We’ve been visiting the Hamad International Airport in Qatar, Doha so many times during our transits and layovers. We even started wondering if we should dare to leave the extremely expensive duty free shops, the super chill lounges and the constant presence of hot water in the sinks and cold air below the air-conditions, to venture outside the airport and get to know Doha. Our friend Martina Galabova kind of had to explore the city during an unexpected super-long layover. So let’s find out from her first-hand experience if we should bother to visit Doha, Qatar.
Doha might be a well-known city for you if you’re looking for travel deals from Europe to Asia or vice versa. This is the headquarter city of Qatar Airways and also the capital of Qatar. Here are my first-hand tips and tricks plus some advice from my local guide, in Q&A. 😀
What should I expect? Give me some background!
Doha is located in the central-east part of Qatar. The atmosphere is typical for the Middle East: hot weather, late dinners, many people dressed in long clothes. If you have already been in that region there won’t be any huge surprises for you. Qatar seems to be not that touristic as UAE (yet), but they are on the right track (2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar). Their laws and regulations about alcohol and social behavior seem to be more strict than the laws and rules in UAE. An interesting fact is that almost all of the wealth in the country is owned by a single family – Al Thani. You can figure out how powerful this family is if you read this article (or just check the graphics).
What should I wear?
The temperatures are quite high, but all of the public spaces are air-conditioned. It could be really hard to figure out what to wear – you should prepare for 30+ degrees Celsius outside and for 22 inside. The majority of residents in Doha are Muslim and they are very religious/strict. For the ladies, this means they should cover ankles and knees and forget about all transparent clothes.
What should I visit?
As a typical Arabic country, Qatar offers really hot weather between 11h and 15:30h, so you can spend the afternoon shopping. Mall of Qatar is our local’s guide first choice. If you’re more into museums – Museum of Islamic Art is another place that you might consider during the hot hours. The city of Doha is widely spread and it also offers interesting places, that are not in the city center: Katara and The Pearl. While Katara is a cultural village, The Pearl is an artificial island. It’s surprising that it’s not in the shape of a palm tree, but except that it has everything that an artificial island should offer: plenty of cafes (with free Internet) and a lot of copy-paste buildings. However, it’s a nice place to spend few hours. You can check the Marina and Kempinski Hotel.
If you have time to visit only one place in Doha I would recommend Souq Waqif. This is a traditional market that opens in the late afternoon and is a great place to experience Qatari culture. There are plenty of small shops that offer everything from traditional dresses to new pets. There are many restaurants where you can taste traditional Qatari food, beverages and of course – shisha.
What should I eat?
In Doha you can taste typical middle eastern food: hummus, lamb, salads, local bread. Qatari cuisine is quite delicious – you should definitely try it.
What should I drink?
You have guessed right: all the options are non-alcoholic. The laws in Qatar are quite tough and you can possess alcohol only if you have a permit. Don’t think about smuggling a can of beer (or 2) in the country – this is a punishable crime. It’s also not easy to buy alcohol – you need to have a local address, you should not be Muslim, you should have an employer and their permission to receive such permit. So, forget about the cold beer, and have a lemon mint instead: it’s quite a delicious mint lemonade that’s served almost everywhere. If you really, really, really want to enjoy a beer, you can try finding such in a (really high-end) 5* hotel lobby bar in exchange of a huge amount of Qatari riyals (QAR).
How to get from A to B in Doha?
Forget about the public transport! 🚎 You should either rent a car or use Uber/UberX. An 18km-ride from the city center to The Pearl is about 40 QAR, which is less than 10 euro. Sounds like a deal to me.
Do I need local currency?
You can pay with card almost everywhere. I’ve survived 24 hours in Doha without a single Qatari Rial in cash.
Would I be able to post my Instagram photos everywhere?
There’s free wifi in most of the restaurants and cafes, also in some public areas.
Can I visit during my layover in Doha airport? How?
Yes, you can. If you have more than 6h stay in Doha during the day, you can take advantage of the free tours organized by Qatar Airways. Unfortunately, you can’t book them online, but you can check the schedule.
Do I need a visa?
Most probably yes – better check with the local embassy.
Is it pricey?
It’s not cheap.😀 Dinner for three in a good restaurant with lots of food was about 90 euro. On the other hand, some 18-km-Uber-drive costs less than 10 euro.
Is it dangerous?
All the places I visited in Doha felt safe, during daytime and after dark. There was an annoying merchant but my local guide said that was his usual behavior.
To sum up: if you have never been in a Middle Eastern country before, spending a day in Doha might be interesting for you. Otherwise, you might not be impressed. On the other hand, leaving that airport for a while might be a good idea! 😀
Have you been to Doha? What are your impressions? Got more questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!