Doha might have a reputation for sprawling smalls and high end shops, but when it comes to local flavor and awesome deals, you can’t beat the souqs! And, despite its popularity, there is life outside Souq Waqif: we sent our spies out to the far corners of Qatar to find the best markets, no matter what you want. Qatar has a long tradition of market places, known in Arabic as ‘souqs’, and like many other things in Qatar, they go by many names. We’ve used the most common ones, to help you navigate.
Most are located around Al Souq street, and it’s here you’ll find clusters of shops grouped by what they offer: some are tiny storefronts crammed with goods along busy streets, others are air-conditioned plazas. Bartering is encouraged, and most only accept cash. From live goats and camels to pure silks and everything in between, here’s your guide for shopping, souq style!
Good for: Just about everything, plus a night out
Where: Just off the Corniche, adjacent to Grand Hamad Street, Ali Bin Abdulla Street, and Al Souq Street.
We know, we promised the souqs other than this one, and we’ll get to that. But Souq Waqif is the major souq must-see, the one most people know and a tourist attraction in its own right. With a regular flow of new restaurants opening up along it’s main walking street, it’s the spot for a cheap bite, some people watching on a Friday night, and a puff or two of shisha, a Qatar experience all its own. Build on a traditional Bedouin marketplace site, it was revamped in the last few years to make it feel more ‘authentic’. Designers did away with the existing sheet metal, plastic and florescent lighting, and replaced them with traditionally built stone and wood shops, winding streets, and specially concealed air conditioning units (so as not to disturb the authentic ambiance). If we didn’t know it was rebuilt in the last decade, we’d feel like we’d stepped back in time, wandering the alleys stuffed with spices, fabric, traditional crafts, and other tchotchkes. A popular stop with guests, this is a good place to go if you’re looking for souvenirs to take home: from pashminas ranging in price from QR10-QR40 to salt and pepper shakers shaped like a couple in national dress, you can basically get it all and more here. We especially like taking our own jars to the spice shops and asking merchants to fill them with unique layers of spices, before we wander the aisles looking for all the perfumes of Arabia (or in this case, Oud, the uniquely scented agarwood often burned and bokhur, the balls of mixed ouds and oils like sandalwood, musk and rose oil, as well as the traditional burners).
Good for: Getting a glimpse at a falcon
Where: In Souq Waqif
Just off from the main sections of Souq Waqif, just before the equestrian arena, lies one of the coolest spots in Qatar. The Falcon Souq is home to everything falcon, from hoods and training materials to the birds themselves. There’s an outdoor area where the birds are exercised several times a day, which is an experience in itself. But if you’ve missed the time, the keepers will let you walk around the falcon showroom, where the birds rest on their perches. Most are hooded, as they’re highly trained and highly dangerous: these birds are beautiful but deadly. Look, don’t touch: a falcon can cost more than a high end sports car, and are more than a pet. In fact, on Qatar Airways, falcons must have a seat booked for them in business class, along with their keeper, they are so highly valued and respected!
Souq Al Deira
Good For: Fabric and tailoring
Where: Turn off Grand Hamad Street and follow Al Ahmed Street to the end, turning left on Al Jabr street. The Souq is in the square created by Al Jabr and Al Tarbiya Streets
If you want higher end, luxury fabrics, this shopping plaza delivers! Bordered by other souqs, this one is an indoor mall-like building: you’ll know it by the tall arched windows as well as the signs on the outside of the building. Crammed inside are dozens of different shops selling designer fabrics, embroidered cloth, lace, pure silk and more. Although not as cheap as other fabric shops nearby, the quality is higher, and with a bit of haggling you can still get a good price—although you will probably pay close to QR20-QR30 for a meter of basic double width cloth, and as much as QR75-QR150 for more elaborate offerings.There are also numerous tailors in the area, making it an easy stop to turn that luxury fabric into something beautiful to wear!
Souq Nasser Bin Saif/ Souq Abdullah Al Sadah
Good for: Electronics, all sorts
Where: Between Souq Faleh and Souq Al Asiery
Distinguished by its outdoor staircase, this Souq has the usual offerings of toys, perfumes and ready-made clothing, but more importantly it has a selection of electronics, CDs and DVDs. Lost your mobile charger? You can get a replacement here. Need something fixed? Chances are they can sort it out here as well, although be warned: this will probably void any warranties you have. This is also the place to go to have foreign-bought electronics like mobile phones fixed to work in Qatar.
Souq Al Asiery
Good for: Luggage and fabric
Where: Turn off Grand Hamad Street onto Al Tarbiya Street, past Fanar: Qatar Islamic Cultural Center, Souq Faleh and Souq Nasser Bin Saif
Often called Escalator Souq, a throw back to when it was the first souq in Doha to be equipped with an escalator, the building is crammed with everything from luggage shows and clothing to perfume, all squeezed next to discount fabric shops. The building itself has a sign with its name, which makes it easier to locate, as it’s right up against several other souqs, or you could just take your chances when you see the range of inexpensive fabric. If you’re looking for cheap cotton and man-made fabrics, this is a good bet!
Good for: Everything from the Philippines!
Where: Just before Souq Al Deira
If you’re looking for shops stocking goods and foodstuffs from the Philippines, or Filipino restaurants with authentic, cheaply priced dishes, this is the place to go! Although technically squeezed between other souqs, it’s become a destination of its own, and you’ll know you’re in the right place by the proliferation of signs in Tagalog.
Souq Al Jabor
Good for: Ready made clothing, especially lingerie and baby clothes
Where: There are entrances off both Al Jabr Street and Jabr Bin Mohammed Street
Like most souqs, Souq Al Jabor takes ‘more is more’ approach to stocking it’s shops, although most seem to include a range of clothing and kids items, from clothing to toys. But, next to nightgowns and kids backpacks, you can also find perfume, electronics, and more, all of it cheaply priced. Dig through to find some real treasures!
Good for: Gold and jewellery
Where: Next to Al-Ghanim Central Bus Station
Nothing says Qatar more like a custom piece of jewellery! With ready made items on sale, the different shops will also create something unique for you, and prices are by weight and are still vaguely negotiable. Technically made up of rows of shops lining Ali Bin Abdullah Street, this has sprawled to include smaller alleyways as well as small covered mall-type areas. You can get everything here from imported bangles (some very cool ones come in from India) to locally made bridal jewellery sets, and much of the gold available is 22 carat. If gold’s not your thing, many shops also offer white gold, silver and even platinum pieces, and there are a range of prices available, a lot of it shockingly affordable (silver chains as low as QR30-QR50). All gold sold in Qatar is tested and hallmarked, guaranteeing genuine products, and reputable shops will weigh it in front of you, as well as testing precious gems in front of you to prove they’re real before purchase. You can also get traditional and antique Bedouin jewellery, but this is not always on display so feel free to ask! Most jewellers are very helpful, and if you describe what you’re looking for, some will even bring items from other shops to help you find just the right item. You can also have repairs made to your existing jewellery, and find good prices on second-hand watches here. Or, join the trend and get one of the must-have accessories for expats in Qatar: a necklace with your name written in Arabic. Many jewellers make these, and you can them done in silver for as little as QR140.
Good for: Diamonds
Where: Inside the Gold Souq
Clustered within the Gold Souq are a group of shops specializing in sparkly, sparkly diamonds. A girl’s best friend, you can get everything from reasonably priced diamond chips (for only a few hundred riyals usually) to larger and more unique stones. Jewellers will test these in front of you to prove authenticity, although if you’re concerned about blood diamonds and environmental issues around diamond mining, asking more questions to find out where they come from is recommended. These shops, although not an official separate souq, are a unique entity of their own, and if you can’t find the area solo, shopkeepers will easily be able to direct you!
Good for: Pearls
Where: Al Rumeila Park
The Heritage Village is a collection of shops, located within a park, created to display Qatar’s unique history and traditional crafts, including pearl diving. Although not called a souq, it has many souq-like qualities, and we love it for the easy access to affordable, locally sourced pearl items. Pearl jewellery can run as cheaply as QR140, and many of the vendors are happy to help create something unique. You can get pearls in all shapes and colours, from the regular white and ivory to fancy black, purple and pink pearls.
Good for: Mobile Phones and products
Where: Next to Souq Waqif, behind Bank Street
Scheduled to shut down on April 1st, after being acquired by the government, shopkeepers were granted a reprieve and their lights will stay on now until June 1. The Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning announced the extension, and the massive liquidation sales as the shops get rid of inventory means there are deals to be had. Although there’s no official word as to why the 12-year-old souq must shut down, and shopkeepers aren’t being offered alternative locations, it’s location next to the Msheireb development raises more than a few suspicious eyebrows: many suspect the government plans to demolish it to make way for new development. Regardless, the next month is your last chance to score a deal or check out the shopping plaza!
Good for: A little bit of everything, at under QR10
Where: Turn off grand Hamad Street onto Al Ahmed Street, this is the first one you’ll see Random shops filled with even more random bits and bobs await many of it under blanket prices. This is where you can go to buy a stuffed animal, a teapot, a nightgown and a new suitcase all along the same row of shops. With distinctly cheap prices, it’s tougher to haggle here than in the fabric and curio shops, but not entirely impossible!
Souq Ahmed and Souq Ali
Good for: Thobes and Abayas
Where: Across the road from Souq Waqif
These Souqs feature tailoring shops and ready made thobes and abayas, as well as other traditional clothing options (there are some truly fantastically beautiful embroidered items typically worn at home), as well as oud and sharwama joints. Shopkeepers are usually happy to help you try on the various items, and explain the finer points of wearing them. You can buy ready made, or have one made to measure.
Good for: Everything to eat, from meat to fish to vegetables
Where: Part of the Central Market, just off Salwa Road on the way to Mamoura
This is Doha’s version of a Farmer’s Market, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s crammed during special opening times. Before taking a trip out this way, make sure to lace up your closed toed shoes: this is not the spot for fancy heels or the faint of heart! Head out in the morning to pick up a fish dinner at the Fish Souq, where you’ll find stalls selling crabs, lobsters, crayfish, prawns and squid as well as whole fish, much of it caught locally. Although sections are air-conditioned, take our advice and make your fishy purchases early in the morning before the heat sets in! And if you’re not keen to gut and clean your own fish, head to the ‘Fish Cleaning’ section, where staff will do the messy work for you for a fee. Check out the Meat Souq, also known as the less-graphic Animal Souq. Although you can buy butchered meat here, many locals prefer to buy their goats, sheep and cows live and take them to the government slaughterhouse next door. It’s not uncommon to see a man with a sheep slung over his shoulders walking through the souq, and this is where all those animals come from during special religious holidays. Although it may take a bit of explaining to the kids as to where exactly the fluffy sheep is headed, you can still get a close up look at regional animals, including camels. Vendors may not speak much English, but in our experience they’re happy to pose for photos, and may even offer you a cup of tea (they can be found sitting in front of the pens, drinking traditional tea cools you by warming up your body from the inside—a local trick). Finish off your visit with a stop at the Vegetable Souq, where you can rub shoulders with chefs from the major restaurants in town as you barter for fresh fruits and veg, both imported and even locally grown! Prices are usually the same from stall to stall, but negotiating is allowed: buy by the box rather than the kilo, and you can even have a porter take your choices to your car in a wheelbarrow.
Good for: Traditional spices, nuts, and more
Where: Part of the Central Market, just off Salwa Road
Unlike its more dressed-up cousins in town, this souq holds on to its traditional ambiance, with its collection of stalls under an iron roof. It’s a no frills excursion, but well worth the trip for its spices, garden supplies, pottery and more. This is a real authentic experience, and expect to be surrounded by men in traditional dress with English at a premium: ladies should make a point to cover up before making the trip. While there, wander the stalls for authentic pottery items, as well as camel sticks and incense, while munching on old-school Arabic snacks.
Tailors in Qatar
Tailoring is relatively inexpensive in Qatar, with numerous tailors offering their expertise. But how do you find one? The best bet is to ask around: chances are someone in your circle has a tailor they’re eager to recommend. Or, while buying fabric, ask the merchants, particularly in Souq Al Deira: they know their stuff, and will be able to direct you to good tailors. When you find a tailor, ask questions! They should be able to show you samples of previous work, so check it out before you buy. Many will profess to being able to create whatever you want (and some may actually be able to deliver), but if you’re looking for a special garment, go with one who’s specialized in what you want: men’s suits for a suit, women’s evening gowns for a dress, etc. A good idea is to take along some pictures of what you want—they help get over any language barriers. And before you lay down a bundle for a fancy project, consider having them copy an existing garment, to make sure you’re happy with their work. Most important, don’t be afraid to speak up: good tailors should work with you to make the garment exactly what you’re looking for!
Don’t Miss Shops
Where: Al tarbiya Street, across from Souq Al Deira
Technically a shop offering tailoring accessories, here is where you’ll find buttons, ribbons, lace, needles, beads, fake flowers, feathers and more! Cross stitch or embroider? They’ve got a range of supplies. Knit? They’ve got yarn. They also have a selection of hair accessories, costume jewellery, and more random bits and bobs than seems totally reasonable, all crammed into one location. It’s a great spot to get inexpensive party decorations as well: they have holiday items including wrapping paper and ribbons, as well as super-cheap fabrics to help create a mood.
Where: Hyatt Plaza
The closest thing Doha has to a dollar store, complete with crazy-wonderful bits of Asian tat. Whether you want a sushi making kit, funky porcelain dishes, paper fans and lanterns or basically anything else you can imagine, chances are you can find it here, and find it for under QR10.
Looking for a special item that just screams ‘Qatar’? There are loads to choose from!
Camel bone boxes: You can find these carved, small boxes in Souq Waqif, usually alongside larger chests and boxes, locally known as sanduq. Many of the bigger models are inlaid with metals or pearl, or made from carved wood or pressed metal.
Daggers and swords: From small daggers to full sized swords, you can find versions ranging from a few hundred riyals to thousands, depending on how ornate they are. Curved and embossed or studded with stones, they’re a unique item, which many people display on their walls.
Musical instruments: The souqs, especially Souq Waqif, offers loads of traditional musical instruments which make great art pieces. You can get a tablah, a drum, a Oud, which is like a lute, or a rababah, similar to a violin, all made from various woods.
Carpets: There are numerous spots selling all sorts of rugs and carpets, from full-sized room coverings to smaller prayer rugs, in a variety of colours, designs, and qualities.
Prayer beads: These are everywhere, especially in Souq Waqif, and are made from a variety of materials, from inexpensive glass beads to stones.
Pearls: You can find Pearls in both the Gold Souq and Souq Waqif, or head to the Heritage Village to find them in a range of colours, including pink and purple varieties. Before oil and natural gas formed the basis of the economy, Pearl Diving was the driving force behind Qatar.
Shisha: You can buy inexpensive hookahs and shisha varieties all over, even in Carrefour! Most souqs offering foods and perfumes will also have shisha tucked away somewhere, although be warned that some countries will prohibit bringing them back, under tobacco regulations.
Perfumes and incense: You will know you’re in a perfume area by the smell. Go for traditional oud varieties in their distinctive burners, or have vendors combine fragrances for a unique scent just for you.
Gypsum carvings: Carved from regional available gypsum, you can get models of Qatar landmarks like Barzan Tower and Al Khor Fort.
Falcon hoods: Most people can’t afford a falcon, but you can afford their clothes! Embroidered, ornate falcon hoods—used to blindfold the bird—can go for as little as QR30, and are an interesting coffee-table item!