We spent several afternoons and evenings in this vibrant complex, undoubtedly one of Qatar’s most atmospheric places to explore. Built on an ancient market site, the area remains the social heart of Doha. Centuries ago, Bedouins would bring their sheep, goats, and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings.

With booming prosperity, the advent of vast air-conditioned shopping malls, and Qatar’s rush to embrace the new Souq Waqif, the market fell into severe decline by the 1990s. Much of it was destroyed in a fire in 2003. An outcry from Qataris prompted the authorities to undertake a massive rehabilitation program, one that continues to this day. Such has been the success of this venture, as the souq keeps growing to accommodate new ‘old alleyways.’ It remains one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region.

Until land was reclaimed along Doha’s waterfront in the 1970s, the waters lapped at the entrance to Souq Waqif, where traders were just as likely to arrive by boat as by camel. The first semi-permanent shops here were built around 250 years ago.

This is the place to look for national Qatari dress, including the beautifully embroidered bukhnoq (a girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes, and oud (incense made from agarwood). Some shops are like museums, displaying artifacts (such as swords and shipping memorabilia) and jewelry from around the Arab world. Many shops and stalls in the souq close around 1 p.m. and reopen at 4 p.m., but the area, with its many cafes and restaurants, remains open all day.