In August 2017, Qatar waived entry visa requirements for citizens of 80 countries making it now easier to travel there or just leave the airport if you have a long layover. There are lots of things to do in Doha, and just like Dubai, it’s a great city to spend a long layover or stay there longer. I had previously spent several long layovers at Hamad International Airport which is the main hub for Qatar Airways but had never left the airport because of the visa requirements.
Hamad International Airport is actually located very close to the city, and with an Uber, it’s pretty straightforward and fast to get around. And what I really liked was that most of the public places had free wifi you could use for ordering an Uber. Doha is not a very big city so getting around doesn’t take too much time. If you have very limited time in Doha, I highly recommend checking out this Transit Tour or if you have more time, this full-day city tour. There is also an option for a Night Doha City Tour which is good for people whose flight is arriving late.
This year my flight connections took me to Doha again when I was flying from Bangladesh to Europe. I actually spent a couple of days in Doha, so my stay was longer than just a layover, but here are some ideas for things to do in Doha, especially if you’re only spending a layover there and don’t have a lot of time.
Things to Do in Doha
Katara Cultural Village
Katara Cultural Village is an open-air museum of the region’s architectural heritage, and there you can see for example an open amphitheater, opera, galleries, and different mosques. There are also several restaurants and cafés, as well as a public beach with water sports. If you are too tired to walk, there are also free buggies that can take you around.
Not far from Katara, is located The Pearl which is an artificial island similar to Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. This man-made island features marinas, hotels, residential buildings, beaches, shops, and restaurants. This is a cool place to walk around when the weather is good.
Go to the Beach
Qatar has some nice beaches; however, many of them are private. You can still access these private hotel beaches by paying an entrance fee. There are also some public beaches in Doha, one located in Katara, but just remember to be respectful of the Muslim culture when visiting public beaches. At the private beaches, bikinis are acceptable.
Admire the Mosques
I personally really like the architecture of mosques and Qatar has some pretty impressive ones to check out. Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque is open for tourists during the visitor hours, and head scarfs + abayas will be given to women at the door. Also in Katara, you should see Katara Mosque and The Golden Masjid.
The Corniche is a seven-kilometre long waterfront promenade along the Doha Bay. It offers fantastic views of the modern high rise towers in contrast with traditional wooden dhows. This is a lovely vehicle-free walking area, and you will see a lot of local people jogging here. And if your phone is running low on battery, they even have free charging points!
The Museum of Islamic Art
The Museum of Islamic Art is located on one end of The Corniche, and it’s not just a place to learn about the Islamic art, but the building itself is an architectural gem. The area is every photographer’s dream, and I spent maybe a little bit too long inside and outside of the building just taking pictures. You can also get beautiful views of the sea from the outside area.
This souq is Doha’s oldest one, and it’s a great place to buy traditional garments, souvenirs, and spices. There are also several restaurants and shisha lounges. The best time to visit is in the early evening hours when you can see the souq coming alive.
Eat Local Food
Eat some falafel and hummus – you’re in the Middle East after all! I had missed Middle Eastern food so much and was very excited to travel to this part of the world again. I could live eating only hummus, falafel, ful and pita bread! And the best part is that for this type of food, you can find lots of cheap and nice local restaurants.
Enjoy the Night Lights
The sunsets I saw in Doha were always fantastic. I had great sunset views from my hotel room (Kingsgate Hotel Doha), and every night the haze made the sunsets even more magical. After the sunset, it’s a great time to head to the souq and then take a stroll along The Corniche to admire the city lights. There are also organised night tours in Doha including a dhow cruise.
Doha has lots of museums to choose from. I already mentioned The Museum of Islamic Art, and this is, of course, a must when visiting Doha. Other museums are for example Msheireb Museums consisting of four restored historical buildings where you can learn about Qatar’s history and culture. National Museum of Qatar is also a great place for visitors to learn more about Qatar’s history and cultural heritage. Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art is a contemporary museum showcasing works by Arab artists, and here you can see spectacular installations and paintings. Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum is located a little bit outside of the city center, and there you can see an extensive collection of cultural artifacts collected by Sheikh Faisal during his travels.
If you fancy some shopping, Villaggio Mall is a great modern mall with decor imitating the canals of Venice. You can find most of the international clothing brands, and there is even an ice rink.
If you have more time in Qatar, I highly recommend doing some tours to other parts of the country too.
Desert Safari and Inland Sea Tour: This half-day tour takes you to nature, and you can enjoy a ride across the sand dunes an explore the Inland Sea of Khor Al Adaid.
North of Qatar: This tour takes you to the city of Al Khor and a UNESCO World Heritage site Zubarah fort.
Where to Stay in Doha
There is no shortage of five-star hotels in Doha. Check out, for example, The Torch Doha or The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa. If you would like to stay by the beach, The Ritz-Carlton and InterContinental Doha Hotel are good options.
More budget-friendly option but still very modern and clean is Kingsgate Hotel. I stayed here and enjoyed the sunset views from my room, spacious room with a kitchenette and the hotel facilities that include a gym and pool. Many of the main attractions like The Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif and The Corniche are also within a walking distance.
If you’re on a budget, there is also one hostel in Doha called Qatar Youth Hostel. You can book it on HostelWorld.