You can almost step back in Qatar time by visiting Souq Waqif. Souq in Arabic means market. Waqif means to stop or to stand so it can be translated to the Standing Market. (I was so proud when I heard my tour guide in Jordan tell the driver Waqif, waqif and I knew what he was saying without even thinking about it.) Over the years, Souq Waqif fell into disrepair, and much of it was falling down. Then in 2006, the then Qatar Emir, and his wife set about to restore Souq Waqif. Realizing that the past is important, they opted to keep the traditional feel of the old souq and the current buildings are made in the traditional way with mud and wood. If you were visiting from the past, you would only notice that the souq is no longer on the waterfront due to the land reclamation and that cars and camels no longer go down the main street. The first hotel in Qatar is in Souq Waqif and is still there today.
In Souq Waqif, you can buy almost anything you could possibly want. There are luxury goods, such as hand-punched metal lamps from Egypt, and there are everyday items, such as kitchen supplies. You could cloth your entire family in the ready-made clothes or buy fabric to make your own. I think many Qataris do their grocery shopping there as you can buy spices and other foodstuffs in Souq Waqif. There is a bakery that sells fresh Arabic bread made in the souq for 1 riyal for five pieces. 1 riyal is about $0.27.
Not only all this, but you can eat almost any cuisine you desire. They restaurant selection is amazing, and new ones are always being added. The night I was there, I had Iranian food. My friend and I couldn’t decide between that and the Syrian place. There is also Egyptian, Italian, Thai, Qatari, Belgian, Lebanese, Moroccan and so many coffee shops you could stay caffeinated forever! Many of these places are open 24 hours a day, so you will never go hungry in Qatar.
Animals are also available for sale in the souq. Unfortunately, most of the animals sold as pets are not well treated. People in Qatar have tried to get a better situation for the pets in the souq with no success. As a result, I refuse to visit that part of Souq Waqif. There are some animals who get special treatment in Qatar including some that get air conditioning! Falconry in Qatar is huge and a still practiced sport. Falcons, falconry supplies and even a Falcon hospital are all on offer in Souq Waqif. The Falcons are the ones getting the air conditioning, by the way. There are also horses and camels in the souq, but I am not sure if they are for sale or even why they are there.
On weekend nights in Qatar, which is Thursday night through Saturday, Souq Waqif is a popular place for Qataris and expats. During holiday time, festivals and parades happen down the main street. My favorite thing to do at Souq Waqif, during the cooler months, is to get a table outside one of the many restaurants and just watch people go by. Since Qatar is a tourist destination for other Gulf countries, I enjoy seeing the other nationalities in their national dress and try to guess where they are from.
Things you should know before you go. There is underground parking available. It is paid parking, but it is very cheap and much easier to use than circling the souq tons to find free parking. The souq is open all the time, but not everything is open all the time. As I mentioned earlier, many of the restaurants are open 24 hours a day. However, most of the vendors will only open in the afternoon around 4 pm and on weeknights close around 10 and on weekends they might stay open later. Very few things will be open during the day or in the morning, but if you want to catch the souq with no one in it then, go early and avoid the heat and crowds. Because this is a place Qataris frequent, you should be appropriately dressed, meaning shoulders and knees covered. Also, do not take close up pictures of locals without their permission first, particularly women.
Have you been to Souq Waqif? What is your favorite place there?