A one-day layover in Doha, Qatar

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The growing popularity of Qatar Airways over the years has put Doha on the map of many travelers transiting through the city.  In the past one year alone, I’ve spent two separate one-day layovers in Doha, the modern capital of Qatar in the Middle East.

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Pearl Qatar island seen from the airplane window

The first time I stopped in Doha was during June, the period of Ramadan, holy Muslim month of fasting and prayers. In many Arabic countries, restaurants are closed when the sun is out and eating in public is frowned upon during Ramadan. I didn’t know about Ramadan dates at the time as I had hurriedly booked my flight to Nepal and opted for a long transit in Doha in order to do some sightseeing. Luckily upon my landing, I was picked up by a kind Nepali family whom I got connected to through my aunt, and they showed me around the city. In hindsight, I don’t know what I’d have done without them because it was unbearably hot, the public transportation network wasn’t as reliable as in Europe and it was Ramadan period that limited my sightseeing options.

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Shiny Doha buildings

The second layover was recently on my trip to India. It was definitely a more pleasant time to visit as the temperatures were in pleasant twenties during the day in February. I also managed to squeeze in a lot more on the second layover and managed to see places I hadn’t seen more. The transit turned out to be very worthwhile and all of us ended up enjoying the country, especially the desert safari.

Half-day desert safari

I was very excited to experience one of the most popular tourist activities in the Middle East. At 9 in the morning, we were picked up in a sturdy looking four-wheeler and taken to the outskirts of Doha city by our travel agent. The drive to the desert was uneventful, and hardly scenic as there was really nothing to see. I did notice a lot of construction as Qatar gears up for hosting 2022 football world cup. Once we reached the desert, there were many tents set up for visitors, outside of which we enjoyed some tea while relaxing under the warm winter sun.

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Outdoor tea sipping
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Here we go!

The real fun started when our driver deflated the four-wheeler’s tires to take us dune-bashing. I had no idea how it was going to feel like – and once I experienced it, I can tell you that it was much more fun that I had imagined it to be. The exotic, endless sandy landscapes were a treat to my eyes and the crazy, fast drives across the dunes surely got my adrenaline pumping. At one point, we also spotted some camels grazing in the desert, which was fascinating to watch.

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Curious onlooker

Our program also included a little bit of sand boarding, so our driver parked on a beach near Saudi Arabia-Qatar natural border where we took turns going down a nearby sand dune on worn-out sand boards.  Having to climb up after clumsily sliding down the dune made me want to stop after the first time. However I do recommend interested people to try it if you can, just for the experience alone.

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Trying out sandboarding

Islamic Museum of Art

I was a bit disappointed for not being able to visit the museum the first time I was in Doha, so it had to be on the itinerary this time. The modern building, that is one of the most important attractions in Doha, is situated in an equally gorgeous waterfront location overlooking Doha’s impressive skyline.

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The museum is an architectural delight

The entrance is free of cost and there are multiple floors of meticulously displayed artifacts of Islamic art and architecture from different periods of history from around the world.  Gorgeous blue ceramics from Central Asia, colorful decorative pieces from India’s Mughal Empire period and intricate handmade carpets from Persia were just some of the many displays that I found myself drawn to.

 

I also appreciated the neat and concise information in each exhibition. With the little time we had, we did make most of it and learned how Islam has always been rich in art, contrary to the popular belief today.

Souq Waqif

‘Souq’ is an open-air marketplace in Arabic countries. I was there the first time on a June evening after being limited indoors  all day due to impossibly hot (imagine 40 degrees) temperatures. It had been a respite to be outdoors while the sun was not blazing, and see the area buzzing with locals, expats and visitors.

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Souq is an excellent place to meander through its tiny alleyways and squares where you will find everything from spices to clothes to lamps to perfumes to pets for sale. It is also a great place for sitting down at one of the numerous open-air restaurants and enjoying local cuisine while soaking up the atmosphere.

 

One of the highlights for us was visiting the falcon souq – it is an area where they have live falcons for sale.

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Local boys check out the falcons for sale

Arabs take their falcons seriously and I’ve heard that some well-trained falcons can cost an arm and leg! Souq is only 20 minutes taxi ride from the airport, and is very worth looking into even if you have just a couple of hours to spare while on transit.

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Lively souq

Corniche

As we were approaching to land in Doha, I caught the sight of glittery Doha skyscrapers from the plane window. Some of the most notable buildings of Doha’s skyline include Aspire Tower, Doha Tower and Museum of Islamic Art.

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Doha skyline

Besides these architectural masterpieces, other notable sites of interest such as National Museum are under construction. Corniche is a seaside promenade where you can stroll along while enjoying the view of Doha’s pretty skyscrapers.

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Glitz at night while walking on the promenade

The promenade is long and covers the entire Doha Bay area in a crescent shape, where you will also find running tracks, parks, restaurants and traditional wooden dhows that offer rides in the Arabian sea. It is a popular place to hang out for the residents of Doha, especially in the evenings and Friday afternoons.

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Traditional dhow boat

The quick adventure of discovering Doha came to an end in the late-afternoon for us as we had to board our flight to Delhi but I will not think twice about venturing into the city again if I find myself in a transit! 🙂

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30 thoughts on “A one-day layover in Doha, Qatar

  1. I must say the souqs in Doha looks more appealing than those in Dubai 🙂 And they even have a falcon souq!
    Did you feel annoyed by the sellers? Do they easily accept a NO answer? I ask because the shopkeepers in Dubai are really persistent.

    1. The ones in Dubai might be more commercialized from what I hear.. I actually just bought small souvenirs from the souq and don’t remember any persistent sellers. I do remember checking out few things and not buying anything but I wasn’t met with any angry sellers. Sounds like it’s a bit different in Dubai!

      1. Much different! I remember that a shopkeeper even grabbed my arm when I didn’t buy their stuff. Creepy. The area looks shabby too, although all those ingredients and items look really interesting.

  2. It sounds and looks like a fascinating world to explore, Pooja. Thank you for sharing. Your “dune-bashing” looks a bit scary. The car seems ready to tumble down the hill. I can understand that you experienced an adrenaline rush!

  3. Wow, what an interesting post about a place I rarely see in blogs! I LOVE your photos! Especially that first one out of the plane window, could stare at that for ages and wonder what’s going on down there! 😊 I was once in Dubai for Ramadan quite accidentally. I was told it was ok to drink water in the mall at daytime if you are an obvious foreigner (like me, blonde and all)… it was 40C hot and so I did drink some water… and I got frowns and angry looks 😕Not the best time to visit!

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Oh staring out the plane window is just the best – and in that region of the world where it’s often sunny and clear, it’s my favorite past time while flying hehe. Oh yes, it’s really the best idea to just avoid Ramadan period. Early February was ideal when we visited – it was a bit chilly in the evening and locals were dressed in winter clothes but honestly, it felt like the peak of summer in Finland to me heheh.

  4. I went to Doha, and oh, it was so beautiful! I went to a beautiful souq called Souq Waqif. I was actually in Qatar for the same reason. You can search my blogpost called, “My Experience in Qatar”. But really, beautiful place Doha is, is it not?

      1. Oh yes it does, Pooja. In Melbourne it is a dry heat whikst up here it is very humid. Mostly temps in the 30’s all summer long and the occasional 40. Out west it is more likely to be 40 in the day and quite a bit cooler at night.

  5. A very interesting post for me., Pooja. I’ve transited through Doha dozens of times but never visited the city. I must do this next time but not when the temperature is over 40c. Raju, our nephew, lives and works in Doha, for Qatar Airways, so if his work schedule permits, I can have a guide too.

      1. Hi Pooja and ekdum good morning. I heard on the radio yesterday that Qatar has doubled the prices of all alcoholic drinks, with immediate effect. Raju must be devastated there hehehe

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