I have visited Doha in Qatar during my 1-day long layover when flying with Qatar Airlines. I generally like booking with Qatar Airlines and Emirates on my trips from Europe to Asia, they usually offer very good standard for reasonable prices. Moreover, Qatar Airlines has a very nice program for night layovers, suggesting a night in luxurious hotels for less than 100 euro. This way, I snatched a night in famous Grand Hyatt Doha Hotel for 25 euro! And of course, had all day to myself to discover Doha.
- Qatar: A successful blend of modernity and tradition
- One day in Doha
- Discover Qatar program of Qatar Airlines and Grand Hyatt experience
- Practical tips
Qatar is a very interesting country to visit and to understand the situation in this region, the area became populated over 50 000 years ago and was a part of Mesopotamia civilization. Later on, the land was under influence of many powerful empires, including in later years Ottoman and British empires. In 20th century, the significant oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid increase of immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of the country’s successful modern history. Eventually, Qatar obtained its independence in 1971.
Personally, I find Qatar a very fascinating place to visit. Qatar is, on the one side prosperous and modern, but on the other hand, holds on its Arab customs and traditions. If you are interested in the culture of Middle East and want to see a prosperous Arabic country, then Qatar is definitely your destination.
I arrived to Doha in the morning and was coming back to Europe on an early morning flight next day.
Is it possible to visit Qatar’s capital in such short time?
Of course, I wouldn’t say I really explored the country or learnt a lot about it, but I also can’t say that I have seen nothing.
Qatar is a very small country laying on the coast of Persian Gulf and main Doha’s attractions are concentrated on relatively small area in old city center. I suggest to start the exploration in Souq Waqif which is the city’s old trading market.
Located in the heart of Doha nearby the city’s waterfront, the Souq first transactions date 100 years back when Bedouin and local traders would come here to acquire and sell livestock, spices, wool, pearls and other staple goods. Nowadays, many locals come here to one of restaurants or cafes, for shopping or to just have relaxing walk with their family. In Souq Waqif you will see a lot of Qatari families or just men walking together running their errands.
During my stay in Doha, I had impression that the country is not very pedestrian friendly and people generally move between places by cars so I find Souq Waqif a very interesting and unique place where you actually can observe the locals, otherwise hidden in their cars or in their well secured residences and the offices. In the winter season (from November to March) when the heat is less overwhelming, the market is particularly lively and full of locals, early morning hours and late afternoon are the parts of the day when the Souq is mostly visited by Qatari. One of the popular activities between shopping and doing small business is smoking shisha for some Qataris, they also like to take an outdoor table at one of the many cafés and take the vibrant ambience enjoying their sweet tea or Arabic coffee.
I have started my visit in Souq Waqif in one the small cafeterias with strong Arabic coffee prepared the traditional way: the coffee should be served from a “dallah” (a medium-sized coffee pot with a long spout) and poured into “finjaans” (small cups without handles). Since the coffee should be offered piping hot, the amount of poured is between ⅓ to ⅔ of the finjaan. The amount of coffee may look small, but the beverage is quite strong and can give you all the energy you need to start your explorations. Since I am quite a fan of coffee prepared this way and I have all the necessary equipment to brew it, I have never managed to recreate the exact taste, thus always when in Arabic country, I have a cup of this delicious drink every day. I find Arabic coffee amazingly refreshing and it gives me energy for next few hours even during enormous heat in the middle of the day.
Apart from visiting one of many cafeterias and restaurants, I strongly recommend to have a stroll around the market stalls to feel the ambiance of colourful Oriental market. You will find there plenty of locals buying spices, sweets, textiles or luxurious rugs. I find this place perfect for buying souvenirs, I brought myself from there few boxes of dates, hand embroidered pillow covers and handcrafted wooden box for my kitchen. You can also get there safran, preserved lemons and local honey, I’m sure that ever foodie will find the offer very tantalizing. Connoisseur of Arabic coffee will find there all necessary utensils to prepare it at home, Qatar is also a good place to buy jewelry and the high-quality carpets.
I find the atmosphere of the Souq a bit mysterious, with its cobbled alleys, old lanterns and wooden doors, the shops are located in the maze of corridors, the shop displays dazzle with prismatic colours and intoxicate with diversity of oriental scents. Arabs are famous of their trading culture, with all the ceremony of product assessment, discussions and negotiations. When doing your own purchases, don’t be shy to challenge the price, in my case I got 15% discounts, which is not very spectacular but also not negligible. I wouldn’t expect there any miraculous bargains and buying something for small fraction of initial price, the products there are often locally made, handcrafted and of good quality and all of these contribute to the price which won’t be much lowered. However, if you have different experience, let me know in the comments 😉 I can’t encourage enough to visit Souq Waqif which I find a really unique place in Doha. The area is an authentic melting pot for where locals and foreigners naturally mingle, and it is a perfect place to browse and explore, barter, shop, and relax.
As much as I found Souq Waqif engaging, I decided to visit other parts of the city which are very different from the old town. Short walk from the famous market, will get you to the waterfront with impressive view over the bay and the business district. Most of Doha is full of modern skyscrapers, if it’s not too hot you can have a 5km walk along Corniche from the Museum of Islamic Art to the Sheraton on West Bay.
Really recommend to have even short walk along Corniche for very good views at the Bay.
You can catch metro to conveniently get to the Business district to have a walk there. I was in Qatar in the non-working day for them, so the area was quite deserted.
If you like visiting museums when in the new country, I strongly recommend The Museum of Islamic Art just at the waterfront and short walk from Souq Waqif. The museum has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections representing the full scope of Islamic art across three continents over 1400 years. The exhibitions include metalwork, ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, textiles, coins and glass.
If you are interested in the objects displayed in the museum but can’t visit Qatar at the moment, some part of collection is available for inspection online, check the museum’s website for details.
Apart from impressive exhibition, the building itself is also very spectacular, with dramatic views at the bay and business district from its terraces, beautiful marble atrium, pleasant café and gift shop. All the facilities are of course air-conditioned so I strongly recommend to plan your visit in the hottest hours of the day when the heat makes outdoors activities quite impossible.
In front of the museum you will also find a very pleasant park with many facilities for children. It is also a popular spot for locals to do sports, you can observe them plenty of runners on their daily jog. Apart from Souq Waqif, this area is a very good place to observe Qatari families during relaxing. The park gets filled with locals in late afternoon.
Another museum worthy a visit is National Museum of Qatar. I didn’t visit it due to lack of time but the facility is very modern and you can learn there a rich and complex history of the region and this young country itself.
Apart of few streets I don’t find Doha very pedestrian friendly, you will stand long on traffic lights to cross busy highways, I also didn’t find many people strolling around (with the exception of Souq Waqif area), and have impression that locals use cars to move between places.
I think the best way to move around Doha is to rent a car which will allow you to quickly take a look at other parts of the country, Qatar is very small and it won’t take much time to see other attractions outside of the capital. Another alternative to move around Doha is a very modern metro system (also very safe and clean) but I observed that the metro was quite empty and not much used by the locals, it also doesn’t get you to all parts of the city, including some of the hotel areas.
The last but not least option to mention is Uber (or taxi) which works very well in Doha. Before deciding on this solution, make sure that you have Internet plan on your phone to be able to summon the car. Since I was only one day in Doha, I didn’t buy local sim card and then regretted it. Apparently, Uber app uses a lot of data when you open it just to check the pick-up point and location of the car and I paid a lot for a 1-minute Internet usage to find my Uber driver to get me back to the hotel.
I have visited Doha during my layover when flying from Thailand to Denmark. Each passenger who spends the night waiting for their connecting flight is offered a night in the hotel at discounted price.
Remark. The Covid pandemic has been challenging for airlines industry so the programs and conditions may have changed. Before making your booking, make sure which programs are available and check their rules.
At the time when I was travelling, Qatar Airlines was offering a night in 4-star and 5-star hotels at very low prices, including Hyatt Grand Hotel for one night at the price of 25 euro. As far as I remember, the list of hotels currently available was changing depending on the night selected, I suspect that hotels collaborate with the airline and suggest their rooms when having availabilities prioritizing regular reservations.
My arrival to Doha was in the morning and the returning flight to Denmark early morning next day so after long sightseeing I came back to the hotel in the afternoon.
Hyatt is quite far from the city center so you need a car to get there. The hotel itself is very grand with spectacular marble interiors. Hyatt has 249 Guestrooms & Suites, 91 Villas, Jaula Spa, Private Hotel Beach, and numerous swimming pools and fine dining facilities.
Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the hotel facilities enough since I came back to the hotel in the evening and my flight was very early morning.
If you want to make most of your experience with Discover Qatar program offered by the Qatar Airlines I suggest to find an early arriving flight to Doha and late evening departure next day. This will allow you to come to the hotel early afternoon and enjoy its beach and amenities and you will still have next day to discover Doha and/or other places in Qatar.
I have spent all my time in Doha but a very popular attraction is to have a half-day trip to the desert, you can also spend a night there, and I guess that if taking advantage of such program again this would be choice for next visit.
- Practical tips
- Qatar has a desert climate so make sure to often carry with you plenty of water and have sunscreen cream with high filter.
- Qatar is prosperous and safe country with low level of criminality.
- In the hottest hours of the day, avoid excessive sun exposure and stay in the shadow or air-conditioned facilities.
- Qatar is modern country so tourist women don’t need to wear abayha, however, to respect the local customs and traditions it is important to wear modest clothes covering shoulders and knees.
- Female travellers can come alone (but remember about covering your knees and shoulders).
- Public display of affection (kissing, hugging) should also be avoided.
- Drinking alcohol in public places is prohibited. Alcohol is available only at licensed hotel restaurants and bars.
- Doha has a very modern and affordable metro system which connects also airport with the city center. However, you will need a car to get to certain places in the capital, as well as areas outside of the capital.
- Uber in Doha is safe and cheap alternative to taxi.
- Some of the purchases in Souq Waqif are possible only in cash, plenty of ATMs are available in the area.
- Don’t forget to bargain when buying at Souq Waqif, this is a part of the country’s tradition.
- Check Qatar Airlines program to see the offers for a night layover.
- In the shops/restaurants/hotels the staff speaks fluent English.