Navigating Souq Waqif
Reincarnated in 2006, Souq Waqif is undisputedly one of the most traditional market places in the region. Located in the social hub of Doha, locals and visitors alike flock to sample its charm. It offers an array of cafés and restaurants of various cuisines, an international shopping scene and the perfect opportunity to wander and take in some picturesque scenery.
Its 19th-century look with cobbled streets, mud-rendered shops, exposed timber beams and remarkably restored original Qatari buildings, make walking through the alleyways extremely pleasing to the eye. Meanwhile, the hidden air-conditioning helps alleviate the discomfort of walking outside during hotter months. One also has to mention the numerous, clean and remarkably well-maintained rest rooms, which adds bonus points on family excursions.
Navigating the maze
There are sixty odd restaurants and cafés on offer, the majority of which are lined-up on the "main strip", providing such variety that you will no doubt find what your palette is craving.
Off to either side of this street are narrow alleyways that lead you into a maze of corridors filled with colourful stalls selling everything from stuffed animals to saucepans.
This labyrinth has some logic to it. Arts and crafts such as ornate wooden chests, paintings, ceremonial daggers, traditional dress and painted ceramics are grouped together in one section. Touristy souvenir stalls selling caps, flags, cups and camels (the ceramic variety) are cunningly scattered throughout the souq.
On another side are the everyday supermarket items, i.e. pots, spades, towels, cheap shoes and if you walk a little further on and literally follow your nose to one very scented section, you will find the spices. A beautiful collection of preserved fruits, honey, oils, legumes, nuts and all the spices you can name are displayed in large canisters exuding their powerful aromas to tempt walkers by.
To buy and to taste
A lovely souvenir would be a glass jar filled with layers of colourful cumin, fenugreek, turmeric and ginger. Just ask the spice traders and they may be able to make beautiful shapes with them for you.
Another good souvenir would be an engraved dhow boat maquette or get a piece of silver jewellery made for you of your name written in Arabic. You can order it and come back in one hour to pick it up-it makes a truly wonderful gift. We recommend Kashem al Nakesh (located on the main strip, just past the Dunkin’ Donuts).
In the bird market, crêpes laden with creamy cheese and honey are Doha's cheapest breakfast, costing just QR 4. For dessert, we recommend the Hallab Sweet shop, renowned for its baklava and other traditional Lebanese treats.
If you find yourself overloaded with shopping, there are plenty of porters around who will make a trip back to your car for QR 20. These friendly gentlemen will carry just about any load in their trusty wheelbarrows, but do note that pictures taken with them require an additional tip.
It is also well worth taking a stroll through the small Gold Souq and then the Falcon Souq, where you can have your picture taken with these prized birds and learn a little bit about their role in Arabic history.
Souq Waqif Art Centre
Souq Waqif Art Centre also merits a visit. Outside the rooms lie sculptures and chests inlaid with turtle shell. Filled with galleries and wall-to-wall artwork of photography, painting and ceramics by emerging and renowned artists, you must at least pop in to have a look around.
The first floor of the centre is dedicated to art education, where long and short-term courses on drawing, painting, calligraphy and ceramics, among others, are on offer. There are also art retail shops, including The Art Source, where many expats come to have their pictures framed.
The centre also has a bookstore art library where you can find valuable resources on various art subjects. The Souq Waqif Art Centre is located opposite Le Gourmet and close to the Bandar Fish Market.
Bargaining is encouraged in most places, but not always accepted in all shops. Most shops do not take credit cards or debit cards, however there are plenty of ATMs dotted around. There is also an information centre central to the main strip should you have any queries.
Souq Waqif is also home to a luxurious brand of boutique hotels. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the souq, you will find eight deluxe, 5-star hotels. They have a total of 147 rooms and 12 restaurants offering everything from fine dining to casual snacks and romantic rooftop terraces showcasing spectacular views of the lively the souq.
Beautifully constructed using traditional Qatari architectural elements, these buildings are a real fusion of local culture with 21st century luxury. This coupled of course with all the delights of a traditional Arabesque ambience and service provides a very unique experience.
Parking and hours
There are two main car parks and parking costs QR 3 upon entry and QR 1 per subsequent hour. We recommend parking at Fanar Centre car park, just a two-minute walk from the Souq Waqif, where you will have more options during busy periods.
Opening hours are from 07:30 to 21:30. Most of the shops close around noon and reopen at 16:00, but many cafés and restaurants remain open all day.
For more information, please call the Tourist Centre on +974 4441-8534.