It’s just six years to go until Qatar hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While many roads, stadiums and other bits of infrastructure are under construction, its hotels are one step ahead — and there are more to come. Up to $6bn (£4.6bn) is set to be invested in a number of properties before the football comes to town. This means the Ritz-Carlton, Kempinskis and Anantaras will be joined by a Park Hyatt, a Planet Hollywood and a Wyndham, among others.
There are more affordable options but it’d be a stretch to call Qatar a budget-friendly destination. That’s not to say it can’t be fun, though be warned: alcohol can only be consumed in a clutch of hotels with bars and clubs. And there is fine-dining galore with Michelin-star chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Vineet Bhatia among the international names with outlets there.
From private islands to youth hostels, if you look hard enough, you can find every variety of bed in Doha.
For royalty: Marsa Malaz (£££)
Kempinski’s flagship hotel in Doha is surely one of its grandest, anywhere. Located on its own island, off the north coast of the city, only the absence of a drawbridge stops it looking like something from Game of Thrones. That there are 281 rooms — including 69 suites, two ‘presidential’ and two ‘royal’ — only begins to tell the story of just how palatial the Marsa Malaz is. Of its dining options, Al Sufra is perhaps the top pick, with a menu that dances through the best of regional cuisine.
Rooms: Doubles from £220, B&B.
For beach bums: InterContinental Doha (££)
There are two InterContinental hotels in Doha, one a giant tower close to the W, the other this beach-front offering further north. Much of Doha hugs the coastline, but few properties can claim to have better beach access; here, little palm-thatched cabanas lead out from a Caribbean-ish bar. If you don’t fancy getting the salt of the sea on your skin, nearby there’s also the largest freeform pool in Doha. Eight different restaurants offer everything from Greek to Belgian cuisine. The rooms are neat and perhaps a bit bland but there’s little need to spend much time there when the hotel has so many reasons to have you outside.
Rooms: Doubles from £127, room only.
Best all-in-one: Grand Hyatt Doha (££)
It’s perhaps a sign of how unlike the rest of the world Qatar is — the Grand Hyatt is but a mid-range hotel in Doha. Located a cab-ride from most major sites (it won’t disturb guests, but much of the surrounding area is currently under construction), it offers plenty of reasons not to explore the wider city. In Isaan, its brilliant Thai restaurant, it has one of Doha’s outstanding eateries. Other perfectly scrumptious options are dotted around its grounds, too. At weekends, brunches spill over into club nights — if you’ve got a sore head the next morning, there’s a private beach and great spa, too.
Rooms: Doubles from £164, room only.
For island living: Banana Island (£££)
Sounds like it might be the sort of place to stop during a booze cruise, but Banana could scarcely be further from a Mediterranean party island. This sprawling private island resort by luxury specialist Anantara is reached by a 25-minute catamaran transfer from the mainland. On arrival, it becomes clear the resort is dry — mocktails yes, cocktails, no. The Anantara seal of quality, on the other hand, ensures that the food is sensational and the spa utterly decadent. A combination of rooms, suites, villas and Maldives-style stilted cottages offer hoards of options, none of which are cheap.
Rooms: Doubles from £342, B&B.
For villas: The Sharq Village and Spa (£££)
It may be close to the international airport, but it could hardly be more different to a traditional airport hotel. Managed by Ritz-Carlton, this sprawling property has 300 metres of private beach, accessed from the wider ‘village’-style buildings. Eschewing a large tower, Sharq instead has dozens of individual villas and a faux-souk — all with carefully planned Arabesque design elements — which helps it feel like its own peaceful little settlement, removed from the rest of the city. Its nine restaurants are joined by a gargantuan, 23-treatment-room Six Senses Spa — one of the best in Qatar.
Rooms: Doubles from £218, B&B.
For the cool kids: W Doha (£££)
An unashamed poser. If any of the World Cup contingent have a big win to celebrate, this is definitely where they’d come. Staff are so trendy and good-looking it hurts. Only come here if you’re prepared to share lifts with people wearing shoes worth more than a month’s salary, though. With more than 440 rooms, this hulking tower stands out amid some pretty stiff competition in the West Bay area of the city. People come from far and wide for hedonistic weekends in the Crystal Lounge, while foodies can get a treat at the outstanding Market restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Rooms: Doubles from £211, room only.
For city centre: Souq Waqif Hotel Doha (££)
To get an idea of what Doha used to be like, before the influx of oil money, there are a number of accommodation options in the Al Najada souk and its surrounding neighbourhood. This pedestrianised marketplace isn’t as ancient as it appears, but for the first-time visitor it’s convincing enough as Ye Olde Arabia. As well as lots of independent cafes and traders — look out for the guys selling garishly dyed live birds — there are familiar options such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Of the boutique hotels in the area, Souq Waqif gets the nod — light and airy, it’s just been refurbished, too.
Rooms: Doubles from £124, B&B.
Three on a budget
The life-size plastic horses and ramshackle collection of vintage cars outside are a clue that Al Safa is offbeat — an anomaly in largely quirk-free Qatar. The lobby is a thing of wonder, resembling the living room of a chronic hoarder. Creepy dolls, guns behind the check-in desk, mirrored side-boards, chandeliers, enormous pots of sweets, plastic flowers which are somehow withering… it’s clear this isn’t a normal property. Sadly, the roomy apartments upstairs aren’t anywhere near as wacky, but this place is still great fun and would suit anyone looking to stay for a longer trip.
Rooms: Doubles from £86, B&B. alsafaroyalsuites.com
Best for budget fun: The Horizon Manor Hotel (£)
An ageing tower in a determinedly non-trendy neighbourhood, the Horizon is surrounded by shops with faded signs, men in long shirts offering watch-repair services, and workmen transporting cargo on push bikes. The hotel seems to be trying to bring an air of respectability to it all, offering budget accommodation with a little class: the doormen wear loud, turquoise suits, and the lobby is filled with string music. It’s certainly not glamorous, but there’s a great pub, Krossroads, and a small nightclub on the top floor. Likely to be great fun when the World Cup arrives.
Rooms: Doubles from £64, room only.
Best for backpackers: Qatar Youth Hostel (£)
As welcome, and welcoming, as it is unexpected. Like many Hostelling International properties around the world, QYH is not central but it does have good bus links. Located in the middle of a dusty residential district in Doha, this converted villa compound has everything you’d expect of a hostel: comfy seats, shared dorms, ping-pong table. A light breakfast is included and there are cooking facilities, too. Just make sure to have your supplies to hand — there’s no popping out to the shops around here.
Rooms: Dorms from £26 each, doubles from £51, B&B.
Published in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)