Doha: A Destination of the Future

It’s now been over a week since I arrived back in rather snowy Edinburgh and the days I spent visiting my Dad in Doha, Qatar already seem like a distant memory but what better way to keep the memory alive (and avoid the endless other tasks I have to do) than to tell you all about it.

I have to say that before I left I was very apprehensive and unsure what to expect from a city I had only been to once before and where I had been made to feel insecure, embarrassed and, to put it simply, a bit wrong.  Five years ago, Doha was a place which was definitely up and coming but which was in the very early days of this future glory.  It only had a very small airport, as blonde, white females my mother and I were very much in the minority and the location itself was somewhat intimidating to someone who had never fully experienced a Muslim country before.  And my Dad certainly isn’t the best tour guide when left to his own devices.  I did have a nice time but I was in no hurry to go back and could never see myself ever feeling comfortable in a place which, to me, was quite so alien to everything I had ever known.

In 2018, Doha is still very much this up and coming city which has the resources and ambitions to rival Dubai one day, it is still very different to a lot of the places I have visited over the years but I can also say that in so many ways Doha has changed.  I do think a lot of this change in perspective is to do with my own maturation and ability to cope with things but, if a city can progress towards modernity and, let’s face it, build such impressive infrastructure in such a short time one can’t help but be impressed.

Even as soon as I stepped off the plane I knew this time would be different.  Hamad International Airport is multiple times bigger than the one I arrived at last time and instead of feeling in the minority it was clear to me that the majority of the flight I arrived on were other European visitors like myself.  This just shows that Doha’s hard work and effort is beginning to pay off as more and more people see it as a viable tourist destination.  And this time my aim was to be the proper tourist and not wholly rely on my Dad’s rather shocking knowledge of what is good to do and see while in the city and here I want to share some of these things with you.

Souq Wakif

Souq Wakif is one of the only places I fully remember visiting from the first time I was in Doha and is definitely one of the key tourist centres in the entire city.  As far as I know, IMG_1372 (1)the souq itself is entirely artificially constructed and is not a traditional souq as you may be led to believe but it is not hard to see why people could be fooled into thinking this.  It captures the Arabian culture and historic aspect which is missing from a lot of the rest of the architecture that you see.  It is always bustling with activity and contains winding little streets filled with small shops, as well as a number of bars, restaurants and cafes and is a perfect place to sit, try out a shisha pipe and watch the rest of the world go by.  For all those animal lovers out there like myself however, watch out for the tied-up camels on one side of the Souq and the small section where animals are kept in cages as it is not pleasant and is probably the only drawback I see for the whole site.  I do highly recommend visiting this area both during the day and at night though.

The Museum of Islamic Art


I have to admit that this location as a museum did not interest me very much at all.  Museum’s can be a bit hit and miss and I think a lot of the displays here miss quite spectacularly.  Call me uncultured but there are only so many Arabian style vases, buckets and bowls with no other significance other than that they are old that you can look at.  Despite this, the Museum of Islamic art as a building in itself is definitely worth a visit.  The architecture is stunning and the museum has one of the most impressive views of the Doha skyline you are likely to see.  I would recommend going mid-afternoon and heading to the perfectly placed café at the far side of the museum as it looks out at the river and is ideal for watching the sun go down.  It was beautiful.  There is also a really nice courtyard off to the side for great photo opportunities.  Oh, and it has a pretty nice gift shop too.

The Corniche

Whilst on the subject of good views of the impressive Doha skyline, the Corniche is a IMG_1458.JPGwalkway which curves right round the bay and goes basically from one end of Doha to the other, leaving you with numerous vantage points to take in the skyscrapers that dominate one side.  Once again, great to experience both day and night and is one of the only places really where you can enjoy a leisurely walk and explore within Doha outside of your car.  Lots of families come here to have picnics at the side of the Corniche and there are a number of small boats which, for a fee, will take you around the bay and back if you aren’t in the mood for the walk in the intense heat.  Definitely one of my favourite places.

Malls, Malls and More Malls

This is one aspect of Doha which I think they are really starting to try and rival Dubai on because, for the amount of people and built-up land here, there is an insane amount of shops.  There is the City Centre Mall, Landmark Mall, Villagio, Mall of Qatar to name but a few of the biggest and best shopping malls in the city and they are still building more.  My two favourites are Villagio and the Mall of Qatar so I will focus on them but just know that whatever capitalist, material (and often flashy and expensive) item you could imagine they’ve got it.  Qatar is a very rich country and they certainly show it.

The Mall of Qatar is relatively new and is a bit more difficult to get to than some of the others yet the scale and choice of shops there is amazing.  It has well-known brands like Nike, Topshop, Pull and Bear, Victoria’s Secret and Next as well as many restaurants and cafe’s including Le Pain Quotidien, Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and the odd chocolate café too.  It would take a whole day at least to get round it and you still probably wouldn’t be satisfied.  Oh, and if all this wasn’t extra enough, they have a collapsible stage in the middle of the centre that hosts impromptu performances throughout the day too.

Now Villagio, although a bit older, is just plain cool.  It is Venice themed with the gondolas and canals included and it’s high value quarter with every designer label imaginable is certainly worth a browse – even if you can’t afford to buy anything like me!  The selection of shops and restaurants is just as insane and at the end of the ‘expensive’ part there is a Laduree Macaron café, just in case the Venice theme wasn’t obvious enough.  You honestly have to see it to believe it.


Katara Cultural Village

Katara is basically a man-made beach with, you guessed it, yet more shops round the side, just in case you hadn’t quite got your fill of materialism quite yet.  Although I wasn’t overly impressed with this area and there really isn’t that much to do it’s still pretty to have a look around as the architecture and small streets at the back are still pretty nice.  One thing I did notice is that Katara is very popular with the tourists and is probably the place where i felt most in the minority and judged for my choice of clothing so be prepared to dress conservative or cope with a lot of staring.

The PearlIMG_1446.JPG

Now the Pearl to me is one of the gem’s (pardon the pun) of Doha.  It is absolutely stunning and although it is basically yet another shopping district, it is a beautiful area where you really feel like you’ve entered paradise.  It also felt a lot more Westernised and is where I saw majority of tourists.  Saying that, the place is almost always deserted and it can feel like a bit of a ghost town which is a real shame because it really does feel like a missed opportunity.  If I was to live in Doha this is where I would like to live however, and I know, that as the popularity of Doha as a destination increases, the Pearl’s popularity will increase too.  It’s just stunning.

Eating and Drinking in Doha

Another thing I was really worried about before I travelled to Doha was the fact that I didn’t expect the knowledge of veganism to be very good but boy was I surprised.  Sure I went to the odd place where they looked at me like I’d just fallen from Mars but the majority of places I went were happy to accommodate my needs and I didn’t worry about my meals too much.  (I have to say that the  website Happy Cow helped immensely with picking places to eat however, and if you are travelling as a vegan I couldn’t recommend it enough.)   As I was only there for four days I didn’t get to try out too many places but below are my top two locations to eat in Doha from this trip:

Evergreen Organics

Usually I would save the best until last but in this case I just can’t.  Evergreen Organics is that good.  Yes, being in the Pearl area of the city, it is somewhat pricey but it is the only fully vegan café in the whole of Doha and it boasts an extensive menu, the best selection of vegan cakes and bakes I have seen anywhere in the world and it also has possibly the most chilled out and wonderful vibe and atmosphere ever.  Can you tell I loved it?  It is hard to find and a little out of the way but basically whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eater then please try this place because it is worth it.  In fact, if I ever go back to Doha then I think I will spend the majority of my time here.

Spice Market

I think the first thing I need to say about Spice Market is that it is located within the W hotel in the heart of Doha and so is incredibly expensive.  This is a place to go if you don’t mind spending a bit but I have to say the meal we had there was amazing.  My Mum and Dad were probably more impressed than me as I believe both of their meat dishes were out of this world but I too had a really nice stir-fry and the manager of the restaurant was happy to alter any of the dishes on the menu to my liking and my server was also very knowledgeable about veganism too.  They also had some really nice sorbets for dessert which I tried.  Lovely restaurant, lovely staff but, to be honest, for the price you have to pay, I don’t think you could expect anything else.

For my Fellow Vegans (Other than just go to Evergreen Organics!)…

  • Isaan is a restaurant in another of the hotels in Doha which makes it once again quite pricey but it actually has a fully separate vegan menu (they call it the healthy menu) with everything clearly labelled.  This is a really helpful thing to know if you visit the restaurant.
  • The Red Velvet Cupcakery is located within Katara and actually has a vegan chocolate cupcake on offer.  I didn’t really like the look of the café itself as it was a bit dark and out of the way but the cupcakes looked great and would be lovely to take away.
  • Go for traditional middle eastern foods!  There are so many places offering your favourite vegan fares such as falafel (watch out for these containing honey, remember), hummus, pitta bread, olives – the list goes on!  I was really surprised how easy it was to eat traditional and get by so Doha definitely is a much more vegan-friendly place than I had it down as!
  • Know that vegan-friendly chains have made it to Doha too as Nando’s, Wagamama’s, Le Pain Quotidien and Pizza Hut all have a reasonably large presence among a number of other chains.  Costa also had coconut milk on offer when I was there so there is still plenty of options if you are visiting Doha on more of a budget.

Another point to note, is that if you haven’t experienced a culture like that of Doha before, then you might not be aware that you can’t buy alcohol unless you go to one of the five star hotels around the city.  If you go to a restaurant you will be served soft drinks only.  This wasn’t a problem for me and I’d maybe take your trip as a time to ditch the drink and enjoy a break rather than pay extortionate prices for it but of course this is entirely up to you.

My Final Five Top Tips For Travelling to Doha

  1. Don’t go in the Summer.  This one is pretty self explanatory because you will melt.  Temperatures can reach the 50’s and it’s so hot outside that you basically just want to go from one air-conditioned building to the next.  From my experience the best times to go are either March or October.  February can be a dangerous time just simply because the weather is likely to break at some point before it starts getting really hot.
  2. Be prepared to dress conservatively and modestly.  This is a Muslim country which has not yet embraced all of Western culture so wearing a crop top and shorts around will mean you get a lot of disapproving stares.  I’m not saying I agree with it, but it’s definitely worth packing that extra light cardigan and some long trousers.
  3. Doha is not a walking-friendly city.  You will have to pay for taxi’s and transport to get from place to place because you just can’t walk around the same as you can in a number of other cities.  Hiring a car is possible but the driving can be slightly erratic and scary at times so it’s best to allow some money in your budget for travel once you get there.


The How, What and Where of Barcelona

My Mum and I love going on city breaks.  It all started a couple of years ago when we decided to spend a long weekend in New York for my Mum’s birthday with the rest of the family and the concept was even more of a success for the two of us when we left my brother and Dad behind last year and headed off to Paris for my eighteenth.  The weather may have been terrible from start to finish during our Parisian adventure but it had been such a good laugh and a chance for us to spend such good quality time with one another we booked up to go to Barcelona at the end of May this year, with hopes for better weather but just as good experiences.

Barcelona is a vibrant, incredibly diverse and architecturally stunning city with lots to offer any tourist.  From the beach and the historical buildings, to the shops and the sangria – the city really seems to be becoming the location of the moment and, due to this,  I thought I would share my thoughts on HOW to get around and plan your trip to gain maximum success, WHAT to go and see while in Barcelona and WHERE to eat and drink while there.  All of my recommendations are based on my own experiences over our jam-packed four days and so can’t possibly give the full extent of what Barcelona has to offer, but if there’s one thing My Mum and I do well, it is seeing as much of a city in one weekend as is humanly possible.



First things first, getting from the airport into the heart of Barcelona really has only one cheap but sensible option, the Aerobus, which stops very near to the airport exit.  It only costs around $5,90 pp. as opposed to a taxi which could cost as much as $35-40!  A great money saver and the bus stops in four locations throughout the city, terminating in the most popular destination of the Placa de Catalunya, between La Rambla and the main shopping street, Passeig de Grácia.  Staying in and around the Plaςa de Catalunya will also make it easier when travelling to other destinations because, excluding the attraction, Park Güell, everything else you will want to do or see is pretty much within walking distance and the whole area has a great feel to it.  If you do find yourself needing a taxi however, you will have no trouble getting one as Barcelona has one of the highest taxi to population ratios in the world – even more than New York!

We stayed at The Catalonia Hotel just a five minute walk from the Plaça de Catalunya and I personally couldn’t fault it – great breakfast, beautiful rooftop terrace with plunge pool, free wine and basic tapas in the afternoon – what more could you ask for?!  The price tag for this particular accommodation was quite high however, and I’m not sure its always worth spending so much on a hotel on a city break because you will often find that you don’t spend much time there.  So, when picking somewhere to stay this could be something to consider.

As for exploring the city itself, I am always a great believer that walking around and just getting a proper feel of the surroundings is the best way to truly experience it all.  You will often find a number of things that you never would have found if you had taken a taxi or a bus or any other mode of transport and, with Barcelona, this is no different.  What I will recommend however, are two particular tours my Mum and I took which really enhanced our ability to see the city in new and exciting ways.

The tours were booked through Viator, an online tour company run by TripAdvisor and the first was a bus tour on our first night which took us around the beach area and then up through Montjuic to the castle where you are able to view the Magic Fountain Show, which is put on every Saturday night only – perhaps something to consider when IMG_1015.JPGbooking your trip!  The Magic Fountain Show itself was an amazing start to our holiday because from the moment ‘Barcelona’ by Freddie Mercury began to play and the fountains began to dance, the atmosphere of the place was breath-taking, and it only became more and more magical as the sun went down and the lights came on.  It really is a must-see, and that’s even before we mention the beauty of the castle itself!

Our second tour, also booked through Viator, was possibly my highlight of the entire trip which was the Segway tour that I forced my Mum to do with me on the morning of our second day.  The tour was organised by the company Barcelona Segway Fun and our IMG_1054.JPGtour guide David made the experience even more enjoyable with his very easy-going and pleasant manner and his helpful information about the sights we saw – which included the beach and harbour area, the Arc de Triompf, the Parc de la Ciutadella among much more. Honestly, it is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had on holiday and even my Mum loved the Segway by the end!  All I can say is if you don’t do this tour then you are missing out big style, because it’s a great way to see many sights you may otherwise miss out.


When it comes to attractions and must-see’s in Barcelona there is really only one truly IMG_1115.JPGobvious sight:  the world-famous Sagrada Familia.  Designed by Antoni Gaudi and still under construction even today, it is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited and I can completely understand why so many tourists flock here.  I would really take your time while studying the two finished exteriors and the roof of the church in particular (not that you can really help yourself) because the extreme detailing is amazing and, I do think its worth booking to go up one of the two currently finished towers, because the views from the top are really something.  What I will say though, is that the Sagrada Familia is just as busy as you believe it to be and, if you don’t book entry in advance then you are unlikely to make it inside – so please book online first!

And, to give you some prior warning before you book up to visit Barcelona, if you don’t IMG_0991.JPGlike the architecture and art of Antoni Gaudi, then just don’t bother because he crops up everywhere.  Luckily I’m a fan but even I was slightly fed up of hearing his name by the time I returned home as I visited three other Gaudi sights during my stay.  The first was the Casa Battló, a house within walking distance of the Plaça de Catalunya, which takes on an underwater or skeletal theme, depending on which way you look at it, and I have to say I was very impressed with this building.  It is incredibly beautiful both in exterior and interior qualities and I believe it is just as much a must-see as the Sagrada Familia itself, so do make some time for this.

I cannot say however, that all of Gaudi’s architectural buildings are as worth visiting because after booking a night tour quite last minute of The Pedrera, an apartment building designed by the man himself, I was left highly disappointed with the experience.  Yes, it’s pretty as apartment buildings go but it is just that – an apartment building.  I kind of felt they were just spinning out the Gaudi name to make some extra profit and honestly, I would probably miss out this particular site from your visit because it just didn’t give me the wow factor of the previous two.

After the disappointment of The Pedrera, we did however, still decide to travel to Park Güell, a public park area also designed by Gaudi, and the park itself was lovely for a relaxed walk however, we unfortunately fell victim to the mistake of not pre-booking so we were unable to fully enter into the ‘Monumental Zone’ where a number of Gaudi’s most impressive mosaics and colourful sculptures are placed – so once again book in advance!  Still, the free part of the gardens themselves have a lovely atmosphere and would be a great stop for a picnic, if you have the time.

And, if you’ve finally had enough of Gaudi there is still a number of non-related things to fill the rest of your time with!  I would recommend just having a walk down La Rambla and into the Plaça Reale, which is not only really beautiful but has a lot of restaurants and bars, which might be of interest to you.  Unfortunately we didn’t explore this area until near the end of our trip so didn’t get a chance to try out any of the places around here but this was really the place where I felt most like I was in ‘Barcelona’ and La Rambla is definitely the best place to go if you want fresh fruit, churros or ice cream.  I would perhaps avoid this street at night though if you don’t want hassled to go to the night clubs in Barcelona which, if you’re on holiday with your Mum like I was, you probably won’t be interested in, as there are a lot of PR’s going around.


So finally, and one of the last sights we visited during our trip, was the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, or, as it is otherwise known, Barcelona Cathedral.  I sometimes think this is a place which is often overlooked simply because of the beauty and popularity of the Sagrada Familia but this is still a stunning building to see and was very much more what you would expect from a religious building in terms of atmosphere and peace and it is also free to enter, with only donations being suggested, which is good for those on a strict budget.  Do remember to cover up a bit better for this sight however, as strappy tops and short skirts/shorts are prohibited here.


And so my final, but often most important, section is related to the good (and bad) places my Mum and I found to eat and drink while on our travels and the place I feel I have to mention first is the vegetarian/vegan haven just off the Plaça de Catalyuna which is WokiIMG_1179.JPG Organic Market.  My mum, and all other meat-eaters, will not understand the euphoria which came across me when I realised I didn’t have to put up with any more cheese and tomato and had found a place where I could not only get fresh vegetables and exciting meals but I was also sure that my vegetarianism would be understood – it was brilliant!  Woki serves a lot of diverse dishes but have a fully vegan menu and make a range of gluten free options and cakes too.  It is open right through the day so would be good for a visit at any time and even people who are self-catering will be able to buy supplies as it doubles as an organic supermarket.  Can you tell that I really, really liked this place?

The second place that I ended up really liking was a small, café that we found on the last day, just round the corner from our hotel, called the Libreria Café (or Library café) and that’s pretty much all the description you need.  It’s situated in the upstairs of a bookshop and has a really peaceful and calm atmosphere and the staff are happy to make up a range of toasted rolls based on what you would like, as well as having a varied menu, fresh frittatas and pretty good looking cakes too.  It’s great for a quick bite between seeing the sights and could also be an option for dinner, as I think they serve more filling meals through the back of the café too.  And, you’re pretty much surrounded by books which will always earn them some brownie points with me.

As well as the Libreria Café, there does actually seem to be a lot of cute, independent bakeries in Barcelona which are really worth trying out.  Another one which I had recommended to me was the Hotel Praktik Bakery which I also found and thought looked like a really lovely place for a casual lunch.  The only reason I didn’t personally go here is because there was a lack of vegetarian sandwich fillings, although I’m sure they would be happy to make something up for you, on request.

This next one is going to sound like a bit of a strange recommendation since it is a supermarket but the Carrefour Market located on La Rambla is like no other supermarket I have ever visited.  They have a great selection of filled rolls and wraps, fresh smoothies and they even have separate stations where they serve sushi and freshly prepared stir-fry’s and noodle dishes.  It kind of left me wondering why supermarkets at home were so inferior in comparison but honestly, you have to see it to believe it.

The reason that I haven’t really mentioned a number of good restaurants for proper, sit down meals is because I wasn’t overly impressed with the two we did end up visiting.  One which my mum did enjoy however, was Margharita, an Italian restaurant located off a side street from the Passeig de Grácia.  They have a really good range of different pasta dishes and salads but I was left quite let down by the standard of their pizza, which, from an Italian restaurant, left me surprised.  Despite this, their rosé wine was very impressive, and if your that way inclined, it’s probably worth visiting just for that.

IMG_1183However, if a good rosé wine isn’t enough and you are looking solely for somewhere to get a good drink, and in my Mum and I’s case this means cocktails, then you’re probably going to come up with the name Dry Martini, which seems to rank pretty highly on a number of sources as being one of the oldest and best cocktail bars in Barcelona.  However, I am here to tell you that it’s probably not worth the bother of travelling there.  It’s quite fancy inside and looks like an old-fashioned speak-easy but it came over even a bit snobby to me and the cocktails were quite overpriced and the one both my Mum and I tried – The Amelie – wasn’t even that great.  It was highly alcoholic though, which was probably just a means to get you to forget about the price!  Perhaps give this one a miss and go get yourselves some sangria instead.

IMG_1187.JPGSo lastly, what better way to finish up my How, What and Where of Barcelona than with an excellent Gelateria recommendation in the heart of La Rambla.  We came across Amorino by accident while exploring this part of the city and was enticed to go inside by the beauty of the shop and the ice cream itself, housed just inside the door.  They have a great array of flavours and even have fully vegan certified sorbets which looked really good quality.  They also make the most beautiful displays on the cones and make them into the shape of flowers, with the option to add a mini macaroon to the top too, if you want one.  The flavours I tried were stracciatella, dolce du leche and chocolate hazelnut and honestly, for those few minutes, I was in heaven.  Its a lovely, lovely shop and will definitely satisfy any sweet craving.

So there you have it, my brief but hopefully interesting look into the beautiful and exciting city of Barcelona.  Whether you are there for a week or simply a few days, like my Mum and I were, you can not fail to be impressed by the beauty of each and every building and the number of great opportunities the city has.  I would love to go back and spend more time at the beach area, as well as finally getting in to see some of those famous Gaudi mosaics at Park Güell, but, perhaps for now, a Gaudi break is very much what I need.  Happy travelling folks!