Planning to fly through Doha, Qatar?  You might want to consider making more than a brief stopover. Doha is no longer just a side note in the evolving story of the Gulf. Doha intends to be THE story!

Corniche Doha Qatar

 

Turning pain into gain!

After experiencing the classic Arabian hospitality of Dubai’s luxury Bab Al Shams desert resort, we hoped to trade the hot desert sand for the cool blue waters of Zanzibar’s Indian Ocean. Our brains had already switched into ‘island mode’, complete with images of flip-flops, beach cocktails and the lush green vegetation surrounding Zanzi Resort, our next stop.

But something was wrong! Thirty minutes into our scheduled departure time from Dubai International Airport (DXB), our flight was still running its engines on the tarmac, with no explanation from the crew on the reason for the delays. Eventually, we took off and headed to Doha hoping to catch our transfer to the Zanzibar bound flight.

HDYTI Tip: DXB’s enviable title as the world’s third busiest airport clearly comes with complications. Frequent flyers later informed us that delays from DXB are common. We therefore advise that you avoid booking flights with tight connection times if the first leg of your connection is from DXB.

Touch down from Dubai and then RUN like hell to the departure gate! Well…that was our general plan. However, we weren’t prepared for the lack of coordination between the Qatar Airways cabin and ground crews which left it up to us to try to make the transfer. Navigating Doha’s cavernous Hamad International Airport (HIA) also posed its own challenge to our split-hair transfer schedule.

Hamad International Airport Doha Qatar

Despite our best Usain Bolt imitation, we arrived at the departure gate, out of breath, only to be told that it had closed. Anyone who has missed a flight connection knows the range of emotions that follow. The downward spiral of frustration inevitably leads to trying to determine who was to blame. With only one flight per day from Doha to Zanzibar and no viable alternatives, we slowly came to terms with our fate and had no choice but to accept the airline’s offer of food and board for our 18 hour layover.

That was when the REAL adventure began!

Below, we summarise five reasons why we think Doha, Qatar’s capital city, is worth more than a few hours of your time.

 

Reason #1: Visa on arrival – Welcome to Doha!

Qatar is serious about tourism. Apart from obvious preparations to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar is positioning itself as a leading medical tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) destination in the Gulf.

Named as one of the world’s top ten airports in 2016, HIA, Doha’s atmospheric international airport, which opened in 2014, is itself a statement of intent. More significantly, facilities are available to issue nationals of some countries entry visas on arrival to Qatar.

Mr & Mrs Wanderer Passport Holders, Doha | @dipyourtoesin

HDYTI Tip: Before flying, be sure to check if your country is eligible for Qatar’s visa waiver program. Also learn more about the Qatar Airways stopover program called ‘Discover Qatar.

HDYTI Tip: Visitors to Qatar can also obtain joint tourist visas that allow them to visit the Emirate of Dubai and Oman. Three for the price of one!

Our spirits lifted when we learned that we could leave the airport and spend the rest of the day exploring Doha. However, landing in Doha on a Friday didn’t seem to be a good idea. With the weekend in full swing and both Qatar Airways and HIA having skeletal staff on duty, long queues and incensed stranded passengers were the inevitable result.

Once we were through the drama at the airline counter, the rest of the entry process was relatively smooth. Our passports were stamped with a smile and a welcome from the handsomely dressed immigration officer and we were on our way to turn our disappointment into an opportunity.

 

Reason #2: Architectural fantasy land

The Middle East is where architects come to dream and Doha gives them a blank canvas to do so. In the 1940s, Qatar was a country of just 11,000 people made up of mostly nomadic desert tribes and coastal villages whose main industry was fishing and pearl diving. Following the Second World War, Qatar began fully exploiting its oil resources resulting in significant urbanization and development.

Flying into Doha with Skyline of Pearl Qatar

Qatar is determinedly creating a vision out of nothing and our visit allowed us to feel the pulse of its transformation. The beauty of Doha’s evolving architecture begins from the air. Our descent into the city revealed a magnificently designed harbour, perfectly shaped islands such as The Pearl and many reclaimed pieces of land in various stages of development.

Flying into Doha with Skyline of Pearl Qatar

Our journey from the wave-like airport to our hotel took us along the Doha Corniche, a waterfront promenade running for several kilometres along Doha Bay and which hosts many of Doha’s landmarks. After some rest and once the temperatures had cooled, we set out to explore the area in more closely.

Museum of Islamic Art Doha Qatar

Our walk began from the Museum of Islamic Art, an impressive building which was unfortunately closed by the time we set out. Futuristic-looking skyscrapers in the business district at the northern end of the Corniche added character to the city’s skyline, their lights casting a beautiful pattern on the West Bay. In the foreground, medium-sized passenger boats anchored by the Dhow Harbour bobbed lazily on the water, decked in an array of lights, ready for evening cruises across the bay.

Corniche Harbour Doha Qatar

The city skyline was dotted with cranes, their red hazard lights adding more colour to the night sky. Projects such as the Sidra Medical and Research Centre, Katara Towers, Lusail City and many other luxury brand interventions will no doubt alter the architectural landscape further, placing Doha firmly on track as a city of the future.

 

Reason #3: Experience Arabian culture

It is impossible to speak authoritatively on Doha’s culture from spending less than 24 hours in the city. However, our brief glimpse gave us just enough to whet our appetite for more.

The Corniche was where we found the diverse nationalities that call Qatar home. Families enjoyed their evening strolls, with children darting between their parents while evening joggers ran past. We stepped to one side to avoid being run over by a three-year old on a tricycle with his breathless father in pursuit. We paused to appreciate the multi-cultural tranquility of it all.

Doha FANAR Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Centre

Crossing the main road from the Corniche, FANAR (also known as the Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Centre), the tallest mosque in Qatar, arrested us with its soft gold lighting and its single minaret spiralling its way into the night sky. Closed for the day, we had missed another opportunity to gain some insight into Arabian and Islamic culture that the centre offers.

The real discovery however was waiting for us at Souq Waqif, Doha’s answer to Marrakech’s Jemaa El Fnaa. Although lacking any snake charmers or flame eaters like its Moroccan counterpart, this traditional souq, erected on the site of an old Bedouin market, provided something special; a place to watch the locals relax and play.

Doha Souq Waqif Festival

Our visit auspiciously coincided with the 2016 Souq Waqif Festival. The main square was awash with multi-coloured lights and packed full with smartly dressed locals in dishdashas and abayas enjoying the music from a local group performing on stage. We arrived just in time to catch the tail end of one song and were transfixed by the singer’s voice, haunting, reaching deep into our souls, hinting of an Arabian love story with words we could not understand.

Souq Waqif Doha Qatar

The performance soon ended and we headed into Souq Waqif’s busy alleyways, wandering past open air restaurants, shisha lounges and shops selling local produce including garments, spices, art, souvenirs and coffee. Doha was alive and Souq Waqif had allowed us to feel its pulse.

 

Reason #4: Doha’s future

Rumor has it that the legend of the unicorn may have been inspired by Qatar’s national animal, the Arabian Oryx. While we have no way of verifying this, we left Doha with the feeling that we had just experienced a city with an ambition to create its own legend.

We’ve heard some say that it’s best to go visit Doha now before it changes. We disagree. We think that Doha’s mystery is tied to its ability to evolve. We would go again just to see what it looks like in one, two or five years especially with its state-of-the-art metro system scheduled to be ready in time for the 2022 World Cup.

Museum of Islamic Art Doha Qatar

Falling oil prices may have slowed things down somewhat though. According to Arabian Business Magazine, Qatar is considering housing thousands of football fans in Bedouin-style tents in desert areas close to stadiums during the 2022 World Cup as the global drop in oil prices has delayed several hotel projects. However, what Qatar’s development may lack in speed, it certainly makes up for in the scale of its ambition.

Doha’s beauty and mystery is tied to its ability to evolve. #Qatar Click To Tweet

 

Worth going back for…

We would go back to Doha for the Qatar International Food Festival, a luxury hotel experience on The Peal, to browse through the desert-rose shaped Qatar National Museum, wander through the Katara Cultural Village and souqs and of course experience a classic Desert Safari.

Do you have any recommendations for places to experience authentic Qatari cuisine in Doha? We would love to hear your suggestions!

We curated some interesting blogs about Doha and Qatar and would recommend the following for further reading:

 

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Doha skyline, flying over Qatar | @dipyourtoesin

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).