Ever since I was a child, I have had dreams of Arabian nights. Nomadic cultures, great mosques and Silk Road souks have always sparked my imagination. So when booking a trip to Singapore, I noticed I could arrange a stopover Doha Qatar; I could not let the opportunity pass me. After spending just short of 26 hours in Doha, I can tell you Hamad International Airport is the perfect hub for a city starting to bloom into a tourist destination.
To be completely honest, if you were to compare Doha to food, I would suggest you have a taste as opposed to a meal. A couple of hours in the city are more than enough. Apart from the malls, souk (open-air market, or bazaar), Katara Cultural Village Amphitheater and the Islamic Art Museum, there just is not much there. With this said, though, a trip to the city is easy to organize.
Qatar Airlines Free City Tour Service
If you book on Qatar Airlines, like I did, they offer a complimentary tour of Doha. The tour is based on a first come first serve system (6 am being the best time to meet.) The sign up is easy to find in the airport under the giant “B.” The tour generally goes past the Islamic Art Museum, the embassy district and ends at the souk. The tour really showcases the wealth of Doha and what a Gulf capital has to offer. The nicest feature of this tour is the 30 minutes at the end where you can explore the souk. It is the only place in the city where locals and tourists seem to mix and the falafel is pretty good too.
Stopover Doha Qatar Independent Tour
If you’re like me and prefer touring independently, you can pick up a visa at the airport. The visa costs around $30 USD and gives you 24-hour access to the city. As I mentioned before, the free city tour covers most of the highlights of the city but if you want to visit the Islamic Art Museum or the souk in-depth, you will need to grab a visa.
The museum is free and has a very extensive collection of Islamic art organized chronologically with the highest floor left for alternating exhibits. If you are looking for souvenirs, the gift shop on the main floor has a fantastic selection of books, trinkets and art. One of the nicest features of the museum is the café overlooking the Gulf making for a beautiful and relaxing break. Since I was at the museum on a Saturday, the park next door was holding their weekly market. Only 15 % of Doha are locals while everyone else is a migrant worker. This Saturday market is a perfect opportunity to see the city’s diversity: Indonesians, Thais, Malaysians, and Indians all selling their cultural foods. The entire park smelled like pad thai, beef soup and Indian Biryani. Oh and just a warning but the Indonesian meatballs were super spicy! In addition to food, the park was filled with various vendors selling handmade art or second-hand clothes.
Doha Airport Hotel
If you choose to stay in the airport for your time in Doha, there are a couple of great options to spend a long layover. For those who want a high level of comfort, the “Airport Hotel”, yes that’s the official name, offers the best option. This is a hotel located in Hamad airport only available to people on a layover. The rooms are well-organized and offer all of the amenities one comes to expect from a 4 star hotel. All hotel reservations come with access to the “Vitality”; a fitness center with a pool, gym, massage area, and squash court. If you do decide to use the lounge, remember to bring your bathing suit and towel, but for those who forgot, a suit can be purchased for around 30 USD. One of the coolest aspects of the fitness centre is the squash court. For those traveling alone, the spa will rent you running shoes and will even provide someone to play with; a great way to kill some time. With this said, though, for an 8-24 hour layover a hotel room is approx. 200 USD and I do not recommend this option unless you have the money to burn.
For those looking for a more economical option for their layover in Doha, the “Vitality” lounge offers an all access pass for around $30 USD giving you access to everything the spa has to offer. Another option right below the hotel and Vitality fitness centre are two lounges. These lounges, Al-Maha and Oryx lounge can both be accessed for $55 USD an evening. Though these two lounges are located on the same floor right next to each other, there is only one main difference in the way that they are run. The Al-Maha lounge is the one affiliated with all the airline and credit card point programs. So if you have that platinum American Express travel card, you can get free access to the lounge. In my opinion, though, the Oryx lounge is the better choice with its quiet room, video games, and free flow of alcohol and snacks. In summary: the Oryx offers a lot of comfort for a long stopover. If you put it into perspective, a meal in the food court ranges from $10-30 USD, but if you fall asleep in some random seat, you may wake up with all of your stuff gone. So, in my opinion, $55 USD is fairly reasonable for food, drink and shelter.
All in all, I would say Doha is not ready for tourism yet but with its winning bid to hold the World Cup 2018, the city will only get better. The area, in which Doha does shine, is as a comfortable stopover. Hamad Airport with its Airport hotel, lounges and free city tours makes for one of the most accommodating airports in the world – just don’t forget your trunks if you decide to take a dip in the pool!