It’s great and nice to return to a city and place I so much enjoyed in the past, even if this is only for just a day as a stop over on our way to Tokyo, Japan. It’s been over 3 years since the first ever trip here, back then with a friend, now with my family so an extra reason why to really enjoy again by showing them this fascinating modern and at points, futuristic place. Their first time in the Middle East. Yes, I know a day is very short, but actually enough to see the most important sites and not suffer that much the horrific heat at almost 45 degrees Centigrade. Scorching dry heat is really the major drawback of cities in countries in this part of the world during the summer months. It’s only towards the evening when walking along the Corniche or by the MIA Park is the most enjoyable part of the day in Doha.
Back in May 2014, Doha was our second stop over after Kuwait, and so I will retain the structure in this guide as it was written back then, only revamping and expanding it with further new information and points, dates and the extra hotel we stayed in this occasion.
Comparing it with the more laid back Kuwait City which has just started to kick off in development recently, and at just 50 minutes away by plane, Doha is quite the radical change. In here, the over-development and frenetic construction round the clock currently happening is even difficult to explain and understand. After also experiencing Dubai couple of times, Doha is definitely the next city from all the ones I’ve been where such crazy construction is taking place and so dramatically quick. Said that, expect a city where hundreds of construction projects are still in place. New skyscrapers on every possible plot, the new metro system, motorways and bridges on the bay and many more. It will be shocking to come back in few years’ time and see a completely new city, although as for now, it is already shocking enough with a great skyline so far.
Talking a bit from the past, well there is not much. After all, these are pretty new cities not even 200 years old. But something they did really great is in the construction from scratch of an “old city centre”, absolutely recreating how old Doha would have looked like before the discovery of oil. Traditional houses using the same techniques and materials. Entire souqs, streets, mosques and blending it perfectly with the 21st century architecture and design. This lapse of time over the years since my first time here to now was shocking to experience. The old city centre is now huge and completely finished, very beautiful with lots to see and do. The same way what it’s called the Central Business District with the dozens of amazingly designed skyscrapers; and in few years’ time it will look once again as a completely new city due to the many new towers under construction and planned ones.
Mind the time of the year you plan to come. Anything between May and September temperatures reach easily 45C if not over! And who went during this peak? Us of course, twice in my trips here, you guessed well. In any case, you will find plenty of places with air conditioning, at bus stops, underpasses, any shopping malls. Just remember to put sun protection on you constantly or you will literally cook and burn without even realising.
The overall costs for everything are higher than in Dubai for example, but still you will get really great value for money on nice food. Although in Doha you will not find shawarma easily around the old city or by the souqs, you will find plenty of little Indian shops selling super cheap chapati for example, filled with a choice of Indian spiced meats, omelette, ham, cheese, etc; or many yet again, Indian bigger places where to have full Indian menu for little money. This is something we experienced as well when we visited Dubai and has to do with the thousands of workers from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka among other nationalities of course. For any worldwide (Western) restaurant chain you can think about, the chances you will find them in Doha are almost 100%, hence you can imagine how big is the choice and how quickly this country is changing and becoming more business and tourist orientated.
Remember that this is a Muslim country and therefore be respectful. Consumption of alcohol is reduced to the hotel bars as you won’t be able to find it anywhere else to buy, unless some bars having beer. Be cautious and moderate as being drank is seen as really bad and penalties could apply for misbehaviour. For more information about Doha check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Qatar’s currency is the Riyal (QAR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Doha
- Clock Tower Designed with Arab motifs, located next to the Grand Mosque
- Emiri Diwan Palace Is the seat of power of the Emir of Qatar. Needless to say you cannot enter but you can see it from outside. Refrain to make pictures at obvious places where the security guards can see you. It that’s the case they will ask you to delete the pictures. You can get nevertheless great shots by the Corniche of the whole palace, which is specially beautiful at night when it gets light flooded.
- Grand Mosque Newly built is a great piece of architecture with fine and luxurious materials in its construction and decoration. That description might apply to the inside because what you see from the outside is absolutely nothing special and very small.
- Marina On the south east side of the Corniche where the Museum of Islamic Art is. It is from here where you will get great views over the skyline and the old dhow boats.
- Corniche Is the highlight of the city, the long promenade along Doha Bay offering great views of the skyscrapers and the sea. Nice gardens and parks, sculptures and statues embellish it.
-Heritage Village Purpose built modelled on a traditional Qatari village is a great place to find local goods and see how old Doha used to look like. Located along the Corniche in Al Rumeilia Park.
-Museum of Islamic Art Represents the full scope of Islamic art from three continents over 1,400 years. The Museum was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei, who was inspired by elements of classic Islamic architecture.
-MIA Park Next to the Museum of Islamic Art is a nice place to walk and where to have one of the best skyline views of modern Doha. Two cafes are located at the very end with the most comfortable chairs you can expect of all kinds perfectly located overlooking the skyline and the bay.
-Statue of Orry Was the mascot of an Oryx for the 15th Asian Games that took place in December 2006.
- Islamic Culture Centre The building itself have become an attraction in itself for its design with a spiral tower resembling a small version of the Babel Tower. It’s located near the Corniche and next door to the “old town”.
- Souq Seriq Also known as the Old Souq or the Iranian Souq, part of the “old town” is the most famous market in the city. A maze of small streets full of vendors where you can get spices, textiles, souvenirs or smoke a shisha.
- Al Koot Fort White fort built during the Ottoman period in 1880 located near the Souq Waqif. Recently restored and implemented within the old town.
- Central Business District A completely new area to the north of the city and also by the Corniche where most of the new architectural landmarks are either built or under construction. For any architecture fan, specially of skyscrapers, this is a must visit.
- The Villaggio Mall One of the largest indoor shopping malls in the Middle East, and in similar way to the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, with navigable canals inside and countless choice for shopping and entertainment. It’s a good idea to come here in the morning during the very hot hours outside since it’s nicely air-conditioned. Located in Al Waab Street west from the downtown, next door to the Khalifa Stadium where the Football World Cup will take place next.
Doha International Airport is becoming quickly as one of the most important connection hubs in the world. Qatar Airlines has also become one of the greatest assets in aviation and worldwide known for its service. However from the many hundreds of airlines I have flown so far in my life, I cannot really say they have a 5* service as they claim to be. I’ve been to better ones, no hesitation.
Since the end of May 2014 they have transferred all the operations from the old airport DOH to the brand new one HIA which is literally parallel to the old one but further to the east on terrain gained to the sea. Great and complete information about the airport can be better found in their official website Doha Airport where all the information relating to public transportation to/from the airport to/from city centre is self explained.
An update as of 2017, Qatar has lifted the visa on arrival fee (it was 100 QAR) for many citizens, including most of the countries within the European Union. Upon landing, head directly through immigration where you will get your passport stamped for a stay of 30 days. They are quick and straightforward at immigration, extremely efficient. If you are a citizen of a country not suitable for free visa entry, then check your visa requirements, and if you bought your tickets with Qatar Airways and you have an ongoing flight after Doha then you can simply apply in the Qatar Airways website for a free transit visa which is valid for up to 72 hours.
Within the old city you can do everything by walking, but beware when walking along the Corniche as this is a longer walk and with such a heat it can easily be unbearable. A good network of buses now cover most of the city with new lines being added frequently. The main bus station is next to the Gold Souq and is the principal meeting point of many city lines and where you can take buses to any other city across the country. A metro system is currently under construction but it won’t be operation until at least late 2019 and only phase 1.
You will certainly need either a taxi or a bus when you head to the Central Business District, which is farther north along the Corniche. Or the best option, as we did, is to rent a car and be hassle free of having to find a bus, or spend lots more by using taxis. Petrol costs nuts! 0.12£ per litre! Therefore by all means will be the cheapest transportation you can count with.
With the recent transformation of what was a small fishing city into a world business and banking capital, the ginormous construction of towers everywhere and continuous evolution and redesign, it is logical the countless amount of hotels is really vast. Especially the upper-class top luxurious properties so traditional from cities in countries in this part of the world.
Finding a good deal on any good accommodation was not too difficult. And on the same trend as we experienced in Kuwait, or Dubai some years ago, a 3* property can have absolutely all the facilities, service, comfort and look than a 5* elsewhere in other parts of the world. Their standards are incredibly high, and yet again we can confirm this after our recent experience in Doha. A good starting point is running a search across some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
From our most recent trip in August 2017 we stayed at the Golden Ocean Hotel, in Al Meena Street. Just northwest from the airport and very near the old town, port and Corniche therefore a great location, especially that we were staying just a day so we needed something as straightforward and easy access as possible. Unfortunately our experience was terrible here, and here I leave you the review submitted to hotels.com: “They only offer the airport shuttle every 2 hours and that’s all. Find your life if you land at other time in between as it was our case. Secondly, the hotel was almost empty, they knew we would be checking out at 4.15am the following day, it was 10.00am when we arrived, however they would not give us a room until 14.00pm unless we pay extra. We did not care, it’s fine and their policy, so left the luggage and left for the day. Returned in the afternoon for check-in, got room 714, the noisiest ever they could give to a family of 4. The entire building’s air-con tower passing by the window! We told them and changed us to 708. I briefly had the option to check with the concierge, so we agreed they will move our staff to this room while we left for the evening dinner out. Returned and of course our staff was still in 714. Entered 708, the electricity was completely blown-up and toilet flooded. They blamed us of leaving the shower on and window opened? Are they out of their minds? We did not even come inside the room as the concierge took the key! Moved for the 3rd time to 612 claiming they did upgrade us. What on earth! The dirtiest room I’ve ever seen in a hotel, with small cockroaches everywhere. Could not bother any more to change, at this point it was just 6 hours left until leaving to the airport. Disgusting stay! Unfriendly staff. Never ever again.”
Back in May 2014 trip we selected the Kingsgate Hotel, in Ali Bin Adballah Street, 242310. Not far from the north west of the old airport, and walking distance to the older parts of Doha, just 10 minutes away from the Museum of Islamic Art. The hotel belongs to the worldwide chain Millennium Hotels which standards are quite high and well known. It has an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, gym. Nice breakfast was included and good service and attention. Definitely a great decision and highly recommended to anyone.
August 2017 trip album
May 2014 trip album