Doha was likely to be unknown by many until the bid for the World Cup was made by Qatar. Added to this is the development of Qatar Airlines which will often, to keep costs down on long haul flights, lead to a transit through Doha. Short transfers will allow you to see that Doha International Airport is like any other. However, a longer transfer could mean you acquiring a transit visa allowing you to explore the best that Doha has to offer.
Transfers less than 5 hours
Unfortunately if you have a transfer of less than five hours there won’t realistically be time to get out of the airport and see what Doha has to offer. That said, there are opportunities within the airport to get a glimpse into life in the Middle East including both within food and retail.
Transfers of 5 to 8 hours
If you have a transfer of more than five hours then why not take advantage of the free city tour that is run by Qatar Airways. Just head to the city tour desk which is next to the giant teddy bear – don’t worry you can’t miss this. The only thing is that these tours come on a first-come-first-served basis with the desk opening early in the morning and only four tours operate daily. Therefore, if you have a choice of flight times, aim to be in Doha for around 6am to ensure you’ll be able to book on. The tour itself lasts for around four hours and takes in several of the key tourist sites. You’ll be granted a visa to enter the country, be taken around on an air-conditioned bus and will get a small taste of life in Doha.
Top Tip: if your luggage is being sent straight through to your final destination be sure to pack what you’ll need for a few hours in the capital. The dress code is much more conservative so be prepared to cover up. Doha can get extremely hot so bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen along with plenty of water.
Transfers over 8 hours
If you have a transfer of more than eight hours at the fault of the airline (flight rescheduling) then you may be eligible for included hotel accommodation in Doha itself as we were. Even if you’re not, you can still request a transit visa to allow you to leave the airport and make the most of your day.
Once in Doha itself there are plenty of options. There’s a hop-on-hop-off bus that runs between and amongst the main areas for tourism, food and retail. However, the fluctuations in tourist numbers means that this service does not always operate so please call ahead so as not to be disappointed. If the service is temporarily paused or the price seems a little expensive, a cheaper option would be to access each area by taxi and then explore on foot. Be sure to avoid the middle of the day when temperatures soar and take adequate precautions to avoid dehydration.
What we saw:
We were provide with a hotel in Doha centre due to changes made to our flight after being booked. Having had a long flight from South Africa we made the most of our hotel room to catch up on sleep and get a much needed shower. After partaking in the free buffet lunch we went out exploring. Due to the proximity of our hotel to the promenade area we opted to walk. There was a cool breeze although having to be covered up did cause us to feel hotter than usual (though we were used to both the clothing requirements and temperatures from traveling through parts of Asia).
Museum of Islamic Art
Deciding against the hop-on-hop-off bus due to expense we chose to visit the Museum of Islamic Art instead to learn a little more about the culture of this area of the world. The actual building is worth viewing in it’s own right. It’s designed by I.M.Pei, an architect we had met previously when living in Wuxi, China as he designed the nearby Suzhou Museum. He’s more well known for the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris though.
Once inside the museum, and grinning from ear to ear as we welcomed the much needed air conditioning, we headed to the top floor to work our way down as recommended. Ascending the stairway in the atrium was a photographer’s paradise with interesting angles, lighting and space, making every shot an interesting composition.
There were a number of interesting exhibits including one on Islamic women which allowed you to view and delight in the female form unlike modern interpretations, even if it did involve moustaches and monobrows. Further halls housed calligraphy, science in art and the geometric designs for which Islamic Art is often associated with. The outdoor spaces were used equally well with fountains fronting views of the boats in the harbour and the ever developing skyline on the far side in the city centre.
The area near to the Museum of Islamic Art was adorned with statues and green spaces. Boats with crew ushering in locals and tourists for a trip of the harbour lined the water way. Families picnicked, couples walked side by side and friends enjoyed themselves in the sun. It didn’t feel like a Middle Eastern country but maybe that’s because the media don’t do a particularly good job at portraying the positives of this area of the world.
Our final stop was one of the most recommended places to go in Doha (according to both local tourist advice and Trip Advisor). This large bazaar will leave you dizzy as you attempt to navigate the maze of alley ways with your head snapping left and right as you try to take it all in. Marvel at the collection of bird shops all congregated together with cages stacked and parrots free to chatter away. Inhale the spices, herbs and a whole load of things you couldn’t classify. Sit and have a drink as you watch locals in traditional dress mix with tourists trying their best to cover up to respect Middle-Eastern guidelines and hide delicate skin from the sun.
We had an enjoyable time transferring through Doha and would definitely consider it for a long haul flight especially to keep the cost down. Even though we are happy with what we saw in such a short space of time there is enough for us to go back and those making a more planned transfer could in fact spend several days here with a trip out to the desert.