Doha has established itself as a serious art hub in recent years, and it's also home to museums detailing its history and culture. These are the top museums to visit on your trip to Doha.
Museum of Islamic Art
Built on a man-made island off Doha’s seven-kilometer long Corniche, the building by architect I.M. Pei (responsible for the Louvre Paris’ glass pyramid), is a must-see. The building alone is reason enough to visit, but spend some time inside the museum, and you will see some incredible pieces of art spanning some 1,400 years from throughout the Islamic world. Treasures include turquoise-glazed tiles from 13th-century Iran, a 10th-century manuscript, a 13th-century tent, and more that is equally stunning.
Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
In the residential outskirts of Doha, near the architecturally interesting Qatar Convention Center with its gigantic Maman spider by Louise Bourgeois, lies Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art. Its collection brings together a selection of Arabian contemporary art, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries. Its permanent collection of some 9,000 pieces, not all on them exhibited at all times, is reportedly the largest of its kind in the world. Regular temporary exhibitions add to the discussion of art, politics, history, and contemporary life in Qatar and the Middle East.
National Museum of Qatar
Located on the beach promenade (the Doha Corniche), is the National Museum of Qatar. The stunning building was designed by architect Jean Nouvel—of Louvre Abu Dhabi fame—to look like a huge desert rose, a crystal-gypsum formation found in the desert. Inside, the 1.5-kilometer journey through 11 galleries and exhibitions explains the geological beginning of Qatar’s peninsula, its traditions and cultures, more recent history such as the pearl and oil and gas riches, plus the country’s vision for the future.
Katara Art Center
Located inside Katara Cultural Village in the north of Doha, this collection of spaces is dedicated to all things related to art, such as a gallery of local art, workshops in modern approaches to art, art made from recycled goods, and more. There are also spaces dedicated to photography, video, and music, and it all works hand in hand with the cultural village, that in itself is a hub of performances. A bookshop and art-related pop-up shops add to the experience.
In historic downtown of Doha, near Souq Waqif, four traditional, restored Qatari buildings have been transformed into a modern way of learning about the old days in Qatar. Displays range from traditional majlis, or sitting rooms, to interactive videos and films, and displays of family scenes and history, such as the slavery and human exploitation experienced in the region. Much of the history is told by witnesses of the time.
Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Car Museum
On the edge of town, where Doha slowly gives way to the desert, you can find another selection of museums. These showcase the personal collections of Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani—one museum specializing in regional history, one in carpets, and this one, a 600-strong car collection. Anything from trucks to mini cars, from sports cars to utility vehicles, this is fun even for non-car enthusiasts, as it tells its own history, and everybody has a favorite.
QM Gallery ALRIWAQ
Next to the Museum of Islamic Art, this is not a museum as such, and not a gallery with a permanent collection either, but an art space that holds temporary exhibitions. Past exhibitions have featured Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami, and rotations are designed to start a conversation, controversial or otherwise. It is certainly worth looking out for upcoming exhibitions at this gallery.
Arab Postal Stamps Museum
Also in the sprawling Katara Cultural Village lies the tiny Arab Postal Stamps Museum. You can find examples of stamps from the 22 Arab countries in the world, displayed in frames and ranging from complete collectors’ sets to individual stamps donated by collectors and museums around the Arab world. The collection is colorful and highlights quirky events, history, and cultural interests in each of the countries, deemed important enough to be immortalized on a stamp.
Al Markiya Gallery
This is Doha’s longest-standing privately owned gallery specializing in promoting young, up-and-coming local and regional artists, but equally giving established Arab artists a space to have their art displayed. One of the gallery’s most popular events is the 40 Minus, an exhibition a few times a year that showcases art of artists under the age of 40. The success of the gallery is such that it now has two permanent exhibition spaces in the Fire Station and in Katara Cultural Village.
By the seafront of the man-made island The Pearl, Anima Gallery specializes in local and regional art, as well as international contemporary art. Regular exhibitions in the large showrooms are always a draw, whereas the online gallery gives you a good idea of what to expect. There is also a rather good cafe on site, offering healthy meals and juices.