The small Kingdom of Qatar might pass unnoticed on a map and even on the global tourist scene, but it is rich, developed country that has a lot to offer. Being the central hub for Qatar Airways, the capital city of Doha is easily accessible to anyone traveling with this global airline. And what’s even better is that the Qatar Airways allows you to extend your layover in the city up to a few days to explore it.
Here are nine tips to help you make the most of a long layover in Qatar:
1. Apply for the visa in advance
If you’re flying Qatar Airways and have a layover between 5 and 96 hours, they will give you a free visa to explore the country. Apply for it in advance, so you don’t waste your time at airport immigration. Keep in mind that both flights of the layover have to be with Qatar Airways for the visa to be free.
Should you be traveling with another airline, you can apply for the visa in advance too, though you’ll need to pay for it, or you can apply and pay for it at the airport.
2. If your layover is not long enough, book a city tour at the airport
Doha is easy to navigate, and it’s not too far from the airport, but should you want to make the most of every minute you have in the country, book a city tour at the airport. It will take you to Katara Cultural Village, Souq Waqif, Pearl-Qatar, and the Museum of Islamic Art. These sights alone are enough to get the highlights of the city “on the run.”
There are four tours per day leaving from the airport, and they are reserved on a first come, first served basis once you’re at the terminal. Interestingly enough, no visas are required to do this tour.
3. Get a SIM card to stay connected
I highly recommend getting a SIM card with enough data at the airport to stay connected and be able to Google search on the go or call for UBER rides. To me, this was essential to save time.
I paid around $12 for a SIM with more than 1GB of internet, and within minutes I called an UBER to take me to the city center. Taxis are metered, and their rates are regulated, but UBER is cheaper. Also, while in the city, I was able to use Google and do further research as I needed, whether on opening times for any given sight, more information on something I saw along the way and so on.
4. Walk the Doha Corniche
The corniche is the waterfront promenade that runs along the Doha Bay. Not only it is a lovely promenade to walk, but the view of the skyline of “Downtown Doha” is stunning. There are dozens of cafes, tea shops, local shacks, and more to see along the promenade. Also, the Souq Waqif is just steps from it.
5. Go to Souq Waqif
A souq is a market selling all kinds of local products from spices, tea kettles, candy, food, jewelry, lanterns, souvenirs, and everything else you can think of. The souq is like a labyrinth, so you’ll probably get lost once or twice as you get your bearings.
The place is great to do window shopping, but if you’re interested in buying something, then know that you should be brave enough to haggle the price.
While the souq is interesting during the day, it is best experienced at night when there are live performances and loads of locals visit it to drink tea or have dinner.
6. Enjoy the art at the Museum of Islamic Art
With such a peculiar cubic building located on the water by the corniche, and designed by world-famous architect I. M. Pei, it’s safe to say that you won’t fail to recognize this museum.
The museum is free, and it counts with several fascinating exhibits focused on Islamic art throughout different historical periods. But art is not the only thing they display there. They also have an exhibit about Muhammad Ali, the world famous boxer. From the museum, you also get stunning panoramic views of the city and its skyline.
7. Have more than a day? Go Dune Bashing in the Desert
Spend the afternoon on a 4x4 vehicle, riding up and down each dune you come across as you make your way to a dinner camp. Your driver will be an expert on those dunes, and he’ll know how to pump your adrenaline as he drifts on those tilted sand landscapes – making you think you’ll tip over or get stuck more than once.
Depending on the dinner camp, you might have the chance to ride a camel or just sit for a delicious traditional meal while enjoying some live performances.
8. Cruise the Corniche on a Dhow
A dhow is a traditional boat commonly found in this region, and it is often used for tourist cruises due to their visual appeal. There are day and night cruises, but I recommend the night cruise to see the city shining from the bay.
9. Don’t have enough hours to do all this? The airport is still a mini city
In 2014, the new Hamas International Airport opened to the public, bringing a much-needed upgrade from the old one and way more amenities than most expected.
The airport is like a mini city with dozens of restaurants, shops, lounges to lie down and relax, art galleries, spas, hotel, and much more. If you feel like you can’t spend much time outside, then I can assure you you’ll find something to do at the airport while you wait for your next flight.
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