My usual flights are 20-24 hours long when I travel to Europe or Africa (my “home” is Melbourne). In the last 2-3 years, I have been flying mostly with Qatar Airways and sometimes with Emirates Airline.
I usually like to have a break and Qatar is becoming my favourite place to indulge. I could not believe there are so many things to do in Doha and places to visit outside the city.
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I am still exploring and I have more places to see, with a bucket list that is expanding every time I have a stopover at the Hamad International Airport.
The great thing of Qatar is that it’s always summer, sometimes too summer you may think and indeed in the period June/September I would probably not recommend walking in the middle of the day heat, under the sun, as temperatures may go over 40 degrees Celsius.
Doha quick tips and recommendations
>> Best time to travel to Qatar: December to February
>> Best things to do in Qatar: visit the Camel track with a rented car or an organised tour, spend a day in a Desert Safari, visit the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), stroll around the Souq Waqif market.
>> Best hotels in Doha to stay: The Doha Marriott Hotel for just a few hours stay, the Al Murqab Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel for one/two night(s) stay or the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel for an idyllic and luxurious stay. For more options click the button here
>> Do you want to go straight to your hotel? Pre-order an airport transfer that will wait for you directly at the airport. So easy.
How to plan your things to do in Doha
The weather, or better say, the temperature is the main constraint you need to work around when you plan your things to do in Doha.
I would personally not have a walk on The Corniche at 1pm in August when the temperature is going to be quite likely over 40 degrees Celsius. But the walk would be absolutely fine in January when the temperature is usually in the mid-high 20s.
You can have an idea of the weather throughout the year on the Weather Spark website with an indication of the most pleasant months
Famous attractions can be completely deserted in some hours of the day and ultra-popular in other times of the day.
In my list of places to see I will mention also the best time of the day, you should do it. This will help with the planning.
I will also add a section with a potential plan for a visit to Doha in one day, two days or longer.
Consider also the opening hours for shops and offices.
The working week goes from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. Government offices run from 6am to 2pm meanwhile most of the other offices may have a break in the middle of the day.
You should check the opening time before getting to the attraction otherwise you may run into surprises. For example, I drove for 1 hour out of the city to the camel track to find out that I missed the training session, usually on at 6am. I was, however, able to find something even more surprising (more on this later)
This is to say that things may actually happen very early in the day to enjoy the cooler temperatures and it may vary based on the month you visit.
For just a few hours – Doha airport hotel or the free tour
The Hamad International Airport is one of the best airports in the world (it was actually ranked #2 after Singapore). If you are flying through this airport and you have some spare hours you have three options.
Option number 1
Just have a rest in one of the hotels close to the Doha airport. Recharge the batteries and get ready for the next flight. Keep in mind that the city centre is not too far away, around 20-30 minutes by taxi ($60) but it may be much more in peak business hours.
Popular hotels are:
- The Airport Hotel, available if you are in transit. You do not need to go to the passport/border control, you just need your boarding pass. You will not be able to collect your luggage though. The great advantage is that you do not need any taxi and you can have straight away a nice rest without any queue.
- Doha Marriott Hotel, it’s a 20 minutes highway drive from the airport and just before entering the busy city centre. It’s really a convenient option, one of the most economical one, with a swimming pool as well.
- Sharq Village & Spa a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, next to the Marriott the Sharq is based on an amazing desert and Arabesque inspired architecture. The swimming pool is to die for as well as the beach, right in front of the hotel. It’s a great option if you have 10-12 hours as you can relax…..in style.
Option number 2
If you have more than 5 hours you can also book a free city tour. It’s a great way to experience, although for a limited time, the many attractions. I am sure you will be impressed and next time you will book a 2 days stop-over.
The complimentary Doha tour is actually sponsored by Qatar Airways. There are different time-slots and you may book yours once at the airport. No need for any pre-arranged visa, it will be done for you.
Option number 3
The third option may be an alternative to the free tour, in case if you are not really keen to take the bus for the organised ride.
I am talking here about relaxing for a few hours at the Airport Fitness Centre.
For about $50 you can have access to the swimming pool, the gym and a shower room (which is very handy when travelling long haul). You can also request a non-complimentary massage. I think it’s actually a great deal.
The last option you may consider is to have an excursion yourself. There is, however, at the moment, an issue with the baggage. The airport does not offer any locker. On my last trip, I just rented a car for $30 and left my luggage inside, the easiest option.
This is a list of activities, attraction and things to do in Doha in case you stay for one or more nights in Qatar.
The Souq Waqif – the top choice market
This market is located right in the centre of the old part of the city and it’s a must-see for any visit to Doha.
The Souq Waqif market has been there for a long time, used mostly by the Bedouins to exchange animals and local products. In 2004 the government decided to refurbish it in an Arab style keeping the small alleys and the tiny lanes. Definitely a great decision.
It’s super easy to get lost however it’s not that complicated to get out as it is not that big and it’s bordered on all sides by either multi-lane roads or huge squares. Just walk in the straight direction for a while and eventually you will be out.
In the above map, I have highlighted the area used by the market. I also marked with the yellow colour the street where you can find all the bars and restaurants.
I would not suggest a visit to Souq Waqif during the day, unless in December/January, because it can be quite hot in the small alleys.
Moreover, after sunset, with the artificial lights, the market becomes somehow magical, very characteristic and really charming, something you do not want to miss. The shops start closing at 9:30-10pm
The Gold Market (Gold Souq)
It is almost part of the Souq Waqif, located on the east side of it (check the map location here).
If you are in buying mood than take the credit card with you as it’s all about gold in this market.
You can spend 15-20 minutes here just wondering around and check the massive gold bracelets, chains, rings and anything you can think of…..in gold of course.
I am personally not interested in gold however it’s most definitely an entertaining place and easy to just stroll in from the main market.
Al Koot fort
The Al Koot fort is a 5 minutes walk from the Waqif market. It was built 1927 by the Sheikh of Qatar and it was made to protect the market itself from the would-be thieves.
Visiting the inside is not as easy as it should be. In fact, you need to call the fort number (442 4143) and organise the excursion time.
I personally suggest visiting the outside walls for some photos during the night. It is probably the easiest to get and the most characteristic fort to visit in the city centre.
Abdullah Bin Zid Almahmud Cultural And Islamic Centre
This Cultural and Islamic centre is located opposite the market, really meters away.
If you have any question, doubt or you are just curious about the Islamic religion then you should not miss a visit to Abdullah Bin Zid Almahmud.
There is a regular schedule of programs, activities and tours, including inside the mosque. You just need to pre-plan it through their website.
It’s an incredible inside to Islam in Qatar that should not be missed.
It’s just a pity they do not allow, at the moment, access to the cone tower. Surely the view from the top can only be outstanding.
It is usually open in weekdays only, between 7:30am and 1pm
Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
Let me say that the Museum of Islamic Art is another great example of contemporary architecture that will surprise everyone, thanks to a combination of amazing exterior and interior, all located on a lovely location overlooking the Doha Central Business District, the West Bay.
The content is surely unique in the word, based on Islamic art from all over the world.
Access is free, which is quite amazing considering the value of the art collection.
There are exhibitions that change on a regular basis. You can find the full program here. It’s just a pity there are no audio guides available.
Hint: allocate some time for a walk to the West Mound-Skyline View Point, next thing to do in Doha 🙂
Remember that your knees and shoulders should be covered to enter the MIA.
West Mound-Skyline Viewpoint
The West Mound-Skyline viewpoint is a 10 minutes coastal walk from the MIA through the park.
From there you have a beautiful view of the West Bay (the Central Business District), a great place for some landscape and night photography.
I suggest coming over for sunset, probably the best place in Doha to see the sun going down behind the city skyline.
A late walk at La Corniche
This is a popular spot with locals, especially at sunset time and, during the hot summer, in the night too.
And there is a good reason for that. It’s a lovely walk along the waterfront promenade with a beautiful view, once again, of the West Bay
Not only, if you start your walk at the West Mound-Skyline viewpoint you will see most of the Doha’s landmarks mentioned till now
La Corniche is 7km long and in winter it becomes the perfect spot for some early morning jogging.
You can find a few playgrounds and cafes on the way. Free wi-fi is also available around the Sheraton Gardens.
Katara Cultural Village
Katara is one of the most impressive sites that I have visited so far. But what is it?
It is a cultural village finished to built in 2010 and inspired by the original Qatar architecture made of tiny lanes and small alleys. It is a huge area facing the sea, between West Bay and The Pearl. It is a 5-10 minutes drive by taxi from the city centre.
“Katara” is actually the historical name used for the country till the 18th century.
This is a great spot to spend the sunset with a nice sea breeze and dinner in one of the many nice restaurants. My favourite is Le Vesuvio, with a pizza real Italian style (around $20).
A marble made amphitheatre is located right in the centre of the cultural village. It is usually open unless they are preparing it for a performance.
The promenade is an open-air art gallery where it’s easy to wander around for the all night, especially with the nice sea breeze.
Qatar Museum has here also a small presence. Have a check to the program. In my last trip, I visited #SkateGirlsOfKabul, an interesting photography exhibition on the skateboarding culture and how it’s helping to educate girls in Afghanistan. Again, the entrance was free, amazing isn’t it?
Villaggio Mall – Top choice shopping centre
Shopping centres are part of the Qatar life, especially during the hot summer. There are a few scattered around the city however the Villaggio Mall is really unique.
For many reasons:
- the interior was built replicating Venice with even the canals and the gondolas (yes, you can have a ride if you want)
- there is an ice rink for some skating, which is really all you need when the temperature outside is over 40 degrees
- you will find a luna park even with a roller coaster, open for kids and adults (you need to buy a top-up card and load as much money as you need for your runs)
- a tasty and cheap ($10 meals) food court
- and of course a great shopping
A walk in the Aspire Park
This is one of the best pass-time in a winter evening, beautiful at sunset.
It is located just behind the Villaggio and it is really the perfect place to take your kids for a run (just in case the Luna Park was not enough to exhaust the energy LOL)
The trails are quite long and they can be used for some jogging too. A soccer court is available.
Dine at the Torch, the Doha viewpoint
The Torch is the tower next to Villaggio Mall with a shape of …..well, a torch.
At the 50th floor, you can book your dinner with probably the best panoramic view of the city, most definitely a top choice for a meal in Doha
The food is inspired by an international cuisine.
The perfect way to complement an afternoon at the Villaggio or a walk in the Aspire Park
Visit the Pearl-Qatar
The Pearl is a man-made peninsula designed as a twig, with islands and canals all around. What is the most noticeable thing? Luxury.
The replica of the Rialto Bridge and the Venice palaces are probably the attractions that left me more open mouth.
Definitely a location for a nice walk and dinner in one of the many restaurants facing the canals.
Another beautiful spot is the Marsa Arabia port. Hard to find any other spot in the world with so many expensive and beautiful boats.
Even Nandos is furnished and serviced as a high-class restaurant here LOL
I was a bit disappointed that, for privacy reasons, I could not access Isola Dana . Such a beautiful road on the water connecting small private islands, surely a fantastic spot for some night photography.
And lastly, try to book your stay at the amazing Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel, a replica of a sultan palace in a private island, probably the most beautiful hotel I have ever been in my life. I felt like in a fairy tale.
The private beach was to die for and the swimming pool was just perfect for an early start of the day. Not to mention the breakfast with a gigantic buffet and à la carte selection.
Al Safliya Island trip by dhow
Sailing with the traditional dhow boat in the Doha gulf and having a swim at the Al Safliya Island is not an everyday activity. It’s most definitely something you will remember for a long while.
The stop at the island gives the right time for a swim and some food too. It’s an experience that can be done during the day (if not too hot) or in the evening with a nice dinner at sunset.
I believe you can reach Al Safliya Island also with a small boat leaving from the Four Seasons Marina, however, I have never gone through this option.
The Ash-Shahaniyah Camel Track
This has been so far the best attraction and experience I have had in Doha and Qatar.
I visited the camel track driving a rental car without any clue on what to expect. I read here and there some comments but I could not find a schedule of the races, nor the training.
I drove partly in the desert, trusting my map (and Google Map, unfortunately, does not work that well at the moment, too many new roads I guess)
I arrived after 1 hour, at 11am and I was said that unfortunately, training is usually at 6am and 6pm. I did not give up. I looked for the stables and I found dozens of camels with the locals looking after them.
They were so surprised to see me around and at the same time so friendly trying to help me through the camels, taking photos together, helping me out wherever they could.
I spent one hour there just playing around, making videos and doing some photography. Even better than watching a race LOL
If you do not feel like driving yourself you may join this tour that includes the Sheikh Faisal Museum (just meters away)
The Al Shaqab equestrian centre
There is a great passion in Qatar about horse racing.
Even if it is not your thing you should anyway plan a visit to this hi-tech ultra-modern complex, just to have an overview of probably the most advanced equestrian centre in the world.
Tours run from Sunday to Thursday. You just need to fill in a form here and wait for the time slot, as easy as that.
The Barzan Towers
I had some hard time finding these watchtowers, driving outside Doha but eventually I made it.
And what a great story behind them.
They have been used as a platform to keep a watchful eye on pearl divers, as a look-out for approaching ship-sand and as an observatory to scrutinise the moon’s phases.
Qatar becomes so fascinating once you start driving outside the city. The desert, the forts and the towers make this country a really beautiful place to visit.
I suggest to visit them on the way to the Camel track as you either need a car or a driver. No public transport that I am aware of. Around 30 minutes from the city centre
A desert safari – the must
You can do it as a half-day or full-day experience. What is it about?
Basically, you are going to experience the desert with a big 4WD car, visit the inland sea and have a swim in the beautiful turquoise water, have a tea and/or dinner in the typical Arabic tend.
Some tours offer also a camel ride through the dunes or even sand-boarding.
It’s really something unique about the Middle East and once in Qatar, it should be on everyone bucket list. And it’s not that expensive, especially the overnight stay
Souq Al Wakrah
The Al Wakrah is a small coastal town 20km south of Doha. The Souq (market) is right in front of the beach and an easy 20-30minutes taxi ride from the city centre.
Al Wakrah is quite similar to the Souq Waqif, with lots of small shops in little alleys and small lanes. There is, however, a big plus which is the proximity to the water and the nice sea breeze.
The beach is also open to the public and changing rooms are available. A swim is must in the hot months.
Lots of bars, cafes and restaurants face the sea which contributes to give that nice character to the whole area.
The market can be reached also by bus (11901 or 12901) however you would have to budget in also a 1.5km walk as the bus stops in the main street.
The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum
This is an unusual museum which I like to describe it as a time machine across 4 continents.
What does it mean?
The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani started collecting artefacts when he was only 10 years old from the never-ending trips he has been doing across the world. He is now 70 years old.
Interesting to note that Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani has an estimated worth of almost $2B, however, he started selling car parts in Doha at age 16 (part of the museum is in fact dedicated to motor and cars).
The collection is quite wide and that’s the interesting part of it, you will not get bored, so many subjects.
The museum is located outside Doha and halfway to the Ash-Shahaniyah Camel Track. You can visit both if you start with an early visit to the camel track 😉
The Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Fort and the Al Wakrah museum (in the bucket list)
This is a fort I have in my bucket list for the next trip. It hosts the Al Wakrah museum too (local life handicrafts) which was closed in my last visit in October 2017.
It’s also a great spot for some photography (plan the visit for sunset time if you can)
I would not plan a trip from Doha only for this Fort, however,being a stone away from the Souq it makes sense to visit it just before heading to the market
The National Museum of Qatar (in the bucket list)
I love architectural photography. I am so looking forward to the opening of the National Museum of Qatar in December 2018.
The building design is inspired by the different layers of the desert rose. Have a look at this video, quite amazing.
The Zubara Fort (in the bucket list)
Zubara is a fort in the north of Qatar, around 1.5 hours drive from the city centre.
It is a great subject for photography and video. Few exhibitions are to be found inside the room. It is quite a trip from the city and I would probably not suggest it on a 2 day Doha trip unless you organise it with something else like the fishing village and the beautiful beaches around.
This Half-day tour covers most of the north and you can also customize it based on your need
This is something I will for sure do next time in Doha
What to do in Doha for a day
If you are in Doha for just a day I would recommend to make the most with the Qatar attractions located in the city centre.
It’s always great to have an early start to avoid the heat of the day
- Wake up at 4:30am and go to visit the camel training session starting at 6am. If you do not have your own can you can organise a driver through the hotel or just join this tour (make sure they start early in the morning)
- Back to the hotel for breakfast, a nap and a swim
- Visit the Museum of Islamic Art and the Abdullah Bin Zid Almahmud Cultural And Islamic Centre (check the website for a full program of activities). Both places have air condition.
- Head to the Parisa restaurant in the Souq Waqif for a beautiful dinner in a real authentic Doha building
- Have a walk in the market and a juice in one of the many open-air bars
- For a late night call, you can go to West Bay, where most of the bars with alcohol license are (usually inside the big name hotels). Have a check to the Wahm Poolside Lounge as a start.
What to do in Doha for two days
If you are in town for 2 days you may want to organise a day (or half-day) tour in the desert. It would be such a pity to miss out. Also, the trip to the north of Qatar is an interesting option, different from the usual touristic route.
In addition to the activities of Doha in one day, I would suggest spending the second evening/night at the Katara Cultural Village, very popular with the locals during the weekend. As an alternative, you can check, especially in summer, the Souq Al Wakrah where you can have a swim too.
Before any trip have a look at the Tourism board official site where you can find everything that’s happening in Qatar during the stay (there are amazing art exhibitions on a regular basis).
Where to stay in Doha
You have 3 main areas where you can stay in Doha:
- city centre, great for an easy access to most of the attraction in the city (this is the area I would suggest staying if you have just one night in Doha, only 20-30 minutes by taxi from the airport)
- the Pearl-Doha, for the most exclusive stay and unique experience (around 40 minutes from the airport)
- West Bay, for business and late night bars
In the city centre, I stayed at the Al Mirqab Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel. This is in the perfect location, right in the core of the city, in the middle of the Souq Waqif.
This Hotel is actually based on many premises around the market, all refurbished in a typical Arabian style. The swimming pool is just perfect and very handy too, fantastic for cooling down between attractions. I will definitely go back here, the best location for a one night stay in Qatar.
An alternative is the Mercure Grand Hotel, when the special deal is on this accommodation is the best value of the year. It’s meters away from the market and with a nice pool too.
In the Pearl-Doha I highly suggest the fascinating Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel, you feel like a sultan with a private beach and an amazing swimming pool. The service is just great and the breakfast to die for.
In West Bay you may have a look at Four Seasons Hotel, overlooking the bay but still in the centre of the business district.
I have also written a full guide to places to stay in Doha, organised with a map and the type of trip you are having, from just a stop-over to a longer holiday. You can read it here or click the button below