Have you ever wanted to visit Qatar but you’re just not sure how? Taking a Stopover is the way to go. In just a few days, you can see and do so many fun things in Doha and its surroundings.
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In this article:
- Is Doha Worth Visiting?
- Long Stopover in Doha
- Best Thing to do in Qatar
- Things to do in Doha
- Dos and Don’ts for Qatar
- Where to Stay in Doha
Is Doha Worth Visiting?
Doha is the capital city of the State of Qatar, which is a very small country located in the Persian Gulf. It’s a rich country that borders Saudi Arabia, and it’s very near Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is a unique country and well worth a long stopover.
Due to its size, it’s easy to see and do many things in a very short amount of time. In two days, you can really get a good idea what there is to do and see, but if you have longer, take your time and enjoy what Doha and Qatar have to offer.
A Long Stopover in Doha
Qatar was not our initial destination, but I love to book flights through places where I can knowingly take advantage of a free stopover, especially when I can add a unique country in Asia. We planned to take advantage of the Qatar Airways transit visa, which was going to allow us free entry for up to 96 hours (4 days).
How long would we need? What’s the most important things to do in Doha? Just like Brunei, we figured one full day would just about do it, but with flight times and a chance to take night photos, we ended up staying two nights and one full day in Qatar, and we found all the top things to do and best places to visit in Qatar. It was perfect!
Our layover in Doha began as we arrived at about 10:30 at night, which is pretty late for us. The first priority was getting from the airport to the city center where our hotel was located. We rented a car instead of taking the Doha city bus, but we just barely had enough time to pick up the rental car before they closed for the night.
We wanted to make sure that we got a good night’s sleep so we could hit the road and see all the Doha attractions first thing in the morning. Our first foray of driving in Doha went rather well until we hit the downtown area where we were unprepared for the amount of construction going on in the area where our hotel was located. Even using a GPS we had a bit of a difficult time getting there. We did find it, though, and fell right into bed.
One of the Best Things to Do in Qatar
We had a full agenda planned, and for us it was imperative to get to the one and only UNESCO World Heritage site in Qatar, Al Zubarah, and since it was about an hour drive out of Doha, we decided to head there first so we wouldn’t be rushed. That way, when we returned to Doha, we could take our time doing the other sites around the city.
Al Zubarah is famous for being an economic center since the 18th century. It made its fortunes from pearls, trading with ports all over that part of Asia and the Indian Ocean. Abandoned in the early 20th century, the sand buried the fully intact city and excavations are still uncovering mosques, buildings, fisherman’s huts, and the defensive walls. We are so glad we made it there to experience this piece of history for ourselves. Al Zubarah was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
Driving in Qatar
Driving on Qatari roads was pretty straight-forward and easy. It gave us a chance to take our time and see more than the crowded city. We love to stop along the road and really take our time in a place. On the way to Al Zubarah, not only did we get to stop and buy some gigantic and delicious pomegranates, but we also got to see a group of Arabian gazelles and oryx.
The desert is a harsh climate, and I’m pretty sure they were either owned or at least protected by the owner of the land, but it was still interesting to view them. There must have been some recent rain because we also saw lots of people out picking some kind of plants along the road to take home as well.
Things to do in Doha
- Take a tour of Doha
- Walk on the famous Corniche
- Visit a Stunning Museum
- Visit a mosque
- Visit a Souq or market
- Eat local foods
- Go to the Beach
- Watch the Camel Races
- Take a Boat Ride
Take a Doha City Tour
There’s a couple of city tours that pretty much go to the same places, but one is during the day, and one is at night. Both are four hours long and around $120. The first is the Doha: City Tour and Dhow Boat Cruise, which includes a boat ride. The second one sound like just as much fun, except it’s at night – Doha: Private Night City Tour which is a great way to see the sights and still have a full day to use for other tours.
One tour that’s loads of fun is Doha: Safari, Camel Ride, Sandboarding and Inland Sea Tour, which takes you on a number of activities on the dunes. It’s a must-do for all families and couples.
Take a Walk on the Corniche
The Corniche is a walking path that follows the Doha waterfront. It affords amazing views of the Doha city skyline, which is pretty at any time of day, but at night is spectacular since it has some great light shows.
Following along Doha Bay, this seven-kilometer walk is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Visit One of the State-of-the-Art Qatari Museums
One of the best things we found about the Corniche was it was a great place to park if you are on your way to the Museum of Islamic Art as well, which was one of our must-see Doha sights on our list.
In fact, the Museum of Islamic Art was my absolute favorite part of our entire stopover. All the blogs and literature we’d read planning for the trip dripped with compliments about this museum. Designed by IM Pei, even the exterior of the building is worth the stop, let alone the amazing collections of artifacts found inside.
One thing we loved about visiting the museum was its opening hours. It stays open until 7:00 PM every night, so we were able to view the sunset and witness the Doha skyline go from day to night. Just this convenience alone should be a reason to put it on your Qatar bucket list.
Another very worthwhile museum is the new National Museum of Qatar. We have not been yet, again one more thing to put on our return trip list.
Also if you are interested in cars, you’ll enjoy a stop at the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum.
Visit a Mosque
Many Muslim countries do not allow non-Muslims to enter mosques. Thankfully, there are some in Qatar that you can visit, just not during prayer times.
One such mosque is the Imam Abdul Wahaab Shaikh Mosque. Similar to the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, tours are offered that are meant to teach tourists about Islam. We highly recommend visiting it.
Visit a Souk or Market and Shop, Shop, Shop
There are many great places to shop in Doha. Shopping is not only great for picking up souvenirs, but it’s also a glance into the culture.
We visited Souq Waqif for a bit of retail therapy as well a great dinner, but some other places to check out are:
- The Pearl
- Doha Festival City
- Gold Souq
- Wholesale Market – for produce
At long last, we took a much-needed break and headed down to the Souq Waqif. Here you can sit and enjoy a shisha, some great Arabian coffee or tea, sit and watch the world go by, as well as venture into the many shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and snacks. It was a great way for us to while away the last few hours before heading back to our hotel to get ready for our flight out.
Eat Local Foods
After we were finished smoking shisha and picking up a few choice souvenirs, we started looking for a great place for dinner. We ended up at Al Tawash, which was bustling and looked amazing. We sat outside enjoying the night air and having the Lamb Majboos, a Qatari favorite. Along with our main course we had to try some mezzes, including the grape leaves, and of course Qatari tea.
Go to the Beach
Qatar is a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf, so there are plenty of beaches. The closest ones to Doha are called Katara, Public, and Westbay. Just remember that Qatar is a very conservative country and be aware of the right etiquette and swimwear when you go.
Watch the Camel Races
On the drive back to Doha, on the edge of the city, we came across a bunch of camel teams walking their racers. Qatar is one of the places in the Middle East that holds camel races. The races are held late on Saturday afternoon at Al Shahaniya racetrack.
We were there on a Saturday, but really didn’t have the time to go to the actual races. Instead we were lucky enough to see the teams walking their camels on or around the track. Many of them had team colors, and it was a fascinating sight.
Going to the actual races is definitely on my list for our next trip to Doha. It’s just not something you can see everywhere. There are many Doha city tours that will take you to the races for the day, and if we were to go again, we certainly would check it out. Just watching them exercise their animals was interesting.
Take a Boat Ride
Walking along the Corniche, you’ll come to a boat dock where you can join one of the boats cruising the bay or even hire one for yourself. The traditional wooden dhows make you feel like you are riding into the past. They are so ornately decorated and painted. It’s well worth a stroll down the promenade to see them.
Some Dos and Don’ts for Qatar
It’s important to note that Qatar is a very conservative country and has strict laws. Some things to pay attention to are:
- What you wear – As a general rule, westerners can wear what they usually wear, but it’s prudent to keep your shoulders and knees covered. If you do enter a mosque, the administration will probably have scarves and maybe more that you can borrow.
- Kissing in public – Don’t. Public displays of affection are not looked upon kindly. You can probably hold hands or even have a quick cheek peck, but why? You can alway wait, like the Qataris do, to be in your private space.
- Drinking in public – Alcohol is forbidden in public, but you can buy a beer or other drinks at hotels or in the market. Once again, just keep it for your private consumption. It goes without saying, that all other drugs are also forbidden.
- Ramadan – The holy month of Ramadan changes each year, but if you happen to be traveling to Qatar during this time there are a few things that you can do to show respect. First, you can minimize your eating out, especially in public, during the day. It’s best to find restaurants or hotels tthat cater to foreiogners where you will not be obvious. Second, one of the most joyous occasions for Muslims is having the Iftar meal after the sun goes down. Special foods are eaten and everyone is happy. You can usually partake at a hotel or restaurant, but reservations are a must. Also remember that many businesses, including restaurants, will be closed or have holiday hours during Ramadan so it’s a little harder to get things done.
Where to Stay in Doha
Doha is not the cheapest country to find a hotel, but the great thing is that the hospitality and what you get for your money makes it all worth it. We stayed at the Plaza Inn which is not that far from the Corniche. It was a good mid-range hotel, and we loved the breakfast and the service we received.
If you are looking for a little more luxury, you could choose the Mondrian Doha, which has a spa and pool and some great restaurants.
Alternatively, you can’t go wrong booking a hotel near the Souq Waqif where you will spend some of your time. We think the Kingsgate Hotel Doha by Millennium Hotels is a great choice being only 5 minute walk to the Souq and 12 minute walk to the beach.
We’d only been in Doha for about 36 hours, but this one day in Qatar was filled with beautiful vistas from the desert to the water, surprising animals, spectacular museums, and delicious foods. We would be happy to go back any time. Don’t miss out, and check to see if you can do a stopover in Doha on your next flight through the Middle East.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
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