To anyone accustomed to bustling shopping hubs around the world, Doha — the capital of Qatar — may seem a little on the quieter side. But enjoy the tranquil ambience while it lasts. Because global brands, realising what deep pockets Qataris have — yes, this tiny nation is one of the richest in the world — have been finding their way to the shopping malls of the city. And with Qatar’s popularity quotient already rising as the host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament, Doha is poised to become one of the sought after luxury shopping destinations among the West Asian nations.
A recent KPMG report on Qatar’s real estate said, “Currently, there are around nine new malls under various stages of construction, out of which four have experienced soft openings, or launched in phases and have expansion plans that are slated to be delivered within a 3-year period.” Topping the list of Qatar’s grand malls is Villagio. Located in Doha’s Aspire Zone or the Sports City (one of the key facilities that clinched Qatar’s claim to hold the FIFA World Cup), the Villagio Mall flaunts a Venetian styled interior, with ornate domed roofs, stylised arches and rows of shops exhibiting basic and global brands. Housed in the dazzling Via Domo are brands such as Bvlgari, Dior, Cartier, Christian Louboutin, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, CH Carolina Herrera, to name a few. What’s more, you may take a relaxed ride in a typical Venetian gondola to travel along the meandering canal within the mall. Take a break from shopping by exploring the Gondolania, which among other things have an Olympic size ice skating rink, and Doha’s largest theme park, Gondolania Entertainment City. Depending on how hungry you are, you can visit coffee shops to pizzerias to restaurants.
With an upmarket residential address and a marina crowded with luxury yachts, the Pearl Qatar is landmark lifestyle complex, which includes retail outlets of many renowned brands, such as Hermes, Giorgio Armani, Chloe, Roberto Cavalli, and Elie Saab. During the cooler months or after sun-down in summer, the sprawling complex is a great place to explore. It also contains some famous names from the culinary world, such as British favourite Harry Ramsden, upmarket sandwich concept Which Wich, seafood delight Sammach, American diner Black Rock Grill and Dip’n’Dip, etc. A project developed by United Development Company (UDC), a leading Qatari Public shareholding company, it is located on an artificial island covering nearly four million square meters. Although popular as an art village and entertainment zone, the Katara Cultural Village also offers high-end shopping opportunities, which is expected to increase further, according to local media reports.
One of Doha’s newest, the Tawar Mall has over three hundred stores, including a collection of luxury retailers. Located in the heart of Al Duhail, between West Bay (Doha’s business district) and Al Garrafa, it is just 20 minutes’ drive from Hamad International Airport. Tucked within the imposing modern architectural structure are retail fashion, sports, gadgets and department stores, a Spar Hypermarket as well as the as well as a huge family entertainment area. It also has a large area named the Old Souq, where you will get a feel of the Arabian traditional market in a very
comfortable setting. The Tawar Mall also includes a boutique hotel.
Also located in the posh West Bay area of Doha, the Lagoona Mall is home to Qatar's most luxurious multi-brand store, Fifty One East, said to be one of the biggest in the region. Located in West Bay, about 25 minutes’ drive from the Hamad International Airport, City Center Doha is a popular retail and leisure destination that is connected to three international hotels, Shangri-La Doha, Marriot Marquis Hotel and Rotana City Center Hotel. With a large selection of local, regional and international retail brands to browse from, this mall suits people with a variety of budgets. Debenhams, Fun City, Home Centre, Fitness First, Baby Shop, Mango, Shoe Market, Nike, Go Sport, Sun & Sand Sport are some of the anchor shops here. It also features a 14 screen cinema complex, a bowling alley, an ice rink and plentiful of cafes and restaurants.
Doha Festival City is home to over 500 stores, ranging from day-to-day shopping to high-end fashion labels. The Monoprix Hypermarket located here is said to be the world’s largest. It is good for a family outing with VOX Cinemas to theme parks, from Angry Birds World to Snow Dunes. If you are looking for entertainment along with shopping, check out The Mall of Qatar, which holds 52 weeks of headline shows on a 360-degree custom developed revolving stage. Retailers include Adidas, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, Birkenstock, Debenhams, Kiko Milano, etc. The Mall of Qatar, about 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Doha, and adjacent to the Amiri Guard on Dukhan Road, is also home to the first Curio Collection by Hilton in West Asia, AlRayyan Hotel Doha.
In a land of spectacular high-rises, the first thing that will draw your attention at the Landmark Mall is its single-story castle-like structure. Located in Al Gharaffa area, to the north of Doha City, it includes a Carrefour Hypermarket as well as international brands such as Karen Millen, Furla, Marks & Spencer, Omega, H&M, Swarovski, etc. It also has a Cineplex and an indoor amusement park called Circus Land. Located on the D-Ring Road, one of Doha’s main roads, is The Mall, Doha’s first shopping complex, which opened in 1997.
While it is impossible to resist the lure of Doha’s shopping malls, do remember to visit the souqs, with their meandering alleys selling locally-crafted souvenirs, spices, incense and perfumed oils, may be a falcon if you fancy one. One of the most popular traditional markets of Doha is the Souq Waqif, about 15 minutes’ drive from Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Once a weekend market for Bedouins, it almost lost its traditional charm until a wide-scale renovation restored its 19th century architecture and ambience. Usually, the market springs to life in the later afternoon when the sun’s rays are less harsh.
The main road meanders through the souq from where you can enter the warren of covered alleys, each devoted to one kind of product, which make up the heart of the market. Along the main road, you will find lots of souvenir shops, open-air cafes, fancy restaurants, etc. Popular buys include perfumes, essential oils, the aromatic ‘oud’, ‘dallah’ (coffee pots), spices, wooden chests, lights, souvenirs, etc. Bargaining is allowed but loud behaviour is not. If you are in a mood to splurge, make your way to the Gold Souq. Apart from locally made and imported jewellery, diamonds, pearls and valuable stones are sold here. The craftsmen may also engrave or make a jewellery to order. Although less glamorous than Souq Waqif, the Omani Souq, less than half an hour’s drive away, is good to browse for pottery, incense and incense burners, etc.
So if you are wondering what to do this summer, make the best of Qatar’s visa-free travel offer for India and go on a shopping trip to this tiny country, only three to five hours’ flight away.
Getting there: Qatar Airways fly from major Indian cities to Doha, with travel time of three to five hours. You may also avail Qatar Airways’ free Transit Visa and enjoy a complimentary stay at one of the many international hotels in Doha. As of now, Qatar is allowing visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, including India. A passport with at least six months’ validity and a return air ticket is all that you need for a free-of-charge visa waiver*
*Check for other conditions on the official website