A matter of decades ago, visitors to Qatar would have found a dusty land of desert forts and deeply-traditional Arab towns.

It’s hard to imagine such humble origins now, as one zips along brand new expressways past the ever changing skyline of gleaming tower blocks – a forest of glass, steel and concrete against the azure waters of the Persian Gulf.

The former haunt of pearl divers and nomadic tribes now ranks among the most prosperous countries in the world – regularly topping the rich list. The diminutive emirate screams new money.

But despite the nouveau riche trappings, fast cars and designer shops, this is an ancient land with a deep-rooted sense of its own history and love of tradition. And there is loads to see – which makes the launch of direct flights on Qatar Airways from Birmingham Airport a bonus not only for travellers using it as a springboard for more distant lands – like Thailand, Malaysia or Australia – but adventurous souls eager to check out this super-safe and endlessly fascinating Middle Eastern country.

We touched down on a flight from Birmingham into the cool of Doha's ultra-modern airport. The calm sense of progress, prosperity, love of expensive architecture and eerie lack of crowds extended beyond the terminal out into the capital city itself.

The roads are uncrowded, the city spotless and the views breathtaking, particularly as we round the Corniche – the promenade which arcs gracefully along the waterfront. To the left are ministries, mosques and the palace of the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose face is emblazoned everywhere on banners, buildings and even balloons. The manicured lawns are greener than they have a right to be on the edge of the Arabian desert and there’s not a trace of litter.

To the right is the Persian Gulf, dotted with traditional dhows – and beyond that, on a peninsula, an eye-popping vista: a wall of skyscrapers. Curved and graceful, topped with domes, spires and steps, they are a vision of the future straight from a child’s comic – Bladerunner in the sunshine... and with better manners.

Following the coast, we made our way past shopping centres, hotels and office blocks, along streets lined with palm trees and building sites. The city feels unfinished; it may be impressive but this is only half the story – ‘If you think this is special, just wait til we’re done!’ it seems to say. It makes Dubai look dowdy and just a little tawdry.

The Shangri La Hotel sits hemmed in by towers of glass on West Bay. It oozes luxury.

We tucked into a traditional Qatari feast of grilled meat, fish and vegetables, couscous, crunchy salads and a delicious mix of spiced long-grain rice and meat called makbus. We washed it down with fresh fruit juice and, despite our own reservations, beer. Alcohol is freely available in hotel bars, and is no more expensive than in a smart bar at home.

The hotel, which adjoins one of of the city’s biggest shopping centres, is a resort in itself and we enjoyed the afternoon warmth swimming in its open air pool and chatting in its jacuzzi while gazing at the architectural marvels.

Qatar is keen to portray itself as a cultural destination, and it is here that it really wins over Dubai. The high points are the Arab Museum of Modern Art and the unparalleled new Museum of Islamic Art.

This stunning limestone structure seems to float above the Gulf, approached by a walkway and flanked by fountains and a graceful piazza, its romantic arches frame the city’s skyline. Inside, a cool respite from the heat, is a beautiful open plan building, with galleries arranged in five stacked rings.

Qatar is the world’s biggest art buyer, by value, and it shows here – with treasures from across the Islamic world, from Morocco and Moorish Spain to Afghanistan – with sublime carved stone, ornate weapons and armour and intricate jewellery. It is unmissable.

For a taste of Doha’s own past, head to its heart: Souq Waqif an atmospheric tangle of lanes, squares and covered arcades where men in flowing robes trade hawks, gold and almost everything else.

This cultural oasis is a great place to pick up treasures of your own – jewellery, clothes, Arab headresses or carved wood and stone from across the Middle East and north Africa.

Alternatively, just drink tea, soaking up the atmosphere of a city of the future that is in love with its past.


Known for industry firsts, Qatar Airways is the national carrier of the State of Qatar, and is one of the fastest-growing airlines operating one of the youngest fleets in the world.

Qatar Airways offers a daily non-stop service from Birmingham to Doha where passengers can seamlessly transfer at the state-of-the-art hub, Hamad International Airport, to over 150 destinations in regions including Asia, Australasia, Africa and the Middle East. On board Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner, passengers have a choice of 22 seats in Business Class and 232 Economy Class seats. All seats feature individual television screens and on board Wi-Fi, with Business Class seats reclining into a fully flat bed.

Go to qatarairways.com


Stay at the Shangri-La Hotel, Conference Centre Street, Doha, Qatar.

Go to shangri-la.com/doha