Souq Waqif: Back to a Bygone Era

During my short stay in Doha, I came across a street lined with markets. In this part of the world, these markets are called souqs. It is advisable to pair the visit to Souq Waqif with the Museum of Islamic Art, which is just a small stone’s throw away from the market action. Entrance to both attractions is free, and they both give you a great overview of Qatari culture and lifestyle. I would also advise to stay in the Souq area until after nightfall. This way you can see the place in both the unforgiving sun and in the slightly cooler dark, with the Souq lit up as tradesmen and women continue to ply their trade.

Souq Waqif, Doha
Souq Waqif, Doha

One of the biggest examples in the change of culture from Dubai to Qatar, and in its capital Doha especially, is the way Qataris go about their shopping and trade. There are many souqs in Doha. Dubai has its fair share of souqs, too, but many of them have become too commercialised and touristy, and as such the authentic feel has long since been washed off. Here at Souq Waqif in Doha, I found that, while there where certain elements that were played up for tourism, Arabic culture was much better represented, both in terms of the people and their purpose.

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Souq Waqif literally means “the standing market” and is very famous in this part of the world. It sells all things from local spices to traditional handicrafts, to regional clothing to certain kinds of livestock. As such, there are many art galleries and boutique stores/stalls on display as the locals go about their business, as well as omnipresent restaurants and shisha bars which cater to both locals and visiting tourists. I liked all the fabrics and carpets being sold, and although it wasn’t possible to fit any in my backpack, I still thought about one day buying myself a genuine Arabic rug.

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My hotel was within walking distance of the souq, although I happened to walk here from the Doha Corniche, after a morning sightseeing and walking along the coast. However, the souq is easily reached by public transport, and all taxi drivers know the area well.

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Um Ali - a Qatari dessert
Um Ali – a Qatari dessert

Whilst you are here, make sure you spend a bit of time in the souq to experience Arabic food, as there are so many traditional snacks on offer it made me feel a little like a kid in a sweet shop! In the end, tried some gahwa, which is traditional Arabic coffee (it didn’t feel right to order a Coke) and also ordered what is apparently a traditional Qatari sweet: Um Ali, which is like a combination of a bread and a rice pudding, and this was delicious!

At night, the Souq takes on a different atmosphere
At night, the Souq takes on a different atmosphere

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It made a great change to spend a few hours at Souq Waqif whilst experiencing this amazing Qatari tradition. I consider Souq Waqif to be one of the best markets of its kind in the Middle-East. It felt so much better to immerse myself in local culture here, especially after spending time in nearby Dubai with all its fancy shopping plazas and luxury brand warehouses.

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8 thoughts on “Souq Waqif: Back to a Bygone Era

  1. i lived in Doha for almost a year back in 2007 and what I noticed was they like to retain their Arabic culture in as many ways as possible as opposed to Dubai which has become ‘international city’…

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    1. I don’t think Doha is a city that many people would choose to visit, but I happen to like the city and the country. There are some cool things to do there, and the souq is one of them.

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  2. Reading your article brought me good memories my own trip to Doha in 2011. Yes the Souk Waqif was definitively the highlight of my trip. Its such a beautiful way to immerse in arabic culture and credit must be given to the Qataris for not making it too touristy. Incidentally this souk is actually very old (i think about 100 years) and was recently renovated …thats why all the buildings are fantastic and the lighting in the night was superb. I will definitively give this place a full 10 out of 10 🙂

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