If you often travel east, there is no doubt, you’ve used the Doha airport for your connecting flight. And it’s not uncommon that while chasing perfect dates or low prices, to be forced to have a boring long layover.
To be honest, I enjoy the big international airports. Seeing so many different people from different cultures has always been fascinating for me, but even though Hamad Airport is one of the best airports in the world, spending more than 4 hours there feels like a massive waste of time. After all, my vacation days are limited, and I want to spend them hiking volcanos or exploring new cultures, not sitting on my ass, waiting for a flight, right?
Thankfully the Qatar Airways people have thought of that and offer you the opportunity to go around Doha, learn more about it, and still catch your plane on time. Even though Qatar’s reputation is very controversial, the chance to explore such a unique and interesting culture is not to be missed.
Discover Qatar – Doha City Tour
There are several tour offers, but the most popular one (and also the cheapest ) is the Doha City Tour. On my last long Doha layover, I decided to check it out and see if it’s worth it.
So, what is the Doha City Tour like?
After signing up and getting out of the airport (that may take an hour), you board an AC bus and get a bottle of water. There is also a guide provided so don’t be afraid you’d miss anything worthwhile.
But is there anything worthwhile in Doha?
That’s a good question. And unlike other cities, there aren’t many particular landmarks that will take your breath. Most of the buildings the guide speaks about are hotels and skyscrapers. The first Hilton, the unique Four Seasons, etc. This may sound bad but is it really that bad? While you don’t have The Colosseum or the Eifel Tower to marvel at, you’d start paying attention to the city as a whole. And boy oh boy Doha really is a bizarre place with an incredibly distinctive identity.
The first thing that made me quite the impression were the lamps. The whole lamposts are covered with large Arabic words, according to my guide – quotes from the Coran.
Lamposts are very important for the city’s identity, and the Doha ones do a good job reminding you that you are now in a strictly Muslim country.
In 15 minutes we reached the first stop of the Doha City Tour:
The Doha Harbor
The harbor is right next to the Museum of Islamic Art, but since you have only 5 to 10 minutes per stop, you won’t be able to check it out. The highlight of the harbor is not the boats or the pearl statue on the entrance, but the magnificent panoramic view of the city. And while 5 minutes may seem too little time to enjoy, I found it to be just enough to take some photos and enjoy the sight before getting too hot ( TIL: The whole country of Qatar is built in the desert ).
For our next stop, we went into downtown Doha, so I had the chance to observe more of the daily life of Qatar’s capital. The first thing that struck me as a weird one was the lack of color. Most of the buildings were painted in desert yellowish while 90% of the cars were either black or white. As per my guide, it was due to the desert sand, just a way to make things look cleaner. How come a white car covered in desert dust looks cleaner than a red car covered in desert dust is beyond me, but I guess people who lived their whole life in the sands knows better than me.
See also: Top 10 Interesting Facts About Qatar
Katara Cultural Village
Stop number 2 of my Doha layover trip was the Katara Cultural Village. With the idea to position the State of Qatar as a cultural beacon a lighthouse of art, radiating in the Middle East through theatre, literature, music, visual art, conventions, and exhibitions, it did sound like an exciting place to see. Sadly we didn’t have the time to check any art exhibition but the walk around the oddly fascinating art, and mosques was enough to convince me this is a place I should come back to.
Making our way to the third stop, we kept seeing more and more of the city, and I realized that the only people I see outside were immigrants working on construction sites. It was Thursday morning, and in any other major city the streets would’ve been buzzing with people going to work, but Doha was empty. I guess Qataris didn’t bother going early to work. Such a different world.
To wander around Katara is one of the 1700+ ideas I have on my bucket list. See what else is on it!
The third stop of the Doha City Tour was an artificial island called The Pearl. You probably don’t know that ( I certainly didn’t), but before the oil boom, Qatar was one of the significant pearl traders of Asia. To honor their heritage, the Qatari people (or more like the Qatari sheik) decided to build an artificial island that resembles the shape of a string of pearls, right on top of a former pearl diving site (who need pearls when you have oil, right?). Spanning nearly four million square meters, it is also the first land in Qatar to be available for freehold ownership by foreign nationals.
Besides the security, there were no people around. Not even a single one. You see, I come from a small country, I’m used to not having tons of people around me, but still, having absolutely no one, was a strange feeling that made me watch behind my back more than once, expecting to see some zombies. The dozens of luxury boats and skyscrapers made a good photo background though.
On our way to the last stop, we passed through some diplomatic neighborhoods and were asked not to take pictures. The guide explained all diplomats and Qatari people value their privacy, so they build big walls around their houses. Man, they’re gonna have a tough time during the World Cup in 2022.
Souq Waqif Market
The last stop of my Doha layover trip was the Souq Waqif Market. We were given a whole 30 minutes to explore it and buy some stuff (not that any of us got Qatari money). The market was quite pleasant, and there were some real people there! It was built in the traditional Arabic way and sold all kinds of stuff from souvenirs and clothing to animals and spices. Unlike the other Arabic bazaars I’ve been to, there weren’t annoying hawkers on every step, trying to hijack you into their shop, which made walking around Souq Waqif relaxing and enjoyable. After a delightful 30-40 minutes (a Chinese guy got lost, so we had to wait for him) we were back on the bus and on our way back to the airport.
Doha City Tour Information
The Discover Qatar Tours desk is located right on the start of Concourse B. When you make your way from the giant yellow bear, look to your right. It’s between the Mont Blanc and WH Smith shops. You can also book a tour online.
The tour starting times are:
08:00 AM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 1:00 PM or later
10:00 AM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 3:00 PM or later
3:00 PM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 8:00 PM or later
6:00 PM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 11:00 PM or later
8:00 PM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 01:00 AM or later
9:00 PM – > to get this one your onward flight must be at 02:00 AM or later
The price is 75QAR / 20USD and could be paid only by card (cash is not accepted).
While lacking any real attractions and having only 5-10 minute per stop, I’m happy I took the Doha City Tour. Having this extra journey within my journey, showed me such a different culture that awoke my curiosity about Qatar and its people big time. One thing is for sure though – this long Doha layover was the most interesting one I’ve had by a longshot!
That’s all from me, I hope you enjoy your Doha city tour!
If you haven’t planned your trip there yet, find out how I plan my trips!
I have 5 bucket list ideas for Qatar. See my impossible bucket list of 1700+ adventures!
Have you been to Doha?