Malls, Mosques, Museums and Meals - Al Wakrah
Welcome to the third in our series of Malls, Mosques, Museums and Meals articles. In this series, we introduce you to some of Qatar's most popular sights and attractions - malls, mosques and museums - in specific areas while providing an option for a bite to eat along the way. So, if you fancy exploring Al Wakrah, why not check out the following spots:
Al Wakrah, a bustling coastal town 24 km south of Doha, is one of Qatar's oldest continuously inhabited fishing and pearling ports. Though the town's fortunes have risen and fallen over the centuries with tribal warfare, various occupations and the discovery of oil, today it is Qatar's second-largest city. It has seen significant redevelopment since the turn of the 21st century and is a destination with plenty to discover.
Al Wakrah's old port, though still a buzzing harbour for fishing boats, has been recently revamped. It has become a vibrant destination for locals and tourists alike, with beaches, markets, parks and a mix of trendy and local restaurants and cafes. A new commercial port lies to the south of the town, and an enterprise zone to the north. In the city itself, businesses are booming, with plenty of retail opportunities for the shopaholic, including a new two-storey mall next to the state-of-the-art hospital complex. Al Wakrah is also the home of one of the eight FIFA 2022 World Cup stadiums, Al Janoub Stadium. Inspired by the traditions of Qatari life on the coast - particularly Al Wakrah's pearl diving and fishing past - the stadium resembles the sails of traditional Dhow boats from the outside and the hull of a ship on the inside - definitely worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.
However, this article isn't called Malls, Mosques, Museums and Meals for no reason. Al Wakrah is home to a perfect example of a traditional mosque, a new mall, a museum (of sorts), and a plentiful array of restaurants. So, without further ado…
Ezdan Mall is a relatively new shopping, leisure and entertainment destination in Al Wakrah on Al Wukair Street. While smaller and less spectacular than some of the mega-malls that Qatar boasts in its retail portfolio, Ezdan is a pleasant venue to spend a couple of hours.
The mall, built over two floors, has an airy, relaxed ambience, helped by a vast glass-domed roof and shiny marble floors sparkling in the sunlight. For shopping, the venue is lined with shops, some international (i.e. H&M and American Eagle Outfitters) and some local (i.e. Riva). In the centre of the venue is an entertainment park for kids, with carnival rides, attractions, interactive games and a giant soft play. On the ground floor are a trampoline park and a foam brick playground. On the second floor is a food court with various food kiosks. You can find a host of restaurants and cafes throughout the rest of the mall, including Mado, Starbucks, Applebees, Nando's and the heavenly Chocoglaze.
For a relaxed and easy shopping experience where kids are entertained, and hungry bellies are satisfied, Ezdan Mall in Al Wakrah fits the bill.
Abu Manaratain Mosque
Image: Shutterstock/SKSL Photography
The Abu Manaratain Mosque, an unassuming and unadorned building in Al Wakrah Souq, is a great venue to visit if you are interested in glimpsing traditional architecture or understanding construction in desert regions. While the mosque that stands in a quiet plaza today is a perfect reconstruction - the original mosque was built in 1940 - it demonstrates the simple methods people once used to keep cool in the blistering heat. The building's thick, sturdy walls are made from overlapping pieces of raw coral, rock and limestone coated with compressed mud. The materials used, which are cheap, easily sourced, strong and resistant to weathering, are also natural insulators, insulating against the heat and maintaining a cool environment inside.
The mosque, renovated in 2004, retains the original design and features of the 1940s building, including a small pool for ablutions, which was originally filled with water from a well in the adjacent courtyard. The sand-coloured facade blends in with the surrounding buildings, though a single minaret towers above the neighbouring roofs and trees. Strangely, the mosque's name, Manaratain, means two minarets, but this mosque only has one. You can't access the building, but it's still an interesting place to visit and provides some great photo opportunities.
Souq Al Wakrah
Image: Shutterstock/Dan Tiego
If you want to explore Qatar's cultural vibe further, then Souq Wakrah is the perfect destination. The souq, located on Al Wakrah Main Street, built alongside the old port and previously the site of an ancient fishing village, is a new development that opened in 2014. Though not a classic museum, it does take you on a journey through traditional-style markets commonplace in the Middle East for centuries.
Built in the region's traditional style architecture - low-walled, flat-roofed buildings made from natural stone and mud - the market wraps around a labyrinth of plazas, courtyards and squares and through a maze of alleyways, tiny passageways and thoroughfares. Shops, restaurants, cafes and other buildings, many set around courtyards with little gardens, are entered through large wooden doors and arched entrances - typical of Arabic architecture. Like a quintessential Arabian bazaar, the souq is full of many small shops selling local delicacies, such as dates, Arabic coffee, spices and honey, as well as woven textiles, handicrafts and other handmade souvenirs. There are even tailors and boat makers peddling their wares and an array of antique and old hardware-style shops.
Date palms grow along the camel-coloured streets, and all walkways seem to draw you in and down towards the seafront promenade. A narrow, clean strip of sand, with shallow water safe for paddling and deeper waters further out for swimming, lines the walkway. Traditional Dhow sailing boats are pulled onto the shore and painted in brilliant white and vibrant blues - great for quirky Instagram shots! The promenade and beach stretch south to the restored Wakrah Fishing Harbour, where you can watch fishing boats casting off or docking with their catch or check out The Pearl Monument, an iconic monument built in the 1980s to represent Qatar's pearl-diving past.
For more modern conveniences, you can find a host of cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the seafront boardwalk, selling local fare to Asian dishes and European food. And at the northern end, a huge kid's play park.
Meal - Danat Al Bahar
There are plenty of eateries across Al Wakrah, so if you feel peckish, you're spoilt for choice. You can pick up a tasty meal at Ezdan Mall, which has a variety of chain restaurants to choose from. Or, check out some of the local restaurants along Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani Street or Al Wakrah Main Street. However, we recommend trying the array of places to chow down in Souq Wakrah. In particular, you should visit Danat Al Bahar, a seafood grill joint that serves mouthwatering meals.
Danat Al Bahar, with its open-air courtyard-style dining on long wooden tables and bright blue painted benches, is a communal and genial place to grab a bite. Choose your fresh fish or shellfish (by the kg) from the market and have them grill it on the spot, then serve it up with salad, mandi (spiced rice) and mayo. Freshly caught seafood includes red snapper, white snapper, sea bream, seabass, kingfish, salmon, hamour, carb, lobster and prawns.
Danat Al Bahr is super popular and often busy, but it is worth a try for simple, fresh, delicious seafood and a chance to revel in a local haunt. Open daily from noon to midnight; you can check out their vibe on Instagram @danatalbaharbbq.
Getting There and Away
Al Wakrah is easily accessible from Doha by car, taxi, bus and Metro. By car, head south out of Doha and onto Al Wakra Road - there is plenty of parking space at the mall and souq. If you're taking the Metro via the Red Line, you need to jump off at Al Wakrah Station and hop on a free Metrolink Shuttle Bus to the mall (M130 / M131) or (M127) to the souq, which takes around 10-15 minutes.
If you liked this article, why not try one of the others in the Malls, Mosques, Museums and Meals series? There are some great places to visit in Katara Cultural Village:
Main image: Shutterstock/Abdelrahman Hassanein
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