Doha is now well and truly on the map for travelers around the world thanks to Qatar Airways’ expanding global route map and an innovative new stopover program.
I am often asked by readers for tips and advice for visitors to Qatar, so by popular demand, I have compiled the “ultimate” Insider’s Guide to Doha. From visas through to hotels, what to buy and of course where to eat, its all here in one place.
My only advice? Just come – you will love it.
Travelers can now enjoy the new Transit Visa free of cost when you add a short transit or stopover between five and 96 hours in Doha to your itinerary without any additional fare charges. Qatar Airways transit passengers have the opportunity to explore Qatar with a range of stopover options including a free hotel stay and two-night stay offers from 1 May to 30 September 2017. Called the +Qatar program, you can see here for more information. For longer stays, visas on arrival are available to more than 80 nationalities (this was announced 9 August) for QR100 or US$30.
Where to Stay: There are more than 220 hotels in Doha catering for all budgets and location needs.
Spend: The Four Seasons Doha is the big daddy of all hotels in the city. With a beachfront location, luxe rooms and the signature Four Seasons style, it’s hard to beat for glamour and location.
Save: This is an increasingly competitive part of the market, with travelers wanting proximity but also value for money. It’s hard to beat K108 on all fronts. The city’s first boutique hotel, it has fresh and clean rooms, free wifi, free (non alcoholic) minibar and great views. Not to mention an excellent restaurant.
A good mid-priced option near the Corniche and is the Doubletree by Hilton. Very new, with great dining options, a rooftop bar and views to die for, this is good for families and singles.
Where to go:
The amazing thing about many of the sights in Doha is that they are free to enter and there are no lines. We would be remiss not to mention the stunning Museum of Islamic Art, which has some spectacular pieces and a stunning location.
But for something different, head to Firestation (housed in the former Civil Defense building) which houses regular exhibition by local and international artists. It also has a great cafe and a small shop.
Another gem are the Musherib Museums. A collection of four historic heritage houses in the heart of Msheireb Downtown Doha. Located within the oldest part of the capital, they all cover a different aspect of the city’s history.
Where to shop:
Whether it be designer threads or something more traditional, there is something for every budget in Doha. While it’s is home to glittering and huge malls full of high street brands, you can also find some gems in other parts of the city. Salam Stores at The Gate has more than 300 designers on its books and with regular sales, is the first stop for many fashionistas. Souq Waqif – a restored traditional market area where you can buy everything from a pashmina through to a four course meal – is also the beating heart of the city. Great for people watching as well as for picking up dates, spices, souvenirs and perfumes. Many stores with properly pack your goodies for travel and customs reasons. Further afield is The Pearl Qatar, an artificial island housing residential, cafes and restaurants as well as high end boutiques like Armani and Chloe.
Where to eat:
Well where to start? For an in-depth look at the best places to eat on a stopover, check out my guide. But to start:
Splurge: Hands down Nobu Doha.This outpost of the global chain has one of the best locations in town – with sweeping views of the Corniche from its rooftop bar. Don’t be put off by the price, every night between 6pm and 8pm their happy hour serves up QR30 (USD8) cocktails and bites off the menu for the same price. Or you can eat in their glam dining room and enjoy the full menu. My recommendations are the Black Miso Cod and the Canadian lobster salad.
Save: Drop your inhibitions and get down and dirty at Bandar Aden in Souq Waqif. Few are more authentic than this place serving Yemeni food. Don’t be intimidated, it’s always busy but service and customers are equally friendly. Sit at a table or sprawl on the floor in the family sitting areas, this sometimes chaotic place has traditional Gulf food – point at the menu or ask your fellow diners for help, you will not go wrong. And the hot, fresh flat bread is addictive.
Surprise Packet: For a fun, non-hotel dining option in the city, check out Bulbul Streetfood in the iconic Tornado Tower. Lebanese-inspired streetfood with a twist. the food is fresh and tasty and the atmosphere welcoming.Try the chicken shawarma tacos (yes!) and the avocado babaganoush.
Off the beaten track:
Head outside of Doha for a unique experience. One of my favorite destinations is Souq Al Wakra, just to the south of the city. With its beach side location and traditional architecture, you can go for a walk, grab a coffee or have a meal. It has a great family atmosphere. A great choice for lunch is Al Baranda, with quirky interiors and a menu of Qatari favorites.
Best photo spots:
Back in the city, head to the Corniche and hire a traditional fishing dhow (boat) for an hour or two. This sill give you stunning views of the skyline. Sunset and evening when the buildings light up are the best times. Negotiate hard but expect a great view once on board.
Other great photo spots are the Museum of Islamic Art’s spectacular terrace, which enables keen photographers to frame the skyline perfectly. In the cooler months, the cafe in the adjacent park also offers panoramic views.
Another postcard (or should I say Instagrammable) location is the Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque (also called the Qatar State Mosque) which is perched on a hill and has stunning views over Doha. The exterior of the mosque is a photo unto itself.
Most hotels have contacts with “Limo” drivers and companies and you will find them fairly competitive. If you do get one, they don’t have meters so settle on a price before you move off. for a point of reference, from the airport it’s usually between QR40 to QR50 to most places in West Bay and around.
One way to see the city in air conditioned comfort is the Doha City Bus, which works like in other cities, with a hop-on, hop-off concept. It covers most of the major sites, has multilingual commentary and is a fun way to get around.
For those with less than 12 hours to burn on transit, Qatar Airways offers free city tours. Just go to the desk (near the Mont Blanc boutique) and sign up. There are four tours a day.
What to buy:
Souq Waqif is a shopper’s paradise. You can pick up colorful pashminas, spices, dates and traditional patterned throws, teapots and dishes. The nearby glittering gold souq has the full range of sparkling baubles – haggling recommended! The gift shop at the Museum of Islamic Art (also with a store at the airport) has some beautifully crafted items, but the colorful cushions of women and men in traditional dress are a favorite.
Things to know:
Qatar is an Islamic country and visitors should dress modestly (shoulder and knees covered for both genders) and refrain from public displays of affection. One thing I get asked about a lot is the availability alcohol. Basically, you CAN get a drink in Qatar, in five star hotels, in both restaurants and bars. Some hotels are dry so best to ask.
And yes, it’s hot for half of the year – but you would be surprised at the power of air conditioning!
At time of writing, Qatar was under blockade by neighboring countries, and The Maldives. Life continues as normal and in fact, visitors will find the atmosphere very positive and welcoming.
For more information check out about visiting Qatar and upcoming events, click here.
So…when are you visiting?