Fairs and markets have a long history that started when man felt the need to exchange goods. People would shop for goods at a weekly market in nearby towns. Then shops began to be permanently established. Shops were specialized , e.g. a bakery, a butchery, a grocer. Then supermarkets appeared.
There have been three major phases in the shopping / trading world in the last 100 years.
In a way, these link up into a full circle.
Located behind the Corniche, off Grand Hamed St, Souq Waqif is a showpiece of traditional architecture, handicrafts and folk art, and was once a weekend trading area for the Bedouin.
Meaning “standing market” in Arabic, the Souq evokes the feeling of ancient Arabic heritage and community. Beginning in 2004, the Souq was renovated according to traditional Qatari architectural techniques, using authentic materials.
The only traditional souq to remain in the Gulf, it’s now a charming labyrinth of narrow streets where visitors can bargain and purchase an amazingly diverse range of products including spices, dried fruit, nuts, perfumes, local honey, clothing, oud, incense, pots, tools and garden equipment, as well as Bedouin weaving, gypsum handicrafts, model dhows, wooden brass-studded bridal chests, pictures of ‘old Doha’, and paintings by Qatari artists.
A visit to one of the falcon shops is a unique experience – some shopkeepers will allow you to photograph and handle the birds while explaining equipment and training.
Open from 10 am – 12 pm and 4 pm – 10 pm, Souq Waqif is one of the liveliest place in Doha, boasting an increasing number of restaurants, where you can taste traditional Qatari food and various specialties from the Middle-East.
There are several traditional cafés and restaurants which open until late (some 24 hours). Sample local delicacies or try the traditional shisha or water pipe, often referred to as ‘hubbly-bubbly’ because of the noise it makes. There are regular displays of folk dance and music, particularly on festive occasions, and opportunities to photograph donkeys with traditional patterned saddles.
Next to the Al Ghanim Central Bus Station, behind the Alfardan Centre off Grand Hamad St, is the Gold Souq, a must-see even if you have no intention of splurging. Here you will find an abundance of imported and locally crafted gold and silver jewellery sold with or without diamonds, pearls or precious and semi-precious stones set into them.
Most of the items crammed tightly in the display cases are made of 18 or 22-carat gold. The chunky bangles that sport intricate engravings are ‘Gulf-style’ while Indian-style jewellery carry more complex designs, including filigree work. European designs tend to be more delicate. Haggle away safe in the knowledge that all gold jewellery sold in Qatar is stamped with a government guarantee of purity. Engraving in either Roman letters or Arabic script can be done on-the-spot in 15 minutes.
Much of the gold (all checked and stamped by the Assay Office in Qatar) has been beautifully handcrafted by second and third-generation skilled craftsmen, many of whom will make up a unique piece of jewellery, as well as do resizes or repairs. One popular ‘souvenir’ is a necklace made with the recipient’s name in Arabic, cut from gold sheet and centred on a gold chain. Examples of the heavy but intricate bridal sets given to Qatari girls by their husbands-to-be are also on display; a mass of gold that in the rest of the world would be out of public gaze.
Pieces are weighed and priced according to the cost of gold on the day’s market; to that is added a small ‘making charge’.
Since at present Qatar charges no Value Added Tax (VAT) gold jewellery is significantly cheaper here than in Europe. But for those who just want to look rather than buy, most shops will be happy for you to take photographs.
The Wholesale Souq, part of the Central Market off Salwa Rd, is a hive of activity, attracting both commercial and private buyers. The Vegetable Souq has the feel of a village market – vendors peddle their wares from beneath shaded awnings, offering a colourful and exotic selection of local and imported fresh fruit and vegetables.
Look out for the ‘porters’ who follow shoppers with wheelbarrows to carry purchases back to their cars.
The variety of seafood in the Fish Souq, set alongside the Vegetable Souq, will fascinate anyone interested in fish, from either a gastronomic or an angling perspective. Stalls of crabs, crayfish, lobsters, prawns and squid add colour (and aroma) to the bustling marketplace. Early morning is the best time to visit.
The Meat Souq is visited more out of interest; while meat can be bought by the kilo or by the carcass, many locals buy live sheep, goats and cows and take them to the adjacent government slaughterhouse.
During the days approaching Eid, numerous flocks of sheep are kept in the area for sale.
Aromas, colours and sights abound at the small Omani Souq, situated behind the Central Market. The tangy, salty smell of dried fish combines with the sweet fragrance of ripe dates, the heady scent of oud (agarwood) and frankincense, creating a unique sensory experience for the visitor. The Omani market remains a reminder of the olden days with small huddled stalls under a huge roof of corrugated iron.
Although small in area, the Omani souq offers a large variety of merchandise, including spices, nuts, perfumes, pottery, plants, camel sticks and incense burners. It is even possible to buy date pollen so that those with only female trees can ensure a good crop! You will also find the pyramid-shaped wooden frames traditionally used to air ironed clothes over an incense burner to impregnate them with perfume.
Qatar has several gleaming Western-style malls which offer not only a wide range of goods and services but also a host of well-known international brands at competitive prices.
Generally open from Saturday – Thursday 10 am – 10 pm, and Friday 3 pm – 10 pm, these air-conditioned malls are spacious, clean, well-decorated and a welcome refuge from the heat outdoors. Most have cafés, fast food outlets, food courts, restaurants, cineplexes, childrens areas and amusement arcades.
C ring road, Bin Mahmoud South
Tel : (+974) 4446 6111
One of the premier department stores in Doha.
Website : www.bluesalon.com
Centrepoint (Al Asmakh Mall)
Al Defal, near Sports roundabout, Al Sadd
Tel : (+974) 4442 1766
Al Asmakh Mall has numerous lifestyle shops, as well as the namesake Centrepoint store
Tel : (+974) 4483 9990
Anchor tenants include the British department store Debenhams and the French hypermarket Carrefour, as well as a wide range of both international and local retail outlets.
C ring road, Ramada Signal
Tel : (+974) 4437 5796
This Shopping complex houses high fashion boutiques.
Website : www.emporiumqatar.com
Al Waab street, Al Aziziyah
Tel : (+974) 4469 4848
Hyatt Plaza features international clothing labels and home furnishing stores.
Website : www.hyattplaza.com
Madinat Khalifa, North
Tel : (+974) 4487 5222
Landmark is home to the British department stores Marks & Spencer and Bhs, plus a branch of Carrefour.
Website : www.landmarkdoha.com
Tel : (+974) 4413 0000
A boutique mall featuring designer brands.
Website : www.royalplazadoha.com
Tel : (+974) 4483 2050
Department stores carrying a wide range of upmarket merchandise.
Website : www.salams.com
D-ring road, Al Matar Al Qadeem
Tel : (+974) 4467 8888
Qatar’s first Western-style mall, The Mall is at the forefront of the latest in retail trends and truly has something for everyone.
Al Waab street, Al Aziziyah
Tel : (+974) 4442 1766
Villagio Mall has big brands such as Carrefour, Virgin and Boots, as well as a luxury section.