1 November 2019

Doha, Qatar 24-Hour Layover Guide

On my recent trip to Europe, I flew Qatar Airways and braved the current longest flight in the world - Auckland to Doha (18 hours). I extended my layover in Doha which I love to do in new cities to get to explore places and cultures that I wouldn't usually visit.

I highly enjoyed my time there, it's a very easy-going and interesting city to layover in. The airport is close, there's Uber to get around, the people are very friendly and speak English, and the food is great. I don't mind the 40°C heat either (but I'm weird like that!).

I spent two nights there as I arrived after midnight, which gave me one full day to explore. I certainly didn't have time to do everything, so this guide includes my recommendations for what I personally enjoyed along with a few extra suggestions and travel tips.

Note: Nothing in this post is sponsored, (as always) it is my genuine opinion!

Facts about Doha/Qatar

Doha is the capital and most populous city of the State of Qatar in the Middle East. The city is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf in the east of the country and has a population of 1.85 million people.

It's one of the richest nations in the world and the men outnumber women 3 to 1.

Qatar State was protected by Great Britain until 1971 when it became independent. In 1995, Crown Prince Khalifa announced freedom of the press and allowed women to vote.

Qatar is home to one hundred and eighty different nationalities and the official language is Arabic.

Arriving at the Airport

Hamad International Airport opened in 2014 and is the ninth-largest in the world. It was also recently ranked the second-best airport in the world.

Clearing customs and immigration is fast and efficient. There is no need to apply for a transit visa prior to visiting.

Doha Transit Visa

In late 2016, the QTA (Qatar Tourism Authority) announced the introduction of free 96-hour transit visas with layovers of 5 hours or more for nationals of over 80 countries.

There is now a multi-entry waiver which is issued at the airport on arrival. To be eligible you must have an onward ticket, hold a passport valid for at least 6 months and share an email address to process the visa. Note there are separate rules Indian and Pakistani nationals. If you are not one of the 80 nationalities, you can still apply for a Qatar Tourist Visa.

Transportation Info

Once you exit immigration and customs the arrival hall will have transport information. To get to the city centre there are three options: buses, taxis and more recently, Uber.

Buses are located outside the arrival terminal to the right. Bus fares can only be paid with a Karwa Smartcard. Taxis are metered and the drivers only accept the local currency, Qatari Riyals. Be sure to hit the ATM before hopping in.

Uber was my preferred choice of getting around Doha. As I already had an account, I used the airport's free WiFi to order one and I could pay with my card already linked to it. I had pre-googled the best way to get around and Uber has a great reputation there and they are more affordable than taxis.

It cost me 30 QAR from the airport to my hotel ($8 USD).

Where To Stay

There is no shortage of amazing hotels to choose from suitable for all kinds of budgets. After plenty of research, I settled on Al Najada Hotel by Tivoli and it was a fantastic choice.

It has glowing reviews and being located only a fifteen-minute drive from the airport and across the road from Souq Waqif, it's in a great location.

The hotel has impressive architecture and is ornately designed, the staff were lovely, they had great food options and my room was very comfortable with a balcony view looking towards the marketplace and skyline. I highly recommend it!

What To Do

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif is Doha's most famous and historic bazaar/marketplace. They have been beautifully restored from the original markets that stood for over a century - the cities hub of trade and entertainment.

Centuries ago, Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings.

I enjoyed walking around and exploring the different shops, browsing the spices, colourful rugs, perfumes and trinkets. There are plenty of food/cafe/restaurant options if you are hungry. I wasn't once hassled by any shopkeepers which was a welcome surprise being a busy marketplace!

Museum of Islamic Art

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is one of the top things to do in Doha and you could easily spend half a day exploring the many floors of treasure.

Inside and out, the museum's architecture is astounding. It's influenced by ancient Islamic architecture yet has a uniquely modern design involving geometric patterns. It's the first of its kind to feature over 14 centuries of Islamic art in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf.

It boats the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, drawn from three continents over 1,400 years. It's a great way to spend a few hours, perhaps have lunch and enjoy the air-conditioning and free WiFi. Entry is free but they are closed on Tuesdays.

Pearl Monument

Not far from the MIA, also on the dhow harbour is the famous pearl monument and fountain, a popular spot for photos. It marks the entrance to the dhow harbour, lined with traditional boats at the northern end of the Corniche. Before Qatar found oil, pearling was one of its main industries.

I got around mostly by walking. After a late breakfast, I walked across and explored Souq Waqif. I then crossed the roads (there are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings) to the Pearl Monument and then continued along the harbour to the Museum. From the hotel to the museum is only a twenty-minute walk in total. 

After a few hours there, I took an Uber back to the hotel in the afternoon. There weren't many tourists walking around (probably because it was 40°C) but I never once felt unsafe. Feel free to catch an Uber/Taxi to get around though if you're not a fan of the heat!

More Things To Do

If you have a longer layover, another activity that I would have loved to do is a desert safari. You can do quad biking, sand surfing, camel riding and get a real taste of Bedouin life.

Other notable things to do include:

Al Koot Fort
Cruise the Corniche in a Dhow
National Museum of Qatar
Banana Island Resort
Falcon Souq
Qatar National Library
MIA Park

What/Where To Eat

I decided to have dinner at my hotel, Al Najada Hotel by Tivoli because they were serving traditional Qatari food in a buffet-style. This meant I got to try a little bit of everything (including desserts!) so I highly enjoyed it.

I also had tea and hummus there for a late lunch which came with pita chips and a variety of bread and it was dee-lish - the best hummus I've ever had!

Traditional Qatari food is influenced by Indian and Iranian cuisine. Some Qatari speciality dishes include Ghuzi, Motabel, Biriani, Tabouleh and Hummus. Machbous is an important traditional dish. It's a rich stew consisting of either meat and seafood with rice.

Many Qataris enjoy sweet foods. In Qatar it is traditional to eat a large spoonful of honey at night and in the morning. They relish fresh dates and picanuts.

For more ideas of where to eat while in Doha, check out Lonely Planet's recommendations here.

What to Wear

Doha/Qatar has a very hot climate so loose-fitting clothing is recommended. It's respectful for ladies to cover their shoulders and knees at all times. It is also respectful for men to not wear singlets/vests and shorts.

The “Thoub” is the traditional costume worn by Qatari men. The Thoub is a long white shirt that is worn over boxer style shorts or long white cotton trousers. As a matter of pride, all Thoubs must be immaculately laundered.

Qatari women wear a long black cloak known as an Abaya. Traditional Qatari females wear a djellaba or a dress under the cloak.

Pin it! :)

That's my 24-Hour Layover Guide on Doha. I hope you have some inspiration and a few ideas if you're planning to stop-over there yourself.

If you would like to see a bit more, check out the video I made for YouTube:

Are you heading to Doha or have you already been and have more suggestions and tips? Let me know in the comments below!

Read More: Heading to Shanghai on a layover? Don't miss my 48-hour Layover Guide for Shanghai, China.

Happy Travels,

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