Doha, the capital city of Qatar, walks a fine line between modern cosmopolitanism and Bedouin tradition. Gleaming skyscrapers, high-end shopping malls, and street-prowling supercars blend harmoniously with old-world souks and streetside shawarma stalls. But at the heart of Qatar’s cultural landscape is art. From the vibrant graffiti splashed across town to world-class museums and eclectic installations, Doha democratises it. Even the stadiums built to host FIFA 2022 World Cup are no less artistic. Here’s a taste of some of the best museums and art in Doha.
National Museum of Qatar: This Jean Nouvel-(French architect) designed poetic structure blooms from the landscape like a desert rose. Once inside, the story of Qatar and the discovery of oil unfold across 11 galleries, all employing innovative approaches to storytelling. Film lovers will want to check out the evocative art films on display. There’s also a restored palace within the museum. Pro tip: Head for an afternoon tea at Jiwan, the restaurant by Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse, on the fourth floor of the museum. Grab one of the cosy dining pods inspired by the sand dunes for magnificent views of Doha Bay.
Museum of Islamic Art: This spectacular masterpiece standing alone on its own island is designed by award-winning architect IM Pei. Legend has it that Pei was 91 when he was coaxed out of retirement for the project, and he insisted that no future buildings could encroach on its space. The solution? Qatar gave the building its own island! The mind-boggling array of permanent exhibits includes intricate textiles, pottery, glasswork and more than 15,000 rare manuscripts and texts from around the globe, including a Quran from the seventh century.
Pro tip: The park next door hosts an open-air market and is the best place to buy jewellery, handmade and imported clothes, books, souvenirs, homemade food, and a wealth of unusual gifts. Public Art at Katara Cultural Village: There are numerous little pockets of culture around Doha, but my favourite is Katara Cultural Village. It’s the best place to go to catch some engaging exhibits, fabulous artworks and stunning installations.
Most significant is Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s three giant sculptures, Gandhi’s Three Monkeys. Made from cast bronze, steel and recycled cooking utensils, Gupta’s version depicts three heads each wearing a terrorist’s hood, a gas mask and a military helmet. The work evokes war and peace, as well as domestic and public life. The enormous 3,275 sq m Greco-Roman amphitheatre here affords stellar views of the sea on one side and the cultural village on the other. I was most fascinated by the Masjid of Katara made with turquoise and purple mosaic. Interestingly it was built by Turkey’s Zeynep Fadilloglu, who is believed to be the first female architect to specialise in mosques.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss a meal at the Lebanese restaurant, Mamig, along with a side of the best views of the Doha skyline and the splendid Arabian Gulf from their outdoor terrace.
3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum: This newest addition to Doha’s network of museums is sure to delight all sports and gaming fans. Sprawled over 205,000 sq ft feet and over multiple levels, 3-2-1 is billed as the largest museum of its kind in the world. The most fascinating is a display of torches from every Winter and Summer Games from 1936 onwards.
Pro tip: There is an interactive play zone at the end of the gallery.