and historical maps. Do check out the amphitheatre while you’re there. There’s also a Football, Fine Art and Collectibles Exhibition that has been timed for the World Cup. You will notice a long 7.76-metre key (one of the largest in the world) that’s located just outside Ard Canaan, one of Doha’s finest restaurants for cuisine from the Levant region.