I love a good stopover – it’s a chance to regroup at the end of a trip or fire up the start of a vacation – get in the mood so to speak. Or just slip in and sample a new destination with minimal fuss.
Whatever the reason, a stopover can end up being one of the highlights of your trip.
With Qatar now offering visa free travel to Qatar for 80 nationalities and Qatar Airways offering free stopovers, it’s never been easier to visit Doha on a stopover. And why not? The city makes the perfect halfway point between Asia, Africa and Europe and has some great connections to Australia, NZ and beyond. It really is a gateway.
But how to make the most of a short-ish (or longer!) stopover in a city like Doha?
I turned to the newly renovated Ritz Carlton Doha, one of the city’s grandest hotels, for help on this one. With a prime position on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, it is equal parts resort and big city hotel – perfect for whatever needs you have on a stopover.
I recently stayed at the renovated hotel for a weekend, but didn’t approach it as a staycation, rather, I saw my time as a visitor to Doha would. Here are my tips for making the best of that time and having a true “Doha Experience”.
PLAN AHEAD: Picking the destination and booking the stopover through Qatar Airways is the easy part. The key to making the most of a stopover is is planning – you can make it as busy or as chilled as you like. While Doha and surrounds has its fair share of attractions (many of them within easy reach of the hotel), it also has some great restaurants and shopping. What I tend to do before a stopover is decide how active I want it to be – is it a chance to relax or an opportunity to explore? Is it a new destination or a place that I know well.
ARRIVE IN STYLE: Make the most of the excellent (but expansive) Hamad International Airport by booking an Al Maha Arrivals (or departures) service. They will ensure you get off the plane and through all the formalities quickly and with a little bit of luxury.
JOIN THE CLUB: Booking a Club Room at a hotel like the Ritz Carlton Doha is one of the best travel investments you can make. At the Ritz Carlton Doha (and the brand generally), this means five food “presentations” a day – you don’t go hungry. My favorite time of day was Afternoon Tea. I’m not much of an afternoon type type person, but the Ritz’s Club Floor take was perfect – fluffy scones and some solid sandwiches. I also had a lot of fun with the juice maker and smoothie bar area.
It’s also not just about the food – the Club Floor comes with a few extras like free pressing of two items a day and free wifi. These perks come at an extra price – usually around 20 to 30 percent extra on the cost of your room. But when you do the maths, this ends up being a good deal – especially for solo travelers, business travelers and families.
LEAVE IT TO THE EXPERTS: By experts I mean Concierge and the Club Floor Team. They know the city like the back of their hand. From a desert safari to a taxi to the souq, they know the ins and outs of Doha and everything in between. I admit, Doha can be a bit bamboozling at first, but the team can help you navigate, book tours or find that one of a kind souvenir.
RELAX: The Spa at the Ritz Carlton Doha has undergone it’s own transformation and tranquil doesn’t even begin to describe it. While they have some super luxurious treatments, as a frequent flyer I can suggest their facials to give you a little extra glow as well as their 30 min reflexology treatment. Not just for tired toes, but also to help soothe that jet lag.
OR GET ACTIVE: Speaking of which, you can shake off that jet lag or just shake your booty at the gym (possibly one of the biggest in Doha and with an awesome view to boot). The Ritz Carlton Doha is one of the older hotels in the city and as a result has some beautifully landscaped gardens, which are perfect for a cobweb clearing walk. We strolled down to the neighboring marina for some fresh air.
Their enviable pool area – kid friendly but also with pockets of privacy – also enables you to get some vitamin D (and C thanks to their poolside food and beverages if you are so inclined).
…OR JUST CHILL IN YOUR ROOM: For a first time traveler to the Middle East, one thing that will always surprise is the size of the rooms. Some are bigger than my first apartment and I can certainly say they are much more chic.
While I love a suite, the Club rooms at the Ritz Carlton Doha are a generous 51 square meters while the Executive suites clock in at 112 square meters. Rooms and suites have views of the coast, marble baths and Asprey amenities (very stealable).
EAT WELL: Look, I’m essentially a food blogger, so it’s all going to come back to food isn’t it? Aside from the excellent offerings in the Club Lounge, the hotel has a brilliant Italian restaurant Porcini where we had a great pasta and a glass of wine on our stay.
And their Friday Farmers (farm to table) brunches are world class. For something a little more casual and involving adult beverages, the laid back Admirals Club located next to the marina is perfect for a sundowner and quick meal.
Those wanting an experience can try their famous Afternoon Teas in the lobby or their unique weekly Culinary Academy where the hotel’s chefs teach you tips and tricks and you also get to eat what you make.
If you want to try something beyond the hotel confines, I suggest you head to the Souq or The Pearl for a casual meal and a walk along the promenade. But Doha has some other world class dining options and you can read my recommendations here.
So a stopover can add a whole new aspect to your business or leisure trip. Think of it like a micro holiday within a trip. So, stretch out that lay-over, get out of the airport and make the most of every single second of your time in Doha.
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