Qatar has worked hard to establish itself as the region’s hub for art and culture with yearly children’s film festivals, street and public art installations and eclectic exhibitions.
With the new National Museum of Qatar and 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum both due to open in 2019, the country continues to build its reputation as a cultural destination. But if you are a devoted art lover or just a curious tourist looking for a way to spend an afternoon right now, here are five museums you won’t want to miss in Doha.
Museum of Islamic Art
The centerpiece of Qatar’s growing cultural offerings, this spectacular building is a must. Inside the structure — designed by acclaimed architect I.M. Pei of Louvre pyramid fame — you’ll find what’s arguably the country’s most impressive collection of artifacts from across the Islamic world. The museum’s objets d’art span three continents, reaching as far as China, India and Spain.
Like most galleries in Qatar, entry here is free. Upon arrival, be sure to look up — the stunning 164-foot-tall dome is a priceless sight to behold.
Start your visit on the first and second floors, which hold a permanent exhibit that includes textiles, pottery and glasswork. The museum’s library, adjacent to the main building, has more than 15,000 rare manuscripts and texts from around the globe.
Insider tip: In keeping with the culture and customs of Qatar, guests are expected to dress appropriately. This means no exposed shoulders for women or shorts for men.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
This is the private collection of one of Qatar’s best-known businessmen. To call the assemblage of findings “eclectic” would be an understatement. The 15 halls in the sprawling complex accommodate more than 15,000 artifacts, all obtained by the charismatic Sheikh Faisal over the last 50 years.
The oldest pieces come from the Jurassic age while the remainder spans a millennia to the 21st century. These treasures include Islamic manuscripts, fossils, prehistoric figurines, scriptures, more than 600 vintage cars (a particular passion of Sheikh Fasial’s), textiles (including more than 700 carpets), rare coins and
Insider tip: The museum is roughly 45 minutes outside of Doha and can be combined with a day trip to the Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack. Unlike other museums in Qatar, this one charges an entry fee.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
On the edge of Doha in Education City, Mathaf (“museum” in Arabic) will challenge any assumption you might have about Middle Eastern art. Showcasing more than 9,000 20th- and 21st-century works from across the Arab world, it is the largest array of its kind.
Housed in a former school, the permanent gallery consists of pieces from countries such as Iran, Turkey and India, as a well as a significant representation of local artists.
The first-floor halls display artwork with themes such as society, family, history and horoufiyah (the use of Arabic letters and calligraphy).
Insider tip: The complimentary Mathaf bus runs between Museum of Islamic Art and Mathaf, making this interesting venue more accessible.
Set in four restored homes in the newly rejuvenated Msheireb Downtown area (the historic heart of the city), this expansive complex offers a complete picture of Doha, past and present. Bin Jelmood House, Company House, Mohammed Bin Jassim House and Radwani House each take up a different aspect of Qatari life, from the evolution of family roles to the history of oil in the region.
But it is Bin Jelmood House that may leave the most lasting impression. This museum focuses on the role slavery in the development of the peninsula and does not shy away from the part it played in Qatar’s own history, specifically pearl fishing and the oil industry’s early days. Stories are told in the first person — they are simultaneously sobering and enlightening.
Insider tip: Msheireb is adjacent to the ever-popular Souq Waqif and can easily be combined on the same trip.
Residing in what used to be the city’s main fire station, this new gallery and community art center has drawn the attention of locals and visitors alike since its debut in 2014.
The complex hosts a revolving exhibition venue (past features have included Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti) as well as an artists-in-residence program for local and regional talent.
In addition to the works on display, the space has a small but fabulous store where you can pick up your own art supplies and a café serving up healthy cuisine with a side of West Bay skyline views.
Insider tip: The building’s outside walls are covered in murals inspired by the first 100 days of the Qatar Blockade.
Al Zubarah Archaeological Site
Perched at the tip of the country, Al Zubarah is Qatar’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It encompasses a striking fort and the well-preserved walled remains of an 18th-century merchant town.
East-West/West-East by Richard Serra
Like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this sculpture is composed of four steel columns, each roughly 50 feet tall installed across two-thirds of a mile in the heart of Qatar’s desert (an SUV is needed to see it). The work of American sculptor Richard Serra, it’s as breathtaking as it is eerie.