Referred to as the Souq Waqif (there are other souqs in Doha), it was formerly a spot for centuries where the Bedu brought sheep, goats, wool and other things to trade. Apparently it was nearly condemned for demolition until they decided to renovate and redevelop it to resemble a 19th-century souq.
Today, there are plenty of nooks, crannies and narrow alleyways to walk through, however the buildings are new: mud-rendered shops show exposed timber beams in and around restored buildings that show their original elegance and charm.
People tend to go there to socialize and eat more than they do to shop. There are simply too many malls with western influence scattered throughout the city and outskirts.
That said, tourists always wind up here as do locals who want to meet friends for dinner — there is plenty of outdoor seating, which is reliable here since it barely rains.
No alcohol however, so if you’re okay grabbing a traditional and tasty meal along with tea, coffee, soda, water or juice, it’s the perfect night out. Cuisine is heavily influence by Lebanon and Morocco although there are variations. If you want sushi or Italian pasta with a fabulous bottle of Cabernet, stick to the hotels or few places in the city that may be lucky to have a liquor license.
If you do want to shop, it’s a bargaining culture just like most markets. You can find all sorts of things, from decadent gold and silver tea kettles, incense holders, ornate painted wooden boxes, henna paint for your hands, traditional Qatari dress, embroidered bukhnoq (girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes, jewelry, knock-off sunglasses, children’s shoes, materials, cashmere scarves and antiques.
They also have an exotic incense made from agar wood, which if you love an sensory overload, this is a great take-home.
Throughout the winding streets, there is a host of restaurants and cafes – some authentic and traditional and some not, but most offer an opportunity to smoke the hookah pipe, which is a regular siting pretty much anywhere in the Souq.
The entire experience was great, especially after many days of western hotels and shiny buildings in the city center. While the souq may not authentically be old, it was re-developed in the original location of one and the charm, the warmth of the people and the countless things to sample and sense are all worth it.
Photo credits: Renee Blodgett.