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The Qatar capital city, Doha, is steeped in history, despite its modern skyline of high-rise buildings and reputation for high-tech modernity. Only sixty years ago Doha was a desert oasis situated on one of the most picturesque stretches of the Arabian Gulf. Now it is a centre of commerce and a tourist destination that is growing in popularity; the city has much to offer its visitors. Vastly improved communications have also given the city a big boost, with regular flights to Doha from most major European airports.
As well as some great beaches, the shopping opportunities will satisfy the most demanding of shopaholics. Doha has the second largest shopping mall in the world - the appropriately named 'City Centre Mall'. As well as all the major American and European chain stores there are local ethnic shops selling traditional crafts. Right in the middle of the mall is an ice skating rink, a rather bizarre feature in this desert city. The rink is very popular with Qataris and the ex-pat fraternity.
For a more traditional shopping experience a visit to the Wakif Souk is essential. It seems old and yet at the same time is modern. A few years ago it was in dire need of renovation, so it was rebuilt, whilst still retaining much of the original souk. It's a magical place full of Eastern atmosphere, selling carpets, spices, fabrics, ethnic jewellery and leather goods. The whole area is awash with colour and the evocative scent of incense. Haggling is an art form, and expected of the buyer, but even if you don't buy anything it's a great place to visit.
For non-shoppers there are plenty of other things to occupy the visitor. The city has beautiful mosques everywhere, which unfortunately have to be admired from the outside as they are usually closed to casual visitors. There is also a maritime display with traditional wooden dhows anchored in a small lagoon adjacent to the main museum, which offers great photo opportunities. Surprisingly, photography all over the museum complex is allowed, which is quite unusual.
When visiting museums and other attractions open to the public, bear in mind that being a Muslim country there are often days set aside for the exclusive admission of women and children, so check opening times before planning a visit to avoid disappointment.
The museum is situated on the Doha Corniche, a seven kilometre long esplanade encircling the bay on which Doha is built. It's perfect for a stroll, especially in the evenings, and is a mixture of modern architecture, intriguing monuments and palm trees. One of the most evocative monuments is the Oyster and Pearl, close to the Islamic Museum - a reminder of Qatar's ancient pearl diving industry.
Just 15 minutes from the centre of Doha is Palm Tree Island, a sandbar in the middle of the bay. Al Nakhil has been developed as a beach resort within easy reach of the city, offering clean sandy beaches, shaded gardens and a good selection of eating places, both indoors and out. The island is traffic free, so it's a great place for families to relax.
In the evenings, dhows providing trips around the bay leave from a jetty near the Sheraton Hotel, and these are always popular with holidaymakers.
For lovers of Middle Eastern history there is much to see away from Doha. North of the capital, continuing up the east coast is the ancient town of Al-Khor, which is famous for its fishing port. The Al-Khor harbour is full of traditional fishing boats, the whole place seemingly untouched by the 21st century activity going on all around it.
The dunes surrounding Doha are amazing, but it's best to join a day safari to see them, rather than risk getting stranded in the desert on your own.
Car hire is straightforward - a valid UK driving licence is all that's required for a seven-day hire. Any longer and you will need a temporary Qatar licence. Most major hire companies have desks at the airport, so it's a good idea to think of hiring a car when you are booking flights to Doha.
The same applies to accommodation; there is a good selection of international hotels in Doha, such as the Sheraton, the Intercontinental and the Ritz-Carlton, good deals for accommodation can be found online. When booking your accommodation and cheap flights to Doha, bear in mind that the summer can be uncomfortably hot in the desert states. It is best to plan your visit between November and March, when it is still warm, but not humid and oppressive.