Doha Shopping Guide – From Atmospheric Souks to Shiny Shopping Malls
Our Doha shopping guide covers everything from atmospheric Souq Waqif, where artisans craft gold jewellery in tiny ateliers and locals sip coffee and smoke sheesha in breezy squares, to the shiny shopping malls that house luxury designer stores.
Like the United Arab Emirates’ cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, shopping in Qatar’s capital Doha is a real delight, especially if you focus on the atmospheric markets such as Souq Waqif and bargaining for Arabian antiques like Bedouin jewellery and old camel bags.
While you can seek respite from the heat during the day in air-conditioned shopping malls it’s the souqs or traditional markets that we love to explore in the evening, as much for their fabulous shopping as for their quintessentially Arabian atmosphere.
Our Doha Shopping Guide
Doha shopping is all about shopping Souq Waqif for me. The beautifully reconstructed souk is one of the most enchanting old bazaars on the Arabian Peninsula. The souqs in Dubai, Sharjah and Muscat are also favourites.
After dark is when Souq Waqif and its narrow alleyways and breezy lanes spring to life. The traditional cafés on its open squares fill with locals sipping syrupy short black coffee and puffing on fragrant sheesha pipes (a water pipe also called narghile or hubbly bubbly). The aromas of apple, strawberry and grape sheesha waft through the arcades, while Arabic pop music blares, and sound of goldsmiths hammering are heard in the background.
Another sound you’ll hear at Souq Waqif is the haunting call-to-prayer, which is easy not to notice if you’re staying in a well-insulated air-conditioned luxury hotel. Broadcast from tinny speakers attached to mosque minarets, the call to worshippers echoes through the city streets five times a day.
The labyrinthine lanes of Souq Waqif are a delight to get lost in, home to small shops selling traditional handicrafts, textiles, Arabian antiques and bric a brac, as well as artisans who make ouds (a sort of Middle Eastern lute) and jewellers who work in gold.
Souq Waqif is also home to a remodelled Art Centre with established art galleries, and various art workshops where you can have lessons in drawing and painting, including classes for kids. I have to admit that I loved the first incarnation, which housed bookshops, boutiques, and an antique and design store, alongside the galleries. It’s still a fab place to buy gifts and souvenirs.
Best buys: frankincense and an incense burner (pictured above); engraved brass coffee pots and Aladdin lamps; red striped Bedouin kilims and camel blankets and camel bags; wooden brass-studded bridal chests; embroidered thobe al nashl, the traditional men’s gowns; amber and coral prayer beads; model dhow boats; and sheesha pipe kits.
Close by, in the New Souq area, you’ll find a chaotic conglomeration of textile and electronic shops that was the centre of Doha shopping before ramshackle Souq Waqif was rescued from the rubble and shiny shopping malls were built.
We find these places compelling for the insight into local life that they offer more than for the products on sale. There’s probably little of real interest here for visitors when it comes to shopping, but we still encourage you to wander around. Al Jabr Mosque, between Al Mahmal St and Al Jabr St, is a squat, multi-domed mosque that warrants a photo.
The nearby Gold Souq is also worth a look for its glittering window displays of elaborate jaw-dropping jewellery, most intended for dowries and brides on their wedding day. If you’ve been to Dubai Souq this probably won’t impress you. If you haven’t, it will give you an idea of what you can expect if you’re heading to the UAE.
You will be expected to bargain in Doha’s souqs. It’s part of the experience. But see our Dubai Shopping Guide for bargaining tips first, as there is protocol involved and you want to make friends not enemies.
For Qataris and expats, Doha shopping is about the malls. Shopping is a favourite pastime of locals, both men and women alike, as well as the city’s expats it seems. The sumptuous air-conditioned malls are where most residents do their real, everyday shopping.
For travellers, the shopping centres not only offer respite from the heat, they also provide some insight into local culture.
In the Arabian Gulf countries, the mall is an integral part of everyday life. Its cafés are a meeting place for locals, while its plush cinemas, ice skating rinks and state-of-the-art bowling alleys are vital leisure centres for kids of all ages.
Locals love City Center Doha, the Landmark Shopping Mall, and the kitsch Villagio Mall with its manmade canals, gondola rides and blue sky mural with fluffy clouds.
Porto Arabia has a luxury mall with ritzy designer boutiques including Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Vera Wang, and Alexander McQueen.
Museum of Islamic Art
One of my favourite places for buying gifts and souvenirs is the Doha’s outstanding Museum of Islamic Art. The museum shop is as good as any excellent museum shop in the world, with wonderful glossy hardcover books on aspects of the history and art on display, as well as beautiful postcards, stationery, and prints, and design objects.
Have you shopped in Qatar’s capital? Do you have any Doha shopping tips to share?