After Marti shared her experience on the subject of should we bother to visit Doha, we knew we had to give the city a chance (at least a little one). As the hub airport for Qatar Airways, it’s easy to get to Doha and have a few hours between flights.
So on our way to Seychelles, we had an 8-hour layover in Doha and we would be there to catch the last Doha City tour, starting at 8 p.m. and exploring Doha during the evening. We booked the tour in advance and were looking forward to setting foot in one of the richest countries in the world.
Here is an overview of the tour, our experience, and all the things that impressed us about Qatar and Doha. Our opinion is that if you have a couple of hours to spend, you should take the Doha City Tour.
As soon as we hopped on the bus, our guide – a lady from Singapore – started painting the picture of Qatar and Doha for us. We wonder where the Qatari people are – everyone we’ve met so far working in the airport premises, also for this tour – seems to be non-Qatari. Maybe Qataris do only high-end jobs and duty-free shops, sanitizing toilets, and leading tours are not such jobs.
The perfectly illuminated and huge highway took us from the airport terminal to the city of Doha. We passed the private terminal for the royal family, just in time to learn from our guide that Qatar claims to be the richest country in the world. No kidding.
We love the vibes of the harbor. As it was in the evening and not so hot, there were plenty of people chatting and observing the skyline of Doha. Some would just chill in their parked cars, others would have a bite, overlooking the incoming and outgoing traffic of yachts and boats of different size and illumination.
We were thinking – OK, there are still some simple pleasures in the richest country in the world. But then we continued with the tour…
The Katara Cultural Village
This will be the fanciest village we’ve ever set foot in. It’s a complex of different buildings in Arabic and international style. Most of the buildings are used to host different artistic or cultural events and activities. There is a huge plaza with fountains and just a few people passing by.
It would be wonderful if we could visit an exhibition or performance, but maybe next time. It was getting late and maybe Katara Cultural Village was out of working hours so it was almost empty and looked a bit ghosty to me.
After taking too many selfies with the fountains and illuminated buildings, we continued to our next stop, which looked even fancier. On our way, we were passing the masterpieces of splendor like the Presidential Palace Qatar and beautiful statues of oryxes – oryx is the national animal of Qatar. We couldn’t miss the big posters and billboards with the face of the Emir of Qatar. Our guide told us this was the way to show him the support from the public.
As fancy as it gets – The Pearl. An artificial island of huge size, with at least one private harbor and many foreigners allowed to buy property in it. So if you really wanna show off with your money – don’t. Just show us your condo in The Pearl.
We started with stopping by at Ferrari – just to check if they have a discount or free rides for travel bloggers. They didn’t have so we tried the competition across the street – the Rolls Royce showroom. It didn’t work there, too. So we had to cheer up with a couple of selfies with the bridge and on the stairs, overlooking a fancy restaurant (we didn’t try it for bloggers’ discounts).
We were passing areas with skyscrapers and embassies, photos and video not allowed. One could see how many hundreds of billions of money are there, in this fancy artificial futuristic city. What a waste of money, we thought, looking with our necks stiff, and being happy to have spent only 11 dollars each to see billions of dollars in buildings.
The open-air market
It was time we saw another side of Qatar and Doha – the place where people who can’t afford Maserati would go. And that’s how we got to an open-air market. It might be another attraction as well, but we loved its vibes!
So this place is bustling with shops, stalls, cafes, shisha, families, people on a walk, people shopping, people selling anything you might need. Our bus of people just spilled itself somewhere in between the amusement park for kids, the shishas overlooking the corridor of passing people, the shops with spices, candies, or fabrics.
We heard birds singing and headed to a “bird” section of the market. They kept different birds in cages for sale as pets. There were also cats, right next to the birds, so it was a crazy “party”. We could smell the aroma of hundreds of spices, some dried fruits, tea.
Grabbing a bite was getting essential – and we saw this typical fast food place – a doner kebab place. We thought they gave us a good rate for our wraps but after we learned the official dollar-riyal rate, we were at least happy the food was delicious… This was the most successful attempt to experience the vibes, the sound, the aroma and the taste of Doha. Our favorite stop from Doha City Tour.
You don’t need a visa for the Doha City Tour, but check before you buy it if you’re eligible to enter the country without a visa. The tour starts with filling out a form to pass the immigration, and this thing, for a group of 50 and more people, takes some time. Be patient!
By the time of writing this (June 2018), the price of the tour was 11 USD per person. The good things is that includes a bottle of water, and water is so expensive in Qatar. And you need a lot of water to hydrate yourself in the desert.
If you want to buy souvenirs, some food or drink, it’s nice to have some Qatari riyals but it’s not obligatory. We did fine with American dollars.
Take a light jacket because it might be chilly in the bus and in any air-conditioned spaces. Otherwise outside it’s always hot, even in the evening.
You can book the tour online here, and then just show up one hour before the start time to check in.
We actually enjoyed Doha City Tour so much as it was perfectly organized, cheap, and it gave us a nice intro to Doha and Qatar. We recommend it to anyone who has a longer layover at Doha International Airport.
On the other hand, do we want to return to Doha and stay for longer? Maybe not – it’s too shiny, overpriced, artificial and bankrupt-enabling. Here’s a cool guide if you decide to spend 1,2 or 3 days in Doha. However, we also want to explore Qatar outside Doha and we’re looking forward to getting lost in typical towns and hospitable villages, or in the desert dunes…
Have you been to Doha? What are your impressions? Which places to visit in Qatar would you recommend?